First Glances of the Southwest

Hello! My name is Maddy Czymmek, and I’m one of two new interns with the Chicago Botanic Garden at the Boulder City USGS office. I’m working on the Joshua Tree Genome Project to understand how Joshua Trees are responding to climate change.

This is me! (taken on a weekend trip working in Alaska this summer)

After a 36 hour drive from my hometown: Ithaca, New York, it was a week of adjustments (which was to be expected from moving across the country)!

In the past, when I’ve been driving to a new place and the scenery starts to change, excitement comes over me. 20 or so hours into my road trip, it finally started happening, after the flat landscapes of western Oklahoma, southern Texas and Eastern New Mexico finally started to change. First with a few distant plateaus, then the Sandia Mountains ahead of me that I soon caught up with. As the sun set, I kept peaking in my rearview mirror, watching the cloudless sky become a light pink; the mountains a pale purple. The following evening, I had a similar feeling of awe. This time, I was nearing the Black Mountains bordering Arizona and Nevada. I came around a bend and the view opened up to a sea of purple mountains, various shades of purple waves stretching out to the horizon. The sun was setting again, creating a hazy, endless look to the mountains around me. So there was that feeling again. Entranced by this beautiful view. And excited that this was part of my new home that I’d get to explore for the next 6 months!

The landscape here is such a change from upstate New York’s lakes and rolling hills covered with a mix of farmland and forests. Looking around the area, it holds so much I know nothing about: the geology of the mountains and rock formations and so many plants I’ve never seen before that I want to be able to identify. Although my main internship project is focused on Joshua Trees, learning about desert ecosystems and whatever I can about the greater Las Vegas and Mojave Desert region, including issues related to climate change, water scarcity, and land degradation are also a priority for me. Living here and exploring is a learning experience on its own. 

Me snapping pictures at Red Rock Canyon outside of Vegas!

So here I am, nearing the end of week 3. My co-intern, Bridget, and I are getting into the workflow of greenhouse seedling maintenance and checking the incubating seeds. The seeds are separated by matriline onto petri dishes and kept in the incubator while waiting for them to germinate. For anyone unfamiliar with what a matriline is: for this project, groups of related seeds from separate geographical locations were collected and are referred to as different matrilines. It’s been interesting to note differences among the matrilines even at the seed stage. One group in particular has shown noticeably slow germination, has had many seeds develop a cloudy sheen and yellow leakage underneath them, and multiple seeds that have germinated have had drooping or even mushy radicles –not to mention the rancid smell when we take the lid off the petri dish! On the other end, some have been producing beautiful radicles that are long and sturdy with root hairs.

A Joshua Tree seedling with water droplets after watering

This week, we were able to visit the Cactus Mine Garden (about 30 minutes from Boulder City) and the Ridgecrest Garden (about 4 hours from Boulder City)! I’ve always thought it was cool that there’s so much public land out West, while most of NY is covered in “No Trespassing” signs. But especially with Covid, they are noticing an increase in land use and degradation. That was clear at Cactus Mine, where there were ATV and motocross tracks across the land, trash –even a deserted jet ski– and holes in the garden fence from people shooting at it. I’m not sure what could help improve land stewardship practices, but it was disheartening to see. Not only is it frustrating for maintaining the garden, but also the surrounding habitat that is broken up and disturbed by this destruction and trashing.

Cactus Mine Garden

To avoid ending on a heavy note, we got some rain in the desert this week! I’m not sure if I’ve ever been excited for rain in my life (back home, we usually get enough rain and cloudy days that it’s typically not something I look forward to). However, in the desert, especially since this area has been in a long drought, it actually felt like something to celebrate! We’re hoping that if we keep getting some rain, the wildflowers will pop for us in the spring, fingers crossed! 

December in the Desert

Hi! My name is Bridget Hennessy, and I’m a CLM intern working in Boulder City, Nevada! I moved here about three weeks ago, and have quickly adjusted to life here in Nevada. Being from Michigan, it has been quite the change of species, scenery, and weather. It’s truly amazing to be surrounded by mountains! It’s also truly odd to be experiencing warm weather in December! 

I’m working on the Joshua Tree Genome Project, which is a USGS research project focused on how Joshua trees respond to climate change. So far I’ve been helping in the lab, greenhouse, and common gardens. In the lab, my co-intern, Maddy, and I care for germinating Joshua tree seeds – making sure they have water in their petri plate and aren’t molding, and watching to see when they germinate. There are around 20-25 seeds per petri plate and, with all the moisture, it’s easy for the seeds to mold. Thankfully they are being kept at the right temperature, so it is also easy for them to germinate! Once seeds have a nicely-sized radicle (or primary root) we plant them in the greenhouse into plant bands. These plant bands and crates were set up before we arrived, so our main job has just been planting more germinated seeds and watering the Joshua trees. We have learned to balance the moisture level between plants, since new transplants need to have more water than plants that have sprouted blades.

Joshua trees planted in the greenhouse

We’ve also been organizing and counting Joshua tree seeds that were previously collected into new batches for future planting. These seeds were collected from different trees in different areas, so they have different matrilines, different adaptations, and different abilities to survive in the common gardens. The three common gardens are set up in California, Utah, and Nevada, all so that the Joshua trees’ survival can be tested in a variety of temperatures, soils, altitudes, and precipitation levels. We visited all three gardens over the past week and a half to assess the previously planted Joshua trees, and it was so interesting! We counted how many blades each plant had, checked whether there were signs of herbivory, and scored the overall health of the plant. Seeing the gardens in person definitely helped me recognize the differences between them – the Nevada garden had the most signs of herbivory, the California garden had super dry and sandy soil, and the Utah garden had very soft, moist soil. I’m very excited to assess them again and see if the plants grow more!

One of the Joshua tree plants in the Utah garden – it is super healthy and is sprouting a new blade!

This week we’ve been setting up for planting the species Eriogonum fasciculatum into soil in the greenhouse. These plants were cuttings from larger plants in the Mojave, that were then placed in perlite and watered frequently. The cuttings have now grown roots and are ready to go in soil. We cleaned crates, set up plant bands, and added a soil mixture to each band. We have now moved on to the planting stage, and are working slowly and surely to make sure the delicate roots aren’t damaged in the planting transition. It’s cool to see the crates slowly start to fill up with plants!

Maddy, Sharon, Caitlin, and I planting the Eriogonum fasciculatum

After work it’s been great to hike and explore the Las Vegas area. Maddy and I have visited Red Rock Canyon and Arizona so far, and are planning to camp in Death Valley soon. The nature here is so different from what I’ve experienced, and I love being able to see new species and such rich geology. I can’t wait for what else is to come!

Beautiful landscape at Red Rock Canyon!

Wrapping up in the Southwest

Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley National Park

This last month has been quite the whirlwind! I spent most of it working with a desert plant named Eriogonum fasciculatum, a common shrub found all over the Mojave. This project had myself and my co-worker going every which way, from up on the Pacific Crest Trail to down into the depths of Death Valley! Meanwhile, the Joshua Tree seedlings in the greenhouse continued to grow, getting more and more leaves. As well, when I completed my last field assessment in Utah, some of the plants had over 15 leaves! A long way from the 1-3 leaves they had when planted some 8 months ago! One of the most rewarding parts of this project was watching that kind of change, both in the desert and in the greenhouse, happen in real time.

A robust JT in UT

With the Eriogonum project, we are aiming to collect cuttings from wild plants, grow new plants from the cuttings, and plant those cuttings in the same sort of gardens where we have the Joshua Trees. Just like the Joshua Tree project, these plants were found in all sorts of climate zones, meaning a spectrum of harshness for the parent plants. Interestingly, usually seeds are used for propagation with this species, but we decided to use cuttings instead. This is because flowering and producing seeds have become much more variable as the climate changes in the Mojave. This biome, already a very difficult place to survive, has become harsher and harsher with continuing droughts and intense heat. So, taking cuttings is a potential way to continue to reproduce this, and potentially other, species without having to collect seed. In fact, this project is the largest-scale cutting collecting effort of this species ever recorded in scientific literature (that I am aware of)! It is always really cool to be a part of something completely new in scientific research, especially one that could help of save more and more plant species as desert conditions worsen.

Eriogonum fasciculatum cuttings packed into a sterile perlite substrate. Each cutting has been treated with growth hormone to encourage rooting

As I write this last post, I am already back home in Virginia, enjoying what’s left of the fall foliage. It’s nice to be back home, but I will always look back on this amazing experience with USGS and CBG. I’ve seen so much more of this country and learned some much about professional field work and research than ever before in my life! Beyond being a really cool plant, the Joshua Tree will always hold a special place in my heart. The Joshua tree is such a biological marvel, so complicated and resilient. It and so many other facets of our world need to be studied and protected, and I am so glad I could help, even for just 6 months. I am so grateful to Lesley, Todd, Sarah, Alex, and Chris for helping with these new life/work experiences! Thank you anybody who’s been following along online, I hope you enjoyed my photos and writing! Below are a couple last photos from Nevada, the drive back home, and finally Virginia. Happy Holidays!

Great Blue Heron right by my house in Virginia

One last goodbye to the Mon

As my last days on the Monongahela came closer I started to do a lot of reflection on my experiences and time as a CLM intern. Making the decision to come to West Virginia was a big step in both my personal and professional life. When I first moved to West Virginia in May, it was less than a week after I graduated college. This fast transition from submitting my final assignments to starting to take my first steps towards building a post-grad career was overwhelming, but I don’t think I would have it any other way. In those few days, I was excited to begin my journey in my professional career, but was not sure what to expect. After looking back on my time here, I am happy to say that I have had so many accomplishments on both a professional and personal level during my time as a CLM intern.

My co-intern Katie and I after a long day in the field surveying for running buffalo clover!

To start, the professional experience I gained while being a CLM has been so beneficial towards allowing me to understand what I am interested in and what I want to do in my future. One of my favorite things from this past internship was being able to see and learn about the Forest Service. Growing up I was aware of National Forests, BLM, Fish and Wildlife, and National Parks, but never actually knew what they did or how they were all different. Being partnered with the Forest Service for this internship I had the opportunity to work with different people within the Monongahela and their partners to gain an inside look at the ways that people with different specialties are able to come together to conserve public lands. One of my favorite examples includes the restoration work on the old mined lands throughout the Monongahela. I have talked about the restoration process in previous blog posts, so I wont repeat myself, but when it comes to large scale restoration projects there are so many different aspects that have to be thought about before, during, and after. This means there has to be a diverse group of people collaborating in order to accomplish the projects. The forest service, specifically on the Monongahela, does a really good job at bringing together many different people with diverse backgrounds and continue to increase this collaboration through partnerships, contracts, and collaborations with non-profits, contracted companies, and Universities. 

Another amazing thing I learned while doing this internship was not only does the Forest Service work to protect and restore the land, but they are also work hard to allow the public to enjoy and engage with this land. On example is the recreation team. While working with the recreation staff, I realized how much time goes into maintaining trails, campsites, and other public spaces to allow people to explore and embrace nature by hiking, camping, fishing, and hunting on the forest. Then there is the timber team that will harvest wood in certain parts of the forest. One example of this harvesting was on the red spruce restoration sites. When the old minded lands were originally restored the ground was densely compacted and planted with red pine and other trees that are not native to those ecosystems. So to start the restoration process the non-native trees needed to be removed or nocked down so the soil can be loosened and native trees like red spruce can be planted. One way of getting rid of them was by logging and selling these trees. It was a useful way to remove the trees to begin the process of restoring the land and also use the non-native trees in other ways. 

One of my favorite photos of Katie and I working hard to survey for wetlands on the 2021 restoration site!

Not only did I learn a lot about the Forest Service, I also learned a lot about myself over the past six months. To start, living in West Virginia was a big change from the last two places that I have lived. I grew up in Phoenix Arizona, and went to college in Chicago, Illinois. Both of these places are urban and highly populated, where as Marlinton, West Virginia is almost the opposite with only a little over 1,000 people as the population. It was a big change and took me a little while to get used to the rural area, but it didn’t take me long to realize how great the community its and it quickly grew on me. Moving to new places are never easy, but having this experience to live in another state and completely different environment than I am used to showed me how adaptable I can be and how exciting new experiences and new places are. One of the things I liked the most about living in West Virginia has been the ability to be immersed in the outdoors. I was able to use my free time on the weekends to explore all around the Monongahela forest, but also other state parks in the area. Some of the cool places I was able to explore include Blackwater Falls, Watoga State Park, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, Seneca State Forest, and other places around West Virginia. Being here for six months showed me just how much I enjoy activities like hiking and camping but also allowed me to learn some useful tips like doing research about a trail and taking the extra time to downloading the trail map is probably a good idea. 

Overall, this experience has allowed me to grow so much as an individual both personally and professionally.Which reminds me of one of my favorite John Muir quotes “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks”. Having this opportunity to be a CLM intern, I was able to be out in nature allowing me to learn what I expected to learn about the Forest Service and ways to conserve/manage public lands, but even more than I expected about myself. Being in nature and conserving our lands is something that I am really passionate about and showed me that botany, field work, restoration, and land management are things that I want to pursue in my future. I enjoyed West Virginia and being in Marlinton so much more than I could have ever imagined. I am sad to say goodbye. I never would have expected a small rural town in the middle of West Virginia to make me feel at home and be so difficult to leave. If there is one piece of advice I would give someone it would be to say yes to as many opportunities and experiences that you can, You never know where life will take you and what places you will enjoy the most. I never thought I would ever live somewhere like Marlinton, West Virginia, but it has been one of the best experience of my life. So thank you to everyone for their support and I cant wait to see where life takes me next. 

In honor of Katie posting a selfie in front of the ranger station on her last post, here is one of me to keep the trend alive! Here is to a sad goodbye, but I am excited for a new beginning!

Goodbye Nevada Post! :'(

Dear Reader,

Well, it’s my last week in Winnemucca! As is always the way with time, six months have gone by awfully fast, while simultaneously containing so many experiences, new things learned, and good memories. It’s hard to say goodbye!

Characteristic northeast Nevada road with cool clouds

One of the things I learned here is that no matter where you go, you’ll be happy if you like the people around you. I really enjoyed the place and job besides that, but the people I met in Nevada, both on the job and off, are the most important thing! For someone like me who gets caught up in the doing, the planning and carrying out and accomplishing of goals, that’s a valuable reminder. These types of reminders often jump out at me more at the ends of things, like after graduating from high school, at the ends of sports seasons, when saying goodbye to friends for who knows how long. Similarly, it was really great at the end of this job to be reminded of all the people who have supported me this season, in Winnemucca, Reno, the CBG, and beyond. I’m very thankful for all of the people who showed me the ropes, were patient with me, gave me responsibilities and trusted me, brought me out in the field with them, and contributed to the sense of community I felt here.

My favorite picture of the rock wall and arch next to Hinkey Summit in the Santa Rosas

The Santa Rosa Ranger District Office is small but tight-knit and reminds me of the Forest Service office my dad works at on the Superior National Forest in northern MN, even though the two places are so far away. In my very first blog post I talked about how I was struck by the abundance of land to manage and work to be done, coupled with a lack of resources and people to work on all of it. After six months here, that is still my impression––and of course I’m realizing that this is not a problem specific to Nevada, but it’s the place where I gained a more firsthand awareness of this challenge (and it’s certainly pronounced here!).

I couldn’t leave town without taking a picture by the Winnemucca slogan sign––a motto only rivaled by that of Page, Nebraska (“You’ll like Page, we do”). Thanks to my housemate Ben for humoring me and taking the pic!

Thinking about land and land management in the Western U.S. was one of the many valuable learning experiences I gained from this job. I frequently think about whose land I’m on in a way that I did not before coming here. I also learned so much about what land management and conservation look like in the Western U.S., from the invasive plants that are a problem here to drought and fire challenges to the ways that different agencies work together to thinking about cattle and grazing and how important fostering good relationships with ranchers is…I think one hopeful thing is that a lot of stakeholders (federal and state agencies, NGOs, universities, private landowners like ranchers…) have common goals of being good stewards for this abundance of land. Every time I saw folks from different agencies collaborate during my job, they were so enthusiastic to compare notes, looking for ways to work together, share knowledge, and be on the same page.

I still remember how novel driving through downtown Winnemucca was on my first night in town, seeing so many casino lights. Now it’s a distinct skyline that I’ve come to love.

Collaborating with other people, be it other SOS interns, BLM, NDOW, NRCS, and beyond, was one of the highlights of my job as well, for the reasons mentioned above of watching people collaborate and for what I could learn from all of them about their respective jobs and the ecosystems we worked in, and in the case of the Reno SOS interns, become friends with them! I plan to stay in contact with many of the people I met over the course of my time here, and I hope to come back to the area to visit and will definitely look at some grad schools in the western U.S. when the time comes. I will miss the practical, kind and friendly people, the sunny summer, the low-to-the-ground, highly adapted vegetation, Nevada’s network of parallel mountain ranges, the sunrises and sunsets, the hot springs, my walks around Winnemucca, my coworkers and friends, and so much more about this place. I do feel like I’ve had an abundance of time to reflect on things, and I hope I’m taking full advantage of it because I really appreciate what the last six months have brought me. First post-undergrad job and life experience in the books, and it’s exciting to be thinking about all the future awesome things that could potentially happen, but also sad as always to look back on a good chapter that’s ending.

This decoration at my friend’s house in Winnemucca sums up the kinds of people I met out here (“Gracious living from out of the West” if it’s too blurry).

Saying Goodbye to the Ottawa

As I write this, the first snow of the year is falling outside. I’m sitting near the window of a coffee shop, watching the flakes swirl before melting on the wet pavement. Almost all the trees have lost their leaves now, and, in the mornings, there is frost before there is dew. It’s hard to believe this is my last blog post, but it also feels like field work is coming to its natural conclusion here in the Northwoods. Once again, the season is changing. In the meantime, though, there’s still much to do — projects to finish, harvests to reap, and preparations to make for the snow that will not melt when it hits the pavement.  

It’s amazing how quickly the chill descended. We were lucky to have a long early-fall full of 70 degree weather and brightly colored leaves. My co-intern Tessa and I spent many days out in the forest treating invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn. I learned that in the fall you have to be particularly careful where you set down your tools because it doesn’t take much for them to get buried in a pile of leaves never to be seen again. 

Throughout our internship at Ottawa National Forest, Tessa and I have gotten a chance to spend time with many different branches of the Forest Service, from marking trees with timber specialists to working on turtle conservation with wildlife technicians. Plants and animals aren’t the only creatures in the forest though. The Ottawa’s almost a million acres draws in people too. Recreation crews work hard to make sure the forest can be enjoyed by all. On Tuesday this week, Tessa and I got a chance to be a part of that, traveling to Black River Harbor to help out recreation team members Joe and Ali.

Black River Harbor is home to the Ottawa’s only Lake Superior shore line. It is also one of the most gorgeous places I have ever been. A giant suspension bridge crosses the rushing Black River, swaying in the wind just enough to make you nervous (even though you’re perfectly safe). The bridge leads to an expansive sandy beach with stones worn smooth by a lake so big other lakes think it must be the ocean. All summer, the shore is packed with people playing in the waves, building sandcastles, skipping rocks, and constricting a massive driftwood lean-to that has not yet toppled in the breeze. 

A bridge stretches over a reflective river and onto an opposite shore with bright fall colors.
The bridge at Black River Harbor

This is where the Ottawa’s recreation team shines. Whether it’s answering questions or saving the day with a truck bed full of toilet paper, they’re the face of the Forest Service and help ensure that the Ottawa’s wide swaths of public land are easily accessed and enjoyed by the very people they’re meant for, the public. 

When we arrived at the harbor our first stop was the campground’s water building, or, more accurately, a small patch of trees right next to the water building. The campground has shut down for the season, so it’s a great time to do maintenance work there. After gathering around the truck to review the day’s safety considerations, Joe took Tessa and I a few dozen feet into the trees. We stopped at a tall aspen with a significant lean. Joe brushed aside some leaves and showed us a patch of raised ground at the base of the tree. That raise, he explained, was the root stock of the aspen ripping slowly but surely out of the earth. Joe, an experienced feller, would be taking the tree down to ensure the safety of the water building and more importantly the many campground visitors.

In order to take down the leaning aspen, two smaller aspen would also have to be cut, this would leave a clear path for the larger tree to fall. Joe explained that before any tree is cut there should be at least two clear paths for the sawyer (a fancy word for tree cutter) to enable a quick retreat without obstacles to slow them down or trip them up.

We helped clear logs and brush until the way was unobstructed. Then, Joe hit the tree with the dull side of a hatchet. A low “Thunk!… Thunk!… Thunk!” rang through the empty campground. That was good; The tree sounded solid and not rotten in the middle. Then, Tessa, Ali, and I got a safe distance away and put our ear plugs in. 

As we watched Joe take down the trees, Ali explained to us some of the many intricacies of felling. Everything from the height of the tree, to the lean, to the species should be taken into consideration. There are almost as many different approaches to cutting a tree as there are scenarios you might encounter, and an experienced sawyer will be able to determine what they are working with and pick the right strategy for the job. 

While Ali and Joe began cutting the freshly fallen trees into firewood, Tessa and I set out on our task for the day. We strapped leaf blowers onto our backs and went campsite to campsite clearing out a thick mat of freshly fallen leaves. I was surprised at how physically demanding the work was. Directing the leafblower forward felt like walking against a strong wind, probably because, in a roundabout way, that’s what it was. One by one we cleared the campsites, leaving them ready for visitors in the spring and eliminating the falling risk that comes with a blanket of slippery, decaying leaves. 

I’ve been to many campsites, but I never stopped to consider how they are maintained. It always felt to me that they simply existed just as I encountered them, but did not grow and change like a forest does. Spending time with Joe and Ali showed me that they do grow and change and, just like the forest as a whole, benefit from being thoughtfully managed. 

Our work at the campground on that chilly fall day reminded me of planting daffodil bulbs with my dad as a child. When the world was growing cold, we would tuck the bulbs safe beneath the soil. Nothing would happen for a long time. Finally, many months later when I had forgotten we ever planted flowers at all, green shoots would break through the last snowfall of the year. I won’t be around in the spring when the snow melts from the Black River Harbor campsites, but the work we did this fall will be there to greet the campsites’ first visitors.

On a Friday morning, I scarfed down a bowl of oatmeal, threw some dried apricots in my lunchbox, and grabbed a blaze orange hat, before driving the short drive to the Ottawa’s Ironwood office. There, I met with Tessa and forest botanists Sue and Katherine. The morning was bright and crisp as we set out together into the field. Our mission for the day was to collect seeds from Ottawa’s native flowers for Project Wingspan. 

Project Wingspan is an initiative supported by well over a dozen ecologically-minded partner organizations that have come together with the goal of increasing pollinator habitat in the Great Lakes region and broader midwest. One of the best ways to accomplish that goal is by propagating the native flowers that provide food and shelter for so many different pollen-minded friends. Seeds for the project are collected by specially trained naturalists all over the region, and, under Sue’s expert supervision, Tessa and I got to help.

After almost an hour of driving, we pulled up to a promising seed collection spot along the roadway. All year, various Forest Service field-goers recorded spots where they saw large populations of native flowers blooming. Now, those flowers have faded, but each location holds thousands of native seeds. 

We walked along the road cutting off the spiky seed-heads of black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) and watching them fall into our brown paper bags. We were careful not to take too many seeds so that there are plenty left to keep the population healthy. After walking up and down the road, we pooled our collections in a big bag, labeled it, and stored it safely in the truck. 

A spiky black seed head holds a yellow stripped caterpillar
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) with a striped garden caterpillar moth (Trichordestra legitima)

Next, we set our sights on grass-leaved goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia). The seed-heads were much smaller on the goldenrod than the black-eyed Susan, so, if you got your thumb at just the right angle, you could brush many of them into your waiting paper bag at once. We made sure not to collect seeds from any of the flower’s many doppelgangers and avoided collecting from plants overshadowed by their taller cousins, lest unwelcome seeds drift into our bags to contaminate the bunch. The sun came out as we searched for plants and I held my hands high, warming them before bending down again to continue collecting. 

By the end of the day we had big bags of seed from a motley medley of native flowers. We took the carefully labeled bags back to the office and laid them out to dry in tin foil pans scavenged through the years from office potlucks. Over the last few weeks the conference room has slowly been taken over with all sorts of native seeds. A note on the table explains what’s going on and asks guests to “pardon the spiders.”

A large conference table is full of bowls, boxes, and pans. Each container holds native seed and most are covered with netting.
The seeds get netting so they don’t fly away when the fan comes on. Milkweed is particularly prone to escape acts.

Looking out over the tables laden with small and large seeds, brown and black seeds, smooth and spiky seeds, and everything in between, I couldn’t help, but wonder about their future. Maybe the seeds will end up in a garden, maybe they’ll be planted in a forest or near a school. Wherever they end up, I hope they germinate, take root, and make a home.

Yesterday, Tessa and I headed to Trout Creek to wrap up work on a weed site that’s been on my mind for most of the fall. In September, Tessa and I discovered the largest invasive buckthorn either of us had ever seen. At almost thirty feet tall, it towered over its numerous descendants. We called it the mother buckthorn. The day we found it, we had neither the time nor tools to treat the giantess, so yesterday we returned with hatchets slung over our shoulders and the whole day ahead of us. 

The weather promised that winter is near, but thankfully waders help keep you warm as well as dry. We navigated through tall, dry shore grasses and crossed logs partially-submerged in the frigid water, cutting and applying pesticide to invasive honeysuckle as we went. Finally, the honeysuckle transitioned into knee-high glossy buckthorn, then shoulder-high buckthorn. When we were regularly finding 12 ft tall buckthorn we knew we were close. I looked up, scanning the tree line and there it was, red leaves stark against the bleak, late-fall surroundings. 

Tessa and I took turns swinging our hatchets into the base of the mother buckthorn, slowly circling the tree until we had stripped the bark all the way around. I was surprised to find the inner bark was a lovely red-purple color. That’s the thing about invasive species. They are almost all charming which often is why they were introduced in the first place. The problem comes when they spread out of flower gardens and nurseries, bringing economic or ecological harm, often both. 

Tessa, wearing a bright orange hat and vest, swings a hatchet at a grey tree trunk. Smaller trees are all around.
Tessa swings at the mother buckthorn

When we finished treating the mother buckthorn the marsh felt strangely still. There was no crash like when Joe cut down the aspen. Unless you looked closely, you might not have noticed anything changed at all. That’s okay, though, because I know something did happen. 

That’s how conservation works I think, planting seeds you might not be around to see grow, collecting seeds to be planted far away, or, in this case stopping new seeds from ever falling to reach the ground. To work in forestry is to work on the vast scale of the forest. Some things happen fast, a tree falls. Some things happen slowly, a tree grows. We can do nothing but accommodate. 

As part of the CLM program, I’ve gotten to be part of so many projects that were going on long before I arrived and will continue into the future. I had the opportunity to learn from people all over the Ottawa and help them in their work. Figuratively and often literally I was given a chance to plant seeds in a forest I have grown to love. I’m so grateful for all the wonderful people I met along the way who care diligently for the land and let me be a part of that.

As I look back at my time on the forest, I realize that I took seeds with me too, a love of the outdoors that only grew, a greater understanding of federal lands, a heightened awareness of the world around me, and a deep appreciation for land management practices big and small. Even as time goes on and I continue down my professional path, I am sure that I will continue to discover lessons and skills I picked up without noticing like burrs on my sleeve, the beginnings of questions that are the beginning of quests, bulbs that are lying dormant and waiting for spring. 

I’m a plant librarian now

Apologies to any librarians reading this who feel misrepresented. Near Unionville, NV.

Hi CLM blog! It’s November and it’s my second-to-last post––crazy but inevitable and it’s been a good season. I won’t get into the season reflection right now, so stay tuned for that next week. For now I’ll let you know how it’s been going at the tail end of my season from late October to early November.

Main Street in Paradise Valley, NV.

Last time I talked about re-seeding disturbed areas in the Santa Rosas. Since then, I’ve been doing a lot more non-fieldwork, as snow starting to appear at higher elevations has meant that some of the forest roads are becoming less safe for driving. Instead, I’ve been doing a lot of end-of-the-season things––data management and entry for Seeds of Success, mounting specimens of the plants I collected seeds from this season, and organizing the Santa Rosa Ranger District’s herbarium collection.

View from a hike at Water Canyon. The leafless aspens have kind of a blurry look to them

For SOS data management, the main thing of note is the geospatial data entry, which I think is interesting because it can be helpful to future SOS interns in Nevada. Basically, I added points to a map showing where and when I collected various species this summer, and also where I’d scouted but didn’t collect due to poor timing that looked promising for future seasons. Interns each year can look at this map and access a multitude of ideas for where to scout and collect seeds!

One of the herbarium specimens, a delicate plant with what I thought was an iconic name: Floerkea proserpinacoides (common name false mermaid). Found in the Jarbidge area in June 1974 by Mont and Ethel Lewis, this species is also (strangely, I thought) a rare native plant in southern Minnesota! Its range includes land on both sides of the Great Plains.

The other most interesting things I’ve been doing are the specimen mounting and herbarium organizing. For mounting plants, what you’re doing is gluing pressed, dried plant specimens, along with an informational label, to large pieces of paper so other people can look at them for species identification, records of where species have been found over time, and other purposes! (Some specimens also just look pretty cool.) The part I liked best, however, was actually organizing the office’s herbarium collection (like a plant librarian!). Basically, almost all of the collection’s over 500 plant specimens were being stored in cardboard boxes, not organized, and it was my job to go through them, organizing them alphabetically by family, genus, and species, and moving them to a cabinet they were intended to be stored in. It might sound boring depending on the type of person you are, but for me it was fun to see lots of Northern Nevada plant specimens, most of them collected in the Santa Rosa and Mountain City-Jarbidge Districts of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest from 1974-1975 by Mont and Ethel Lewis, who I can only assume were a botanizing couple! I also liked getting to review and learn new plant families, and bring order to the chaos so the herbarium collection can actually serve its purpose as a useful reference for people at the office in the future.

Other than work, I’m enjoying fall in Winnemucca, and feeling sad that my term is almost up, but also feeling grateful and enriched by the time I’ve spent here.

Seeds, Berries, and More

As the fall has become colder, and we get closer to winter, the field work continues to prevail while we collect and process seed. Being from Arizona, collecting seed outside in cold, windy, and sometimes rainy weather continues to push my boundaries and show me that I am capable of more than I thought. I have always been used to tolerating the heat but the cold is another story. So as we continue to go out into the field to collect seed all across the Monongahela Forest, I have quickly been learning the best ways to stay warm. 

A photo from Bear Rocks at Dolly Sods in the North Zone of the Monongahela National Forest.

On my last blog post, I stated that I was excited to learn all new ways to collect different species than I have before and now I am learning new ways to process and clean the seed! To start, the seed I have been processing the most is Mountain Ash. Mountain Ash seeds consist of clumps of small red berries that are pruned off of the branches. To process them I start by separating the stems and the berries by throwing away the stems and putting the berries in a medium size sieve. Once I have a decent amount of berries in the sieve, I smush them through the holes in the sieve to separate the seeds from the skin and pulp of the berries. After smashing many berries, I rinse the sieve into a bucket to gather the rest of the seeds and then strain out the water. Once the seeds are cleaned I lay them out on a paper bag for them to dry. The dry seed will then be placed in a bag and labeled. Not all seed processing is done this way because of the wide variety of ways plants have evolved to disperse their seeds. This is interesting to me because of all the different and unique ways that can be used to process seeds depending on the plant. I look forward to learning new and unique ways to process seed in the coming weeks! 

The tools used to process the Mountain Ash seeds and some of them drying out on a bag.

Not only is it interesting how all the seed collection and processing happens but also why it is important to collect seed from around the forest. Collecting seed on the forest is important for a couple different reasons. One reason is to use the seeds to plant on different forest restoration sites. This is achieved by collecting seeds from a variety of species, processing these seeds, and then sending the cleaned seed to a plant nursery. Once the nursery is done growing the seed, the plants will be sent back to the forest so they can be planted on the current restoration sites. The second reason we collect seed is to increase the genetic diversity of the plant species around the forest. The restoration sites on the forest consists of both plants that have been bough from nurseries in the surrounding states and from the nurseries that planted the seeds collected on the Monongahela forest. By planting native species from different places, the genetic diversity of the forest will increase. This greater diversity will hopefully allow the restoration sites have an increased chance of survival and success. 

The Changing of the Seasons

I cannot believe October is ending already. The summer has come and gone faster than I could have ever imagined. However, fall on the Monongahela National Forest has been one of the best falls I have ever seen. The biodiversity of plants around the forest creates a unique and beautiful color change that creates an assorted color scape that changes every day. This fall is one I will never forget!  

With the changing of the seasons, my fieldwork has also changed along the way. The beginning of October came with the end of the summer field seasons for botany surveys. Many of the larger projects were finished in September, but I was able to help finish surveys for future trails on the southern half of the forest. This was an amazing opportunity to take in a lot of the early fall foliage and be able to help find more interesting and cool plants like ferns and fungi.  

These past couple of weeks I have also been helping finish some of the research that I talked about on previous blog posts. Back in June and July, Katie and I helped a graduate student, Breezy, from Kentucky University on some of her research that compared bat behavior between wetlands in restoration and old forest locations. While Breezy is back at school, Anna Branduzzi from the non-profit Green Forest Works and I helped take water samples of her wetland locations. It was nice to see yet another aspect of Breezy’s research and go back to some of the places and see how they are also changing during the fall.  

Anna collecting water samples from wetlands

Even though the field season has ended for some people, there is other field work that has just begun. Specifically, I have had the opportunity to begin seed collection in various locations around the forest. Over the past week I have enjoyed this seed collection and have been excited at all the new techniques I have learned. Seed collection is interesting to me because the method of collection is different for every plant. While in undergraduate, I had previous internships where I collected seed from many herbaceous plants that can be found in prairie ecosystems. Even with this experience I was able to learn new ways of collection because of the several types to plants we were collecting from. These plants consist of tress like Mountain Ash, Stripped Aspen, and several types of Hawthorns. While collecting from tress, I was a little nervous about if I was going to be able to reach the berries or seeds because I am short. However, I learned that there are many techniques to help reach the higher up seeds. One example includes the methods used to collect mountain ash. To collect the groupings of berries at the ends of the higher branches we used a long pruner to cut off the berries from the branch and collect them off the ground. This method can be seen in the picture below of my co-worker, Hannah, using the long pruners. As we continue to collect seed in the coming month, the already collected seed will be sent to partnering nurseries within the states surrounding West Virginia. These nurseries will then grow the plants for restoration use in the coming years. 

My co-worker Hannah collecting Mountain Ash fruit

As I come into my last month of this internship, I have been doing so much reflection on just how much I have been able to accomplish and all the amazing people I have been able to meet along the way. I am so thankful for all the experiences this internship has already brought me and I cannot wait to see what this last month has to offer. I am excited to continue to collect seed and see everything that West Virginia and the Monongahela has to offer before going back home to Arizona and the desert.  

Greenhouse Planting Party

October snow in the Spring Mountains!

Seedlings, snow, and Santa Rita mountains! It’s been a busy month out here in the desert, planting thousands of delicate Joshua Tree seeds; I’ve been organizing, prepping petri plates, germinating, and finally gently nestling these fellas in the soil mixes I described last blog post. All in all, this process is fairly arduous and complex, but the seeds themselves make it a lot easier. As soon as they are set in a little pool of water, they suck it up rapidly and most start producing a root within 2-3 days! A couple weeks into this task, we already have many of our early planted trees starting to emerge with their bright green leaves above the surface. The goal of this planting is to have about 4 plants per genetic line in each of our 4 sites. Sadly, I will be wrapping up this internship before USGS plans to plant these seedings in the desert, but in the meantime I will continue to plant seeds, care for the seedings, and make sure everything stays organized!

Joshua Tree seeding ~2 weeks after planting

Besides using my green thumb in the greenhouse and the usual Joshua Tree field work, I’ve also been asked to start helping with a couple projects. This week, I will be going into the field to help take cuttings of a desert shrub called Eriogonum fasciculatum. We will be taking branches and leaves from wild bushes in a bid to grow cuttings from them. Next post I will go into more depth with this project and the field work, along with whatever else interesting comes up!

Golden Eagle I saw out in the field in CA

Lastly, I took a trip down to the Santa Rita mountains in SE Arizona! These mountains are known as “sky islands” where interesting birds that wouldn’t be found elsewhere in the desert can be spotted. Below are some photos of things I saw in the area and on the way there and back! Until next time, thanks for reading!

Saguaro Cacti mean welcome to the Sonoran Desert. Adios Mojave!