Land-use history in the Lincoln NF

Hello again with another update out of the Lincoln National Forest! It has been a busy month for me due to an injury, conferences, and a new remote project. The biggest news is that I am recovering from a broken ankle and two torn ligaments due to (what I thought was) a simple fall while completing rare plant surveys in the field. I am currently working on a remote project that is focused on creating a database of grazing permits to help the Rocky Mountain Research Station evaluate land use over time. While this injury is pretty unfortunate for the future of my fieldwork as a CLM intern, I am learning to adjust to new projects and a different side of land management. I have been working from home for the past month and have also had the opportunity to virtually attend conferences for both the Botanical Society of America and the Ecological Society of America. 

For this blog post, I wanted to follow fellow CLM intern Lili Benitez’s lead and discuss the land-use history of the Lincoln National Forest, with the intention to learn and think critically about my position as an uninvited visitor on the unceded territory of the Mescalero Apache tribe (also known as Mashgalé-õde / Mashgalénde / Mashgalé-neí). The term Mescalero was first used by Spanish Colonists as a reference to the traditional practice of harvesting agave for mescal production. The Mescalero Apache people have a long history of land use in the SW central region of NM, primarily relying on the forests and mountainous areas for resources and shelter from the heat of the desert basin. The region’s mountains, some of which are located in the Lincoln National Forest, are important centers of spiritual tradition and community. Leading up to the formation of the Mescalero Apache Reservation by Ulysses S. Grant in 1873, the Mescalero Apache people were subjected to decades of state-sanctioned occupation and violence from the U.S. Army. Today there are three subtribes: Mescalero, Lipan, and Chiricahua which make up the Mescalero Apache Tribe. The current reservation is located on 463,000 acres of land just north of the current boundaries of the Lincoln National Forest. 

In 1876 Congress formed the position of Special Agent in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, beginning the long history of natural resource management at the federal level in the United States. This office eventually transformed into the modern-day U.S. Forest Service which currently manages over 193 million acres of land. It is important to understand, especially considering my current position as a CLM intern working with the Forest Service, that this land is unceded territory currently being managed by the Forest Service due to a long history of colonization and erasure of native people from the landscape.

The Lincoln National Forest began as the Lincoln Forest Reserve in 1902 and by 1907 it had expanded to include the Smokey Bear Ranger District. In 1908 the Sacramento and Guadalupe Forests were combined to create the Alamo National Forest and in 1917 President Woodrow Wilson merged the Alamo Forest with the Lincoln Forest Reserve to form the boundaries of the modern Lincoln National Forest. The Lincoln Forest has since served as an important center for cattle grazing, timber production, and recreation in the region.

Mexican Canyon trestle in LNF.

As a botanist, I was taught to identify plants with a Latin binomial nomenclature system, which is the standard accepted in the scientific community. However, this practice results in the erasure of the botanical knowledge that native people have gained through the use and study of plants in their communities. So, in an effort to decolonize my botanical knowledge I looked into some common plants in New Mexico, such as the mescal agave, and learned both the scientific name (Agave parryi) and the Mescalero Apache name (Astaneh). I encourage you to think about incorporating these names in your scholarship and to always examine the land-use history while doing fieldwork.

Until next time! Emma

Unpredictable and Crazy Couple of Weeks

Hello again from Alamogordo!

The past month has been kinda crazy, filled with lots of different activities and a lot has changed since my last blog post. My co-intern Emma broke her ankle while in the field (which was crazy!) so we have not been able to do our normal surveying. To give her some time to heal we got to attend Botany 2020 and the Ecological Society of America Virtual conferences which were so cool! But once we found out Emma would need more time to heal than just two weeks, the nature of my internship shifted a little to give me a wider range of experiences. I have been able to write and read forest service reports, dabble with some data entry, gone into the field alone and work with other multiple crews on different Forest Service projects and fill in where ever I am needed. Though these last couple of weeks have been unpredictable, wild and spontaneous, I feel really lucky to be given the chance to learn so many new things and be involved with different surveying and monitoring projects and techniques, which I know will be useful for my future!

While working with another Natural Resources crew, I helped complete grazing surveys and different vegetative surveys for federally endangered species here at the Lincoln National Forest, such as the New Mexican meadow jumping mouse, the Mexican spotted owl, Goodings Onion and, my favorite, the Sacramento prickly poppy. I have also been really lucky to get out to countless new areas and districts of the Forest, including Sierra Blanca which is the highest peak in Southern New Mexico. Each of these monitoring projects requires different surveying and monitoring equipment, techniques and protocol, which I was so excited to learn about and work with. I have gotten the chance to get up close and personal to so many new plants than I otherwise would have been able to learn about and see so much more of the Lincoln, working across all the districts. While working on these projects I expanded my grass ID, invasive and native plant species knowledge and surveying skills.

I feel really grateful to learn so many new things, gain new skills, meet new people, and go to some really cool places, but I am hoping Emma heals quickly and can return to the field soon!

Here are just some pictures from my unpredictable, and crazy past couple of weeks!

One of the ski hills at Ski Apache on Sierra Blanca
Views from the top of Sierra Blanca
Lightning Canyon
Views from unnamed peaks in the Lincoln

Until next time!

-Julie

We are having a CRATE time.

Michele here from the City that Built the Hoover Dam. That is Boulder City, NV if you did not know that fun fact.

This week the Joshua Tree Genome Project team was greeted by a break from the desert heat. A high of 81℉??? What a delight. At 10PM I felt a chill in the air for the first time since I arrived in the desert. For a group of interns that are accustomed to fall breezes and leaves turning blazes of orange and red, we were ecstatic to see some weather that even sort of resembled a “fall” before a swift return to 100 degrees awaits us.

Aside from the cool weather, this week the interns split into two teams. Two of us went into the desert to help monitor a restoration project and two of us continued working at the greenhouse taking care of the Joshua Tree seedlings. I was on the greenhouse team. Along with continuing to collect data on the growth of the Joshua Trees, our task for the week seemed simple at first. Our goal is to plant new seeds for the Joshua Trees that had died after transplanting the seedlings into the crates, but then we took a closer look at how many needed reseeding. Lets just say, we planned for 3,200 trees in our crates and we need to reseed nearly half that number. Nonetheless, we took on the task and persevered through the maze of tracking down each seedling that needing replacement, preparing plant bands for reseeding, finding the corresponding maternal lines to reseed, and of course planting the seeds. This time around, we would plant the seeds directly into the plant bands and we would plant two seeds in hopes of increasing our chances of having a healthy tree from all of the maternal lines needed. By the very end of the week, we had reached our goal, and our crates were FULL of seeds.

The crates are prepped and labeled for reseeding. Intern Nick is seeding away!

To say that all of our plants were dying, however, is far from the truth and quite the negative perspective. The trees that are healthy, are absolutely thriving! We are starting to have a little forest of Joshua Tree seedlings. They are beginning to have as many as five leaves on them! It is amazing to see them grow from the first signs of life, as at the first stages they could be easily confused for a blade of grass. Now they are beginning to look a bit more like multiple blades of grass! I know, how thrilling! But for the life of a Joshua Tree Genome Project intern, it really is incredible.

A thriving Joshua Tree seedling
Joshua Tree seeds; some say they look like watermelon seeds. What do you think?
A little ‘forest’ of Joshua Tree seedlings

Next week the team is switching spots, which means I get to go out into the field! I am excited for my first true adventure out into the desert. Usually the field work I have done in the past has been venturing out into forests or prairies, so I am excited to see the contrast the desert will provide. One of my true joys is venturing far into natural landscapes that are well off the beaten path. Having the opportunity to experience places that many others have not is such a blessing. I am excited to see the native plants, walk through the dust, and gaze up at the stars at night.

Until next time, happy trails!

Michele

Planning for the future: collecting seeds for sagebrush habitat restoration

This season we did one small collection for the Seeds of Success program! This collection was of Crepis acuminata (common name: Tapertip hawksbeard, Shoshone name: yham•bah•wuhrn), a small yellow flower in the family Asteraceae, tribe Chichorieae. It occurs in all western states from California, Oregon and Washington east to Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico (USDANRCS, 2011).

These flowers are targeted in restoration efforts because they support wildlife including generalist bee species, sage grouse, elk, deer, and antelope. It is also utilized by livestock such as sheep and cattle! Based on seed transfer zone information and a previous scouting trip, we chose to gather seeds from about 3 hours from the field office, near the Duck Valley Indian Reservation and the border of Nevada, homeland to the Shoshone-Paiute tribes. Heading out there a couple days in a row resulted in a decent amount of driving time, but with some good music and podcasts, it went by pretty quickly! 

Important note: if you are choosing to travel/recreate during this time, try to do your research ahead and be respectful of indigenous territory and travel restrictions that tribes are implementing. Many reservations are being impacted particularly hard from COVID-19, and an influx of tourists/travelers can bring an increase in cases. 

Seed collecting is a very relaxing experience. I settled into a rhythm: find a plant, pick off the white tufts of seeds and feel them between my fingers to check for insect larvae, and then place them into the paper bag at my feet. repeat. It becomes almost meditative after a while. Our first day the heat was pretty intense so we didn’t stay more than an hour or so before heading back, but the following day was cooler and we were able to settle down and collect for a few hours. By the end of our second day we had a modest pile of white fluffy seeds, a promise of future little Crepis seedlings out scattered among the sagebrush.

By mid-august the Crepis acuminata was well over flowering and was getting very dry and crispy. My mentor Jessa often jokes that a lot of our work in the summer here requires getting good at necrobotany.
The plant community in the area we collected was primarily perennial grasses such as bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata) surrounded with scattered sagebrush (Artemisia sp.),  and various forbs also associated with sagebrush communities.
Crepis flowers are quite cute! They have a white fluffy pappus that helps them disperse in the wind. Since we collected a little late, a lot of the heads had insect larvae damage inside (which is apparently common with Tapertip hawksbeard according to an observation way back in 1938 by Babcock and Stebbins), which made it more difficult to collect viable seeds but we still managed to do a small collection!
After two days of seed collection we treated the seeds with some no-pest strips and then packed those babies up and shipped them off to the Bend Seed Extractory in Oregon! They’ll be cleaned and used in future seeding projects. 

Until next time!

Lili

The Joys of Research Under the Desert Sun

Like a well oiled machine headed down Route 66, we worked through another meeting regarding the Joshua Tree Genome project (JTGP). After hashing out questions, and weaving through theoretical discussions with an almost religious fervor, we finally felt ready to disconnect from our mentors and carry out our plan, and so we did. And in that single click, a wave of relief brushed over us momentarily as the tension of another video call rescinded. But this post-collaboration satisfaction came crashing down as soon as we opened our mouths again to reveal that all four of us interns had a completely separate and completely different understanding of what we had just agreed to do over the call.

“I think I’m just gonna call Lesley back”

“Thanks Olivia”

CLM Interns Michele Beadle (left) and Olivia Turner (Right) scrupulously working through our collected germination data in search of discrepancies

The above passage highlights some of the joys engendered by botanical collaboration under the desert sun. And despite its sweaty faults and confusing twists and turns, we still consider it fun. Fun in an esoteric “type-2” sense of the word, but fun none-the-less! This week’s “fun” has coalesced itself in the form of 3 main lessons.

Lesson #1: Sorghum cotyledons look pretty similar to Joshua Tree cotyledons. We had been enthralled with the idea that one of our mighty seedlings was growing so quickly! The seedling in question was one of the first plants we were able to observe as the germination experiment was just getting off the ground. In excitement we called over one of our mentors, Todd Esque, to show him our photosynthetic anomaly! Looking first to the plant, and then back to me, he couldn’t help but let out a gentle chuckle before asking why we were growing crops in the greenhouse. In hindsight it should’ve been obvious we were growing a member of the grass family, but hindsight always runs 20/20 (as we all know).

Two very healthy Joshua Tree seedling cotyledons
Our healthy sorghum plants serve as evidence that if research doesn’t work out, perhaps agriculture would be a successful venture for the 4 of us

Lesson #2: Joshua Trees are plants of the desert, and probably should not be sitting in pools of water. During our stint as sole operators of the greenhouse whilst our mentors took a much needed break, we followed a strict schedule. Water the crates every morning at 8:00 AM, and water more lightly every evening at 4:00 PM. We ritualistically followed these guidelines given to us, without even considering the warning signs of over watering. Some of these warning signs included the rust orange pools of filth gathering underneath our crates, the intensifying humidity of our work environment, and of course the emerging fungal “snow cover” noted upon the substrate of some of our plants. Luckily for us our head mentor, Lesley Defalco, pulled the plug on our 5000 attempted murders, and as a result our plants did not spend enough time swamped to be significantly damaged! We now follow a more conservative practice of watering only every other day, which saves water and cuts our work time as well!

A look at our crates, which will soon house 3200 young Joshua Trees

Lesson #3: We truly are in good hands here in Boulder City, Nevada. The work down here has been extremely rewarding, but it hasn’t been without its difficulties. Keeping up with the germination of 5000 plants, and then working to transplant well over 1000 plants all while tracking every seed meticulously on a daily basis has proven difficult for a team of 4. Add on top of this consistent temperatures of 110+ Fahrenheit, and no days off for 2 weeks straight, and you might get a disgruntled group of botanical goblins! But, while I would still entertain the label of botanical goblin, I would not say we became disgruntled, and this is because our mentors, sympathetic to our struggles, ordered that we take two days off in the middle of the week and recharge. Research is difficult, and working to create the best data possible for such an incredible and important project is a stressful proposition. But we 4 interns feel confident that, when push comes to shove, our mentors, the JTGP team, and The Chicago Botanic Garden truly have our best interests in mind.

All smiles from “The City that Built The Hoover Dam” as Michele Beadle transplants a healthy Joshua Tree seedling to its respective crate

That’s all for this week from the desert!

Stay Cool,

Nicholas Filannino

Greetings from the Monongahela National Forest.

FROM THE JUMP

My name is Ivy Makia and I am one of two CLM interns out here in the Marlinton-White Sulphur district office at the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. I’m just a little over a month into my program and dare I say—everything has been all but conventional. From the very start of the pandemic, I was so on edge about everything, particularly about the status of my internship and whether or not I’d have to miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime. As someone whose been dreaming about this program for the last two years of undergrad and had no other post-graduation plans other than doing this, I felt so incredibly grateful and relieved to be able to take part. This deep sense of appreciation has really set the tone for my time here so far, despite the ups and downs; the only down being a bout of pharyngitis which I developed two days into my 14-day quarantine. While that was pretty rough, I think back on it positively because I didn’t miss out on any work and I got to eat a lot of soup!

Upon first arriving in West Virginia, I was completely enamored by her beauty and limitless amount of open green spaces and rolling hills. I definitely wasn’t in Florida anymore! While the views here are utterly spectacular, the one thing that stands out the most is the quiet. The complete absence of heavy traffic and never ending construction filled me with so much more joy than I anticipated. How could I ever go back to the big city?

First sign that I had made it!

PEAS IN A POD

Caroline (right) and I (left) after a day of assisting fish biologists on a Trout habit survey using electrofishing!

Throughout my short time here, while life has been shifting around me, the only constant has been my co-intern, Caroline. Before I met her, I wasn’t too sure about what to expect and I was super nervous that my lack in hiking experience would frustrate her and put a strain on whatever work relationship or friendship we might develop. And even after meeting her and talking to her on occasion during our time in quarantine, I was still so nervous and even intimidated because of how different her way of life was from mine. It wasn’t until after our quarantine was over and we had moved into the bunkhouse that our friendship took off! When I thought 2020 couldn’t surprise me anymore, I was blessed with this incredible human who is one of my biggest supporters.

As I hinted at earlier, I have no experience with hiking, let alone nature! I come from a tourist city where our best attractions are all man made. So when I confessed my noob status to her, the first thing she did was take me to a trail and guided me through my first ever hike. On that hike, I saw so much beauty and learned new things about myself and about my new friend, Caroline.

Caroline and I on my first hike

That trail was pretty easy compared to the off trail hikes we’ve since had to do on botanical surveys. Last week’s survey in particular, was the hardest hike. The unit that we surveyed that day was nearly 88 steep acres, and on top of that we were getting mercilessly thwacked by the red spruce trees that dominated the area. It got to a point where I couldn’t go on and I was brought to actual tears by the exhaustion and disappointment that panged throughout my being. While I was frustrated by my physical inability to keep going, I was so grateful for Caroline because from the very start of the hike she was there for me. Before I knew what was going on, she always had her hand out for me to grab. Before I knew to speak up for myself, she always stepped in to make sure we took a moment so I could breathe. I can honestly say that I don’t think I would have been able to get as far as I did without her presence and her unwavering support. I felt so weak for crying but she somehow made me feel strong. That was the day that I knew that I couldn’t have gotten a better co-intern and friend.

MORE TO COME

Due to the concerns surrounding COVID, our start date was pushed back by nearly two months (when you include quarantining) but it was definitely for the best considering that most of the flora here have just begun flowering or going into fruit. So we’re finally going to jump into seed collecting as early as next week! Until then, Caroline and I will continue to study the plants that fill this amazing and vast forest ecosystem.

Ivy

Fruity treasures

There is a remarkable place behind the Monongahela Ranger Station in Marlinton, West Virginia. Beyond the parking lot, through Mountain View graveyard and around the forest road gate lie the remains of the old Marlin Mountain fruit farm, now regenerated into mixed oak-maple hardwood forest speckled with patches of rhododendron in the understory. From the standpoint of the common recreationist, this deciduous forest may appear altogether ordinary, if not dull. It is likely that the inconspicuous treasures of these woods will be missed by anyone who arrives ill-equipped for noticing the hidden. Finding the enchantments of this forest requires a keen eye, a sharp nose, and an openness to impulsive excursions off trail. A seeker must be willing to break through spider webs, crawl over windsnap, kneel frequently in the mud, and earnestly enjoy the rain. If you’re like me and are prone to wandering, and you have plans to go on a casual trail run through this forest, be warned: your plans have been thwarted. 

Although it was early golden hour in the open expanse of the graveyard, the gilded, green vegetation diminished as soon as I passed under the first arch of trees on the forest road. In the dim light, trunks and leaf litter fused into homogenous gray walls hemming the dirt road, which itself was barely bright enough to continue. I pressed on at a cautious pace, scanning the road for ankle-rolling rocks while keeping my peripheral awareness open. Fifty paces into the jog, I was stopped in my tracks. Two tiny orange sentinels stood in my path. 

Cantharellus lateritius

Chantarelles! Beyond the first two mushrooms was a whole line of them dappling the road, glowing orange against the muted gray backdrop of leaves and soil. I had come across chantarelles only once before, though as an amateur mycologist I have had an eye out for them for many years. I felt as though a huge welcoming gift had been bestowed on me by the forest. Chantarelles are some of the most popular edible wild mushrooms, and are sought after worldwide. Unable to contain my excitement, I spread my arms open toward the canopy and let out a beaming “Whoop!” of unbridled gratitude. Although these little chantarelles were far too small to pick that evening, I made a mental note to return in a few days. It was clear that this road had not been used for some time, and I felt safe to assume that no human would come pick them before I returned.  

I continued on my run, but only after a few moments with my belly to the soil and my nose pressed against the little orange mushrooms, inhaling that signature fruity fragrance. As soon as I started to run, I was dodging another patch of tiny chantarelles mixed into a rainbow of mushroom hues: seafoam green Russula variata, scarlet Russula emetica, bright white Destroying Angel, brown and yellow boletes. I had to run on my tiptoes to keep from smooshing them. Only a hundred paces later, I was stopped once more. To my left, a prominent pearly shape stood out from behind an oak against the ever-darkening wall of gray woods. I had to investigate! Jumping off the road and sliding down the embankment, I swung around the tree to have look. An enormous, bright white mushroom with a cap the size of a Frisbee shone up at me. I brimmed with awe at its size and measured its diameter with my hands: ten inches across. Wow! The largest gilled mushroom I’ve ever seen, second only to Berkeley’s Polypore, an edible polypore which can grow to be more than three feet wide. While beautiful, my newfound Green-Spored Parasol (Lepiota molybdites) is not edible. In fact, it is responsible for the greatest number of mushrooms poisonings in the Appalachian Mountains. I would be admiring this mushroom, but certainly not eating it. 

Lepiota molybdites

A heavy mist set in, and it began to rain. I hopped back on the road and continued on up the ridge, being stopped every few yards by a new fungal form. Fat boletes, itsy Hydrocybes and convex Lactarius peckii lining the road caught my eye and beckoned me to stop and notice. I was walking and squatting far more often than jogging. My run was not turning out as planned, but it didn’t matter. I felt as though the forest was revealing itself on another level, and I didn’t want to miss it.  

Just as I was getting back to a more normal running pace, I glimpsed a patch of humungous, bright orange, smooth chanterelles lining the road along a rhododendron patch. I chuckled at the pure gratitude I felt at the two thumbnail-size chantarelles I saw only thirty minutes before. These were most definitely ripe for the picking. I was nowhere near finished with my run, so I marked the spot on the trail with sticks for my way back. I continued to mark the trail for the rest of the chanterelle patches (and black trumpets too!) which kept getting larger and more plentiful as I climbed higher in elevation. It was evident that the chantarelles were ripening on an elevation gradient, beginning high in the mountains and continuing downslope with the progression of late summer. A week after my first run-in with the tiny chantarelles at the beginning of this story, they were the size of my palm, and the ones at the top of the ridge had long ago decomposed.  

On my return journey, I picked half of the largest chantarelles, leaving many mushrooms of different life stages to carry on reproduction. Even so, I had a shirt-full of mushrooms by the time I reached the gate. My arm was tired from the load, and I frequently had to switch from one hand to the other as I jogged back home. 

It was dark by the time I got to the house. Warm light streamed from the windows, and someone was playing jazz. I kicked off my soaked shoes before I walked into the kitchen to greet my new friends, bounty in-hand.  

Hit the Ground Running….Or Should I Say Transplanting

Josh Poland

August 21, 2020

Hello everyone! My name is Josh Poland, 1 of the 4 interns here in Boulder City, NV working on the Joshua Tree Genome Project. It’s been over a month since my move from northwest Arkansas to Southern Nevada and I have to say, they are quite different places to live. In Arkansas, summer days with 90% humidity was not uncommon and would leave you sweating bullets within minutes of walking outside. In Nevada however, it works much differently. While the humidity never exceeds 10%, walking outside (no matter what time of day) is like sticking your face near an open oven. Fall cannot get here soon enough.

The past month has been a whirlwind of information, training, zoom meetings, and data collecting. We have gone from breaking apart Joshua Tree fruits in a small basement in our house, to working in a USGS owned Greenhouse with hundreds upon hundreds of Joshua Tree seeds. Making the move from the basement to the greenhouse, the other interns and I were told that the seeds we had collected would begin to germinate in 10-12 days, plenty of time for us to set up planter trays (that we would eventually transplant the seeds into) as well as set up an organized plan of collecting and recording data. But being 2020, those plans changed very quickly one weekend when we discovered the first radicles emerging just 2 days after being planted. Needless to say, we were a little stressed out.

One of our Joshua Tree seedlings

But that was over a week and a half ago and things have (slightly) calmed down. Since the first radicle emerged, the other interns and I have worked from sunup ‘till sundown building and filling planter crates, collecting germination data, continuing upkeep on the seeds and the greenhouse, and creating seemingly endless excel spreadsheets pertaining to seed growth. It has been difficult work, but it has been rewarding work. I walk into the greenhouse every morning to see new radicles, hypocotyls, or cotyledons emerging from the trays and I can’t help but get a little giddy. In the craziness that the world has experienced in 2020, it’s quite a feeling to see these plants growing so well and gives me hope for their populations in the future.

As of today (August 21, 2020), we have finished transplanting 1,600 Joshua Tree Seedlings and have up-to-date data of their growth, transplanting dates, and their location in the greenhouse. We have an estimated 49 deaths so far and replacement seeds from the same matriline will soon be transplanted in their place. While it seems that the “rush” is over for now, we will continue to be vigilant with observations and data entry so we can continue forward with as little stress as possible.

Transplanting JT seeds into planter crates

Thank you all for reading, and now it is time for me and the other interns to enjoy a long-awaited break!

Until next time!

Josh Poland

Out in the field!

A couple weeks ago one of our seasonal technicians, Jordan, and I camped for a few days near our field sites in the Nickel Creek/Juniper Mountain area (Shoshone-Bannock territory). The goal of this trip was to collect Trend data (species diversity, canopy cover, plant community composition) at as many sites as we could. Some of these points hadn’t been surveyed since the 90s, so it was important for us to go back and collect this information. We ended up completing about 8 total sites, plus a couple of photo plots, and a rare plant assessment for a nearby population of Astragalus yoder-williamsii

This was my first time camping for work, and it went really well! We stayed a total of 4 nights, waking up early to get started on fieldwork. It was one of the hotter weeks in Idaho that I have experienced, so both of us were definitely tired by the end of each day. It was good to relax in the evenings, work on some plant IDs, and catch up on my reading (Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree Brown, which I will continue to bring up at every opportunity I can). I even managed to find a couple of juniper trees to hang my hammock and watch the sun set. We even had some company! One evening Jordan and I were swarmed with some solitary bees who were attracted to our sunscreen or our sweat. At one point I had about five bees sitting on me, and a few others buzzing around. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to snap a photo, but I think they could have been a species of Xeromelecta.

Many of our sites were quite diverse, which was good to see even though it made our work a little bit more difficult. While I am becoming much more familiar with the plant community here, there were still a decent number of species I had never seen before! We took a lot of specimens back in the plant press to identify out later using a combination of Idaho keys, iNaturalist, our office herbarium, and Jessa’s expertise.

We found a little nest on our transect! Hopefully it was abandoned and we weren’t bothering anyone!
Perks of waking up early in the field is getting to see some beautiful sunrises!

Since field season is winding down out here (it is wild to think how fast time is flying!), this will probably be my only overnight trip during this internship. However, a few of us in the office will be taking Leave No Trace training, which will be very useful in future positions where I might be doing more overnight work in the field. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to practice these skills while spending time outside and learning about the ecological communities of Idaho.

Until next time!

My First Month in Idaho: Tying in Social Justice with Plant Conservation

A quick introduction: Hi! My name is Lili Benitez (she/her) and I am interning with the Owyhee Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management office in Marsing, ID. I am a recent graduate from New College of Florida with a degree in Environmental Studies and Spanish, with a focus on plant conservation.

Just a heads up- in this post I’m going to be mentioning /discussing stolen land, police violence, and racism.

I want to start this post acknowledging that I am writing and working as an uninvited visitor on the unceded territory of the Shoshone-Bannock and of the Paiute tribes. This is important to recognize especially in relation to the Bureau of Land Management, an entity created as a result of colonization and the removal of native people from their land. By 1866 the Boise River valley and most of Southwest Idaho was taken from these tribes by the United States government. To control the newly acquired lands, The General Land Office (GLO) was created in 1868, which then merged into the Bureau of Land Management in 1946. As an intern, it is vital for me to understand this dark history and learn about the indigenous communities impacted. 

In the wake of recent attention to murders of Black people by the US police force and the following protests over the past months for Black lives, many environmental and ecological organizations continue to stay silent or make performative statements of solidarity without meaningful action. When the history of this violence is so intertwined with the racist history of white environmentalism and land management, it is unacceptable for these organizations to not speak out. We can’t be advocating for plant conservation without also fighting for justice for Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC), LGBTQ+, disabled, and immigrant communities. As a white, cis, Latinx woman, I walk through this world and into these environmentalist spaces with certain privileges. While I am by no means an expert on social justice issues, I hope to practice allyship for these communities. In addition to marching, donating, listening to and amplifying BIPOC voices, one of the roots of this process is unlearning years of biased education and confronting the racist histories within my area of study. 

I’d like to share something I learned last month from listening to the Dope Labs podcast episode “Skin Deep”, and reading Ibram Kendi’s book, How to Be an Antiracist. As a young biologist, I learned about Carl Linnaeus, the “Father of Taxonomy,” a famous naturalist and botanist. However, what I never learned was that he was the father of biological racism as well. Kendi draws attention to the insidious nature of taxonomy at its invention, demonstrating how Linnaeus, in 1735, was the first to color code the human races as White, Yellow, Red, and Black in Systema Naturae. Kendi points to this moment as the start of the “blueprint that nearly every enlightened race maker followed, and that race makers still follow today… racist power[s] created them for a purpose (p. 41).” Like so many other white men that tend to be idolized in the environmental field (the National Park Service still has sites named after John Muir and other racist idols), Linnaeus was a white supremacist, and his taxonomic ideology still influences how we talk about race today. What does it mean for us as botanists and biologists to hold so much faith and respect for this system of classification when this is its history? How can we actively work to confront racism and colonial thought within our fields on a daily basis?  Stay tuned for a more lengthy post on colonial influences in botany.

Just as I am learning about these connections between social justice and my work, I am also connecting with the local environment in the field. It is amazing to have the opportunity to be outside and hang out with plants all week. This month I’ve been getting acquainted with the sage grouse habitat in the area, and learning about these plant communities. As a Texas local, everything here is new to me, which I greatly appreciate. I am learning Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring (AIM) techniques that examine species diversity, plant composition, and soil quality, mostly for range management. However, my favorite days are those where we conduct rare plant monitoring. On these days, I go out with my mentor, Jessa, to try to find cute rare plants and evaluate how they are doing.  

Pictured above is a rare milkvetch (Astragalus yoder-williamsii) in flower! A tiny cute plant in the bean family (Fabaceae).
Pictured here is Monardella angustifolia, a beautiful rare plant in the mint family (Lamiaceae). We spotted this guy a couple days ago and were lucky to find it in flower. It smelled amazing!

To close out, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention it was Black Botanist Week last month. This effort was started by Bucknell University post-doctoral researcher Tanisha Williams and others as “a celebration of Black people who love plants. This plant love manifests in many ways ranging from tropical field ecologist to plant geneticist, from horticulturalist to botanical illustrator. We embrace the multiple ways that Black people engage with and appreciate the global diversity of plant life.” Along with Black Birders Week, these celebrations of Black scientists are a great example of combating Anti-Black racism in our fields and can inspire young BIPOC scholars to see themselves pursuing these careers. Go check out the hashtag #Blackbotanistsweek on Instagram and their website for more info. 

For more information about the Black Lives Matter movement in my part of the country, check out the BLM Boise website and follow them on Instagram and Twitter (@blmboise). Additionally, to support local Indigenous efforts, check out the Nimiipuu land protectors, whose community and sacred sites were being threatened by the “Rainbow Family Gathering” this past month as an influx of tourists and outsiders arrived in Riggings, ID. Find them on Instagram (@nimiipuulandprotectors) to learn more and support their work.

Until next time!!

Lili