This month is heating up in Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest!

With most of our seed populations hitting or nearing their harvest date, it has been extremely important to prioritize time efficiency during our daily routine. We have been camping weekly to reduce our overall travel time and on further trips we just backpack in.

This month we logged our most intense trek in yet, a daunting two-day and 16-mile trip with steep elevation. We had the Bitterroot team tag along as we hiked trough miles of post-burn forest, then up a mountain pass and back down to a beautiful lake on the other side. We made frequent stops to catch pollinators along the loop and were botanizing along the way.

It was great to have volunteers and Hiccup along for the trip because it was definitely a different vibe than going in a smaller group. It was a lively and fun experience to backpack into the wilderness with 10 other people!

After setting up camp, pinning our bees and making dinner, our group was treated to a beautiful sunset displayed on the face of a nearby mountain. Then, early the next morning, we continued catching bees and hiking the return route back to the trucks.

We were off running after the backpacking trip with thousands of seeds ready for harvest. The coming weeks were spent running between surveying wetland rare plant polygons, searching for white bark pine in pre-treatment areas, and marking/collecting seed populations. We try to rotate between areas daily when not camping, or weekly when camping, so we often are marking, monitoring, collecting and surveying for differently things as we come across potential populations. It is easy to distinguish potential habitats for species at interest in an area with such abrupt changes in features. Between wet meadows, lodgepole forest and steek scree deposits, we are spending less time locating the habitat, and more time surveying in the right spots.

Crawling around in vegetation puts you eye-to-eye with some super unique insects! We have come across some interesting galls, moths and caterpillars while surveying. I think that entomology is an awesome way to break of the monotony of identifying/looking for the same plants over a long day.

Salt Marsh Moth (Estigmene acrea)

We utilized a few new techniques in some interesting studies this month. At the beginning of August, we deployed our first pollinator “vein traps” and we collected the jars this week. This trap uses yellow color to lure pollinators into its basin which is coated in a slippery substance. The collection is bagged and preserved in alcohol, then sent to Montana State University for identification.

Collecting our bee vein trap from the only tree in the area

We also surveyed a biochar application and reseeding site. This area was a post-burned lodgepole forest with transects of different applications: Seeded with annuals, seeded with perennials, and treated with varying amounts of biochar. Our survey was the second revisit of a long-term study, and it was really interesting to see such stark differences between species in each transect. We used a pencil drop method to record plants at each interval and stood on a crate to use photo frames to estimate vegetation coverage per species.

The biochar treatment in a post burn forest

This August culminated with seed collections on top of seed collections. Considering my limited amount of office time, it has been very hard to get much seed processing and electronic documenting done. Instead, we have been working to maximize our populations quantities and abundance. We are beginning to prepare our first seed shipment, but our daily priorities are much more urgent. So, our methods for now are: Collect, collect, collect and document all data! and we will deal with office hours once seeds are done for the season.

One of our sites had two large populations of Penstemon albertinus (Alberta Penstemon) and Heterotheca villosa (Hairy False Goldenaster). It was right next to some abandoned charcoal kilns and made for a long day of collection at one site. Last month was filled with grass seed collection, so it has been great to target other types of seed. Overall, we completed 6 quality collections between these two species.

The canyon creek charcoal kilns

I try to make the most of my limited free time and squeezed in some great adventures during this month. Some highlights were watching the meteor shower from the top of Blue Mountain, backpacking in Glacier National Park, hiking to Storm lake, touring Lewis and Clark Caverns, digging in Crystal Park, and always… the great local hot springs!

Fishing at Lake Otokomi

A July filled with uphill hiking, bugs, seeds and ghost towns!

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Super steep slope with sagebrush bushwhacking

I spent this month working on seed collection and surveying penstemon, white bark pine, and pollinators. All of these missions required our team to conquer rough terrain going up steep grades of elevation. We had a rough first week after the 4th of July, where we seemed to run into roadblocks along every step of our long commutes. We were turned away by downed trees, flooded roads and even getting stuck in the mud. After this week our luck seemed to shift, and we began stringing together some extremely productive days catching bees and counting penstemon. We hosted a “botany blitz” where we welcomed volunteers, youth crews and other forest service teams to help us count and categorize Lemhi Penstemon.

We are always looking for diverse meadow settings for potential seed collection sites, but also for pollinator collection sites. Specifically, we are on the lookout for penstemon wasps and western bumble bees. Though we didn’t find any of these species this month, we collected a beautiful variety of pollinators!

Seed collection began to pick up toward the end of the month, when we were able to make three collections of Poa secunda. Grass ID is tedious, and there was a bit of a learning curve, but our seed populations seem to be high quality. Since pictures of grass are a bit bland, I decided to include some cool things below that we found along the way while looking for seed populations. I was excited to hear that monotropa could be found in Beaverhead-Deerlodge but didn’t expect to be able to spot one. They tend to be hidden in forest litter, but definitely stand out with their white color. The Monotropacae are considered myco-heterotrophs, relying on parasitism on fungus for energy rather than photosynthesis. Next to that photo are some bright red lupin seed pods, a beautiful member of the Fabacae family. The last picture is of a curious grouse, who seemed to enjoy looking right back at the camera for a photoshoot.

I’ve been attending as many local events as possible during my free time. A highlight this month was Bannack days, an event where the popular ghost town gets revitalized. Historic arts and crafts, fiddle players and community members came to provide a glimpse into what life may have been like during the gold rush days. It is not uncommon to see similar prospecting sites on forest service land on our way out to our survey sites.

Ghost town shootout reenactment

Month #1 in Beaverhead County

Days and weeks out here are flying by!

We were busy our first week with white bark pine surveys in some amazing locations along the Continental Divide trail. These missions were not related to seed collection, but really helped me acclimate to the new ecosystem as a whole. I am working on the only botany crew in Beaverhead-Deerlodge NF (consists of six botanists, including myself), so we are tasked with covering as much of the 3.3 million acre forest as possible.

We quickly moved on to rare plant monitoring by checking up on known populations of Physaria pulchella, Penstemon lemhiensis and Primula alcalina. These plants were each super specialized to particular environments, so it was super interesting vising and identifying different habitat types.

Next we begun collecting bees for a pollinator survey which resulted from a partnership between Montana State University and the Forest service. These surveys were really unique and required us to run around in meadows of wildflowers with children’s butterfly nets to catch pollinators. We stayed onsite for a week, pinning the bees to preserve them at the campsite each night. This culminated in a visit to MSU’s pollinator research lab to see the archival process.

Ten-hour days in the field are sometimes long, but I’ve been having a great time at work. I feel like an honorary member of the FS botany crew and am making sure to explore on my free time. I feel super grateful that I am able to work in such an interesting place with such likeminded people.

Some quick bits about my adventures outside of work:

-Spontaneously rode in a 67-mile bike race through the Pioneer Mountains on 1 day notice.

-Met up with some fellow CBG interns at the Bozeman hot springs for a grass ID event.

-Our urban test garden is growing quick down in Lawndale, IL, so check it out if you happen to be in the area (lots of strange weeds to ID)

-Went to my first demolition derby

-Had a good time at the Twin Bridges Bluegrass Festival

-Got some great wildlife pictures and they will be ready to share by the next blog post