Floral Blooms and Birds of Prey

It’s been over a month now that I’ve been living in Fairbanks, Alaska, and I’ve been lucky enough to watch the rapid transition from snowy mornings to sunny ones. Variability in Alaskan weather, and short term variability at that, is noteworthy. Not long ago I was cycling to work with nothing but my eyes exposed and walking outside to see this on my bike one afternoon…

…now this morning I walked outside with shorts and a t-shirt on after a week of forest inventory and another of a raptor surveys. In my last post I mentioned the infamous abrupt change from winter to summer that occurs in Alaska (one I had only been told about by then); in this one I’ll tell you a little more about what that looks like, as well as some of the incredible things I’ve seen and been a part of so far.

Though I showed up in April, it felt as though winter wouldn’t end. Teasing days of warmth gave way to rain or snow for weeks at a time. The transition was subtle yet sudden. As the snow melted, golden grasses of yesteryear showed themselves – their jobs done and their previous summers work about to show itself off. After all, these grasses had spent 2018 creating seed now primed and ready for germination. They weren’t alone in their endeavors either. Following the transition from gold to green, dandelions showed up by lining the roadsides with their infamous yellow flower heads.

The bloom of dandelions only slightly preceded that of willows, birch trees, aspen, and cottonwoods which burst to life from their dormant winter. Green foliage appeared as buds and within a week unfurled into light absorbing leaves ready to transform sun and water into sugars for both themselves and for other wildlife. The city of Fairbanks followed suit. Restaurants that had been closed all winter opened, and I started seeing people standing outside enjoying ice cream in the sun where I had biked through the snow only a few weeks ago. I could see and feel the parallel between the awakening of the natural world and the manmade one.

With the average nightly temperature now above freezing, I was ready to explore more of the Fairbanks area with some overnight camping. Granite Tors became the first stop. Carved by glaciers thousands of years ago, these granite formations sit about an 8 mile hike off the highway to Chena Hot Springs and are well worth a visit. Some of the flowers I saw on the hike (from top left, clockwise) were Arctic Anemone (Anemone drummondii), Milky Draba (Draba lactea), Northern Kittentails (Synthyris borealis), Lowbush Cranberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea; who’s delicious berries I’ll be eating in a couple of months!), and Arctic Lupine (Lupinus arcticus).

I even got lucky enough to avoid a bit of the commonplace afternoon rains on this trip by staying in the cabin on trail…

Leaving Granite Tors, I was excited to discover more arctic plants, but just as much to help out on a Peregrine Falcon survey on the Fortymile River. This trip marked the beginning of the field season for me, and was one incredible way to kick things off. Located six hours outside of Fairbanks toward the Canada border, Fortymile country embodies interior Alaska. There’s a mixture of majestic rolling hills and mountains, the occasional burned through tree stand, wandering families of moose, and constant reminders of remote wilderness. These things combine to bring both a smile to your face and a respectful uneasiness that often dictate if a person stays in Alaska or not.

After setting up the raft and camping riverside the first night, we set off on a sunny morning just outside of Chicken. Craig (a BLM biologist and my supervisor) had taken the truck up to our end point and caught a ride back to the put in. He, Teri (a BLM recreation specialist), and I floated about 30 miles in total, stopping across from potential Peregrine Falcon habitat to sit with our binoculars and scan cliff faces for signs of perches, nests, or the birds themselves. We rafted for a total of four days and spotted around 20 Peregrines, several Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, and plenty of Marmots. While paddling on our third day, I only just managed to avoid colliding with a moose and her calf; we spotted them after coming around a bend on the left bank. As I began paddling to the right to avoid disturbing them, they decided they’d cross the river so back to the left we went! From ten yards away, we sat and watched the mother moose and her calf swim to the right bank and continue their lunch, only a little perturbed by our presence. I don’t have the photo of this but here’s one from the trip…

The morning after I returned from the river trip, I drove out 3 hours from Fairbanks in the same direction as the Fortymile River to Tanacross for the first stage of a forest inventory project. A small airport with only a couple of buildings sits east of the native town with a population of 136. The forest surrounding the airport was the focus of our inventory, where BLM and Tribal Corporation land was torn through by winds raging up to 114 mph in 2012. The project involved measuring live and dead tree heights and their dbh (diameter at breast height), counting downed woody debris along transects, estimating forest canopy cover, and compiling a vegetation list with each species’ total coverage.

I learned how to distinguish white and black spruce on this trip, which I’ve been puzzling over for a few weeks now! The easiest method is to look at their cones (pictured below) – white spruce has long slender cones and black spruce cones are about as wide as they are long. In the absence of cones however, new branch growth can give a clue. White spruce have pubescence along the new growth whereas black spruce do not. It’s not always easy to spot but it works!

We stayed in Tok for this project where we had to stop by Mukluk Land after a long day in the field. This little amusement park/Alaskana museum has been around since 1986 and is run by an elderly lady anyone would be happy to call grandma. She even runs the local newspaper, and if you break 300 in skeeball you get your name in it. I managed to hit 310 after a try or two (or thirteen!), and am waiting for my copy of the June edition with my name and score! Another highlight was the smoked salmon mac and cheese we made for lunch and ate next to the airstrip…

On the 17th of June, I will leave for the Arctic Circle for a month to continue a forest inventory that began last year. I won’t be online until I’m back in town mid-July so my next post won’t be for a while. Good luck to all my fellow CLM-ers in the meantime, it’s been great reading through all of your blogs and hearing about your adventures.

-Andrew

Time flies

I’ve been working at the BLM office in Roseburg Oregon for about a month now and I have loved every day! I came all the way from Florida, not knowing anyone but everyone in the office has been super friendly and done a great job making me feel welcomed. While there’s not much to the town, the beautiful landscape, being surrounded by mountains, lush woods, and the Umpqua River running through it makes up for it.

So far everyday has been a new experience, going out to survey the endangered lupine, surveying for noxious/invasive weeds, and treating it, I’ve even had the opportunity to go out with wildlife to survey bald eagles. My favorite experience so far though has to be the workshop at the Chicago Botanic Garden. It was great meeting the amazing individuals who run the CLM internship, truly some of the nicest people I have met. It was also great meeting the other interns stationed in other offices around the country, some of the best people I’ve met and while we all come from different walks we had a great time! During this week I got advice on career and grad school, learned new skills and refined skills already known. Thank you Joanne, Chris, and Krissa for making it all possible!

Collections Coming Soon!

Work continues to go well for me here in Lander, Wyoming. In the recent weeks, my partner and I began familiarizing ourselves with the Seeds of Success protocol and have done some preliminary surveying for potential collections.

After the plentiful precipitation we have received this month, many plants are finally beginning to flower. One of the steps of the SOS protocol involves collecting voucher specimens of the species you will be collecting seed from. These vouchers specimens are usually collected before the plant goes to seed because the flowers are useful aids in the identification process.

My partner and I went out to a location called Red Canyon and located 6 potential collections there. These species include Aletes sessiliflorus, Pteryxia terebinthina, Lomatium triternatum, Dodecatheon conjugens, Balsamorhiza incana, and Oxytropis sericea.

Red Canyon

Balsamorhiza incana

Other species that we have collected vouchers for include Allium textile, Vicia americana, Erigeron sp., Lomatium foeniculaceum, Cerastium arvense, Astragalus oreganus, Townsendia incana, and Thermopsis rhombifolia.

We recently returned to all of the sites to check the progression of seed set.  Nothing is ready quite yet, but a few species are getting close.  We should be able to begin collecting next week.

Erigeron sp.

 

Welcoming Committee

This past week marked the second week of my internship at the Bureau of Land Management’s Buffalo Field Office in the High Plains District. As I transitioned from formal training to field work, I got a chance to experience the landscape from which this district gets its name. Heading up Route 16 into the Bighorn Mountains, though private, state, and public land was truly a beautiful commute. Myself and our Rangeland Technician were headed to collect an old pile of barbed wire on BLM land. Perhaps this doesn’t sound like the most glamorous of tasks but this is just one piece of making our public lands beautiful, clean and accessible.

The Bighorn Mountains poking up behind the high plains.

Along the way to and from our site we were welcomed by one elk, five mule deer, and three moose, one male and two female. We saw this wildlife wading in wetlands and grazing in the same pastures as cattle, all taking their time grazing on the high plain grasses and shrubs. Traversing this landscape provided views of sprawling sage brush and grasslands on rolling hills with the impressive background of the snowy mountain tops. Looking into the distance at what I thought was more sage brush soon became clearer. A herd a sheep, hundreds, easily the largest I have ever seen.

Rolling the windows down to hear their greetings and say hello to the rancher herding them on an ATV, I felt shift in temperature at this altitude, noticeably cooler than in the valley. We spoke to this land owner about who we were, what we were doing here, as well as the BLM’s role and authorities on the land they manage, asking him about his own observations and suggestions.

While this half day in the field involved several hours of driving just to perform the simple task of picking up barbed wire, this experience gave me a much greater understanding of the land managed by the BLM in this area and the relationships present among humans and wildlife. Boundaries between land ownership seem clear on our maps and are important when it comes to the actions that the BLM takes. However, to the wildlife, good graze is good graze, and they’ll go wherever they can to find it.

– Buffalo Field Office, Bureau of Land Management

New Flora and New Friends

I took a hike after work to some beautiful waterfalls nearby and got to see so much Fallugia paradoxa!

My group and I during the CLM workshop scavenger hunt

 

My scavenger hunt team (myself, Lucas, and Claire) perusing our list for potential nearby plants

My first two weeks of work were mostly training, but it was valuable information sprinkled with some fun team building. At our BLM office in Carlsbad we worked together with the fire guys, the other interns, and some younger people in the office in a series of activities that required blindfolding and communication. At one point we had to send everyone through a type of “spider web” made of rope. That involved picking people up and sending them feet first to the other side, all without touching the rope! It was very difficult, but it definitely brought our office together. When I got to the CBG CLM training I immediately felt welcomed and appreciated by the awesome staff who perfectly organized the workshop for us with tons of useful information and even more amazing food during the week. I was taken aback by the kindness, sincerity, and authenticity of Krissa, Chris, Joanne, and the other members of the CLM team. Since these first weeks were full of job and safety training I had a lot of time and energy to explore both Carlsbad and Chicago after work. We have a few really nice parks in our area of New Mexico and I loved getting a relaxed introduction into the new landscape and flora. One of my favorite parts of the workshop in Chicago was Chris’ scavenger hunt around the Botanic Garden. We were all so jazzed for the opportunity to explore, and having a goal meant we were joyfully forced to become fast friends with our fellow interns. I feel so honored to be starting in this position and thankful in advance for all the things I’ve yet to learn!

Wilderness Medicine Right from the Start

There were bodies everywhere as we walked out into the sun. My partner and I made eye contact and walked over to the nearest patient, ready to follow the procedures we had just learned. One… is the area safe for us to operate. Two… what appears to be the Mechanism of Injury. Three… put on proper protective gear… By the time we finished our initial assessment of the scene, we were ready to address the simulated situation with calm, confidence and a supportive attitude.

I was extremely fortunate to start my internship with an intensive Wilderness Medicine training conducted by NOLS. After a week’s road trip out to my new position, I started Monday in Buffalo, WY at the BLM Field Office. I had hardly finished the initial tour of the place when a supervisor came up and asked how I would like to take the last open slot for a wilderness first aid course being offered a few hours away that a number of the office staff would be attending. I of course agreed and so began my week of training. The first two days at the office were filled with the basic safety training necessary to work for the BLM, especially driving and field pitfalls. When I was not in training sessions, I was at my computer, finishing the required online trainings on government policy and UTV prep. On Wednesday, several of the office headed out to Casper to begin the real deal: wilderness medicine training.

The three day session, lead by two extremely competent and supportive instructors, covered a remarkable number of topics. We learned how to assess the scene when arriving as one of the first responders, followed by the essential aspects of a patient assessment to ensure that airways, breathing and circulation were unimpaired. We became CPR certified and learned how to conduct head-to-toe patient exams, monitor vital signs, and collect important patient information to radio back to medical emergency establishments. Then came the lessons on evacuations, spine injuries, shock, head trauma, wound management, infection prevention and treatment, burns, blisters, splinting, musculoskeletal injuries, heat and cold illnesses, altitude sickness, lightning strikes, and more. Three days into the internship and while I may not have had any furniture in my apartment, I at  least had the knowledge to deal with a plethora of wilderness accidents.

The most important part of the training was definitely when these lessons were put into practice through simulations. The participants were divided into three groups, with each group respectively acting as patients that the other two groups would have to assess and treat. Even when frustrating, these were invaluable learning tools that really sought to take best field medical practices and make them muscle memory. After many hours spent either lying (as the patient) or kneeling (as the responder) in the sun, I felt much more prepared, in the case of a real emergency, to do my best for the patient in a calm, composed and professional manner.

As my first week ends, my training does not. While I do have further scheduled trainings on computer programs and UTV operation in the coming week, I don’t believe I will ever stop learning something new in this position, and am excited to see what the coming months bring.

Rec Intern, BLM, Buffalo WY

A Whole New (Plant) World

Moving 1400 miles from Northern California to Carlsbad, NM has brought both expected and wildly unexpected changes. While I had mentally prepared for the change in plant life and nearly unbearable heat, I have been caught off guard by the frequent evening thunderstorms, buffeting winds, overabundance of enormous trucks, and the unanticipated beauty of southeastern New Mexico.

Let’s Talk Plants

The majority of my botanical experience had been in Northern California until three weeks ago. The Carlsbad landscape was entirely foreign to me as I drove into town. Strange cacti, thorny shrubs, and countless forbs greeted me as I ventured into the field with my mentor and fellow interns. Our first day in the field was spent scouting a population of the special status species Linum allredii. While we did see flowering individuals of this rare plant (see below), we were also met with plants that had been grazed. Soon enough, we found hungry, hungry caterpillars munching away at the young buds and immature fruits of about 60% of the plants.

Linum allredii

Caterpillar munching on L. allredii

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our next day out, we surveyed a proposed project site for another special status species, Coryphantha robustispina ssp. scheeri. Scheer’s beehive cactus is an unassuming little plant, lying low to the ground with spines appearing to be neighboring grasses upon first sight.

Scheer’s beehive cactus

As I’m learning the plants in my new desert home, I am struck by how variable different individuals of the same species can look based on the resources it is provided. Driving through the lands managed by the BLM’s Carlsbad Field Office it may seem as if diversity is lacking, but upon closer inspection, the desert is full of variety. I’m learning brand new species, genera, and even families every day. I already feel more comfortable with the plants here after three weeks, but still have so far to go (especially with grasses).

Every Day is a Blustery One

I knew the weather in New Mexico would be very different from my California mountain home, but I did not expect the intense winds and sudden thunderstorms that I have been greeted with. Apparently summer is monsoon season in the desert southwest? Every evening this week has brought violent thunderstorms that pour rain and sometimes hail, have strong gusts of wind, and all the lightning and thunder you could ask for – while maintaining an outside temperature of approximately 85 degrees. It is yet to be determined if I will get sick of the storms – I have sat on my front porch and admired each one so far.

Even on the sunny days, with blue sky and intense heat, you can count on the wind to nearly blow your hat off at least once. It can make the heat more bearable, but also makes it very hard to collect plant specimens. However, my fellow Seeds of Success crew members and I have come up with a nearly perfect method for data recording and specimen collecting in our new desert environment and we continue to perfect it every day.

Final Thoughts

Although the transition to desert plants and desert heat has been a challenge so far, I’m beyond excited to explore New Mexico and all it has to offer. I can’t wait to meet more new, weird plants and animals and start collecting some seeds! I feel so grateful to have an enthusiastic mentor behind me and fellow plant nerds beside me. And hopefully the heat won’t kill me.

Brilliantly camouflaged horned toad

Beautiful views in the Guadalupe Mountains

Cheers,

Aly

SOS crew member, BLM Carlsbad Field Office

 

Grazing and Wyoming

When I left Cleveland, I did not know what to expect. The only certainty was that I was about to drive over 1500 miles west to work as a range land monitoring intern at The Bureau of Land Management in Lander, Wyoming. Two weeks in, I can say that I still have a lot to learn but I am excited about the road ahead.

After five days of driving, and doing some exploring on the way, I reached my destination. Despite the weather, (it snowed most of my first week in town) this small mountain town in central Wyoming was very welcoming. The people are very friendly, the landscape is awe-inspiring, and there always seems to be this aura of tranquility all around.

Although I was not able to get out into the field much my first week, the wintry weather allowed me to settle in at the office. I became acquainted with many affable coworkers, and began to gain appreciation for the wide variety of intriguing work done in the BLM office. Wild land firefighting, work with wild horses, archaeology. It was eye-opening to see how all these different facets of conservation converge.

Most importantly, the scope of my range monitoring duties began to come into focus.  After two weeks on the job I still feel like I’m just getting my feet wet, but I have a firm grasp on what my duties will be as I ease into independence in the field. If I had to sum up my responsibilities in one word I guess it would be…cows? Counting the numbers of cows in a grazing allotment, looking at brands on cattle to derive their ownership, and making sure cows aren’t in areas they shouldn’t be. There’s also a fair amount of botany and other skills involved, but even then, these skills are used to monitor the grazing habits of cattle.

From a recent tour of the field, you can see the Sweetwater rocks off in the distance beneath the vast blue sky

The Lander field office is responsible for more land than I imagined. I, together with another intern, will be largely responsible for monitoring a sizable chunk of that. It’s intimidating, but after a couple tours of the vast countryside, I think I’m beginning to get a grip on how to navigate it. Other than off-road driving skills, and a few short lessons in monitoring techniques and plant ID, I have a lot to learn. I’m eager to progress and I look forward to reporting back when I’m fully immersed in my work!

I rode along to a meeting with a rancher to view the progress of a prescribed burn site and met the rancher’s 4 dogs

 

Learning and Scouting

After a little over a month here, I’m slowly getting acclimated to the town and the expectations of the internship. Since last time, my co-intern and I have been scouting for seed collection areas, which have included different areas in Red Canyon and various trips outside of Lander, such as Tough Creek (north of Shoshoni) and along the Gas Hills Highway. So far, we have vouchers for roughly 15 collections that we hope will be ready soon. We welcome the outdoor time after a very precipitous beginning of the month!

We also had the opportunity to work with a botanist from the Nature Conservancy in the Red Canyon area, which included identifying plants and monitoring different types of seeding methods. Broad spread seeding applications and the presence or absence of furrowing were two of these methods. The two main species we worked with were Indian Rice Grass and a sage (Artemesia) species. It was incredible to be able to learn how to identify each of these plants from such a young age! They were roughly a centimeter or so tall (if we were lucky!) as we had our faces to the ground, scouring the plot to count each plant 🙂

Another exciting opportunity we had this past month was to be on an SOS (Seeds of Success) conference call that discussed the BLM Native Grass and Forb Seed Increase IDIQ Contract. Having only worked with seeds from the Midwest, I at first did not understand why this new “seed grow-out” idea was so exciting for Wyoming and those nearby. The seed grow-out involves BLM offices collecting a certain amount of seeds of a certain species and sending it out to a third party. This third party will then grow these seeds (and multiply them), and then field offices can buy these seeds back in bulk. From my limited experience, I couldn’t understand why the field offices would not just purchase seeds from a local/Wyoming native plant nursery. The fact is, there are no native plant nurseries that the field offices can buy in bulk from! So whenever these field offices must purchase seeds for seeding projects (such as for rehabilitation, reclamation, and restoration), the seeds are not able to come from the same ecoregion that they are being planted in, and therefore not truly native to the region and are not as successful as they could be. So this is really exciting! I’m hoping to be able to be on similar calls in the future and find out how this progresses!

What a Week!

If anyone ever asks if you want to go hang out with entomologists and botanists-don’t think twice, just answer “YES!!”.

That is exactly what myself and my CLM partner, Claire Parsons, did when our mentor proposed learning and working with USDA entomologists and Idaho renowned botanists for a week on a Research Natural Area (RNA). RNAs are preserved areas that represent a habitat and can be used for education, research, and monitoring purposes. The one we happily raced to was a low shrub upland salt desert shrub habitat within the Salmon-Challis National Forest and BLM land in Idaho.

At the heart of the RNA: Middle Canyon!

Our goal was to verify the RNA’s integrity, plant diversity, document baseline pollinator presence, and search for some lovely rare plant species. Claire and I, besides having the opportunity to botanize and learn from the coolest and most knowledgeable people, received direction on the Seeds of Success (SOS) process-one of our primary projects this summer. We found two populations, one of Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagitatta) and Shaggy Fleabane (Erigeron pumilus) that we can come back to during seed-set!

Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagitatta).

Within the first two days on the RNA we found three rare species: Spreading Gilia (Ipomopsis polycladon), Lost River Milkvetch (Astragalus amnis-amissi), and the super dainty Alkali Primrose (Primula alcalina). All signs that the RNA is a diverse and special place that should continue to be preserved. Finding the plants meant that official documentation was needed; Claire and I were able to exercise our GPS know-how and complete the official field-paperwork.

Alkali Primrose (Primula alcalina), how sweet!

Such an awesome group of scientists-watching the entomologists at work was super cool.

We also observed pollinator catching, drafted comprehensive species lists, and asked as many questions as we had all while hiking through canyons, along rivers and alluvial fans, and crunching across the desert shrub steppe.

The river (you can kind of see it going around a bend here) gave us a chance to cool our feet down mid-day!

Going up Middle Canyon, we choose to walk off the trail a bit and search out as many plants as possible.

The fun didn’t end either, after field work we would all head back to the field station nestled below the Lemhi mountain range. Claire and I pressed our plant specimens, ogled and peppered the entomologist as they ordered their tiny, winged specimens, keyed out plants we had collected in the field, then enjoyed dinner while laughing and conversing below the mountain peaks.

A sneak peak of all the pollinators doing good work out on the RNA.

Keying out some paintbrush (Castilleja angustifolia) with M.M.-the coolest botanists in Idaho.

It was so refreshing to be surrounded by professionals who loved botany and ‘talked’ botany; I couldn’t get enough of it. I made connections, became so much more familiar with the plants of the region, and feel super prepared to execute SOS work, bring it on!

Caribou-Targhee National Forest, ID