Busy last month. Attended the Seed Collection course in Folsom, CA. Yes, of Folsom Prison/Johnny Cash fame. Even went and checked out the museum on the prison grounds (which is still an active facility). They had quite an impressive shank collection, and an entire section dedicated to Johnny Cash and movie made about his time there. Apparently, Rick James did some time there too (think Chappelle Show). Otherwise, went and saw some neat flora, lots of oats……
Well, I’ve been unchained from my desk on trial basis, and was able to get outside and play this week. There was a cadre of congressional staffers touring the Monument this week, and I was ask to speak on the Assessment, Inventory and Monitoring (AIM) Program and how we are using it to characterize the landscape within the Monument. I got my 10 minutes of fame (as I was the only speaker between them and cold beer), then got to do a seed tour in southern Colorado. Good day. VERY windy. But it was good to enjoy the sunshine.
When I took this job, I knew it would be a lot of work and a strong learning curve. I’ve never developed a management plan or put in for BPS funding. I really don’t know how much things cost or how much my time is worth. Truthfully, I’m just happy to get outside (not to say that I don’t want to be paid 😉 ). With all this budgeting and NEPA experience, I have really developed an appreciation for how much work goes into planning on the ground conservation, and the intrinsic value of conservation. I wanted to be brief this month, but I’ll leave you with an article on how and why we approach conservation and why we value nature, and if this even valid in the first place.
It’s that time of year again. Stores are inundated with pink and red candies, flowers and cards. Valentine’s Day, or as I like to call it, Single’s Awareness Day. One of the multitude of days in the year where folks spend exorbitant amounts of money on various botanical offerings to validate their love for one another. Generally, such offerings are red, to symbolize love, or pink for friendship with a smattering of white for purity/devotion. But what are the origins of sending flowers for St. Valentine’s? The accepted history of the infamous day generally comes from the Roman priest, Valentino who opposed the Roman military’s policy of no marriage, because it was felt that single men made better soldiers. Valentino married young lovers in secret in defiance and was eventually discovered and crucified. So much for love. Another legend involves various pagan holidays celebrating fertility and the birth of man. Celebrations associated with this involved imbibing heavily and beating women to promote fertility. I swear, I can’t make this up (history.com). But what about flowers? Where do they come into this particular celebration?
It is theorized, that Geoffrey Chaucer, of The Canterbury Tales fame, initiated the concept of romantic love and the giving of gifts with his Parelement of Foules in 1382. In it, he describes love birds (actual birds) on St. Valentine’s Day. Through a serious of events, this evolved into gifting on the day of St. Valentine, especially amongst nobles. Offerings of flowers became popular and became romanticized (no pun intended), and were thrown into much of the popular art forms of the day. We could also go back to St. Valentine himself, who allegedly received flowers while he was in jail from the couples he had wed. Popularly though, Chaucer is often credited with modern Valentine’s gifting (history.com, proflowers.com).
King Charles II of Sweden is credited with the idea of sending red roses as a non-verbal communication of love (usatoday.com). A few centuries later, Americans spend approximately $1.9 billion on flowers for Valentine’s (2014).
The Militarization of Public Lands
Recently, I’ve been going down the proverbial NEPA rabbit hole, trying to track down adequate documentation for an RMP/EA I’m working on for a seed grow out facility. It’s taught me a lot about being organized, which EVERYONE should make an effort to be, but also the BLM’s policy of multiple use, the concept of public lands, the Department of Defense/Homeland Security, and how they are tied together. I’ve been ruminating on these somewhat unrelated topics because the particular project I’m working on is located adjacent to BLM lands which are used for military training purposes. Ironically enough, the area is a designated Area of Critical Environmental Concern. Learning this, I thought a fissure would open up in the earth, and the apocalypse would commence! But, militarization of public lands, outside of mere training use, regardless of any special designation is not a new concept.
Over the last nearly 20 years, the Department of Homeland Security has been in direct conflict with both the Department of Interior and Agriculture, and there has been an overwhelming lack of communication between all three (Bruno 2012). Between 1996 and 2006, there have been several efforts to open communication lines, but also to undermine the foundational missions of the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service to protect, enhance and repair lands under their jurisdiction while balancing for multiple use and economic opportunity. This has ultimately been accomplished via legislation and a gross imbalance of power between the Departments and waiver of environmental policy for the sake of national security. These policies are in addition to sequester under which the BLM specifically, will undergo 5% budget cuts over the next three years (2013-2016). Activities related to species protection, fuels treatments, etc are directly jeopardized from lack of funds, only to be further degraded or endangered by military or customs activity.
In 2012, HR 1505 – the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act was passed to give U.S. Customs and Border Patrol greater control over activities pertaining to national security. What this ultimately means, is they are exempt from rules and regulations set forth by various environmental acts (i.e. Endangered Species Act) and the policies of the Departments of Interior/Agriculture for preservation and enjoyment of our public lands. This particular policy is to remove the “hindrance” of environmental legislation which would otherwise prevent enforcement of border security. In reality, with the exception of a few circumstances, the Government Accountability Office could find no direct correlation between environmental law and prevention of border security (Clifford 2012).
HR 1505 is tiered to HR 6061 and HR 5124 – the Secure Fence Act of 2006 and the Reinstatement of the Secure Fence Act of 2008. The 2006 act provides for the construction of the border fence and greater infrastructure to support Customs and Border Patrol activity. The 2008 act called for an additional 700 miles of fence to be constructed. To date, there are 670 miles of fence, which cost $2.4 billion, with another 700 slated for the next few years and augmentations to the current fence effectively “doubling” it (NBC News 2013). Furthermore, these acts extend the jurisdiction of Customs and Border Patrol 100 miles inland. Keep in mind, the US border with Mexico is 1989 miles (U.S. Customs and Border Protection 2013)…
Similar legislation, includes the acquisition of public lands for military use. Occasionally, various military installations claim eminent domain, and acquire vast tracks of land. One such example includes Pinion Canyon Maneuver Site near Trinidad, Colorado which was expanded to 285,000 acres in 1983 which forced dozens of landowners out. There have been additional movements to expand the site to be larger than the state of Maryland in recent years. The area borders the Comanche National Grasslands and the Historic Santa Fe Trail, in addition to harboring innumerable petroglyphs, homesteads and economically important big game. More recently, there has been a push by the installation to acquire an additional 418,000 acres (Garrison 2008), again to the detriment of local ranchers, but there was a much stronger more unified resistance. Legislation was passed which prohibited the expansion of the site into the future.
This narrative is obviously only one side of the story, and I’m sure that I’ve missed things. I think the take away is that we need to repair our relationship with the land and the stewards of it, whether that is the Department of Defense, the BLM or ranchers. Furthermore, start locally and juxtapose how those actions will ripple globally. We’ve lost sight of the big picture in exchange for panicked, immediate action. These desert systems are especially delicate, which we generally neglect. The sheer number of military installations in the desert and the weapons testing that occurs (i.e. the Nevada Test Site, Los Alamos, White Sands Missile Range), in my mind, demonstrates that we as a society hold the ecosystem in poor regard. We believe that they are “inhospitable to human life (and therefore) we have treated them as if they had no life of their own (Clifford 2012).” With that, I’ll leave you all with a thought from Luna Leopold, Aldo Leopold’s son; “things wild and free are being destroyed by the impersonality of our attitude toward the land (1966).”
Please excuse the lack of a proper bibliography – but feel free to peruse sources via the links.
Emil B. McCain and Jack L. Childs (2008) Evidence of Resident Jaguars (Panthera onca) in the Southwestern United States and the Implications for Conservation. Journal of Mammalogy: February 2008, Vol. 89, No. 1, pp. 1-10.
Sand County Almanac
Whelp, it’s been a balmy 45 degrees here in Taos. About ten degrees higher than normal. No snow. No ice. Just mud. I have to use four wheel drive just to get up my road, then do some Tokyo drift moves to get in my driveway before the tires finally grip gravel. My dog, who is white, insists on running through all the mud he can find and tracking it through the house, finally depositing what’s left on his feet in the bed. I wake in the middle of the night to dried mud nuggets between the sheets. On the plus side, I can make a small fire before bed, and it’s still relatively warm in the morning.
Otherwise, there’s not much to report. Attempting to orchestrate some community groups for weed removal and eventual re-seeding. And up to my eyeballs in NEPA…. I think I have about five different projects going on, two of which I’m starting from scratch. I’ll be sure to report on them once I’ve removed the subsequent gray hairs…
With that, Happy Chrismahanakwanzsolistikah!
Despite the cold and the shortened days here in New Mexico, I’ve managed to get out to the field a couple times to do some scouting for next field season. I ventured out with a range tech and a wildlife biologist to the far eastern part of the district to a solitary 40 acre parcel of BLM in a sea of private land, called Turkey Canyon. The entire parcel was nearly pristine, and we saw signs of cougar, bear, elk and mule deer. The entire area showed great promise for seed collection next fall with Bouteloua gracilis, Bouteloua hirsuta, and Lycurus phleoides to name a few.There’s a lot of history on the land.It was once a pre-historic sea, and then three-toed dinosaurs traversed the land, as evidenced in Clayton Lake State Park. We made a side trip to see the dinosaur tracks at the park. The town of Clayton (30 miles south of Turkey Canyon) is home to the New Mexico’s only lynching in the Clayton’s history (for good reason), which was a debacle apparently. I won’t go into detail, but I recommend reading about it. Let’s just say, that the waitress from our lunch in town told us to never rob a train in Clayton.
Whelp, field season is about over. Officially experienced the first frost and christened my fire place. Most activity has been drawn indoors, focusing on NEPA projects and sample design for SOS. I’m not sure how fruitful (no pun intended) my Seeds design will be. The idea is to use presence-absence data to prioritize collection areas. Once those have been designated, monitoring data from Assessment, Inventory and Monitoring (AIM) will be used to determine overall cover/density of target species. Seems good in theory, we’ll see if helps any, or if drive by botany is more effective. But what is critical to remember, is the relationship between soil and plant communities, hence in SOS, why we take into account the representative soil when making collections. Since SOS is new to the Taos FO, next summer will be a learning experience and to see if all this GIS work will actually yield something. In the interim, I leave you all with a recent article on the relationship between soil and plant diversity. Something to mull on until next month.
More plants. More dirt.
What is it to be a botanist? As some of you know the Botanical Society of America has started a social media campaign to “reclaim the name.” I’ve checked out their Facebook page and saw a lot of familiar faces posting their mug shots along with what and where they study. I’ve noticed mostly academics sharing their interests in plant genetics, morphology, pollination ecology, etc. But where are all the federal botanists? I honestly only know of a handful of actual federal botanists, and the rest are range ecologists, wildlife biologists or weed specialists who got roped into doing T/E species monitoring. Does that make them botanists? In ways, I feel like ours is a dying art and we are at the forefront of the last charge. At the same time, I feel that’s what makes us unique and our work more critical, because not everyone has the desire nor the skill to be a botanist, roped in otherwise by charismatic megafauna. I’m curious to see what others think outside of academia. Especially working with the CLM program, we should be representing the botanical work that we do for the federal government, and that it’s not just about grazing or timber or oil and gas.
I am an ethnobotanist, amateur agronomist. Say it loud, say it proud!
Until next month. More plants. More dirt. #iamabotanist #reclaimthename
P.S. shout out to my counterpart Patrick in Las Cruces for actually taking his photo (because I can’t actually figure out my phone’s camera).