Before I go…

…back to Chicago and leave the “Red or green?” chile state that has become my home for the past five months, I want to take this opportunity to reflect and reminisce on my time spent here.

A Rocky Start to the Season

At the beginning of the season, my co-intern and I encountered some difficulties that hindered our ability to start scouting for species in our target species list. The first problem that we encountered was that there were no established protocols to do scouting and seed collection as it was the first time Lincoln National Forest had any CLM interns. Thus, we did not know how we were going to collect data on our scouted populations. Second, our target species list included over 200 species, so we were unclear about which species we should prioritize and whether we would be capable of making at least 8 collections with 30,000 seeds due to the climate and condition of the forest with smaller populations.

One might have been worried about the situation, but I was not. I knew with the help of our mentors we would eventually figure it out and we did. After meeting with the Southwestern Regional Botanist, the Institute for Applied Ecology, and the Chicago Botanic Garden, our goals were made clear with our target species list, our seed collection goal, and the protocol and applications we will be using.

Not long after, we were on our way to officially start scouting.

A “Bleak” Monsoon Season

New Mexico is one of the states in the United States that experience monsoons. Between the months of June and September, the state experiences more rain. Our mentors said we would be seeing an abundance of plants once the monsoons hit, so my co-intern and I were looking forward to adding new scouting points and collecting seeds. However, this summer, it was more of a “nonsoon” season as it didn’t start until late July and many parts of New Mexico experienced below-average rainfall. Thus, the number of new wildflowers and potential seed collections that we expected to see was no longer a reality.

Taking cover under a tarp with the Salamander crew while we waited for the rain to pass over.

Helping with Forest Service Projects

Besides scouting and collecting seeds, we helped the Forest Service staff with several projects. Some required our botany expertise while others required physical labor.

Projects we helped with include:

  • Goodding’s onion survey and seed collecting
  • Sacramento Mountain prickly poppy survey
  • New Mexico meadow jumping mouse monitoring
  • Sacramento Mountain checkerspot butterfly monitoring
  • Sacramento Mountain salamander survey
  • Smokey’s Garden planting
  • Big Bear Canyon riparian restoration
  • Sacramento Mountain checkerspot butterfly habitat restoration
  • Grazing allotments monitoring

Overall, it was fun not only learning new skills but also meeting and working with a diverse group of people for these projects. The most rewarding part is hearing about their experience and how they got working with the Forest Service.

Exploring the Unknown

The best part of living in a new state is the chance to explore it. Although I did explore a good part of New Mexico, there are still towns, National Forest, and National Monuments that I did not get a chance to explore. Nonetheless, I still had fun exploring.

Here are some of my favorite events and places I got to experience:

Exploring is not only about visiting places but also about the food. If you are ever near Ruidoso, I highly recommend Oso Grill and Club Gas. Oso Grill is known for their award-winning green chile cheeseburger, and nothing compares to Thursday night enchiladas dinners at Club Gas.

Overall, I am grateful for being part of the CLM program this season.

– Evie

Saving the Sacramento Mountains Checkerspot Butterfly

In the past four months of living in New Mexico, I came to realize how rich in biodiversity the state is. This is partly a result of the different life zones found here, which include desert shrublands, grasslands, woodlands, coniferous forests, subalpine, and alpine. Therefore, I get to explore the different life zones and their flora and fauna in my free time and at work. Since I have been here, I had the opportunity to survey an array of sensitive, endemic, and rare plants and animals, including Goodding’s onion (Allium gooddingii), Sacramento Mountain salamander (Aneides hardii), Sacramento prickly poppy (Argemone pinnatisecta), New Mexico meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius luteus), and the Sacramento Mountain checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas anicia cloudcrofti).

Sacramento Mountains Checkerspot Butterfly

This year, most of the plant species in our seed collection target list are nectar plants. The reason for this is that the seeds we have collected on LNF will be aiding the habitat restoration of the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly. This beautiful butterfly can only be found in the high-elevation subalpine meadows of the Sacramento Mountains in the Lincoln National Forest. Like other butterflies, the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butter is reliant on a larval host plant, the New Mexico Penstemon (Penstemon neomexicanus).

However, the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly has been experiencing a serious population decline in the recent years due to habitat degradation caused by grazing, invasive and non-native plants, climate change, and altered wildfire regimes. As of this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the butterfly as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.

Habitat Restoration

Unfortunately, not a single checkerspot butterfly was found during the surveys this year. Nonetheless, protecting and restoring their habitat is still a critical process to ensure their chances of survival. For the past couple of years, the Southwest Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE) has led the effort in restoring the butterfly habitat in the forest. This year, the Forest Service, Albuquerque BioPark, and volunteers helped IAE plant more nectar plants in a meadow that had a low-density of nectar plants.

Over the course of two days, we planted roughly 2,000 nectar plant plugs that included their host plant (New Mexico penstemon), common yarrow (Achillea millefolium), spike verbena (Verbena macdougalii), and cut-leaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata). Some plugs were planted inside enclosures that have been built while others were planted outside across the meadow with seedling protections tubes placed on them.

Although it was repetitive work, it was incredible to see the number of people working towards the recovery of the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly. Moreover, it was incredible to see how our seed collection efforts this year will be implemented in future habitat restoration. I am very grateful to be part of this journey.

— Evie #Savethebutterflies

The First of Many

It has been an eventful and uneventful month. Now you might be wondering how it can be both. Well, as I looked over my camera roll to determine the subject of this month’s blog, nothing stands out. That’s not to say that I didn’t do anything exciting this month because many interesting things happened at work as well outside of work that included many of my first.

First Seed Collection

For instance, Peter and I started our first seed collection of the season since seeds here are finally starting to mature. Our first collection is none other than the lovely Allium cernuum. However, this was after a few failed attempts to collect seeds from Mertensia franciscana and Mornada fistulosa. The plants were either grazed by elk and wild horses or most of the seeds dropped. It was a bit discouraging at first and a learning lesson, but I knew there was other species to collect from.

First UTV Ride

We spent the rest of the month scouting for more species across the forest and monitoring the phenology of scouted populations. As a result, we had the privilege to ride a UTV at the Sacramento Ranger District (SRD). Angie, the Wildlife Biologist at SRD and the one who drove us around, insisted that we take a photo in it to brag to our Wildlife Crew members as they don’t have any.

Although it was a fun experience, I don’t think I will ever get on one ever again. That’s because as we drove, a long stick went through the UTV floor and hit the seat next to me all while making a loud noise due to a stainless steel bottle on the floor being shoved out of the way. At the end of the day, I rather not be impaled by a stick while riding a UTV just to get to a location faster.

Peter and I awkwardly smiling while seated in a UTV.

First Salamander Encounter

The amazing part of being at the Smokey Bear Ranger District is the opportunity to join the wildlife surveys. Usually, the Wildlife Crew at the district joins the Salamander Crew to survey the Sacramento Mountain salamander (Aneides hardiiI), but Peter and I were able to help them for one day since the Wildlife Crew was busy with other surveys. I had never seen a salamander in person before, so I was excited not only to learn the process of surveying them but also to finding one myself.

So after disinfecting our boots to prevent any possible spread of chytrid fungal pathogen to the salamanders and going over the protocol at the site, I was ready to find salamanders. The process involved flipping a lot of rocks and logs, but eventually I was able to capture a few. Initially, I was afraid to pick any of them up as some were tiny that I thought I was going to harm them in the process of putting them in a bag. Moreover, I didn’t know how the salamander would feel. However, the fear quickly went away.

In the end, different data was collected that included surface area of the object where the salamander was found, soil moisture, the weight, and length the salamander captured. Any new adult salamanders that was captured, were marked with a “tattoo”. Which really involved injecting them with a needle filled with fluorescence pigments in a specific sequence to help with identification if they are recaptured again in future surveys. Once all the data was collected, the salamanders were placed back to where it was found.

First Meteor Shower Party

Growing up in Chicago, I never had the chance to stargaze due to the light pollution. As a result, I never knew about the Perseid meteor shower. Peter, on the other hand, knew all about it and that’s because he watches it every year on his birthday. Now, that I reside in smaller town with minimum light pollution, I was determined to experience my first meteor shower.

I searched up places that had a meteor shower party and found that El Malpais National Monument was having one after Ranger-led bat outflight guided walk on August 11. Bats and meteor shower on the same day? Count me in! The only problem it was 3.5 hours away and there was a chance of rain, but I figured it was a perfect opportunity to do a weekend road trip.

In the end, I got to see some bats despite it raining, but I didn’t get to see the meteor shower due to the clouds blocking the night sky. Thus, my first attempt to watch a meteor shower was unsuccessful. Fortunately, I returned to Ruidoso in the afternoon the next day and there was no clouds in sight. Spontaneously, I and a Wildlife Crew member from SRD decided to camp at a lookout that night to see the meteor shower.

Not only was I able to see my first meteor shower, but also the Milky Way!

– Evie

After the Fire: Allium gooddingii

It’s no surprise that wildfires can have devastating impacts on people, wildlife, and the ecosystem. In high-severity wildfires, habitats are destroyed causing susceptible populations to decline. Such is the case for a rare species of wild onion, Allium gooddingii, better known as Gooding’s onion.

Allium gooddingii is an endemic plant to New Mexico and Arizona where it generally grows under the canopy of high-elevation mixed conifer and spruce forest. In New Mexico, A. gooddingii can be found at Gilia and Lincoln National Forest. However, over 95% of A. gooddingii populations and their habitats have been heavily burned by wildfires since 2006 (Roth 2020). As a result of the wildfires, A. gooddingii is a Forest Sensitive Species and is listed as endangered species by the State of New Mexico (Roth 2020).

Allium gooddingii at Lincoln National Forest

On Lincoln National Forest, A. gooddingii can only be found at the Smokey Bear Ranger District at elevations above 10,000 feet. In recent years, large populations in the district have burned in two wildfires: the Little Bear Fire (2012) and Three Rivers Fire (2021). The Little Bear Fire burned a total of 44,330 acres in the Southern Sierra Blanca regions of LNF, including 80% of known A. gooddingii sites (Roth 2020). In addition, the Three Rivers Fire burned more than 7,000 acres of LNF, burning into the Little Bear burn scar. Both fires left the species’ habitat without any canopy cover.

With the loss of canopy cover, the long-persistent of these plants is questionable. Therefore, surveys are carried out to monitor the impacts of fire on A. gooddingii populations. Luckily, I had the opportunity to join the Wildlife Crew in my district and partake in the surveys over several days. The surveys entailed heading to different scouting points within areas that were either burned by the Little Bear, Three Rivers, or not burned at all. At each point, the number of A. gooddingii individuals were counted within a 10 meter radial plot.

However, it was not an easy task getting to the different points. We had to hike down and up several steep slopes at an elevation of 11,000 feet to get to the points. Despite the challenging hikes, we completed all 16 scouting points. Later in the season, the Wildlife Crew will head back and collect seeds to be used for future restoration in LNF.

The Wildlife Crew and Peter surveying the onion species in a non burned area.


One of the most abundant populations I’ve seen at Three Rivers burn scar had several pollinators roaming around. I was able to capture a few.

Literature Cited

Roth, D. 2020. Status report. Goodding’s onion (Allium gooddingii). Gila and Lincoln National Forest, NM. Unpublished report prepared by the EMNRD-Forestry Division, Santa Fe, NM for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Region 2, Albuquerque, NM.

Life’s a Hoot in Ruidoso, New Mexico

The fascinating thing about moving to a new place is the people you get to meet. Sometimes you never know what type of connections you will develop, the stories you will hear, the advice you will receive, and the memories you will make. More importantly, the opportunities the future will hold because “It’s all about connections” as stated by Kathryn, the FS Southwestern Regional Botanist, over lunch in Santa Fe.

Taylor, one of my CLM mentors at the Smokey Bear District, pointing to the different mountains surrounding Lincoln County to Peter, CLM co-intern, at Windy Point Vista Point of Interest.

My CLM mentor, Larry, is all too familiar with this concept. On more than one occasion he mentioned one of the factors that led him to become the Wildlife Biologist at Smoker Bear District for the Lincoln National Forest was because the HR person was someone that knew him from a previous job in Oregon. Of course, the HR individual put in a good word for him. Nearing end of the story, Larry mentions he genuinely loves his job because for the past 35 years he worked closely with Mexican spotted owl across the Lincoln NF. This raptor species was another reason why Larry took the job here as he previously worked with the Northern spotted owls on the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie NF.

A pair Mexican spotted owl fledglings perched on a white fir branch in Lincoln FS.
A female Mexican spotted owl feeding a dead mice to one of her fledglings.

Unfortunately, the Mexican spotted owl is federally listed as a threatened
species under the Endangered Species Act. The decline of the species is due
to habitat loss and alteration caused by timber harvest and wildfires over the years.
Therefore, part of Larry’s job is to conduct owl surveys, which determine the
location and distribution of owl pairs and nest sites and determine if they are
successfully producing offspring.

Luckily, Larry took us with him on an owl survey on our third day on the job. As we drove into Lincoln NF, I didn’t know what to expect other than Larry was looking for the owls while we did some botanizing along the way. However, Larry explained the survey process starts by hiking into the forest with a known pair activity, in other words, where owls were known to nest. Often occurs in the Canadian life zone, which consists of mixed conifer forest that includes species such as white fir, Douglas fir, southwestern white pine, ponderosa pine, etc.

Mixed conifer forest found in Lincoln NF.

Once at the area, owl calls are played off a recording, or if you are like Larry, different
owl calls are imitated to entice the owl for a response. Usually, this part of
the survey process would happen in the night. If there was a response, they
would go back to the area the next morning and look at any owls or fledglings
on the surrounding trees. Once an owl is located and no fledglings are in sight,
they try to locate the nest by offering a live mouse to the male or female owl
hoping it will take it back to their offspring.

Unfortunately, there was no response in our first location. However, at our
second location, Larry was able to locate the fledglings after seeing the
shadow of an owl fly over him when he imitated different owl sounds. You can
hear his excitement as he called out to us to come over where he was.

As I approached where he was standing, I saw a bundle of football size white fuzz on a branch. It was my first time seeing a pair of fledgling and I didn’t expect how odd
looking they were going to be. Nonetheless, it was a sight to see. Larry then
located the female owl nearby, which was difficult to spot as it camouflaged
with the bark and branches of the trees. Larry then carefully removed a live
mouse from a container and placed it on a nearby branch. Watching, we saw the
owl position itself for flight and take the mice without making a sound. Eventually,
taking the mice to one of the fledglings.

As Larry shares information to the group about the species, a male Mexican spotted owl “successfully” takes the mice that was placed on a branch.

We continue marvel at the raptor species, but eventually, it was time to head back to the office.