The past few months on the San Bernardino NF have gone by fast and it has been an absolute pleasure both working and living in the surrounding mountain area. Before this internship I had never seen a forest before or the diverse habitats and species that can be found within. While I’ve been working here for the past 5 months and have increasingly become accustomed to the beauty that surrounds me, I still find myself breathless at the many scenic views that the forest has shown me. From the dramatic sunsets to the towering deep green pines, I am incredibly grateful that I have had the opportunity to experience the mountains beauty firsthand.
While the nature was one highlight, I can’t forget all my coworkers that made the season an absolute blast. I’d like to give a shout out to Kobe Bench and Diego Durand who were excellent mentors in helping us become acquainted in the diverse set of species found throughout the forest. They were incredibly patient in their teachings and taught us a diverse set of skills that we can continue to carry into our future careers. Working with them was always filled with laughter whether we were pounding in posts for fences on hot days, picking up a ridiculous amount of beer cans on OHV roads or shoveling mulch for restoration sites. Days rarely felt slow when working alongside them and I’ll miss being a part of their team. I’d also like to thank Drew Farr for being such a great mentor as well! It’s been awesome learning about the multiple facets that play into creating and executing restoration projects within the forest. All the work put into the greenhouse, the field, and seed shed all become worth it once you see a restoration project come to completion. While a majority of our focus was on botany or restoration, I’d like to acknowledge two other individuals that I learned a lot from, Julie Donnell and Jay Marshall. Karen and I had the honor in accompanying Julie on the 3-spined stickleback fish relocation project that occurred in Big Bear. It was so much fun spending a few days with the Fish and Wildlife teams on this project as we got to help catch the fish for relocation both manually and by using electroshock. While the electroshock method was unsuccessful it was neat to learn about how it works in stunning the fish and the necessary caution needed in the work (While we wore waders for this you could still feel the tingle of the current being put into the water which was rather ticklish!). A thank you to Jay as well who is our forests archeologist! It’s been lovely learning about the Native American history of the Serranos in areas throughout the San Bernardino NF. The times we accompanied him out in the field were always enjoyable as he would often educate us on artifacts, paintings, and metates that could be found in these archeological sites. Lastly, I’d like to give a big shout out to Karen for being such a cool coworker/fellow intern! I’m so glad we were able to meet and work together so well this past season. We’ve had a blast learning and troubleshooting together these past few months on keying species, greenhouse work, and much more. Overall, it’s been a fantastic season and I’ve learned so much from everyone I’ve worked with so far. As the season wraps up to a close, I look forward to my next adventure working as a Biological Science Technician in Nevada with USGS. I see this ending of the internship as not so much a goodbye but more until next time to everyone I’ve met so far! Goodluck to all the other interns in the other national forests! I hope you have had just as lovely as a time as we have!
As the seed collecting season has ramped up these past few months, I’ve taken to having a storage cooler in my car for seed collected on days when I can’t make it out to the Big Bear seed shed. A majority of the seed as of recent being various species of milkweed that I had sorted into separate bags into the car cooler. To my mistake, I left the cooler open in the back of my car one tired evening and I reaped the results of my actions the following morning. The following morning, I began my commute to Big Bear and rolled my windows down as I usually do to enjoy the brisk air when suddenly a flurry of white fluff began to swirl around the cabin and to my surprise one of the milkweed bags in the cooler was open! Dozens of seeds began to fly out my window and I quickly pulled over to a turnout to secure the seed bag but alas it was too late. It got me thinking however, how seeds from different species have evolved various ways to disperse into new habitats. As of current, Karen and I have been racing to gather milkweed seeds from monitoring sites throughout the San Bernardino National Forest as once the pods pop open the seeds will quickly drift away in the wind. The seeds reach rather large heights as well even surprising the both of us how far they drift away once the plant is disturbed. In addition to hand harvesting directly from the pod, we have also taken to bagging up unopened pods in preparation for future harvesting. In doing so, we hope to collect as much as we can during this quick seeding timeframe.
Other notable seed species I’ve seen displaying brilliant dispersal tactics are not only the milkweeds but Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides), Manzanita Trees (Arctostaphylus glauca), Anderson Lupine (Lupinus andersonii), and Candlestick Yucca (Hesperoyucca whipplei). While C.betuloides are a pain to harvest as there trichome like hairs are irritating to the skin they travel quite far in the air when a gust of wind hits the trees. The corkscrew like shape of the seed helps it hook into the ground firmly once it lands, slightly digging its way into the soil beginning the first step of possible propagation. Collecting Lupine seed was especially fun and also frustrating as a ready pod will pop instantly at the smallest touch sending the seeds in a variety of different directions! When collecting these I sometimes bent the stalk into the bag and gave it a little shake to trigger the pods to pop open and maximize the number of seeds collected. Penstemons also pop in a similar fashion, though the seeds tend to stay in their pod unless given a hard smack. These are another favorite of mine to collect as the rattling of the seeds into the bag is incredibly satisfying. Lately with our hikes into the forest for monitoring I’ve also noticed an increasing number of small hitchhikers on me as I crouched under shrubs and slid through brush (no not ticks), manzanita berries! These berries are covered in hairs and a sticky sap that sticks to your clothes or hair with ease. I found it neat how the stickiness of the berry’s aids in their dispersal and who knows how far I spread some of these berries in the habitats I was walking through for that day. Another honorable mention is H.whipplei and how one smack to its large stock will release an explosion of glossy black seeds all over the ground. When harvesting from this species we often aid in dispersing the remnant seeds as well by shaking the stalk violently and spreading the confetti like seeds throughout the area. Last but not least I can’t forget about the pesky invasive grasses that are constantly getting stuck in my socks and boots. Not only are they prickly, but they are incredibly difficult to get out of fabric. I spend a good amount of time when I get home plucking out each of the seeds with their pronged or edged shapes in order to minimize spreading into forest habitats. There large presence throughout parks and open nature areas throughout SoCal showcasing how efficient they are at hitching rides to new locations. It’s been rather enjoyable collecting different seed species throughout the forest and becoming familiar with the mechanisms they’ve evolved that help them spread throughout. From popping lupines to barbed cheat grass the evolutionary processes that have driven the development of these unique dispersal characteristics is not only functionally fascinating but incredibly beautiful to watch in action.
Day in and day out as we travel along the back roads of the San Bernardino National Forest the remnants of human festivities could often be found underneath the lush green pines, unauthorized campfire rings. The large dark stones and black ash contrasting starkly against the lushness of the forest announcing their presence and staining the earth black with soot. Oftentimes increasing in frequency during holidays such as 4th of July, Memorial Day, or Labor Day the sighting of these rings has brought continual frustration on our part as the summer heat continues to beat down and dry the flora surrounding it. While our main goal is seed collecting and target species monitoring another responsibility of ours is to destroy the rings to prevent further use, in hopes of preventing a fire from sweeping through the area. The process of destruction relatively simple, in that we disperse the rocks throughout the area and break apart the ash in an attempt to wipe its presence away for good. While the potential for fire spread itself is our main concern these rings oftentimes have large shards of melted or fractured glass in them that can be hazardous to others as well. Even after a site had been cleared of its rings the remnants of their presence still could be seen throughout like messy smudges drawn into the earth.
One site in particular known as Lytle Creek was filled with these unauthorized rings and in one day, we destroyed a total of 20 after a busy holiday weekend. Concerning as is, we discovered also that one of the rings was still hot to the touch even days after its previous owners had abandoned it. The last fire that ran through Lytle Creek was only a few years ago and was started by an unauthorized campfire ring such as this. While the continual finding of these rings proves frustrating it is rather beautiful to see how the forest regrows after a fire. Places that were once burn scarred or barren now begin to blossom again with native flora. During our drives through the various habitats in the forest we’ve stumbled upon a handful of burn scarred areas that are slowly recovering with time and restoration efforts. While it can be disheartening to see these beautiful habitats be abused or destroyed it is incredibly rewarding in playing a part in aiding in their recovery. During my time working in Big Bear with the restoration team I’ve taken part in two Green Thumb events on the forest that utilize both staff and volunteers to aid in restoring damaged habitats such as these. With the help of volunteers, we’ve been able to replant 100s of native species into areas that were once bare plots of earth. This work could not be done without the help of the volunteers that work in these events and we are incredibly grateful for the time they spend in helping us restore and preserve the forest for future generations to enjoy. Overall, it’s been a blast being a part of these restorations’ projects on the forest and I look forward to the month of September where we will be having a large volunteer event taking place that will involve the planting of around 400 plants!! Until then, I hope everyone is having a lovely time working out of their different locations and I look forward to reading your blogs!
This past month has been a busy one up in the San Bernardino National Forest as we have become involved in a kaleidoscope of projects all across the mountain. With the season heating up both literally and figuratively a large amount of the target species on our list are getting close for seed collection. Due to this, Karen and I have made it top priority to get as many of our target species pressed before they become nothing more than husks of cellulose. This has led us to spending quite a bit of time in tracking down the most suitable specimen for pressing at each monitoring site leading us into various areas ranging from thick pinyon forests to arid desert flats. As of current we have collected a decent number of specimens from a few of our target sites such as P.centranthifolius, S.columbariae, S.speciosa, E.elymoides, and L.andersonii. In addition to this, we have learned how to mount completed specimens along with creating the identification tag that correlates to each species. It has been rather exciting adding collections to the Big Bear Herbarium especially species not documented in certain areas as it will in turn, assist future teams on where and when to find a certain species. The work is labor intensive but rewarding, sometimes we spend quite some time digging species out of the ground attempting to preserve the root as best as we can. From muggy bug-ridden meadows to rocky desert flats, we can often be found hunched over in the dirt digging fervently to remove these prime specimens before they wither away.
Also, some exciting news is we have completed our seed collection for S.columbariae with a total of 44,460 seeds gathered which is above the target goal of 30,000 needed! We were able to find, along with the help of our mentor Drew a large population of this species near the Santa Ana River a few hours from Big Bear. Along with the seed we gathered from other smaller sites we were extremely excited about the accomplishment. As of right now we have some seed processing to do as well for the grasses, so we are eager to see how much we have gathered and whether site revisitation is needed after evaluation.
Another project we have focused on is assisting in the remodel of the Lytle Creek nursery to assist it in improving Phytophera BMP protocols and growing capacity. Our responsibility in this project was to remove two large Asclepias fasicularis beds and to transplant the milkweeds into pots for future nursery uses. It was lovely conducting this project as the place was filled with monarchs and their caterpillars. When removal was taking place, we took great care in checking if any of the plants had larvae or eggs and would treat them more gingerly. We spent the day disinfecting pots and utensils while also getting dirty in the mud!
Another major endeavor conducted this month was the collection and transportation of 100s of pounds of mulch to prepare for a restoration project taking place in Lake Arrowhead towards the end of September. This project was a day long endeavor and was incredibly labor intensive as it took a total of 4 hours to load and unload the mulch from trailer to restoration site. The mulch harvested for this project was aged for a few years before use, leading to the development of long strings of mycelium undergrowth trapped in each pile. With such a rich and healthy pile to harvest from I am hopeful that the nursery plants planted in this earth will thrive. The location specifically of the restoration site is actually near the Northshore cabin where I currently reside, and I am excited to see the desolate patch of earth damaged by OHV use near the campground become rich in healthy native species again.
Overall, this month has been a blast and as I’ve continued working in this field it has become apparent that there is plenty of love and care put in place for the local plant communities in the San Bernardino National Forest. Everyone plays a part in the restoration and botany team in aiding in accomplishing our goals and it’s been lovely working with the diverse set of individuals found in different sectors in forestry. While the projects at times may be difficult or physically tiring the results are rewarding and I am excited to continue contributing my part in helping protect the habitats of the native flora found in this stunningly diverse forest.
The mornings are early, the dawn quiet but as we rode along in the forest vehicles to the monitoring site of the day the world was beginning to awaken around us. After a bumpy ride through the rough and swirly roads we arrived at the area we would survey for the day, littered with fields of lavender Phacelia exilis, bright yellow Castilleja lasiorhyncha, and deep violet Erythranthe purpurea that shimmered like scattered rubies across the forest floor. For the next couple of weeks, I accompanied a team of botanists and botany technicians to do rare plant surveys in this dazzling area, Holcomb Valley in North Big Bear. The goal of the day relatively simple, map out the boundaries of these rare plant species to understand both the size of the various populations but also to the extent of their range in the area. These polygons formed by the team in the future being used to inform firefighters on where fire retardant should not be sprayed due to the sensitive nature of the species.
I spent much of my time with Katie, a Botany Field Assistant who would teach me the ropes on how to work the tablets in putting down points while also some tricks on ensuring the data collected best represented each population minimizing human error. I also spent time with Joseph a Biological Science Technician with a focus in Botany who was especially knowledgeable in teaching us about the native flora in the area and the minute details that separated one species from another. We focused our sight on P.exilis populations and as we entered the forest I searched for these rare purple flowers with translucent like petals. As I followed Katie, she described the area in more depth telling me that this species was a perennial that enjoyed moist soil and was often found at drainage sites, she explained how different soil types and terrain gives us clues on where to set our eyes on and what trail to follow when mapping a species. I will admit I had some difficulty in this at first as I would have trouble deciding where to start when overlooking a population. Some species seemed to stretch out for miles and as we marched through the thick underbrush and over fallen logs, I called out hesitantly on the finding of P.exilis as Katie quickly followed behind me. As the days went by though I became more confident in not only my sighting skills but also in understanding the polygons on the iPad and where to go to not overlap previous surveys on the same species in the past. However, as we trudged through the forest, I couldn’t ignore the fluttering of butterflies that surrounded me, each very different from the other. Their bright colors and elaborate patterns intrigued me not only for their beauty but for why they evolved to take on that image. There seemingly paper like fragile wings propelling them powerfully up and across the meadows searching for nectar upon the flowers found throughout. In some instances, I became sidetracked as I chased after a few, attempting to take a quick picture in vain. This interest quickly bled into other sites I visited when doing surveys or monitoring plant populations, I became engrossed in gaining information on the pollinators that so closely interacted with the plants we were watching. After a few days of assisting in mapping North Big Bear I could no longer ignore these ornate gems and at lunch breaks I began to take pictures of them to capture their beauty. After the end of the day, we would return to the office, and I attempted (with some luck) to identify the species through both wing patterns and associated plant species interactions.
On our expeditions thereafter I began to record the flowers I saw the butterflies landing upon and the time of day I spotted a certain group appearing the most. While our main goal was on rare plant surveys, I developed a small side project on these trips in learning more about the native butterflies in this area and their connection to the plant species they so loved. As I stood in the field of flowers found in Holcomb Valley, I was mesmerized by the beauty that surrounded me and felt an increased love for the work I was doing. As the shades of purple, yellow, and violet faded towards the end of our surveys due to the oncoming summer heat, the butterflies remained, moving works of art dancing in the morning light.