SERCal 2017: A week-long lesson in restoration history, practices, and future directions

As a veteran CLM intern who isn’t doing SOS work this season, I was given the option to do a training alternative to the week-long workshop at Chicago Botanic Garden. After a couple weeks of hunting for desert botanical classes at Zyzx and the Jepson Herbarium, I stumbled on the jackpot: the California chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration (SERCal) was holding its annual conference in mid-May at the University of California – Davis!

Private contractors, university professors, students, and nonprofit conservationists  converged on the UC-Davis campus, many of them restoration professionals who have been in the field (literally) for decades. Their collective experience fit well into the conference theme: ‘Looking back…Leaping forward’. Much of the research presented at the conference examined the success or lack thereof of restoration projects that were 30+ years old. In this field, it’s rare to keep up with monitoring for that long, and some of the findings were not what I would have expected.

For instance, one presentation by the long-time native propagator and restorationist Ed Kleiner (Comstock Seed, Inc.) revealed an interesting trend in restoration sites across the Great Basin and Mojave Deserts. Initially, restored sites would be overtaken by invasive species like Halogeten glomeratus. However, after ten years of low-level maintenance that did not involve targeted herbicide spraying, Kleiner’s team found that the native shrubs they planted eventually outcompeted the Halogeten, and after 15-20 years, the site had matured into a thriving sagebrush community. I was pretty surprised at the success of this hands-off method, particularly in a region of the country that’s drowning in cheatgrass (Bromus). I guess only more time will tell if these restored ecosystems are as resilient as they look.

This year was also the first time that SERCal devoted an entire session to that ever-looming threat to ecological work: climate change. The talks in this session focused not so much on discrete studies as they did on frameworks for approaching climate-smart restoration and management. One presentation, by Tom Giraldi of Point Blue Conservation Science, highlighted the need for vulnerability assessments in restoration planning, and the use of past projects in predicting challenges. Another talk that focused on policy challenges advocated for “boldness in the face of uncertainty” – a not-so-subtle reminder that we are running out of time in which to act. Overall, researchers stressed the practice of asking smarter, more structured questions before and during the restoration process.

My favorite session (and that which was most applicable to my internship) was the one on native plant and seed source management. Presentations included germination work with rare species, the use of large-scale and sustainable agricultural practices for propagating native species, and the finer points of designing seed mixes for disturbed sites. Most touched upon the National Seed Strategy (NSS) and its importance in guiding long-term, interdisciplinary restoration projects, speaking of it as though it were a battle plan that could lead them through the uncertain mire of the future. As a CLM intern and a former SOS worker, I felt privileged to be part of a grand design of such importance.

Perhaps the most exciting take-away of mine from SERCal 2017 are the networks I built with the conservation professionals I met. One of them, Professor Neville Slade of Victor Valley College (VCC), located in the western Mojave Desert, is interested in helping his students plug into the NSS as CLM interns. In June, I’ll be visiting VCC to talk to these students about my experiences as a SOS/CLM intern. It’s my hope that I’ll be able to plant some seeds in these students’ heads that will grow into commitment to conservation and sustainable, long-lasting repair of the damage that we humans so easily wreak on this precious planet of ours.


Approaching Month 4 in the SLFO

As the third month of my SOS internship closes out and the fourth month begins, it’s hard to wrap my head around all that Theresa and I have seen and all the seed collecting we have yet to do. The beautiful Phacelia and Camissonia species we have come to love have already budded and faded, and all of a sudden most of the species we have been monitoring in various places of our field office seem to be about to have their seeds ready all at the same time. All. At. The. Same. Time. While the prospect of this seems daunting, it’s also exciting. I’m very much looking forward to the trials and errors of my first seed collections. Due to some tragic personal events, I missed out on our actual first seed collections and am now eagerly awaiting my chance to collect seed.

The field office is definitely buzzing with the huge amount of seasonals that have gradually came on in the last month. Our little intern area is no longer quiet; it’s now a beehive of activity between the 3 AIM crews, aquatic AIM crew, weeds people, and other seasonal vegetation crews. The competition for a computer might get quite fierce. Thankfully, Theresa and I are out in the field most of the time, so we can escape the office.

My favorite location in our field office, the Silver Island Mountains

Other highlights include our first camping trip for work (I remember now what being coated in dust feels like), finding some interesting forbs out in the West desert, and finally finding an acceptable Great Basin Wild Rye population.

Sunset from my tent during our first overnight

Trying to Stay Hydrated in the West Desert,

Corinne Schroeder

West Eugene Wetlands

I am two weeks into my internship at the West Eugene Wetlands.  My focus will eventually be restoration and invasive species management, but for now I’m just focused on catching up with all the various projects happening around the wetlands.  In my first two weeks here I’ve done all manner of different things.  I’ve monitored endangered lupines, helped run a volunteer day for some college kids, installed bird boxes, and chased after butterflies with a net, just to name a few things I’ve done.

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, but I’m looking forward to getting better acquainted with the area and my position.


West Eugene Wetlands, BLM

May 2017

I never cease to be amazed at how different a rich forest habitat can look from spring to summer.  Rock outcrops on slopes of these areas that once stood out as clear as could be in spring are often covered in thick herbaceous level growth by this time of year.  Unfortunately in some cases this is because an invasive plant such as Garlic Mustard has reached maturity in such numbers as to obscure the ground level.  Native undergrowth in more stable areas can achieve the same effect.  I have been spending a fair amount of time surveying in cool, shaded, north-facing forests associated with limestone rock outcrops recently.  One of my priority target species, Arabis patens, occurs here.  The genus Arabis, and the Brassicaceae family in general, can be a difficult group of plants to identify.  Recent taxonomic treatments have placed some species previously found in Arabis into other genera such as Boechera, Borodinia, and Arabidopsis.  This only adds to the difficulty.

Arabis patens (Spreading Rockcress)

Arabis patens (Spreading Rockcress) This picture shows the fruit, sub-entire to entire middle cauline leaves, dentate lower cauline leaves and the smaller basal leaves. I’ve found that leaf size, shape and dentation varies among individuals.

These limestone bluff forests contain some interesting geological formations.

Jeffersonia diphylla (Twinleaf) is not a rare species in Maryland but it has caught my attention over the years because of the bad luck I’ve had trying to catch it while it is in flower.  Fortunately I was able to catch it this season as I discussed in a previous post.  I also ran into huge patches of it in May.  I have observed patches stretching for acres that have approximately 80 percent cover throughout.

Jeffersonia diphylla (Twinleaf) The seed capsule has opened and fallen over, spilling its seeds onto the ground.

Jeffersonia diphylla (Twinleaf) The seeds look like ovate popcorn kernels. The out of focus plant next to them is a Twinleaf seedling.

Some other species I’ve recently encountered in rich woods, although not necessarily in north-facing limestone associated forests, were Viola canadensis, Maianthemum racemosum and state-listed Panax quinquefolius  Panax quinquefolius (Ginseng) is a well-known plant in the Appalachian region.  Because of its commercial value it has been extensively harvested throughout its range.   This exploitation has earned it a G3G4 global ranking from NatureServe.  I find this plant’s foliage quite attractive and its presence in an area usually indicates the habitat is stable and possibly high quality.

Viola canadensis (Canada Violet) This species can reach over two feet in height. The yellow throat of the flower is a diagnostic character.

Maianthemum racemosum (False Solomon’s Seal)

Panax quinquefolius (Ginseng)

I caught another well-known plant, although for much different reasons, in flower recently.  Toxicodendron radicans (Poison Ivy) is a common vine that for whatever reason I don’t see in flower often.

Toxicodendron radicans (Poison Ivy)

Lastly, May 19th was Endangered Species Day.  I participated in a youth event held in Cumberland, Maryland that discussed rare species with groups of 4th graders.  I got a kick out of one child who attempted to explain how “Bigfoot” was a rare species.

Coleman Minney

Greetings from Beaverhead County, Montana

Since moving to Montana from western Washington state, my whole sense of scale has shifted. The trucks are bigger, the gas is cheaper, and, yes, even the skies seem bigger. The Dillon Field Office encompasses both Beaverhead and Madison counties, an area totaling ~9,175 square miles, and is comprised of ~13 different mountain ranges and ~15 different watersheds. This region of southwest Montana is known for its unique and diverse geological features in addition to its flora and excellent fishing.
With a population of ~4200 people (depending on fishing tourism and whether school is in session), I’m happy that there is so much to explore around Dillon.

My truck in between two trucks that are considered “small” at the Beaverhead County Auction

At four weeks into my internship, I’ve gone a lot of different places — and yet I’ve barely scratched the surface of all there is to see in the area.

Lunchtime on the Big Hole River

My first week on the job, I got to assist the wildlife tech in conducting bird surveys all around Beaverhead County. Not only did she help to acquaint me with the local geography, she also taught me a lot about birds. As we drove around we stopped to check on eagle fledgelings in their nests, curlews cohabiting with cattle, and sage grouse strutting their stuff at the crack of dawn. We were able to observe abundant antelope, bunnies, prairie dogs, coyotes and pelicans (?!!) in the process.

She also humored me quite a bit and stopped the truck whenever I spotted a little somethin’ special on the side of the road.

Mesmerized by glitter rock lichens

Captivated by Oenothera caespitosa

Enchanted by Allium textile

Coming primarily from a botany background, my knowledge has already been quite stretched by the interesting flora of this new-to-me-place, in addition to learning more about southwest Montana wildlife, geology, biological soil crusts, ecology, land use, and the various monitoring methods that help to inform land management decisions.

Positively fritillated by Fritillaria atropurpurea

…and Fritillaria pudica.

Leucocrinum montanum, the beautiful mountain star lily. Its ovaries are underground!

This week, I’ve been going through orientation and safety training with all of the other seasonal field technicians. I’ve picked up and refreshed a number of practical skills in the process, including a first aid certification, defensive driving training, emergency field procedures, bear spray training, tire changing, and…

…you betcha, a UTV driver’s certification.

My priority while I’m out here is to make collections for the Seeds of Success (SOS) program. After that, I will be assisting my mentor with sensitive plants monitoring and the range technicians with meeting their monitoring goals.

Astragalus scaphoides, a species of concern in Beaverhead County

Phlox hoodii, a potential SOS plant

Mertensia oblongifolia, another potential SOS plant

After this week’s safety orientation and training, I will be fully equipped to go out to the field and start meeting my objectives.

Until next time,


Bio Gypsy

I’ve been working in Oregon almost a month now and it’s been wonderful. This is my first job post graduation and I’m often asked what I’m up to and just what exactly I do at work.

What my grandmother thinks I do: She has no idea what I do or why it’s important, but is completely certain that I am cold and need more socks. Also, she can’t believe that camping is considered “fun” or a part of my job. She is also certain I will perish due to a bear attack or snake bite.

What my friends think I do: Prance around outside trying to become the next instagram celebrity and do “fake” science because I work in the field instead of in a laboratory.

What some of the public thinks I am doing: Wasting government money and trying make a bunch of new rules and regulations.

What I actually do:

I take a variety of different measurements at random and targeted riparian sites across central Oregon. I follow Assessment Inventory and Monitoring (AIM) protocol to evaluate sites and provide comparable stream data including wetted width, channel dimensions, canopy cover, invasive and native species presence or absence, and bank stability to name a few. All across the west, other field crews are following the same protocol to monitor their riparian areas in their state. Together, all the data provides a broad look at water resources and can be used for different management and research purposes.

It’s pretty cool data and is going to be really useful. In my head, I think of myself as a Bio Gypsy. I travel the lands and get to know each stream for a short while before moving on. I collect data and coax macro-invertebrates into jars. It’s a self appointed silly title for a useful and actually serious job.

My goal this summer is to communicate science more effectively to everyone and hope that I can get people from all types of backgrounds to understand the importance of monitoring stream health and collecting data. I want to return to these sites years from now and see improvement and diversity in the landscape thanks to the data we are collecting this summer. I’m hoping I can get more people to care and see the value in the service my job provides for them and their communities. I’ll keep you posted on my progress!

Cheers and happy trails,
Dakota Keller, Prineville District BLM office

P.S.  The pictures below are from AIM training in Logan, Utah. Two weeks of jamming an entire manual’s worth of knowledge into my brain, being calibrated as a crew to get precise and accurate data was intense. Somehow, we found time to get to know all of this season’s field crews and hopefully get to rendezvous for a wrap-up at the end of the summer.

First wonderful day in Logan Canyon camping for AIM training!

Third day of AIM training we woke up to a wild surprise. My grandma isn’t wrong, I do need warmer socks.

Is this really my job?!

Last week, I was lucky enough to go on a rafting trip down the Middle Fork Eel River with the BLM Arcata field office. My job was mainly to look for invasive species along the river, and to get a general idea of the ecosystems out there. There were also wildlife biologists, fisheries biologists, and archaeologists on the trip, and I took any chance I could get to follow them around and see what they were up to! When I was a kid, I wanted to be an archeologist (Indiana Jones was my hero), so it was extra special to get to see archeologists at work (a lot less danger and booby traps than I had imagined, but just as exciting).

For most of the trip, we floated through mature oak woodlands, peppered with cottonwoods, willows, and ash along the river banks. I saw my first black bear (and then two more). The spring wildflowers were in full bloom, and it was gloriously sunny the entire trip (a rarity in my usual Humboldt county!). Here and there we could see burn scars along the ridges from previous fires, and the occasional cattle ranch when we drifted by private property. Another part of why we were out there was to make sure that there wasn’t any illegal activity on the BLM managed land – the last time anyone had checked on these parcels was in 2008, because they are really only accessible by the river. Thankfully, we didn’t come across anything suspicious, and we didn’t see any other people for the entirety of the trip! Probably my favorite part of the day was in the morning, when I would wake up to watch the sun rise (I swear this had nothing to do with my leaky sleeping pad) and take the time to organize my notes from the previous day and just soak in the scenery around me. I still can’t quite believe that I got to go on this trip, but my fading sunburn and mounds of pictures won’t let me forget. Here are a few!

On the tail end of our trip – note the steep canyon walls that make it hard to access the shore – must be BLM land!

Looking down at the river from Pinnacle Rock – worth the climb! And a good representation of the oak woodlands.

Our campsite for the night!

Watching the sunrise on our last day!

Other than the rafting trip, I’ve been doing some invasive weed mapping, participating in safety days, gearing up for SOS collections, working with crews from the California Conservation Corp and prepping for Kids Ocean Day (more on this later!)

a millenia in the making

So I’m closing out my third month as an intern in Marina, California. Let’s see, I’ve been to the office twice, and spent the rest of my time in the field or working out of my bedroom/office; which looks far more like an herbarium, library, and backpackers crash pad. Stacks of dried tissue, seeds, specimens, cardboard, rocks with lichens on them, presses, and papers are building up around me and it’s becoming hard to navigate throughout the room. This is definitely how a room should look!

Joaquin Rocks

The winter and spring of 2017 were uncharacteristically wet for California. As a result the spring blooms have lasted much longer, and nearly all the species present are coming up. The higher precipitation allows for some weedier more mesic plants to displace some species; but in general everything is emerging- just not always in huge quantities. It seems the richness is here, but the diversity if skewed.

Most importantly this rain has prolonged the bloom in California, allowing me to see a lot more species than I would have been able to otherwise. It’s a total blessing for anyone who is very interested in the study of the flora of Western North America.

My mentor has well botanized the area we work in, so it’s a lot harder to make valuable contributions here than it generally has been in my previous internships. However, some of my highlights so far have been in developing understandings of some rare plants micro-habitats. In particuliar for: Phacelia phacelioides, Astragalus lentiginosus var. idriaensis, Allium howelli, as well as working through identifying slews of Eschscholzia hypecoides. Aside from this I have been continuing along my floristic mission of collecting all species in our field office. This has been fun and challenging, now most of my office work just consists of making hundreds of herbaria labels, which I guarantee you is not the most fun part. Additional activities have been making seed collection and traveling along on rare plant monitoring work.

Im my free time I have been traveling around California collecting Apioids for the PENA project, some Onagrads, and a couple other groups. I’ve also been working on collecting >95% of the flowering plants I see along my travels, which is pretty time intensive. It turns out I’m just kinda falling into being a taxonomist, which is strange because a few ecology professors always use to oftentimes liken me to  Gleason.

come for the waterfall, stay for the Carex

Recently I have still been reading Thompson’s “the Co-evolutionary Process” and assorted papers on genomics and desert ecology. Unfortunately not much time reading recently, I’ve been busy collecting and planning expeditions. I’ve been studying for the GRE too, which has got to be the biggest waste of time in my life. This feels like reading a dictionary to find a ton of fancy words to say at a party to impress people; rather than developing interesting ideas for their own merit and generally being a well rounded person.

The Adventure Begins


It was a long journey from Northern California all the way up to Anchorage, Alaska. Fifty-four hours of driving to be exact, covering 2,968 miles. The mountains exploded immediately as I entered Canada and never stopped all the way up to Alaska. Each day of my journey I saw a bald eagle, as if I was being shepherded up to the north country. I also saw six bears (one grizzly), one red fox, two coyotes, three moose, one porcupine, three caribou, and one golden eagle. It truly was an epic journey bringing me much needed solitude and bliss.

Working with Eric Geisler, at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, I was excited on my first day to learn about my assignments and projects for the summer. There would be plenty of time to talk about that though, it was time to pile in the truck and head down to Homer for the week to do National Resources Conservation Service training. It was a gorgeous drive down to the end of the Kenai Peninsula. I was able to learn about some of the Alaskan vegetation, eat fresh-caught cod, and watch a small otter float on its back, paws and arms crossed, pushing itself through the water.

The adventure continues this week. We drove up to Fairbanks, passing by The Denali Range and Denali National Park. In Fairbanks we got a bit muddy doing ATV training, which was such a blast! It was also a great opportunity to check out my main study site for the summer time in the tiny town of Tanacross. My site was a predominately spruce/aspen stand surrounded by yet another spectacular snow-capped mountain range. There is no escaping the magnificent and massive mountains here, so needless to say I am very excited to see what sorts of adventures I get into this summer. Until next time…

Robbie Tepp. Bureau of Land Management. Anchorage, AK

Same Place, New Adventure

In Wyoming it’s a common belief that most everyone who spends a significant amount of time here ends up staying “for the long haul.” While I don’t necessarily believe that’s true, for now I’ve happily become one of those people. After living in the Midwest for my college career I was incredibly excited to land an internship where I can grow professionally in the mountains I call home!

A few quick things about me: Intern at the BLM Buffalo Field Office, at the base of the Bighorn Mountains, doing AIM monitoring for land management purposes. Avid hiker, backpacker, biker, climber, canoer, hammocker, or basically anything I can do outdoors. HUGE plant nerd, which is why I’m so excited to learn more about the Wyoming plants and their ecosystems this summer!

A picture is worth a thousand words, right? So here’s a few photos of places my fellow interns and I have been and the things we’ve seen during the first couple weeks of training.

From left to right, top to bottom:

  1. Castilleja blooming everywhere during AIM field training. 2) Smiling (and freezing!) faces during ATV training. 3) Watching a storm narrowly miss our line of trucks off the Wind River Mountains. 4) A baby bunny hiding in a crevice on Independence Rock. 5) Cryptantha, a new flower for me! 6) The view from Outlaw Campground, one of the sites we will be working on this summer.