Falling for September

Time has been flying by since I began this internship back in June. It feels like just yesterday I had packed up the car and made the trek across the country from Connecticut to Utah. September seemed to fly by the quickest of all for some reason! Perhaps it was the growing signs of fall (my favorite season), the beautiful crisp air, the changing leaves, and the Halloween decorations getting put up around Moab that had me enjoying September so much. I have always loved fall in New England and I was so excited to see what fall looked like in the La Sal mountains. So far, I have not been disappointed.

Fall colors amongst the oak brush

At last, our third target species, Heliomeris multiflora or showy goldeneye, is ready for collection. We began collecting seeds from this species in the last week of September, which was a pleasant surprise considering we thought we had a lot more time until seeds were mature enough to collect. We have found that the best way to collect these seeds is to clip off the seed heads and put them in a paper bag. We give the bag a little shake and the seeds fall out from the heads pretty easily! If anyone else is collecting this species and has a better method we are open to constructive criticism 🙂

One of the most exciting adventures that Mattie and I got to partake in this month was accompanying the Archaeology crew to survey archaeological sites. Hiking around the woods and coming across remnants of Puebloan peoples and later tribes was like traveling through time. I learned so much about the rich history and culture present in the Manti-La Sal National Forest and especially around Bears Ears National Monument. Having a deeper understanding of the cultural significance of the land that I work on has helped to grow a greater appreciation of it and I value the time I get to spend on it so much more now.

Thanks to very bad weather one day, I also got to tour the Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum which features exhibits of Ancestral Puebloan artifacts such as pottery, baskets, blankets, etc. dating back to as early as the Basketmaker III period (A.D. 500-750). My favorite thing that I saw in the museum was the different effigies that had been recovered in the area, particularly the ones of dogs that I included images of below. It is super cool to imagine people having dogs as pets thousands of years ago like we do today! I also loved learning about the different methods that archaeologists use to determine what time period an artifact is from. This includes radiocarbon dating, dendrochronology, pollen dating, and more!

Overall, September was a very enriching month that will go down in the history books and I am eager to see what the future holds for the seed girls!

August slipped away…

August was a time of changing weather, new plant species to scout for, and a newfound independence for the seed girls of Moab. The weather cooled off quite a bit here in Moab over the past month, going from being in the upper 100s everyday to only being in the 90s, and some days we were even fortunate enough to see temperatures in the 80s! On our trips up into the mountains, we were met with daily thunderstorms and the occasional hail instead of the normal dry heat we had become too familiar with. Overall, we became more independent in our seed scouting and collecting and got to take part in many different projects this past month.

We began scouting for our third target species, Heliomeris multiflora, or showy goldeneye! This beautiful member of the Aster family that can be found at a wide variety of elevations ranging from foothills all the way to subalpine. So far, we have found the most Heliomeris at elevations around 10,000 feet. We have identified quite a few large populations, so now we wait for the seeds to mature and get ready for collection!

Heliomeris multiflora spotted in the La Sals on 8/18/23
Field full of Heliomeris multiflora spotted in the La Sals on 8/30/23. Scouting for Heliomeris comes with some amazing views!

We have continued to collect seeds from Heterotheca villosa, or hairy false goldenaster, and we seem to stumble upon more populations of it everyday we are out in the field. Although it appears that the seeds of Heterotheca are beginning to pass their prime in most spots as we now enter into September, we are planning on making a few more collections before all the seeds drop. Heterotheca has been my favorite species to collect so far because I find harvesting these little puffballs to be highly satisfying. Is it just me, or do they remind anyone else of Horton Hears a Who? The only downside to collecting these puffs is that you have to be very mindful of the weather. We learned that wind is public enemy number one while trying to collect this species on a particularly windy day. One big gust of wind at the wrong moment and you could lose a lot of progress!

In other exciting news, we got to spend some time up in the alpine with the Botany Crew here in the Manti-La Sal National Forest. Hiking into the alpine was like visiting another planet. I found myself wearing three layers and still a bit chilly and hiking across snow in August! Our goal was to assist with alpine vegetation surveys and get some hands-on experience with vegetation plots and transects. I learned so much, though my favorite part was getting to see mountain goats for the first time as they ran up and down peaks and made it look so easy.

I have really enjoyed getting the opportunity to be involved with the different departments of the Forest Service here and can’t wait to see what new experiences come in September!

Cattle and Beavers and Seeds, Oh My!

In July, I learned a new meaning of heat. I read an article that stated that July in 2023 was the hottest month in recorded history, and that was absolutely the case here in Moab, Utah. Nevertheless, it was an exciting month full of new knowledge, birthdays (me and Mattie both celebrated July birthdays!), and new seeds to collect.

We wrapped up collecting our first target species, Hedysarum boreale, with a collection of over 300,000 seeds! We are now collecting our second target species, Heterotheca villosa, common name: hairy false goldenaster. This member of the asteraceae family produces small, yellow flowers with a center disk that produces a dark seed with fluffy, white hairs coming out from it that make it a lot of fun to collect. Since the seeds are much smaller and lighter than the last seeds we collected, it was fun to see how many more seeds we could fit in each paper bag for this species! It is quite satisfying to pinch the little puffballs of seed and see how many you can get per pinch.

Fluffly seeds of Heterotheca villosa
Vibrant yellow flowers of Heterotheca villosa
Puffballs of seeds ready to collect

Aside from our successes in seed collection, we also got to spend time with the hydrology team here working on a big fencing project at Medicine Lake in the La Sal Mountains. The fence that we helped to build will protect a wetland that has been harmed by hummocking by cattle. This project had so many different aspects that I got to be involved with and I learned so much! We built approximately half of the fence with barbed wire, T posts, and wooden stays and the other half was log worm fence reinforced with rebar.

Log worm fence working hard to keep cattle out! A very gratifying site to behold
Two seed girls and two hydrology girls after a long day of log worm

My favorite aspect of this project was building beaver dam analogs, or BDAs. Essentially, a BDA is used to function in the same way that a beaver dam would, except that it is manmade. We constructed our BDAs using small aspen logs that get pounded vertically into the water channel, and many willow branches that get weaved in between each aspen log, much like weaving a basket. The goal of the BDAs in this project is to raise the water table in the wetland. We already noticed the water rising and spreading to different areas of the wetland from one day to the next which was super satisfying and made all the hard work worthwhile.

My first Beaver Dam Analog.

July has been incredible and filled with so many new experiences, and I can’t wait to see what August in Moab has in store for me. 🙂

An “Udderly” Amazing Month

I had no idea that my life and job here in Moab, Utah would go so far beyond seed collection! Aside from beginning seed collection, I have gotten to work with the amazing hydrologists here on projects aiming to protect lakes, streams, springs, and wetlands. I accompanied my mentor on a field trip to Medicine Lake where he will be conducting a huge fencing project in the hopes of preserving a very important wetland. The nature of the field trip was to introduce the project to different departments, including Range and Archaeology, in order to make sure the building of a fence would not cause any indirect damage to the area. It has been so exciting to meet people from so many different government departments and get to learn about what they do and see how all the pieces of the puzzle have to fit together for a project to go forward!

Hydrologists are so involved with fencing projects, I have learned, because cattle and livestock cause a lot of damage to soil and plant systems around water sources by causing hummocking. In a nutshell, hummocking is when cattle compacts soils in riparian areas causing it to puddle and exposing soil to erosion. This, in turn, damages natural vegetation succession in riparian areas. Moo knew? (Get it? Like who knew?) I got to help with my first fencing project last week, repairing a barbed wire fence around Warner Lake.

In terms of seed collection, our first target species is a lovely plant in the pea family known as Utah Sweetvetch, Hedysarum boreale. She has been the ideal first species to begin my seed collection journeys because she has very distinct “pods” that contain her seeds, and the dreamiest purple-pink flowers. Seed ripening has just become a lot more uniform across populations that we have observed, so more seeds to come!

Utah Sweetvetch, H. boreale
Lovely seeds on a Utah Sweetvetch, not quite ready for collection

My favorite botanical spot so far? The gorgeous are Sego Lily, Calochortus nuttallii! This lovely perennial monocot is the Utah State Flower and is known for her campanulate flowers. I have never seen anything quite like it. This unique flower has a rich history, as it is said that indigenous peoples in this area would harvest the roots and eat them during poor crop seasons.

Sego Lily, Calochortus nuttallii

I am so excited to learn more about Utah’s native flora, collect more seeds and get to help more with hydrology projects!