From France to BLM California: One intern’s journey

Story by Philip Oviatt, acting Central California District's public affairs officer. Photos by BLM, Margaux Blanc, and courtesy of the Cranston family.

A chance meeting as a middle schooler led to a connection that has carried into adulthood. Meet Margaux Blanc, who is here from France as an intern at the Pine Hill Preserve in the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) California Mother Lode Field Office under a BLM Volunteer Agreement.

Margaux’s journey began when she was in middle school. Hailing from Oyonnax, France, Margaux participated in a student exchange program in 2017 and, by chance, was paired with retired BLM Biologist Peggy Cranston and her family in California. A friendship ensued, a love of California began, and a lifelong connection was made.

With a smile, Now retired BLM Biologist Peggy Cranston holding a California Red-Legged Frog with her headlamp on.
Now retired BLM Biologist Peggy Cranston holding a California Red-Legged Frog. (Photo by BLM)
Margaux (second from left) with Peggy Cranston (far right) and Peggy’s family standing in front of a waterfall.
Margaux (second from left) with Peggy Cranston (far right) and Peggy’s family. (Photo courtesy of the Cranston family)

After the end of the student exchange program, Margaux stayed in touch with her exchange family as she continued her education back in France. Later, Peggy’s daughter traveled to France to study biology in college. While in France, she connected with Margaux once again, and the idea of Margaux returning to California began to take shape.

Margaux and Peggy’s daughter are all smiles in France at La Cité du Vin.
Margaux and Peggy’s daughter in France at La Cité du Vin. (Photo by Margaux Blanc) 

Margaux brought the idea to her family, and they were overwhelming supportive. Her father and stepmother, along with her mother and stepfather, were excited about the prospect of Margaux returning to the Golden State. “Why not go back to California?” asked Amandine Blanc, Margaux’s stepmother. “We will do whatever it takes to help your dream come true!”

Enter Pine Hill Preserve Manager Graciela Hinshaw. Peggy reached out to Graciela to see if there was a way to help Margaux return to California as part of her collegiate program. “I loved the idea,” said Graciela. “I worked with my field manager and the French university to craft an acceptable internship program.”

After much back and forth between Graciela, Margaux and her family, the university, and the Mother Lode Field Office, a path forward was formed.  Margaux returned to the state that held her heart and began an internship that would change her life.

“I thought it was impossible,” said Margaux. “We all worked to put this internship together in three months. I was so excited to return to California and work with the BLM to finish my college degree! I could not have done this without my family, my host family, and the wonderful people here at the BLM!”

BLM’s Pine Hill Preserve Manager Graciela Hinshaw stands with Margaux Blanc  at the Pine Hill Preserve. A field of brush is in the background.
BLM’s Pine Hill Preserve Manager Graciela Hinshaw stands with Margaux Blanc at the Pine Hill Preserve. (Photo by BLM)

At the Pine Hill Preserve, under the supervision of Graciela, Margaux has worked to complete two research projects during her time there. She took on the statistical analysis of 17 years of data on the Pine Hill ceanothus, a rare plant found on the Preserve. She also worked to set up protocols for successful plant germination.

Margaux leans down and touches the leaves of the Red Hills Soap Root rare plant at the Pine Hill Preserve.
Margaux identifying leaves of the Red Hills Soap Root rare plant at the Pine Hill Preserve. (Photo by BLM)

“In college I began studying biology with an emphasis on animals,” said Margaux. “Through my studies, I found my love of plants and have really enjoyed taking on these projects and enhancing my knowledge of botany and its effects on our environment.”

In addition to her extensive research projects, Margaux has been actively involved in the Seeds of Success Program (the BLM’s national native seed collection program for the purpose of research, development, conservation, and ecosystem restoration) and taken part in fuels reduction projects with CAL FIRE. If that does not sound demanding enough, Margaux also finds time to volunteer at Bella Vista High School where she helps teach French to students.

Fuels Reduction Project at Pine Hill Preserve. Margaux Blanc (left); Lilly Johnson, Pine Hill intern (center); and Landon Eldridge, Bio Science Tech (right). The workers are in hard hats and carrying piles.
Fuels Reduction Project at Pine Hill Preserve. Margaux Blanc (left); Lilly Johnson, Pine Hill intern (center); and Landon Eldridge, Bio Science Tech (right). (Photo by BLM)

“I have really enjoyed my journey,” said Margaux. “Learning the science has been good, but the people are so wonderful here at the BLM; that has been one of the best parts of this adventure!”

The Pine Hill Preserve is a cooperative conservation effort to protect the habitat of eight rare plant species. It is located approximately 30 miles east of Sacramento and consists of 4,940 acres, about 70% of which has dense clusters of rare plants and is within an area designated for the recovery of five federally listed rare plants.

Margaux kneeling on the ground and using a shovel to conduct Gabbro soil samples for a germination study.
Margaux conducting Gabbro soil samples for a germination study at the Pine Hill Preserve. (Photo by BLM)

BLM California and staff at the Pine Hill Preserve extend our thanks to Margaux for her wonderful contributions and wish her continued success when she returns to France for graduation and beyond.

To learn more about some of Margaux’s work at the Pine Hill Preserve, visit: http://ow.ly/lkv050KuTAK.