A Farewell to Idaho

Summarizing the entirety of a season is always a challenge. Especially when the five months have provided stunning landscapes, introductions to many platforms of plant science, and meaningful relationships. My time as a CLM intern in Idaho Falls, ID with the Caribou-Targhee National Forest has been an absolute joy. Even being fully prepared by both my mentor and Chicago Botanic Garden (CBG) staff before my move, I could not have expected the amount of knowledge and experience I would gain throughout this program. Or the huge love I have now for the state of Idaho. With the multitude of different projects and interagency partnerships, I am leaving this internship feeling more grounded in my career goals and passion for science. To close out my season, I wanted to run through a handful of standout moments and thoughts for future interns. As well as a massive thank you to my mentor Rose Lehman, co-intern Olivia Turner, and CLM staff. You are what makes this program. 

Stunning sub-alpine meadow in western Wyoming. Filled with lupine, blue bells, and licorice root.

One of the most meaningful experiences from the season was our opportunity to establish the fourth Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments (GLORIA) peak in Idaho. These sites are created across the world to analyze one of our most vulnerable landscapes, the alpine. With the trends of climate influence becoming more apparent every day, it is crucial to establish infrastructure to document how alpine vegetation is responding. To pull off a research site of this level, it took multiple agencies from across the state. Seeing how the BLM, Forest Service, Idaho Fish and Game, ARS Bee Lab, master naturalists, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Idaho Native Plant Society, and state botanists, came together to complete this research was extremely motivating. It showed how important working together is for the future of our environment. Additionally, having the exposure to GLORIA expanded my fascination for alpine life zones and confirmed how dearly I hope to attend a graduate program that is doing active research for alpine conservation. 

Olivia Turner and I on the GLORIA summit.

A gorgeous, gorgeous, alpine buckwheat!

After completing GLORIA in June, it felt like a snowball of excitement and projects came tumbling down the summit. In the best way possible! Thanks to our incredible mentor, we were non-stop the entire season. This leads me to my first advice tid-bit for future CLM interns. From the beginning, be honest with your mentor and your co-intern(s) about your goals, hopes, and overall preferences for your time with them. When you do your interview with your mentor, ask all the questions and don’t be shy to follow-up throughout the entirety of your season. Olivia and I were sure to let our mentor know how interested we were in rare plant conservation, alpine ecology, climate change, community partnerships, and GIS. With that, she continually put projects on our plate that encouraged those interests. As for your co-intern, talk to them before your season starts! You will be with this person 40+ hours a week for five months! Camping, strategizing, driving for hours, sharing meals, laughing at each other for sliding down a mountain, meeting superiors together, etc. It was essential for Olivia and I to share a bit about who we were before coming to Idaho as well as staying completely honest with each other throughout the season about where we were at. 

Co-interns that communicate together, smile together!

Two additional highlights from the season were: working closely to document the monarch butterfly populations here in southeast Idaho and being a part of the Seeds of Success (SOS) seed collecting initiative. I wish I could insert all of you reading this into the Curlew National Grassland in early August just so you could fully experience how magical it is to see monarchs nectaring on native milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) surrounded by the river, cottonwoods, and rocky mountain bee plant (Cleome serrulata) in the grassland. We had the opportunity to capture monarchs, tag them for migration tracking, and peacefully release them back the same day so they could continue their journey. With the monarch populations dwindling rapidly, it was an awe-inspiring moment to be involved with any conservation effort on their behalf. Additionally, our chance to be a part of the seed collecting process of SOS provided us with the ability to travel all across Idaho, western Wyoming, and northern Utah. Seeing gorgeous areas. SOS allows you to be apart of a multi-state, multi-partner research action. We were able to discuss our populations and seed zones with other CLM and SOS seasonals, learn about sustainable seed harvesting, and be a part of the restoration efforts SOS supports.

Yes, you’ve got it. A monarch caterpillar (INSTAR-4) nectaring on the Idaho native milkweed, Asclepias speciosa.
Olivia and our mentor, Rose, tagging a monarch with volunteers.

Another tid-bit for future CLM interns would have to be, dive into this experience. Engage yourself! You have the chance to meet your future boss, colleague, research associate, graduate school advisor, and so on just from the remarkable network CLM provides you with. Send follow-up emails, reach out again, get numbers. Ask too many questions. Be yourself and laugh at yourself. Go out with other crews and supervisors to expand your knowledge. Say yes! Truly, this is an unforgettable experience so make it your own!

This is me and Olivia attempting to not be intimidated by this impressive group of phenomenal botanists and entomologists. Talk to your interagency partners!

It is with a full heart, I leave this internship. I’ve only shared three moments from a season filled with hundreds of them. If I could, I would write 10+ pages filled with photos and accomplishments from all the hard work everyone contributes to the CLM program. Thank you again to my incredible mentor Rose and my lovely co-intern Olivia for being an outstanding team. As well as Chris and Krissa from CBG for providing all the avenues of support anyone could ask for.

I’ll leave you all with this dreamy photo of mat rockspirea (Petrophytum caespitosum)!


Claire Parsons

CLM 2019 Cohort: Caribou-Targhee National Forest, Idaho

Coeur d’Alene Nursery and upland wildflowers

Harbor view of Coeur d’Alene lake.

It is not often that I get to spend the entirety of a day surrounded by millions (yes, millions!) of tree, shrub, and forb seedlings. We were sent to collect 1,096 wildflower starts from the US Forest Service Coeur d’Alene Nursery to plant in southeast Idaho for forb island research promoted by the Caribou-Targhee National Forest botanist, Rose Lehman, and Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS). This nursery is a force to be reckoned with. It consists of a seed extractory, germination facility, large cold storage warehouse, extensive land for tree reserves, and current forest health research sites. They also have roughly 20 greenhouses fully stocked with various conifer species such as: white bark pine (Pinus albicaulis), western larch (Larix sp.), and ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa). One conifer greenhouse can hold up to 1.2 millions seedlings! Additionally, they have four native plant greenhouses filled to the brim with multiple species including: kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), snowberry (Symphoricarpos sp.), and black elderberry (Sambucus racemosa). These plants are grown for various projects throughout Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, and Utah for reforestation, landscaping, timber sales, and forest conservation. 

One of the four native plant greenhouses.
A glorious representation of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) seedlings.
Snowberry (Symphoricarpos sp.) plugs being grown for a wildlife corridor in Washington.
Black elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) is being grown extensively at the nursery. We were all impressed with how productive the flats are.

The main goal of the trip was to arrive early enough to individually pack each one of the wildflower seedlings needed to complete the restoration project south of Idaho Falls on the Curlew National Grassland at the end of the week. The initiative is working to establish native plant zones in a low elevation, sagebrush-steppe landscape by hand-planting the following forbs: parsnip buckwheat (Eriogonum heracleoides var. heracleoides), curly cup gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa), tansy aster (Machaeranthera canescens), low beardtongue (Penstemon humilis), and tapertip hawksbeard (Crepis acuminata). These flowers provide strong pollinator habitat, upland establishment, and tender forage for sage-grouse chicks. The chicks thrive off of the insects found on wildflower species and often use the vegetation for shelter. 

Orchestrating a planting operation like the Coeur d’Alene Nursery is beyond impressive. Seedlings are documented from the beginning of their seed collection, through gestation, germination, upsizing, transplanting, and then their shipment. Every flat, in every greenhouse, has a barcode that provides a timeline and location for the individuals. It acts as an electronic paper trail for each organism on the property. For our specific project, we were able to see the final stages of a plant’s life at the nursery. This consists of collecting the flats, removing them from their plugs, getting rid of any dead leaf matter, cleaning the root bases by trimming them with scissors, compiling them into plastic bags, and placing them safely into large shipping boxes. We loaded them into the chiller for the evening so they would remain properly hydrated until we picked them up the following day.

Example of removing plugs from their flat and trimming the ends before bagging them up. This is curly cup gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa).
Olivia Turner is cleaning off dead leaf matter off of curly cup gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa) to ensure the individuals look fresh for their long journey to the Curlew National Grassland.
One of seven boxes each filled with 200 or so wildflower seedlings for our restoration planting.

Overall, this was an incredibly successful trip and partnership! Each one of our chosen species grew with great success which ensured we could get them to the restoration project safely. We were able to see a very small snippet into what it means to facilitate active plant conservation on a national forest scale. Learning that there are only six national forest nurseries made us both overwhelmed with the importance of these facilities. I certainly look forward to future opportunities that allow me to be involved with any one of these nurseries.

To learn more about what came next for these plants and the planting process for our project, check out my co-intern Olivia Turner’s recent blog post, “A Planting Frenzy”.

Here’s to working for three more weeks in such a special place!

Claire Parsons

Caribou-Targhee National Forest, S.O.

Whitebark pine and the Sawtooths

The Sawtooth National Forest in Idaho encapsulates some of the most rugged, unmarked, and stunning wild country in the entire state. Perfectly enough, it is called the “crown jewel”. Throughout my internship here, I have been told continually how dire it is for me to visit this place before my chapter here closes. It is because of the numerous high alpine lakes, 50+ peaks over 10,000 ft, and the multiple wilderness areas that surround the forest. There is an abundance of wildlife, mature tree stands, alpine wildflowers, and solitude. The peaks are jagged and profound. The water is crystal blue. The high valleys are dotted with subalpine meadows and wetlands. I promise you, it is as dreamy as it sounds. With our primary work being for the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, we were floored when we were given the opportunity to head over to the Sawtooths to assist with whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) monitoring surveys. 

Looking directly into Strawberry Basin. To the right, notice the white mountain. One of many, these prominently white rocks compiled to form what we call, the White Clouds.

Whitebark pine is a species of interest due to the impacts of native mountain pine beetle and white pine blister rust. Both continue to successfully reproduce across western forests and cause decline in whitebark pine. Additionally, whitebark pine is experiencing regeneration challenges as continued fire exclusion limits seedling establishment and allows succession to shade-tolerant species. This species thrives in subalpine environments and co-exists with other dominant conifers such as: douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), engelmann spruce (Picea englemannii), subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa), and lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta). Not only do whitebark pines coexist with stunning conifers, they also have a close relationship with the Clark’s nutcracker. The nutcracker is an essential partner in the regeneration success of whitebark pine. These jay-sized, grey, black, and white birds favor using their broad beaks to remove seeds from pine cones and distribute them across the landscape. They will collect thousands of seeds and bury them in cache piles as far as 20 miles apart. This natural distribution of the seeds is hugely crucial to the species. If you are fascinated by these birds as much as I am, learn more from the Audobon at https://www.audubon.org/news/better-know-bird-clarks-nutcracker-and-its-obsessive-seed-hoarding.

Clark’s Nutcracker acquiring one of many seeds. Photo by Marshall Hedin.

The White Cloud Mountains continue to expand whitebark pine research. The monitoring surveys we completed were created to analyze how they regenerate post fire. In 2006, the Valley Road Fire burned nearly 40,000 acres in the White Cloud Mountain area. A substantial percentage of the fire occurred in prime whitebark pine habitat. The fire burned at low intensity and high intensity changing the entirety of the environment. Our survey focus was overall forest health and vegetation reestablishment. We visited over 20 plots in five different stands throughout the White Clouds, collecting data on a variety of components.

Some to note would be:

  • Tree status – dead, alive, or infected
  • What killed the tree 
  • Fire evidence
  • DBH and tree height
  • Number of overall conifer regeneration
  • Complete vegetation survey of each plot – forbs, graminoids, trees/shrubs
In the heart of one of our many plots. This is a mixture of subalpine fir and whitebark pine skeletons from a previous fire.

Each plot provided a different representation of how the forest can respond and how resilient it is to the impacts of wildfire. Here we were, thirteen years later, seeing thriving wildflower communities, tree regeneration, hearing the wolves cry, and elk bugle. Analyzing these snippets of the massive area we were in, provided us with a small window into just how adaptable forests are and how beneficial fire can be. It is important to note that we did find evidence of both mountain pine beetle kill and white pine blister rust, which was to be expected. Collecting this data will hopefully provide a continued baseline of what changes are occuring between each sampling year and will promote future management decisions. 

A moderately healthy whitebark pine stand. Photo by Olivia Turner.

Lastly, there is something oddly beautiful about being wrapped up inside of a 40,000 acre burn scar. You are completely exposed and can see each and every ridge around you. There is no hiding behind the skirt of subalpine fir or spying on a herd of elk (because they saw you miles and miles before you caught a glimpse of them). It is humbling. These four days flew by. We drove away with the understanding of how to properly conduct these surveys and have hopes to share the techniques with our forest, the Caribou-Targhee. 

Sunset over the Valley Road Fire burn scar.

Enjoy fall as it is fast approaching!

Claire Parsons

Caribou-Targhee National Forest, S.O.

Curlew National Grassland Restoration Project

After nine years of highway reengineering, conservation planning, archeological protection, nonprofit partnerships, and extensive research, the beautiful seed of wetland restoration was planted this week at the Curlew National Grassland in southern Idaho! What exactly does this mean? It means, 3,400 perfect graminoid starts were planted along one mile of Rock Creek to establish a strong streambank stocked with native plant species. With the proposed reconstruction of highway ID-38 back in 2010, the Caribou-Targhee National Forest hydrologist, forest botanist, Rose Lehman, and many other partnered to establish a strategy that ensured the structural integrity of this location in the Curlew (see photo below). This meant a variety of regulations and compromises such as: upsizing culverts, avoiding stream meanders and/or natural springs, and Native American lands.

The red pin indicates the graminoid planting at the
Curlew National Grassland, ID.

Two Idaho native graminoids were chosen for streambank stabilization: Nebraska sedge (Carex nebrascensis) and Baltic rush (Baltic balticus). The planting took a total of two days. Co-intern, Olivia Turner, five volunteers from the Sagebrush-Steppe Landtrust in Pocatello, ID, two hydrologists, and myself gathered together for the second day of the project. Buckets filled with plant starts and shovels in hand, we successfully spread out along the parameter of the stream. Each 2-person team would simply create holes in the mucky Idaho clay and ease every juvenile into the soil. The ground along the stream is incredibly moist and idealistic for these younger individuals. So ideal that the estimated regenerative success rate is 90% for this particular project area! That would promote roughly 3,060 individuals to take root and thrive!

Nebraska sedge (Carex nebrascensis) left and Baltic rush (Baltic balticus) right.
The perfect Nebraska sedge (Carex nebrascensis) finding a new home along Rock Creek.

The project was a complete success. The day was filled with affirmation for the future of this particular site. It was a wonderful experience to step aside from SOS and terrestrial botany for a moment and participate in wetland restoration. The future of this project paints the picture of a lush wetland habitat filled with native sedges and rushes, a running stream, moose in the willows, and the pink flowers of mallow blooming.

Olivia Turner crouches by Rock Creek while planting.

Sending nettle stings, coyote pawprints, and garter snakes where you all may be!

Claire Parsons

Caribou-Targhee National Forest S.O.

In a field of Wyethia

Exactly a month ago I submitted my first blog post and had been working here in Idaho Falls for a total of three days. Since then, things have picked up at a wonderful rate. The rain has left us (for now), the snow is melting, and plants are blooming! Often times we are traveling from the northern tip of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, far east into the Wyoming ranges, and down south to the beautiful Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest of Utah. Covering an amazing amount of country and finding seeds in between.

Look at this beautiful Oenothera sp. (Onagraceae) at the base of the Lemhi Mountain Range outside of Howe, ID. These flowers were growing with one of our target species, Erigeron pumilis.

The tremendously small Calypso bulbosa (Orchidaceae) nestled underneath a dense Douglas-Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) outside of Alpine, WY.

In lieu of beautiful flowers, it feels necessary to share with you all the stunning field of White Mule’s-Ear (Wyethia helianthoides) we came upon while looking for a moths outside of St. Anthony, ID. As were were getting closer to this 0.25 mile field made up exclusively of white flowers, I thought to myself, “This is horrible! Look at how prolific this invasive flower is. Think about all the willows that would be growing in this area if this aster had not taken over!” To my great surprise, this beautiful species is 100% native to the region. It is know to dominate rich, moist sites. White Mule’s Ear often hybridizes with Yellow Mules-Ear (Wyethia amplexicaulis) creating a slue of peach or pale-yellow composites! 

White Mule’s-Ear (Wyethia helianthoides) as far as the eye can see.

Olivia Turner was equally enthused about the field of white.

Soon after our hearts melted in front of thousands of Wyethia, we came back the following week with a full itinerary. We managed to have two successful seed collections of Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagitata) in a week. This means we collected over 30,000 seeds for the Seeds of Success (SOS) program. Each balsamroot head has roughly 50 seeds. 50% are viable. To gain the 10,000 viable seeds required for SOS and the 5,000 for Rocky Mountain Research Station, we ended up collecting over 1,200 heads to ensure a viable seed count. 

This is a herbarium voucher of Balsamorhiza sagitata pulled from one of our seed collection sites near Swan Valley, ID.

Arrowleaf balsamroot just gone to seed!

It is quite the opportunity to continue learning the greater impacts the SOS program has on restoration projects. Simply knowing each seed collected by my hands could one day be part of a site reclamation project is amazing in itself. 

Claire Parsons

Caribou-Targhee National Forest S.O.

So Far, So Great

Day 3: Morale is high! It is still raining.

After driving 2,400 miles last week from North Carolina to Idaho Falls, Idaho… we have finally started the field season here in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest! I began my  position as Botany/Seeds of Success Intern only three days ago with another CLM Intern, Olivia Turner. The first few days have been filled with orientation, bear safety training, indicator species, gypsy moth trap placement, and briefing about our work with the Seeds of Success (SOS) and Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS). Even though there are only 30 hours under my belt, I could not be more excited to see what unfolds next. Eastern Idaho could not be anymore beautiful. It is filled with colorful rolling mountains and is surrounded completely by the large snowy peaks of both the Lemhi and Teton range.

 LeftMahonia repens (Oregon grape); right: Lithospermum ruderale (Stoneseed).

Yesterday, we were able to explore just the outskirts of this massive 3+ million acre forest and began learning more about our specific SOS species which are: Balsamorhiza sagittata, Erigeron pumilis, Phacelia hastata, and Sphaeralcea spp. These are considered to be target native species. To better understand species density throughout the forest, we will be responsible for population mapping, seed collecting, herbarium vouchers, and phenology monitoring.

After an incredibly beautiful hike outside of Pocatello, we were able to meet with a pest survey coordinator from the Idaho State Department of Agriculture to be trained on the mapping and placement of gypsy moth traps. The state is looking for both European and Asian gypsy moths due to their ability to severely defoliate a given tree or shrub species to the extent that the species can die. Below, is an example of the specific traps used in this research. Olivia and I are now responsible to place over 200 traps in hopes to capture some of these gnarly invasive insects and contribute to the ongoing population mapping of the species. To learn more about this research, visit https://www.idl.idaho.gov/forestry/forest-health/gypsy-moth-faq.pdf.

Additionally, with an indicator species training in the future, we were able to spend time shifting through the herbarium at the Caribou-Targhee National Forest office (see images below). We organized 45 different native shrubs, forbs, and graminoids. This was such an incredible opportunity to further understand the botanical diversity here in the Intermountain Region. Not to mention, the herbarium here at the supervisors office is something to be amazed by. The oldest specimen we have found so far dated back to 1912!

This week has given wonderful insight of what this internships has to offer. I look forward to learning more everyday while I am out here!


Claire Parsons

SOS Intern, Caribou-Targhee National Forest