Late summer seed collection

Hello again from Vernal!

The summer is already winding down, and we are well on our way to collecting 30 species, our end goal. Currently, we have five more plant species to go! I thought I’d dedicate this blog post to talking a bit about one of my favorite seed collections we have done so far, and our seed collecting process.

Lepidium alyssoides var. eastwoodiae (mesa pepperwort)

Before going out and collecting seed, it is important to key the plant, in order to make sure you are collecting the correct species. For example, last week we had the opportunity to collect Lepidium alyssoides, a native mustard that looks very similar to Lepidium latifolium, which is invasive in this area. However, by keying the plant using a plant identification book, we were able to discern several key differences between the two Brassicaceaes. Lepidium alyssoides is described as having some leaves which are deeply lobed to pinnatifid, whereas Lepidium latifolium has leaves which are either entire or serrate. In addition, L. alyssoides plants are mostly 60-120 cm tall, whereas L. latifolium plants are greater than 35 cm tall.

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This was clearly a GREAT year for Lepidium alyssoides

At the beginning of my internship I was skeptical about being able to collect 20,000 seeds of each plant population, but for the majority of the mustards this collection goal has been easy to obtain. Lepidium alyssoides was our fastest collection to date, and we were able to complete the entire collection in about an hour.

 

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After a long day of collecting seeds, Ashley demonstrates her superior technique for staying hydrated!

The cherry on top of the seed collection trip was discovering my FIRST antler shed! All in all, it was a great day. I am looking forward to collecting our remaining seeds and seeing the late-summer plants begin to bloom!

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Selfie with a super cool antler shed!

Jinny Alexander

Vernal, Utah BLM

Twin Falls, Idaho

Time is flying by here in Idaho. I just entered by fifth and last full month of my internship at the BLM’s Jarbidge Field Office in Twin Falls. While the first few months were mostly consumed by plant identification while doing upland trend monitoring, the last month or so our crew has been able to do a variety of things such as conduct wetland inventories, monitor thermographs, help with riparian assessments, and conduct cattle compliance assessments. We even got the opportunity to put on hip boots and do some spotted frog monitoring.

That's me using my GPS skills to record a wetland.

Using a GPS to record qualitative information regarding the wetland.

Often times in order to reach a wetland site or a thermograph there is quite a bit of hiking involved. Last week I had the opportunity to travel to the farthest Southwestern portion of our field office to do wetland inventories, which required us to camp overnight. The hiking was strenuous for a flat-lander (Wisconsinite) like me but the views at the top of the canyons were absolutely worth it.

There's me looking rather sheepish and exhausted after a long day of hiking the canyons behind me.

There’s me looking rather sheepish and exhausted after a long day of hiking the canyons behind me.

The awesome view at sunset over Deep Creek Canyon.

Our awesome view at dusk over Deep Creek Canyon.

My supervisor and I came across the skeletal remains of an elk.

My supervisor and I came across the skeletal remains of an elk. She carried it all the way out of the canyon on her shoulders!

The information and skills that I have learned throughout my internship so far have been invaluable. Even though there were days that I tested my physical limits, I can still say that I have truly enjoyed this internship and that the days that felt like “work” were few and far between.  I am so appreciative for this opportunity and for the connections I have made here at the BLM.

Seeds, Cows and Flowers

Hola,

Living on the small town in Alturas, California has been a life changing experience. From the first day I got here until today, I have been constantly learning. At first, my plant taxonomy knowledge wasn’t that helpful (I come from a tropical island) but with time and field experience I have felt more comfortable with the plants that surround me. Even though my work has been focused mostly on seed collecting my mentor has given us the opportunity to work with a variety of different tasks. For example: Nate and I had the opportunity to help survey an archaeological site. We got to see rocks that were used for grinding seeds, lots of flakes and arrowheads. Pretty cool!

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Arrowhead at the Ryegrass Swale allotment

Another task we have been working on is monitoring the degree of grazing on different allotments. Some areas needs to be rested for a year or more after grazing, we make sure there are no cows in the area and take notes on the level of grazing. This task by itself has greatly improved my identification of grasses. Also it has made me realize the big impact of over grazing.

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Cow posing for the camera

Mike (my mentor) has also taking us to amazing sites with the interns from Cedarville to identify rare plants habitats. When rare plant population are found, we flag around the area to make sure no one parks their cars in it, and we create a polygon point on our GPS. Recently while working on the habitats, we had the opportunity to see a lot of the rare flora of the area. Here is one of my favorites.

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Doublet

Last week we did an inventory flora on the Fitzhugh creek. We have been spending most of our time identifying the 3 bags of specimens we collected from this area. In my opinion, it has been an excellent plant taxonomy exercise.

We still have a lot of grazing monitoring and seed collecting to do. I am really excited for the upcoming Pika Blitz we are going to participate in. Other than the days at work, I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with other interns and explore some really cool areas around.

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Lillie (intern at the Eagle Lake office) and I at the top of Brokeoff Mountain in Lassen Volcanic National Park

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Marian (from the Cedarville office) and I entering a cave at the Lava Beds National Monument

Hope you’re all having as good of a time as I am,

Jaileen Merced

BLM Alturas Field Office

 

 

 

 

In a blink of an eye: is it really the half way point?

The New England SOS team has been so busy that I’ve barely had time to sit down and reflect on what I’ve learned about native plants (and invasives!), seed collection, and restoration practices.

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Viburnum dentatum at Bluff Point State Park in CT

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Hydnellum peckii found in Andover, MA.

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Sarracenia purperea found in bog near Colby College in Waterville, ME.

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View of bog in Maine

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Nymphaea odorata in a pond in Andover, MA.

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Eutrochium dubium in CT.

So far we have collected Juncus gerardii (Black Grass) the most. Out of the Big Four salt marsh species, J. gerardii is the first to go to seed. The three others: Spartina alterniflora, Spartina patens, and Distichlis spicata are all just starting to flower and will be going to seed later in September and into October. A few other species we’ve collected so far are: Triglochin maritima, Viburnum dentatum, Swida amomum, and Prunus martima.

 

We’ve been traveling throughout the eastern seaboard a lot in the past month: from southern Maine to Cape Cod to Connecticut, we’ve been surveying and collecting native seed in some of the most breathtaking landscapes found in New England. I have to remind myself that this opportunity is temporary though and have already begun thinking ahead about the future and where I will be come December.

 

I hope to continue to work with plants, but I have also been getting more and more fascinated with restoration work and would love to learn more either through another internship or possibly graduate studies. With these options floating around in my head I also feel the need to appreciate my work now and to be present. It’s hard to be perfectly balanced when so many important tasks are at hand. But regardless, I feel quite content with my situation and know that in the end everything will work out.

 

Until next time!

 

Anna

Save the Suckers!

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Trail to the beach in Canada

Last we spoke I was on my way to the Compassionate Conservation Conference in Canada. This conference was very inspirational. It was amazing to see people so involved and interested in animal welfare in conservation. The University of British Columbia was huge and surrounded by beautiful forests. All in all, Canada was awesome.

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A canal flume.

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Sucker holding tanks.

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VIE tagging fish!

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Suckers in hoop net pens.

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Lost River Suckers

This past month I have been mostly working with BOR at the A canal fish evaluation station (FES). We are taking measurements on all of the suckers that come through the flume. Each shift (Mon-Thurs) we get to hold 50% of suckers that are caught, up to 25 in total per night. We hold them in tanks with closely monitored water quality. We then transport them into Upper Klamath Lake at the end of the week, so they can be reared in pens that are in natural waters. I have been taking weights, measurements, and visual implant elastomer (VIE) tagging chubs and sculpin by-catch. VIE tagging is done to see how long tag retention is and if there is any recirculation of fish through the canal. There are also control tanks of tagged and untagged chubs and sculpin so we can get a better idea of exactly how long the tags are retained. If the tags are successful they may be used for future studies.

The shifts at FES are at night, which takes a little getting used to. I work Mon-Thurs 4pm-2:30 am. I get Fridays off which is really nice. Last week I had a normal schedule and was with Nicki at the LKNWR ponds. We set minnow traps to see what fish are in the pond. We caught and VIE tagged Sacramento Perch. We were hoping to see if there were any suckers from previous studies still in the large pond. Alia and Nicki caught one the week before! Unfortunately, we didn’t have the same luck that week. We did receive the suckers for the ponds and set their hoop net pens up. These are Lost River Suckers (Deltistes luxatus) that have been reared specifically for a scientific study. They will be observed and studied in 30 and 60-day periods.

 

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Juvenile sucker transported to pens.

Last Friday I helped Julie transport the suckers from FES to Upper Klamath Lake where we have our net pens from June. We set up floating pens to put the FES held suckers in. We had 100% survival for the week but two fish did not make it through the transportation process. I am back at FES this week. The amount of suckers caught and held this week has really declined.

Till next time,

Erica

Awesome Bee fly. Bombyliidae

Awesome Bee fly. Bombyliidae

Sand Mountain and the Double Rainbow

Back in the scorching days of summer, when the afternoons reached 105 degrees (instead of the current, cool, low 90’s), our team ventured out on an overnight trip to Sand Mountain. We made several seed and voucher collections to the west of this “mountain”, then drove across winding, sandy roads around to the northeast. By this time it was noon, and after pulling my lunch from the cooler of rapidly melting ice, I pulled open the truck door and scrunched myself into the small shadow it cast. I fondly recalled winters in Wisconsin.

We continued our trajectory on foot, the road being too laden with deep sand for safe driving. Dousing ourselves in water to stay cool, we set out, and ten minutes later we were completely dry. Our team of four split up to cover more ground, and soon radioed back to each other with promising sights of seed-laden plants.

By quitting time we had a dozen bags of seeds, labeled and safely tucked away. Though by this time it was well into the evening hours, the sun was still glaring at us from above the mountains, and the heat did not seem to lessen. We drove back along the road, found a simple but flat camping spot, and set up our tents. Well, two of us set up our tents, and this we soon regretted. Those dark clouds moving in from the southeast (that we had hoped and hoped would cover the sun while we’d been working) were brought by a strong, strong wind storm. And windy it did get. So windy that one tent was soon flattened like a crepe (flatter than a pancake, you see), and the other survived only by a desperate and constant support from the inside.

The next 30 minutes passed slowly…

All of a sudden the wind died down, and, crawling out from our shelters, we saw the clouds turn bright salmon-pink from the setting sun (amplified by the massive amount of dust and wildfire smoke in the air). A bright rainbow appeared, and a second faint one next to it. A calm settled in, and the whole day seemed worth it.

orps

Carson City, NV BLM

(I would have posted pictures, but they would not load!)

Update from Alturas

Hi everyone,

A lot has gone on since my last blog entry. Many seeds have been collected – both SOS and local restoration collections – and many cows have been counted! Most of our time has been spent on SOS collections. We’ve done lots of rangeland health and utilization assessments and plot readings using belt transects and gap intercept measurements. Monitoring of rangeland (i.e. looking for trespassed cattle and counting and getting brands; checking the success/failure of reservoirs and presence of noxious weeds) is also a common weekly task. I’ve also done several rare plant surveys, which I really enjoy. We also conducted a plant inventory for a large riparian area, which was really fun and I’m sure we’ll return there for a wild rose collection or for further monitoring/inventory. One day was spent assisting the archeology crew in a survey, and soon we’ll participate in a raptor survey and possibly participate in a pika survey during the ‘pika blitz’

 

bugs on basin wildrye

bugs on basin wild rye seed head

Clarkia borealis

Clarkia borealis

garden spider

garden spider

scarlet gilia

scarlet gilia

lassen

Brokeoff Mt. peak

Hood's phlox

Hood’s phlox

Clarkia borealis

Clarkia borealis

Journey to the Cross-roads

“Extinction – the irrevocable loss of a species – causes pain that can never find relief. It is an ache that will pass from generation to generation, for the rest of human history.” – Callum Roberts in An Unnatural History of the Sea

In my opinion, preventing extinction should be the premier goal of every biologist, regardless of their specific discipline. Ecologists, botanists, soil scientists, hydrologists, and climate scientists should all be equally concerned with the Sixth Extinction and the ever unfolding Anthropocene. The biodiversity of today is temporally and spatially unique and thus deserves our preservative efforts on principle alone. Beyond this, however, biodiversity on every scale should be preserved based on a growing recognition that it is key to resilience and thus to our own species’ survival.

In an age of unprecedented, human-caused extinction and climate change, maintaining high biodiversity will be integral to the biosphere’s health. High biodiversity has been connected to an ecosystem experiencing greater resilience to drastic changes and a greater ability to recover after disturbances (see a wonderful article here http://conservationbytes.com/2014/01/08/more-species-more-resilience/ for some solid reading). This consensus comes at a time when buzz words like “sustainability” and “renewable” are losing favor and words like “resilience” and “stable state ecosystems” are gaining esteem (see another wonderful article here http://conservationmagazine.org/2013/03/good-bye-sustainability-hello-resilience/ for more solid reading).

The strength of the Seeds of Success Program lies in its dedication to preparing for an uncertain future and thereby promoting resilience. The SOS program is clearly preparing for the future through their collection goals. As a whole, SOS works on conducting research and creating large seed banks of “native winners,” early successional species, and populations of common species that are thriving in drier, hotter, and/or higher elevation locales throughout the country. The SOS Program exemplifies the foresight we all must have to ready the U.S. for the stochasticity associated with the inevitable, yet unpredictable, global shifts before us. My co-intern and I are collecting seeds in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which stands as a testament to the beauty, fragility, and longevity of semi-arid ecosystems and our public lands. I see these collections as a way to help the Colorado Plateau Native Plant Program and Seeds of Success be better prepared for an uncertain future and to bolster resilience in the GSENM.

Cleome serrulata and cumulus

Cleome serrulata and cumulus

Plant petroglyph near Bluff, UT

Plant petroglyph near Bluff, UT

In my perfect world, unadulterated logic would dictate the future of conservation biology. Sensitive, unique landscapes like Southern Utah, areas of high biodiversity and low protection like the vast Southeast, and areas of high biodiversity and great threats like the California Floristic Province would be managed for resilience. This would, in my mind, translate into preserving as much biodiversity as possible, all as cheaply as possible. However, this world is far from my ideal, and unprecedented changes are causing deep disruptions that erode resilience and our ability to prevent extinction. Not only are the chemical and physical properties of both the ocean and the atmosphere changing rapidly (on both geologic and human scales), but so are our views of them and the life they harbor. Our biased views have an untold potential to affect ecosystem resilience and the future of biodiversity the world over.

Summertime Blues 147There is an idea in environmentalism and conservation biology that successive generations accept their environments as normal, regardless of historic variations. Thus, whole groups of people lose their collective memory of what the world used to be like because most individuals rely more heavily on their personal experiences than on those of others. This can be hugely evolutionarily beneficial, but it can also be socially and environmentally devastating.

Anecdotally, this idea of “shifting baselines” is intuitive. My generation has grown up with the United States at war on foreign soil because of one day and 60 words (see http://www.buzzfeed.com/gregorydjohnsen/60-words-and-a-war-without-end-the-untold-story-of-the-most#.yfV1ZD7apa for a fascinating read), but we don’t know what it’s like to see an end to a war. My parents’ generation remembers the horrors of fighting in Vietnam and the fall of the Berlin Wall. My grandparents’ generation lived through the Great Depression, witnessed Pearl Harbor being bombed, and saw the end of a World War. As each generation succeeds the last, ideas that are unthinkable, unimaginable, or simply unconventional become normalized. Thus the collective baseline of reality shifts and the past becomes history. This phenomenon can be referred to as the “shifting baseline syndrome.”

By way of a common scientific example, fisheries scientists and fishermen through the centuries have been chronically susceptible to shifting baseline syndrome. Due to collective shifts in reality, modern day seafarers cannot – or will not – fully comprehend their predecessors’ environments and instead rely on their own immediate realities to assess the world. This is creating a dangerous collective ignorance in the managing and harvesting of marine living resources.

Callum Roberts, in his 2007 book An Unnatural History of the Sea, provides some anecdotal evidence of the shifting baseline syndrome by exploring the oft neglected descriptions of what the oceans were like hundreds of year ago. Accounts from Europeans arriving in North America paint a nearly inconceivable picture of marine abundance that is almost entirely forgotten – or else deemed irrelevant and wholly ignored – by today’s fishing industry. In stark contrast to today’s depleted oceans, John Smith, the first governor of Jamestown, said that halibut were so common on the coasts “that the fisher men onely eate the heads & fines, and throw way the bodies” (qtd. in The Ocean of Life, Roberts 2012).

As another example, the Atlantic cod used to be an economically and gastronomically invaluable species, feeding peoples wherever land touched the North Atlantic. As the species’ value increased, so did fishing pressure. Catch quotas were eventually set, but, without any data, they were more or less arbitrary as far as the species’ health was concerned. As time went on quotas began being set relative to recent quota data. These new numbers, however, were based on an already significantly reduced global population of cod, and were thus set far above maximum sustainable yield (MSY). As catch quotas were set without using long-term and historic data, overfishing became the norm without any pomp or, indeed, any fleeting notice. Decades after the Atlantic cod fishery’s collapse and belated strict protection, the species has still not recovered. It is now generally accepted that the species is not likely to regain its size during the peak of fishing and will certainly never return to its historic peak prior to its boom in popularity.

The incomparable Pacific - full of finite resources

The incomparable Pacific – full of finite resources

While John Smith grew accustomed to the marine abundance in our Northeast, we are currently baffled by his descriptions. While Europeans and Canadians believed in the limitless bounty of the Atlantic cod, few laypeople know of its tragic story and are filling themselves with frozen fish fillets from the Antarctic instead. When once hand lines and minimal time commitment could feed a family, today’s oceans are filled with an enormous number of hooks, lines, nets, trawls, and weights – all increasing fishing effort but not increasing catches. In all likelihood, as the oceans continue to degrade and as species continue to be lost, successive generations will see the sea as just how it is supposed to be. These stories, and the objective data backing them, exemplify the shifting baseline syndrome. We should all take a moment to appreciate how terribly and drastically our oceans have changed and should simultaneously appreciate that our terrestrial ecosystems must also be in danger.

Purshia mexicana seeds

Purshia mexicana seeds

A canyon tree frog

A canyon tree frog

Though the shifting baseline syndrome specifically refers to how people view their natural environments, the broader idea that accompanies it is that ecosystems can, and do, shift between stable states. In other words, the “shifting baseline syndrome” might be merely the anthropocentric view of ecosystem change acquired throughout a long, complex evolution. However, like with extinction, rate is crucial. Our world is changing fast and our ability to forget past environments in order to adapt to new conditions is no longer a boon. Oceanography and atmospheric science have shown that it is statistically improbable that any inch of the planet remains unaffected by human activity – from the most remote forests or mountain tops to any untouched reef or unseen, aphotic stretches of ocean. In the face of a changing global climate, increasing CO2 absorption by both the atmosphere and the ocean, and increasing reliance on damaging industrial and farming practices, we are entering into a period where shifting baselines and changing ecosystems are going to create unprecedented environments and challenges.

As our species and our planet are journeying to a great cross-roads and we must decide what is worth saving, remembering, and forgetting. Friends, I sincerely hope that we will not forget what it is like to have wild public lands. I hope that we will be immune to the shifting baseline syndrome and will reject the idea that rapid, irreversible species and habitat loss are natural and normal. I hope that we will not take our terrestrial ecosystems and resources for granted like we have for marine and freshwater ecosystems. I hope that wild places will remind us of our origins, our birthright, and our responsibilities to others. I hope beyond hope that programs like SOS will be able to restore and bolster resilience in our magnificent public lands. And, above all, I hope that our species, our varying populations filled with a plethora of beliefs, ideologies, creeds, values, backgrounds, privileges, socioeconomic statuses, and goals, will work together to preserve this planet’s rich biodiversity and thus protect our collective home.

Smoke and Sage Grouse

It is August in Lander, and the west is on fire. Heavy spring rainfall resulted in high grass production, but the summer months have been very dry – causing all that grass to dry up and become great fuel for fires. The Lander Field Office area has seen 68 smaller wildfires this season, but nothing too major. However, huge wildfires have been burning in Washington, Oregon, and Southern California and sending their smoke here. For the past week Lander has been in a smokey haze. The smoke is so thick it is hard to even see the mountains we live right next to. I drove through Grand Teton National Park last weekend and wasn’t even able to see the Teton’s at all. The smoke burns your eyes and has been making my throat sore. The amount of smoke in the air has helped me visualize the enormity of the wildfires currently burning in the western states.

At work, we have been doing a little bit of seed collection here and there. Most of the forbs are done blooming for the season, and we are currently waiting on some of the shrubs to go into seed this fall.

We have been working on more rangeland monitoring work, and we have also been doing some utilization studies. This involves us measuring grazed vs. ungrazed plants in an area to see how much of the plant is being utilized on average in a pasture. We also have been helping a bit with compliance monitoring, which pretty much means “make sure the cows are in the right pastures”. As part of compliance monitoring, we got to hike through the Sweetwater Canyon to check for cows. The canyon walls are too steep for a car to get down, so you have to hike the canyon. The whole canyon is about eight miles long, so it took us a full day to hike. The canyon was beautiful, and we saw many deer, elk, and a coyote. We thankfully didn’t see any cows or overgrazed areas in the canyon.

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Sweetwater canyon hike to check for cows

One of the most exciting things we have done this month was collaring sage grouse. Emma and I went out with our wildlife specialist and a couple of grad students to help them with their Ph.D project. The students were tracking the nesting success and survival rates of the sage grouse. To be able to track these things, the birds are fitted with VHS collars. I got to help with the collaring stage. To catch the sage grouse we went out in the middle of the night, because the birds are roosting and it is easier to catch them that way. We used spotlights from the truck to locate the sage grouse. When some were spotted, we would grab long nets and run through the sagebrush at them, while keeping the spotlight on them to cause confusion. Once netted, we would grab them out of the net and fit them with a collar. We stayed out until 2 AM, but unfortunately didn’t catch as many as we were hoping for. The experience was still a lot of fun, and we may help out again in the fall.

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Caught a sage grouse!

This month some of my college friends took a road trip out to Wyoming to come to visit me. We went to Yellowstone and had a great time, even though it was freezing! It got down into the 30’s overnight, which made for some cold nights in the tent. I love the fact that I live so close to Yellowstone National Park, I have already been there twice- and I have plans to go again soon!

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Yellowstone National Park – Hot spring

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Yellowstone National Park- Porcelain Basin

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Yellowstone National Park- Mammoth Hot Springs

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Yellowstone National Park- Mammoth Hot Springs

Since the seed collecting season is winding down, Emma and I are going to be starting wild horse monitoring. I am very excited about this next project!

Until next time,

Erin, Lander Field Office, BLM- Wyoming

Fire and Water

During the last month and a half, we have been wrapping up our ESR monitoring and doing data entry. Looking back, I have learned an enormous amount over the course of my internship. My knowledge of the Bureau of Land Management-as it encompasses public land management -has increased ten-fold. I now believe that I have a more holistic approach to land conservation and management. In particular, my knowledge has augmented in the subjects of fire ecology, riparian monitoring, and rangeland management.

Monitoring at the fire sites, I now understand the multilateral characteristics of fire, as it relates to ecological integrity; fire is an inherent part of the sagebrush steppe ecosystem. However, as an ecological tool, fire has become detrimental to the rangeland. Overarchingly, the invasion of annual grasses, most notably medusa head rye and cheat grass, has displaced native vegetation, and has subsequently increased the fine fuel load. In addition, the extensive drought that has plagued the West has amplified the fine fuel load, as annual invasive plants are more competitive than native vegetation in drought conditions. Consequently, this makes the landscape extremely flammable. A management technique to combat this has been to intensify grazing, which reduces the fine fuel load. Yet, this must be done in a sustainable methodology, so are to preserve the integrity of the plants, especially given the drought conditions.

Moreover, we have learned how to conduct riparian monitoring using the Multiple Indicator Monitoring (MIM) of stream channels and streamside vegetation. This included measuring the greenline to greenline width, documenting what species were in the greenline, what tree species were in the canopy, and what different size substrate was found across the steam channel. I had never done this before, so this was entirely new and fascinating to me. We also had the opportunity to help out with a riparian construction project where we amended head cuts in a stream, so as to raise the water table. To do so, we laid out boulders in a methodical way, which should hopefully catalyze the buildup of sediment. This, in turn, over time, raises the stream back up to the original flood plain level, as head cuts erode streams, making them deeper. I hope to do more riparian monitoring during the remainder of my internship!

Our riparian head cut project!

Our riparian head cut project!