Almost heaven, west Nevada

It’s the last few weeks of our internship here at the Bureau of Land Management’s Eagle Lake Field Office and our work in the field is starting to wrap up. Lately, we have been focusing on collecting fall-maturing shrubs to use in a restoration project for a fire that burned a large chunk of our field office earlier this year. One of the plants that we collected – four-wing saltbrush – still had a bit of moisture in their seeds when we collected them, which has meant that our small office has turned into a makeshift seed drying chamber. For the past week or so, we have had seeds laid out on all vacant surfaces on our desks.  To be honest, the seeds smell a little funky and have a fair amount of bugs in them that have been escaping and finding their way into all the corners of the office before keeling over. On a more positive note, the seeds  have been a great conversation starter. Many people in the office do not understand fully what we Seeds of Success interns do all summer, and giant piles of seeds stinking up their office make very good teaching moments. #botany

Mountain biking around the lovely Susanville Ranch Park

This past weekend, I took a little day-trip down to Reno to do some mountain biking around the area and visit the art museum. Wow such wow, the mountain biking was amazing. I have really been wanting to mountain bike through the sagebrush steppe this whole summer and I finally got to do it! It was actually very hard to focus because I kept wanting to botanize over all the lovely desert plants around me while I was careening around bermed turns. The Reno Art Museum had some very lovely pieces, many of which focused on the vastness and sublimity of the west’s deserts and open spaces. It’s always very interesting to see how artistic depictions of natural spaces intersect with and sometimes contradict scientific interpretations. Also, they had an entire room whose walls were covered in paper made from chocolate. It smelled so good!

We found a train in the desert

I am starting to get very sad about leaving Susanville. I was not expecting to make so many good friends in the community here. When I was headed out here, everyone just talked about how isolated and small this town was, but really it has been anything but! It has been really nice to put enough roots down that I can go to the Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings and recognize a fair amount of the faces. Having to leave here after only 5 months is getting me sort of bummed out about living the seasonal field biologist lifestyle for too much longer. I am sure that my next seasonal position will take me to another amazing part of the country, but it just makes me sad that I have to leave a place as soon as it starts to feel like home.

-Jake Nash, Eagle Lake Field Office, Susanville, CA

Ye olde roadside shoe tree

This isn’t the desert! First one to guess where this is in the comments gets a free plant pun courtesy of yours truly.


Summer of Love…and plants

Field work is really hard! Especially in the desert!

Sometimes it feels like the desert is playing tricks on me, warping my perception. It has been a struggle finding viable seed to collect for our seed banking efforts. Many of the plants that are most important for post-wildfire restoration have produced little to no seed this year.

About a month or so ago, Mike and I took a walk through the site of the recent Long Valley fire. It was pretty spooky. There was no sign of any herbaceous plants and all that remained of the shrubs were blackened twigs. At first glance, the area looked like a desolate wasteland. Then I looked closer. Ants scrambled around the charred gravel. A lone mushroom stood, flushed by all the water from the firefighting effort. Desert peach sprouted from the bases of charred bushes.

What had appeared to me as a lifeless landscape was actually full of vitality and regeneration. It reminded me that the apocalyptic rhetoric that we conservationists often use to galvanize support for our cause can overlook the innate regenerative potential of threatened ecosystems. How often have seed banks been billed as “doomsday vaults”? I think that this sort of apocalyptic thinking is not only destructively pessimistic, but also endows us conservationists with a false sense of self-importance. As soon as we start believing that the earth is dying because of us, we start believing that we alone can save it. Not to say that we haven’t caused irreparable damage to this planet. But I think it is important to acknowledge that ecosystems are incredibly resilient and that they will recover from our impact regardless of whether we welcome a few sacred species onto our ark. Granted, this recovery might not take place on a timescale that is acceptable to us as users of the land. It will probably be millennia before natural antagonists evolve to put a check on invasive organisms.

On a lighter note, I went to Lake Tahoe this past weekend. Such beautiful, such wow, such boats. We went on a gorgeous hike to the top of Twin Peaks, visited an “authentic Scandinavian castle” and swam to a small island in the middle of the lake.

Dynamic Ecosystems

I got into Susanville, California to start my internship with the Bureau of Land Management just about three weeks ago after driving north through the Mojave desert and northern Sierra Nevadas. As an east coaster, my tour through the west has been an eye opening experience. Over the past month, I’ve seen Joshua trees, many many dusty towns miles from nowhere, and more sagebrush than I can shake a hand lens at. Since starting my drive out west, I have been feeling pretty out of my element. I have spent a lot of time thinking back to the lush moistness of New England’s Appalachians where I grew up. The dryness and vastness of the west are pretty new to me.

Still, I can already feel the sagebrush steppe – where I have been working – growing on me. I am pretty sure that the best place to make a new ecosystem feel like home is to be thrown out there for six to eight hours a day intensely studying plants. We have been out in the field for most of our days so far. One of my favorite days so far has been exploring the Pine Dunes north of our office near the small town of Ravendale (population 20).The Pine Dunes are a unique ecosystem with about 40-50 Ponderosa pines growing in the middle of the inhospitable sandy desert. No one really knows why there are Ponderosa pines in the middle of the desert, but our mentor hypothesizes that there was a short period when the desert flooded, simultaneously exposing long-buried pine cones and providing them with the moisture to germinate and establish. While we were out there, we also found an odd-ball stand of willow shrubs perched atop a dune. I wonder if these too established themselves during a single wet season.

The beautiful Pine Dunes north of our field office

Our mentor used the term dynamic to describe these kinds of ecosystems. Ecosystems are constantly changing and working in restoration ecology, we need to remember this. This invites us to think about what we are restoring when we go to rehabilitate an ecosystem. Do we restore it to how it was 10 years ago? 50 years? 100 years? 1,000 years? Some might say that we should try to return landscapes to how they were before human contact. But I think that is problematic because there were people living on this continent for millennia before the arrival of Europeans and with the genocide of native Americans, so too went a wealth of knowledge about the continent’s ecosystems. So, we really don’t know what this continent looked like before human contact. Does it matter? Should we be striving to minimize any human contact on the land? Or should we be trying to figure out a way to make contact with the land without destroying it?

-Susanville Bureau of Land Management

Oh and did I mention that we went to the Redwoods over 4th of July weekend?