The End of a Season in Boise

After over five months, my internship with the Forest Service in Boise, Idaho has come to an end. It has been a very busy and productive season. I am looking forward to having some time to rest and recharge this fall while working in Boise as an environmental educator before starting a new fieldwork job in the spring.

My co-intern Alaina and I did so much interesting work this season. We began by doing plant surveys in the common gardens and cleaning seed from last year. Next, we planned seed scouting trips and learned to use imagery and online herbarium records to choose scouting sites. We began scouting for Lomatium dissectum in May and got a lot of practice searching for plants and mapping plant populations. By June our focus shifted to Globe Mallow. We spent May and June scouting for Globe Mallow and July and part of August in a rush to collect as much seed as we could. By mid-August, Globe Mallow seed was mostly dispersed, and the plants were drying up. After Globe Mallow collection was done, we spent some more days at the common gardens tackling some big weeding projects to prepare for fall planting.

In late August, we also spent a lot of time collecting Eriogonum umbellatum leaf samples and herbarium specimens. RMRS Boise is doing research on this species and needs tissue samples for genetic analysis. For this work, we went out in the field and traveled to sites where herbarium records indicate that plants are likely present. Once we found Eriogonum umbellatum, we collected an herbarium specimen and ten leaves from the plant population.

Eriogonum umbellatum herbarium specimen

We collected Eriogonum umbelletum from many different sites, but my favorite was near the top of McAfee Peak in Nevada. To reach this site we drove up a very steep and rocky road. It was the worst road we drove all season, and it was nice to see how much our two-track driving skills have improved. After inching our way part of the way up the mountain, we parked the truck. We then hiked cross-country through beautiful meadows of flowers and up rocky slopes to a ridge at 10,000 feet. It was quite a fun adventure to hike to the ridge and to strategize the best way to reach this high elevation site.

The view from our collection site on top of McAfee Peak

I learned a lot in this internship. Alaina and I really got to take ownership of our seed collection work and we gained expertise in the tasks we did all summer. I learned a lot about how field biology jobs work and what it is like to work for the Forest Service. I gained a lot of experience planning fieldwork and using herbarium records and satellite imagery to find plants. Also, working independently in the field let me practice work-related decision making and problem-solving. Most importantly, this job has helped me define my interests and career goals. I really enjoyed working with plants in this position and I am confident that I want to continue to do more botany work in the future.

One of the best parts of this season was getting the chance to travel to all kinds of field sites across the Great Basin. I loved getting familiar with the region and seeing so many remote and interesting sites. Here a few pictures of my favorite places I visited.

The John Day River near a Globe Mallow collection site
Bear Lake in Utah
A Globe Mallow scouting site with many flowers growing in the rocks
A creek at our field site in Hell’s Canyon
Near our campsite at City of Rocks
A scouting site in the Owyhee Front in Idaho
A walking trail near our campsite in SE Idaho

 I also saw so many awesome plants over the months of this internship. Here are a few of my favorites.

Scouting and Seed Collection!

Time is going by fast here in Boise! I feel so lucky to be working in this job learning new things every day, traveling around the Great Basin, and seeing cool plants.

In the last couple months, my co-intern Alaina and I have spent our time scouting for plant populations and collecting seed. We have mainly focused on Sphaeralcea (Globe Mallow) species, but we also spent some time scouting for Lomatium dissectum (LODI) early in the season. Scouting requires us to look closely at a landscape and pay attention to little details like aspect, changes in vegetation, and soil composition. For example, the first time we saw LODI, it was growing on steep rocky slopes next to the Deschutes River. We noticed that the plants were abundant on some slopes and absent on others. We drove along the river, recording when populations of LODI started and stopped. It became clear that the plants were showing a preference for west and north facing slopes. Just from observation, it is easy to see that vegetation patterns change from one side of a hill to another. Even though this pattern is present all throughout nature, I hadn’t really paid it a lot of attention it before this spring. In scouting, I started to see a whole new dimension to the landscapes around me.

Lomatium dissectum

Scouting trips required a lot of planning. Sometimes our mentor Jessica provided us points on a map to visit to look for plants and on other occasions Alaina and I spent hours in the office poring over google earth imagery to find likely habitat for our target species. For LODI, we looked for steep north and west facing slopes. For Globe Mallow we looked for sandy soils and disturbed areas. We also used herbarium specimen records to find places where plants were likely present. We then planned trips into the field to visit as many locations as possible.

Alaina and I learned a lot during our scouting trips. On our first trip scouting without our mentor Jessica, we chose to visit a creek in a steep walled canyon in the Owyhee Front. We mapped a possible route to the location on small dirt roads. However, we had no idea what these roads would look like once we arrived. After an hour and a half drive out from Boise, we turned onto a small two track road snaking away through the sage brush. We were feeling confident at first, but as we rattled our way down a long and very rough road, we started to wonder if we could make it all the way to the site. We remained hopeful and made slow but steady progress toward the canyon until we rounded a corner and came face to face with a rusty barbwire fence across the road and a private property sign. We turned around and made our way back to the main road, a bit discouraged. After consulting our map, we found another road leading to our field site and found our way there behind schedule.

Upon our arrival, we were delighted to find that what had looked on our map like a small canyon was in fact a spectacular and deep rocky canyon with spires and sheets of rock stacked like pancakes. We had to take a moment to sit and take in the view. Soon, we refocused on our scouting efforts. We searched the sides of the canyon for LODI, looking for its distinctive yellow umbel flowers and bright green hue. Unfortunately, there was none to be seen.

The canyon

At first glance, our first day scouting seems like a failure. We didn’t choose the best road, and we didn’t find any LODI at our scouting site. However, we quickly learned that these challenges are part of the process. After this trip we learned to more carefully plan our route when traveling on small two track roads. We also learned that scouting is unpredictable, and you need to be flexible with your plans. On many occasions a promising site ends up not having the plants you are looking for, but this is ok since every unsuccessful site helps you better understand where to look next.

Other scouting trips have taken us to Hell’s Canyon, Steens Mountain, western Wyoming, Jackpot Nevada, and beyond. We have mapped many populations of plants and collected lots of herbarium specimens. We have camped and hiked all over the Great Basin while looking for plants. We have grown very familiar with Globe Mallow and have found plants in all kinds of places, from disturbed sagebrush to a beautiful rocky hilltop to a hillside overlooking a bright blue lake.

A few sites where we mapped Globe Mallow populations

In the last month, Globe Mallow seeds have started to mature, and we have been returning to sites we scouted earlier in the season to collect seed. We collect 25% of the seed in a plant population at each site. It has been interesting to return to the sites we mapped and see the plants at a new stage. These seeds will be used in a new common garden for research that will support restoration of landscapes across the Great Basin.

Mature Globe Mallow seeds (picture credit Jessica Irwin)

Hello from Boise!

Hi, my name is Sahalie, and I’m interning with the Rocky Mountain Research Station this spring and summer. RMRS is a research branch of the Forest Service in Boise, Idaho.

Me by the Middle Fork of the Boise River

Since arriving in Boise, I have been doing interesting work in the field and the lab. In our first month, my fellow intern Alaina and I spent a lot of time doing surveys on plants grown by RMRS for research.

Plant surveys at a common garden site

For each plant in these surveys, we note the plant’s developmental stage, the amount of herbivory, the number of nearby live plants, and the diameter of the leaf rosette. We also collect a leaf from a plant once it reaches the right stage. These sites will be surveyed over the next few months to track the growth and development of the plants.

Erigeron pumilus
Phacelia hastata

In addition to conducting plant surveys, Alaina and I have cleaned seed collected last year to prepare it for cold storage. We first “de-winged” the seeds to remove the fluffy pappus of the seed by rubbing the seeds over a rubber mat. Then we put the seeds into an air column which blows air from below through a tube. We controlled the rate of air flow to lift the light fluffy pappus into traps at the top of the tube while the heavier seed stayed at the bottom of the tube.

In addition, we spent time counting seeds in Erigeron pumilus flower heads that were collected from the common gardens last year. We pulled apart the flowers with forceps and carefully removed and counted each seed. At first it was hard to tell the difference between the tiny seeds and other flower parts, but we got good at it with practice.

In the last week, we have begun scouting for plant populations that we will collect seed from later in the summer. We have traveled to eastern Washington and Oregon to look for Sphaeralcea and Lomatium dissectum populations. This work has been really interesting so far and I’m looking forward to traveling to other sites around the Great Basin!

Scouting for Lomatium dissectum on steep, rocky hillsides

In my free time, I have enjoyed exploring Idaho. I have biked along the Boise River greenbelt and hiked in the hills above the city. Alaina and I live near the Lucky Peak reservoir, and I have been on many evening walks along the cliffs above the water.

A couple weeks ago, Alaina, another co-worker, and I went camping by the Middle Fork of the Boise River. We visited a hot spring and a cave and made pancakes for breakfast!

I have had a great time in this internship so far and learned a lot, and I’m excited for the next few months!