Larch Madness

Many of the mountainsides around the Lolo NF have turned to a shade of golden yellow as the larches turn and the weather towards the cold of winter. The Western Larch has become one of my new favorite trees, and I am so glad that I was able to watch this magnificent change of the seasons in such a beautiful place. It has been a successful season on the Lolo National Forest and although it is a bittersweet feeling to leave, I know I can leave this season behind feeling accomplished and full of new knowledge to take with me to my next destination.

My one and only bear picture from this season

Since seed collection is mostly complete, I have been able to spend some time helping out with different departments around the forest. The Botany/Weeds crew collaborated on a seed collection day for the hydrology department, collecting alder cones for a stream restoration project on a superfund site. We spent the day walking decommissioned roads where alder loves to grow, talking restoration and the joys of seed collecting. We also got to check out some completed restoration projects that the hydrology crew had worked on. It was cool to spend designated time exploring and appreciating interdepartmental restoration efforts. Another exciting part of the October agenda was being able to go out on a few days of work with the wildlife department. I was lucky enough to tag along with Luke, one of the wildlife techs on this forest. We did gate and barrier checks on roads that lead into modeled Grizzly habitat. While checking gates, we got to hike up to two different lookouts on the forest. I have become a lookout enthusiast, and hope to hike to many more next season.

The absolute highlight of October was my participation in the release of Northern Saw-whet Owls. The Owl Research Institute allows visitors to come and watch the process of owl banding once a week at the Flathead Lake Biological Station. I attended with a few co-workers, and we got to watch six owls get banded and measured for data. I even got to release an owl, which was a dream come true.

A little bit of information about these adorable owls: The Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus) is one of the smallest owls in North America. They are known to nest in a large variety of wooded habitats, but prefer conifers with good cover. They hunt mostly small rodents and shrews, but have been know to prey on insects, songbirds and other small owl species during migration. They can be identified by their small size, round head, lack of ear tufts and bright yellow/orange eyes. A fun fact about these owls is that their age can be determined by a pattern on the under side of their wings. A UV light is shown onto the feathers and the pattern that appears correlates to the age of the bird.

(A) Hatchling year (B) Second year (C) After second year
Photo source: Weidensaul, Scott & Colvin, Bruce & Brinker, David & Huy, J.. (2011). Use of Ultraviolet Light as an Aid in Age Classification of Owls. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology. 123. 373-377. 10.1676/09-125.1.

Being a truly nocturnal owl, little was known about the migratory habits of these birds until around 1990 when project Owlnet was founded. This project includes more than 100 banding sites, capturing migrating owls and banding them for future ID. More information about these owls, the ORI and Owlnet project can be found here:

Now there is snow on the ground here in the Missoula Valley, time to say goodbye to Western Montana and head back East!

In the Swing of September!

As summer comes to a close in Western Montana, I turn my attention back to the beginning of the season. I have been dusting off my rare plant survey skills to help out with some Whitebark Pine surveying and Howell’s gumweed monitoring/seed collection. Howell’s gumweed has quickly become one of my favorite flowering plants. Not only is it cute, but it is fun to collect and smells amazing!! Like many other gumweed species, it grows mostly along disturbed areas like roadsides and decommissioned roads. This makes for a great restoration species, but also makes it subject to roadside spraying. We revisited a historically prominent and very large population that had been mistakenly sprayed with herbicide last year. Unfortunately, much of the population had been decimated by the spraying. This species tends to dwell with the most noxious of weeds, so this makes that it would unknowingly get caught in the crossfire between an herbicide handgun sprayer and oxeye daisy.

The population had once been counted at around 9,000 individual plants, the number had been knocked down by about 60%. We estimated only about 3,000 plants remained. We were able to make a collection of seed that will be used for genetic testing and future grow outs.

This season I was able to experience collaborative efforts from many different organizations. The most special partnership so far has been with a former CLM Intern, Jen McNew, who was an intern in the San Juan Islands in 2014. Jen now works for the BLM Missoula Field Office, and was kind enough to take the Lolo Botany Crew to a BLM Grindelia howellii population. Grindelia was collected and memories were made.

Whitebark pine surveying also made up a larger part of this month. On a trail monitoring project we found upwards of 20 Whitebark pine, including 2 individuals that could be potential plus pines. I had not seen so many Whitebark pines in a stand like this, so it was really cool to be present for this find on our forest. The trail we were monitoring led up to a historical lookout, so we were rewarded with a cool view!

Skookum Butte Lookout
Bighorn Sheep Herd

After numerous bear sightings this season, I finally got to see some different wildlife on the forest. I recently spotted my first Pika while monitoring some collection sites. The elusive creature slipped away into the rocks before I could grab a picture, but I did get some cool pictures of a large Bighorn Sheep herd that was blocking my path on the same road. I expected to see these sheep also on rocky hillsides as well, but it seems they like to come down to the valleys right where I need to be driving through.

There is something strange about this snowshoe hare…

Another animal that I found somewhere unexpected: a domesticated rabbit is occupying a picnic area in the southern part of the forest. If you happen to be eating your lunch at Fort Fizzle on the Lolo, keep your eyes out for this little guy! You never know what you’ll see in the field.

A Very Smoky August

Early this August, I got to make my first personal delivery to the Coeur d’Alene Forest Service Nursery in Coeur d’Alene, ID! Since the nursery is a 2.5 hour drive, it has proven to be quicker and more efficient to deliver the seed lots ourselves, rather than packing and shipping the large quantity of seeds that have take up all spare office space. Myself and the rest of the Lolo Botany Crew got to take a tour around the nursery facilities and take a look at all the different projects going on this time of year. The nursery is quite extensive, with many greenhouses and open warehouse space for plugs and seeds spread to dry.

Among the seeds and saplings are a more friendly nursery occupant: the nursery cats. Apparently three cats inhabit the Coeur d’Alene Nursery, although I only had the pleasure of meeting Smoky, who currently takes up residence in the seed extractory. What a hard worker! It was very impressive to see the success of current grow-outs from seed collections of years past from the Lolo NF. After surveying for much Whitebark Pine this season, one of my favorite parts of the nursery tour was to see the greenhouse designated for Whitebark Pine saplings.They typically ship out about 100,000 white bark pine saplings every year, so it was excellent to see great restoration hard at work. Super cool time!

Another fun event in early August was the Western Montana Fair, which I got to attend both for work and fun. I had the chance to participate in some community outreach with the Lolo National Forest, greeting the public at the FS booth had and got to talk to the community about some of the projects going on and how exciting it is to work in natural resources/restoration. The best part was meeting new coworkers from different programs in the Missoula office who I don’t get to see every day. Aside from work, I went to the rodeo at the fair, and it was actually my first rodeo! It was so much fun to watch all the events.

Earlier in August I took a trip up to Glacier National Park. It has been pretty smoky this August, but the views were still great! I hiked from Lake McDonald up to Snyder Lake. Beautiful hike I would recommend to anyone visiting Glacier.

July is Floating On By

July has come and gone, and now it is time for the highlights!

Earlier this month I was able to join forces with the Lolo National Forest Weeds/Invasives Team in collaboration with the Montana Biological Weed Control Coordination Project. We netted Oberea and Flea Beetles in a large field, then sorted/packaged them up into cups to be put on ice for transportation.

The following day I joined the weeds team again on a scouting and biocontrol float trip along the Clark Fork River. We mapped Leafy Spurge populations and then released our bugs on the populations. We targeted these populations specifically since they were isolated from roads by the river. This makes the leafy spurge not only difficult to get to, but inadequate to treat with herbicides due to its proximity to the river. It was a beautiful day for floating, and it was my first time on the Clark Fork River! It sure is handy to have an ex-raft guide supervisor! Overall a super cool project I was able to be a part of.

Another exciting collaboration this month was being able to work with local youth crews in both the Missoula and Superior District areas to teach them about seed collection and rare plant surveys. Being able to meet local high schoolers excited about nature and working outside made for a fulfilling week of seed collecting. Having extra hands to help with seed collection wasn’t too bad either! It has been great being able to work with other ranger districts and learning more about different areas of the forest.

And finally… One of the best parts of July has been getting to know one specific local plant Vaccinium membranaceum!!! The huckleberry patches I have stumbled upon while scouting for seed have been a much needed break during long days in the field.

Until next month!

Hello From The Lolo!

As June comes to a close, I can’t believe how quickly the past few weeks have come and gone. Time flies when you are having fun…. and by fun, I of course mean keying out plants! My introduction to the Lolo National Forest has been one full of excitement and education. Moving to Missoula from the East Coast has definitely been a big adjustment, especially in terms of learning about all the plants in this region. Luckily, my mentor has been very helpful (and patient!) as he points out each plant and makes sure I can correctly identify the species we come across in the field. As I follow along on rare plant surveys and other important projects that the Lolo National Forest Botany Team takes on, I’m amazed at the beautiful landscape where I get to work every day. Sometimes I have to remember to pick my head up take a look around, even though the plants on the ground are the most exciting part. I’ve been lucky enough to map some Pinus albicaulis which are considered a sensitive species and got to document a rare plant population with my mentor, a group of little Botrychium crenulatum, how cute!

Botrychium crenulatum from a Rare Plant Survey

Another exciting learning experience I had was tagging along with the invasive/weeds team to spray for weeds at a nursery in Plains, MT. Pictured below is my coworker giving a big thumbs up after killing all the Cirsium arvense and choke weed we could find.

This last week of June I had the opportunity to attend the R1 Botany Grass Identification training in Bozeman, MT and got to meet up with some fellow Chicago Botanic Garden Interns. It was great to catch up, learn about Montana grasses and discuss the work we had each been doing in our respective forests. Overall, I am having a great experience and cannot wait for the seed collecting to begin.

That’s all for now!