In addition to the valuable career experience gained through the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Conservation and Land Management (CLM) Internship program, there are plenty of good times to be had as a CLM intern! Anyone who pursues a career in conservation and land management must be willing to get his or her hands dirty. One must also be okay with other discomforts and what some may consider “unpleasant” encounters with various wildlife ranging from insects that enjoy a good blood meal (on you!) to plants that enjoy lathering you with their potent chemicals. In this field (either way you look at it–career field or the outdoor office), there’s just no way around the dirty work.
TICKS. A day in the field–espeically during the spring but also on spring-like days during any other season–must end with a tick-check. Finding just one on me can incite the psychological game of thinking that I keep feeling one crawling on me…This spring, I saw one in our work vehicle after it had not been used for at least 3 days and I have also found one in my place of residence…So look carefully! You never know where their hitch-hiking journeys will take them and get them closer to you, their potential feast. Has anyone researched whether the color of clothing worn is correlated to tick attraction? I think they like brown pants…
Tricky ticks…tiny, camouflaged, stealthy…they could move and hide anywhere without me even knowing–yuck!
BARBED GOATGRASS. “Yikes! Is that a grasshopper in my pants!? Oh, no. It’s just barbed goatgrass.” This is probably the typical thought process of anyone who walks through a patch of this horrible albeit effective invasive annual grass for the first time. Make it a contest: how far up one’s pant leg can a barbed goatgrass seed head go before it gets too annoying that it has to be pulled out? I had one come up out of the top of my pants…does that mean I win? 🙂
Head of invasive barbed goatgrass
Sea of barbed goatgrass on a rare plant preserve
Never underestimate barded goatgrass…it can and does enter the bottom of your pantleg and can maneuver all the way up to the top of your pants
YELLOW STARTHISTLE. Multiple ways exist to combat this nasty and highly invasive species in California, but it’s incredibly ept at reproducing profusely, flowering throughout the summer and fall, supplying the seed bank with a large number of seeds every year, choking out natives and taking over the landscape. Because I have been working on a rare plant preserve, we do not use herbicide but instead have been attacking armies of yellow star thistle by hand removal and bagging. How satisfying to remove them one-by-one and see an area of the preserve void of YST…at least for the moment as we may have left behind seeds, which is why combating invasives is a constant battle.
Yellow starthistle (most invasive weed in California?!) in bloom, defenses ready…
Pulling yellow starthistle at Pine Hill Preserve
“Yellow starthistle–you’re goin’ down!”
POISON OAK. Whether we like it or not, poison oak is native in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California. And, of course, one of the federally endangered plants at Pine Hill Preserve–El Dorado bedstraw–likes to grow in the understory of live oak or black oak woodlands…where it is not uncommon for poison oak to flourish. To make it even more exciting, this plant species is small and dies back every winter so to see it or find it among the oak leaf litter during its growing season, one must get close to them as well as these toxic chemical-exuding plants which love to cause itching misery to any who dare touch them…or simply brush against them unaware. But the icing on the cake: El Dorado bedstraw is dioecious. To try to gain an iota of understanding about this species to begin working toward development of appropriate conservation strategies for it, we attempted to identify male and female plants within two separate populations. This required getting on our hands and knees, bending our faces to the ground and using our handlenses to determine if the minute, pale flowers were male or female. Avoiding poison oak was impossible. So El Dorado bedstraw: small, inconspicuous, federally-endangered plant species which commonly grows among poison oak. No wonder not much is known about this species!
Poison oak…”Leaves of three, let them be.”
Stand of poison oak in autumn
Attempting to identify male and female plants of the diecious El Dorado bedstraw (federally endangered)
FUEL BREAK CONSTRUCTION. Fuel break construction is a top priority for the Pine Hill Preserve because the chaparral plant community is composed of highly flammable shrub species. Not only so, but the Preserve consists of five main discontiguous units; thus, the edge to core ratio is significant. Furthermore, the Preserve exists approximately 30-35 miles east of Sacramento, California, where the population is growing and development is expanding; hence, a notable portion of the Preserve’s boundaries are considered Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). Because human health and public safety are a top concern and the potential for wildfires consistently exist (especially during the hot, dry summers and as fuel loads continue to increase), management of Pine Hill Preserve emphasizes a proactive, preventative approach by incorporating fuels management. Fuel breaks involve the removal of woody vegetation on BLM land which borders private property on which residences have been built; the typcial width of a fuel break is 100 feet. At the Pine Hill Preserve, shrubs are generally cut with chainsaws; the brush is masticated, chipped and deposited, or piled and burned. Because the majority of the rare plants at the Preserve either respond favorably to fire or require it for seed germination, prescribed burning is a preferred option to simultaneously promote public safety and rare plant conservation. Conducting a prescribed burn of brush piles in a densely developed area requires a lot of preparaton and specific environmental conditions; fortunately, this was achieved during April 2011 at Pine Hill Preserve.
I flagged rare plants while AmeriCorps crew members cut woody chaparral vegetation with chainsaws to construct a fuel break
TRASH REMOVAL. Public lands are just that: land managed to be 1) used by the public for purposes appropriate to the nature of the land and its resources and 2) enjoyed by members of the public. Individual citizens (taxpayers) each have a stake in public land; along with this right comes the responsibility to respect and care for the land. Unfortunately, some assume that their right as a stakeholder permits them to utilize public lands as dumping grounds (for whatever reason…I assume it’s to save money and perhaps the time it requires to take it to a landfill or pay monthly garbage fees…but then it puts the cost of one individual’s trash removal on all taxpayers and takes away time that civil servants could otherwise be dedicating to valuable management activities). Preventative measures such as installing posts and signs work to prevent such illegal dumping on public lands…some of the time.
Household trash dumped at the Preserve
An old appliance dumped and lumber added to one of our brush piles–this can be dangerous and adds extra work for fuel reduction/fire crews who are already working hard
Illegal disposal of a sofa and mattress at Pine Hill Preserve (public land for the conservation of 8 rare plant species and the unique soil in which they grow) near a major highway; we loaded it and took it to a landfill
FACILITIES MAINTENANCE. Most folks who enjoy using public land for outdoor recreation activities (whether it be hiking, biking, equestrian use, birding, photography, rafting, fishing, hunting, etc.) appreciate the land, its natural resources, the opportunity to use the land, and the facilities constructed on the land for enhancing their recreational experience (i.e., parking lots, restrooms). Hence, they typically respect these aspects of public property by keeping it clean and restricting activity to what is allowed. However, there are always a handful of people who do not use public lands and facilities for the intended recreational uses; instead, vandalism becomes their “recreation activity” of choice. As satisfying as it is to clean up a vandalized site, I much prefer proper care and respect of public lands and facilities by all inidividuals. Civil servants whose job it is to maintain public facilities have a big (sometimes kinda nasty) job, but they also get to contribute to enjoyable projects such as staining a bridge to improve the aesthetics of a walking trail through a lovely natural area.
A vandalized restroom painted and repaired
Staining a bridge at Dave Moore Nature Area as part of a volunteer work day