Native Replanting Frenzy!

Nearly 3,000 native seedlings soaking up the sun before transplantation!

My internship has provided me with meaningful learning opportunities that have given me a sense of direction in my intended career path. During the field season, I have collected seeds to be used for restoration + research practices that work to provide regionally appropriate native plant material to the Great Basin. As the threat of wildfires in the Great Basin grows, conservationists/restorationists are faced with the increasing need for native plant material and seeds. This month, my internship has allowed me to experience first-hand the positive implications of my seed collections from the summer field season. The native wildflower seeds I collected will then be sent to a seed extractory for cleaning and processing before they are used for research or restoration purposes. This month, I was lucky enough to be apart of both!

First, we helped Washoe County Parks and REI plant native seedlings at Crystal Peak Park in Verdi, California. The soils in the area were surprisingly rocky, which made digging the holes for the plugs extremely challenging! The soil auger even failed to properly create holes in the rocky soils! Luckily, there were plenty of volunteers and shovels and together, we were able to finish planting all the native plugs. We planted shrubs, grasses, and forbs! Including sagebrush (Artemisia sp.), horsetail (Equisetum sp.), globemallow (Sphaeralcea sp.), and many more. The goals of this replanting event were to beautify the park surrounding a recent art installation, attract/support pollinators, and promote the use of native plant material. This experience allowed me to realize the positive implications of my seed collections and how great the need for native plant material is. It also highlighted the necessity of native plant material in more urban/developed settings to support native pollinators and prevent the spread of invasive species!

Next, we assisted researchers from Northern Arizona University (NAU) in setting up a field study using native plant plugs grown from seeds collected within the Seeds of Success program! The NAU researchers plan to investigate plant-pollinator interactions and spatial differences that affect the plants’ ability to grow successfully in this location (Carson City, NV). They are using native forbs collected from various elevations in southern regions of the Great Basin to investigate which wildflowers will successfully grow north of their ranges. This will help inform conservationists/restorationists of the feasibility of assisted migration, a relatively new concept born from the concern that species may not be able to move/and or adapt fast enough in response to changes in climate and should be manually relocated in order to conserve genetic diversity/prevent the extinction of the species. This concept is growing in importance as sub-populations of critical plant species cease to exist as a result of wildfires and other forms of disturbance (usually perpetrated by climate change). This lessens the genetic diversity of the species as a whole, affecting its ability to adapt to disturbance and changes in climate. The issues we face as a result of climate change and other anthropogenic disturbances force conservationists/restorationists to critically evaluate the best ways to mitigate the loss of genetic diversity so we can assure the persistence of critical plant species.

Setting up the study required using a soil auger to drill holes for the plants at each experimental plot. There were over 500 experimental plots and each contained six holes for the plants! Half of which were set up in a cleared area while the other half was placed within the sagebrush. The researchers are interested in investigating the variables within sagebrush habitat that may affect the plants’ ability to grow (e.g., distance from sage, percentage cover of cheatgrass). Nearly 3,000 holes were made and nearly 3,000 native seedlings were planted! Luckily, we had the help of several volunteers to set up the study.

Overall, it was an impactful learning experience for me to see how collected seeds are used for research intended to help conservationists/restorationists mitigate the impacts of climate change/biodiversity loss. Having the opportunity to experience the direct applications of my work has driven home the value of native seed collection. Above all else, these experiences have inspired me to continue learning more about native plant-based restoration methods and pursue career opportunities allowing me to invest deeper into this passion.

Flat Tire in The National Forest

For the first week of September, my work brought me to the Mountain City and Ruby Mountain Districts in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. These districts of the forest burned significantly last year, so we were sent to identify the plants that were coming back to assess how plant communities are responding post-disturbance. Additionally, we were supposed to make seed collections on certain target species if there were ideal populations. Collections made from healthy populations in post-burn areas are most ideal because the population is more likely to grow in areas with the same seed zones after a burn.

For the first few days of our hitch, we cam[ed at Wild Horse Reservoir and scouted the Mountain City District of the Humboldt-Toiyabe forest. We were able to make collections for Phacelia hastata and Macaeranthera canescans before storm clouds began to form on the second day. We were fortunate to make two collections before the storms because afterwards all of the seeds from populations were completely gone.

Exploring the burned areas was educational, yet devastating at the same time. We noticed significantly eroded hillslopes and disturbed sites as a result of the burn. The loss of plant communities as a result of the burn made the hillslope exceptionally erosion-prone, especially after a wet winter and spring in the following season. Many forest roads were damaged from the erosion, making scouting in the area very difficult for my field partner and I. While in the Mountain City District, we found ourselves on a road that became increasingly narrow as it hugged the highly eroded banks of a creek. Traveling took much longer than we anticipated because of the large amount of debris and dead trees alongside the road. As we slowly approached sunset, we were eager to get out and onto the highway to get back to our camp. Soon we hit a private fence that blocked the road leading to the highway. Nervous to travel onto someone’s property, we tried the other roads that diverged from the ones we were on because they seemed like they might lead us around the property to get back onto the highway. We tried all of these roads only to find that they all lead back to a fence from the private property. The sun was now setting and we were running out of options, we were to either ask for permission to pass through on the property or turn around and take the road back (which would take several hours into the nighttime). We decided to ask for permission once we made it to the second fence. As we came up to the property, a friendly older man came out of the house and jokingly said, “Gosh I am so sorry girls! I saw you about an hour ago coming up to the fence. I should have told ya right there and then to come on through! Of course, you can pass on through!”

He was so kind and offered to give us a ride back to our truck on his UTV. As he drove us back to our truck, his grandsons wearing cowboy boots and pajamas ran with the UTV. We thanked them for the ride and allowing us to pass on through and they all said, “Anytime! Please, anytime you need to get past.” Happy to have had such a positive interaction with the rancher, my field partner and I hastily got the truck started. As we drove off, the young boys chased after our truck screaming “Wait! You guys have a flat!” We looked at the sun setting over the mountains and then jumped out of the truck to change our flat. Luckily, the rancher and his grandkids helped us change our flat tire and we were able to get back on the road in less than thirty minutes. While we changed the flat tire we must have been swarmed by mosquitos the entire time!

Soon we were able to be on our way again and thanked the family for helping us that night. We drove in the night back to our campsite and made it back just in time before the torrential downpour and lightning strikes begain. It rained that evening until 6 am in the morning! However frightening, we woke up to the most beautiful sunrise in the morning.

The sun rising at Wild Horse Reservoir after a night full of thunder and lightning storms.

A Seed Frenzy and Birthday Sunset

The view of Spooner Lake (front right) and Lake Tahoe (back left) from the top of White Hill in the Tahoe National Forest.

This past week, my field partner and I went on a five-day field tour throughout the Nevada Carson District in search of target plant populations to collect seed from. We scout for various target plant species common to the Great Basin within public lands that can then be used for research and restoration practices centering on improving native seed-based restoration. This week, our scouting brought us to the Pah Rah, Pine Nut, Carson, and Bald mountain ranges in search of late flowering/seeding forbs from our target species list. During this hitch, not only did we make four different seed collections, but I celebrated my twenty-third birthday.

The view from the Pah Rah Range of the Reno-Sparks area.

On our first day, we traveled to the Pah Rah Range to look for a population of Machanthera canescens, Hoary Tansyaster, to determine its phenology and whether or not we will be able to make a seed collection from the population. We found our population in a flowering stage and determined we will have to revisit for potential seed collection on the next hitch!

The view of the Carson Plains from Old Como Road on our ascent on Como mountain.

We then traveled south to the Pine Nut Mountains to check on populations of Machanthera canescens. The road was a rock climb the entire ride up, but we found that it was the perfect time to collect seed from our population! We were able to make a sizeable collection of seeds that will be sent to Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) to be used for common garden studies on native plant community restoration. We were also relieved to not have to travel on the rocky road again!

That night we camped on Mount Rose and traveled back to the Pine Nut Mountains in the morning to check on another population of Macanthera canescens. We were able to once again make a seed collection from our population to be sent for research at RMRS. After a morning of seed collection in the Pine Nut Mountains, we then traveled to the Carson Range near the California border and the Tahoe National Forest to check on populations of another one of our target species, Phacelia hastata or Silverleaf Phacelia. Upon checking on our Phacelia population, we realized the size and extent of our population was much larger than we initially thought. It was so large it required two days for seed collection! We were able to make a collection that can be used for both research purposes and for native seed-based restoration in the Great Basin! It was so exciting for us to be able to make our first restoration size collection from a plant species we have only been able to find in small populations throughout our district. This collection reminded us once again the importance of our positions. With every collection we make, we are working to progress and support native seed-based restoration within the Great Basin, which is under tremendous pressure from rising anthropogenic activity and global climate change. Within the past decade, the Great Basin has experienced increased frequency and intensity wildfires, with some summers burning over a million acres of rangeland. Currently, the Great Basin is challenged by increased fire occurrence and pressure on the landscape from cattle grazing and other anthropogenic activities. This has lead to a profound alteration in native plant diversity in some areas as invasives such as cheatgrass and western brome replace native sagebrush and perennial grass communities. By collecting native seeds to be used for restoration in post-burn sites within the Great Basin, we are working to disrupt the positive feedback loop created between noxious weed species and fire regimes in the Great Basin.

Phacelia hastata, or Silverleaf Phacelia, basking in the sweet sunshine.

On top of having a seed collection win in Tahoe forest, we also found a campsite with a breath-taking view of Lake Tahoe. For dinner, we made a campfire and watched the sun set on Lake Tahoe from our campsite. As I reflected on the day, I thought to myself that there was no better way to spend my twenty-third birthday. I traveled throughout the most beautiful parts of Nevada to collect seeds that will be used for native seed-based restoration within the Great Basin to remediate the effects of wildfires. I am so grateful for this job and all the life lessons + adventures it comes with. Even more so, I am grateful to be working to conserve life and land in the beautiful Great Basin for future generations to enjoy just as much as I am.

My birthday sunset view of Lake Tahoe from within the Tahoe National Forest.

Embracing The Botanist Within

My campsite and its breathtaking view of a typical Nevada sunset (near Carlton, NV).

Prior to my CLM internship, I typically believed that you had to formally work towards an identity in order to truly become it. For example, I was hesitant to call myself a botanist before this position because I had not received a degree or formal training in botany. I would simply tell people I enjoyed identifying plants. Now, I would argue that I have always been a botanist and will always be one, regardless of what my degree might indicate. This position has reminded me of who I am and where my passion lies. (spoiler alert: it lies with the plants!)

The gorgeous view from where I took lunch on my first day in the field.

The first day I went out into the field to identify plants was one of my most memorable field days. My coworker, mentor, and I intended on visiting four different sites that day to scout for native plant populations and practice off-road driving. We all can admit, it was quite the ambitious plan to make for ourselves that afternoon. We made it to our first site and spent nearly the entire day there just getting to know the plant community. There were so many new forbs and grasses just waiting to be identified! We soon came to learn there is nothing more threatening to the constraint of time than three impassioned botanists in a high desert full of blooming forbs. I have never been introduced to so many plants in such a short period of time! All of which were incredibly beautiful and unique. I could say this to describe my first day in the field and every day in the field since. And this is just the beginning because it’s only my fourth week in Nevada! With every new plant I learn, the more I understand about the system it is a part of. It has been both exhilarating and inspiring to know that not only is this my job, but this is what I love to do and who I am. As we were sitting on rocks eating our lunches that day, I thought to myself, I could do this every day for the rest of my life and feel completely & entirely fulfilled. Since then, I have continued to immerse myself fully into the wonderful world of plants.

This is the Cobweb Thistle, otherwise known as Cirsium occidentale.

Ultimately, this internship has completely altered how I would identify myself as a professional in my field. As I’ve mentioned before, I believe I always was and always will be a botanist regardless of whether I am in practice or in my heart. My curiosity and drive to understand the plants around me will never leave. Identifying plants and recognizing their phenology has become the brunt of my job responsibilities, and was exactly what I needed in order to embrace the botanist within me!

The California Tiger Lily, Lilium pardalinum, basking in the sweet sunshine.