Goodbye to the Lincoln!

The past few weeks have been exciting and full of new experiences for me. I was finally cleared by my doctor to go into the field and I have been helping Julie with a seed collection project. We were tasked with collecting seeds in an effort to protect the New Mexico Checkerspot Butterfly habitat, which is currently threatened due to excessive cattle and elk grazing. Julie and I have been driving out to different sites around the forest trying to sustainably collect seeds from a long list of potential nectar and larvae plants, including New Mexico Penstemon (Penstemon neomexicanus), Sneezeweed (Helenium hoopesii), Cut-leaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata) and many more. Julie and I got to virtually attend a seed collection workshop from the Institute for Applied Ecology in Santa Fe to learn proper techniques for sustainable seed harvesting. We were assisted by a rotating crew of botanists from the Lincoln NF and even the former NM state botanist, but it was up to us to organize the collection sites and data. I really enjoyed seed collection because it was relatively relaxing and allowed us to drive to many different sites in one day. It does have some frustrating aspects, such as locating the target plants throughout the forest and making sure that we are collecting the correct species and all of the surrounding habitat data, but it is so satisfying to see how many seeds we can collect at the end of the day. I missed working outside so much and it was great to finish out the internship working on an important project with Julie. Plus, fall has arrived in NM and the leaves are starting to turn into beautiful shades of red, gold, and orange. The scenery makes me appreciate my work environment and this job so much!

Penstemon neomexicanus seed capsules
Fall colors!

This is my final week as a CLM intern! It went by so fast and even though the injury stopped me from going out in the field for a lot of the experience, I still learned a lot and had a great time in the Lincoln. I was exposed to the inner workings of a government agency, got to hike every day for work, and made a new friend in Julie. I loved being in a completely new place and learning about all of the fascinating animals and plants in the Lincoln NF, many of which are rare endemics that I will probably never see again (or until I return). The Forest Service staff were very supportive and informative – especially our supervisor/forest botanist Aurora. I learned how to conduct botanical surveys, worked on my plant ID, organized a land-use database and collected seed to save a rare butterfly! I am so grateful to have had this experience and will take all of the things I have learned on with me to the next adventure. 

Goodbye! – Emma

Land-use history in the Lincoln NF

Hello again with another update out of the Lincoln National Forest! It has been a busy month for me due to an injury, conferences, and a new remote project. The biggest news is that I am recovering from a broken ankle and two torn ligaments due to (what I thought was) a simple fall while completing rare plant surveys in the field. I am currently working on a remote project that is focused on creating a database of grazing permits to help the Rocky Mountain Research Station evaluate land use over time. While this injury is pretty unfortunate for the future of my fieldwork as a CLM intern, I am learning to adjust to new projects and a different side of land management. I have been working from home for the past month and have also had the opportunity to virtually attend conferences for both the Botanical Society of America and the Ecological Society of America. 

For this blog post, I wanted to follow fellow CLM intern Lili Benitez’s lead and discuss the land-use history of the Lincoln National Forest, with the intention to learn and think critically about my position as an uninvited visitor on the unceded territory of the Mescalero Apache tribe (also known as Mashgalé-õde / Mashgalénde / Mashgalé-neí). The term Mescalero was first used by Spanish Colonists as a reference to the traditional practice of harvesting agave for mescal production. The Mescalero Apache people have a long history of land use in the SW central region of NM, primarily relying on the forests and mountainous areas for resources and shelter from the heat of the desert basin. The region’s mountains, some of which are located in the Lincoln National Forest, are important centers of spiritual tradition and community. Leading up to the formation of the Mescalero Apache Reservation by Ulysses S. Grant in 1873, the Mescalero Apache people were subjected to decades of state-sanctioned occupation and violence from the U.S. Army. Today there are three subtribes: Mescalero, Lipan, and Chiricahua which make up the Mescalero Apache Tribe. The current reservation is located on 463,000 acres of land just north of the current boundaries of the Lincoln National Forest. 

In 1876 Congress formed the position of Special Agent in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, beginning the long history of natural resource management at the federal level in the United States. This office eventually transformed into the modern-day U.S. Forest Service which currently manages over 193 million acres of land. It is important to understand, especially considering my current position as a CLM intern working with the Forest Service, that this land is unceded territory currently being managed by the Forest Service due to a long history of colonization and erasure of native people from the landscape.

The Lincoln National Forest began as the Lincoln Forest Reserve in 1902 and by 1907 it had expanded to include the Smokey Bear Ranger District. In 1908 the Sacramento and Guadalupe Forests were combined to create the Alamo National Forest and in 1917 President Woodrow Wilson merged the Alamo Forest with the Lincoln Forest Reserve to form the boundaries of the modern Lincoln National Forest. The Lincoln Forest has since served as an important center for cattle grazing, timber production, and recreation in the region.

Mexican Canyon trestle in LNF.

As a botanist, I was taught to identify plants with a Latin binomial nomenclature system, which is the standard accepted in the scientific community. However, this practice results in the erasure of the botanical knowledge that native people have gained through the use and study of plants in their communities. So, in an effort to decolonize my botanical knowledge I looked into some common plants in New Mexico, such as the mescal agave, and learned both the scientific name (Agave parryi) and the Mescalero Apache name (Astaneh). I encourage you to think about incorporating these names in your scholarship and to always examine the land-use history while doing fieldwork.

Until next time! Emma

The First Month

Hello from Alamogordo, NM! My name is Emma and I am wrapping up my first month as a CLM botany intern working with the Forest Service in the Lincoln National Forest located in the Sacramento Mountains of southern New Mexico. It has been a fun but unpredictable couple of weeks as New Mexico requires a 14-day quarantine for out of state visitors due to COVID-19. My fellow intern/roommate Julie and I had to keep ourselves busy with various virtual trainings and many hours spent studying the rare plants in the region from keys and guidebooks. We were so excited when we got to start heading out into the field after the two-week quarantine was over!

The Lincoln National Forest!

The original intent of our internship was to validate a habitat suitability analysis for rare plant species in the Lincoln National Forest, however, COVID has delayed some aspects of the model and so, for now, we are focusing on completing large scale surveys of areas that have proposed trail maintenance and restoration plans. The Lincoln National Forest is home to some amazing rare plants, such as the chlorophyll lacking Arizona coralroot (Hexalectris spicata var. arizonica) and the tiny Ladies Tresses orchid (Microthelys rubrocallosa). The time period following our quarantine was filled with tours of the forest and visits to some restoration sites with staff ecologists and hydrologists. It is more challenging than usual to meet other forest service employees, however being outside in the field helps to avoid some COVID restrictions.

One particularly fun outing we had in June was to check out some of the protected areas for rare wildlife species in the Sacramento Ranger District. There are three major districts in the Lincoln National Forest and each has different rare plants and animal species. While Julie and I primarily work in the Sacramento District there is also the Smokey Bear District (the original “birthplace” of Smokey Bear) and the Guadalupe District. The Sacramento district is home to the Mexican Spotted Owl, the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse and the Sacramento Mountain salamander. We were able to hike out with the seasonal crew that was completing wildlife monitoring for the summer and see some of the animals. While I am definitely a plant person, it was interesting to see how different biologists operate in the forest.

A Sacramento Mountain salamander

Over the past two weeks we have started going out on our own to survey for rare plant species in areas that are a part of the South Sacramento Restoration Project, a large scale forest management plan currently underway in the Lincoln Forest. These sites have proposed restoration plans and it is important to gather information on what rare plant populations exist there (or don’t) in order to evaluate the potential environmental impact of treatments. We have also gained some experience in writing reports on our surveys as well as working with GPS and habitat data. So far it has been a great learning experience and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the internship has in store!