I’m a plant librarian now

Apologies to any librarians reading this who feel misrepresented. Near Unionville, NV.

Hi CLM blog! It’s November and it’s my second-to-last post––crazy but inevitable and it’s been a good season. I won’t get into the season reflection right now, so stay tuned for that next week. For now I’ll let you know how it’s been going at the tail end of my season from late October to early November.

Main Street in Paradise Valley, NV.

Last time I talked about re-seeding disturbed areas in the Santa Rosas. Since then, I’ve been doing a lot more non-fieldwork, as snow starting to appear at higher elevations has meant that some of the forest roads are becoming less safe for driving. Instead, I’ve been doing a lot of end-of-the-season things––data management and entry for Seeds of Success, mounting specimens of the plants I collected seeds from this season, and organizing the Santa Rosa Ranger District’s herbarium collection.

View from a hike at Water Canyon. The leafless aspens have kind of a blurry look to them

For SOS data management, the main thing of note is the geospatial data entry, which I think is interesting because it can be helpful to future SOS interns in Nevada. Basically, I added points to a map showing where and when I collected various species this summer, and also where I’d scouted but didn’t collect due to poor timing that looked promising for future seasons. Interns each year can look at this map and access a multitude of ideas for where to scout and collect seeds!

One of the herbarium specimens, a delicate plant with what I thought was an iconic name: Floerkea proserpinacoides (common name false mermaid). Found in the Jarbidge area in June 1974 by Mont and Ethel Lewis, this species is also (strangely, I thought) a rare native plant in southern Minnesota! Its range includes land on both sides of the Great Plains.

The other most interesting things I’ve been doing are the specimen mounting and herbarium organizing. For mounting plants, what you’re doing is gluing pressed, dried plant specimens, along with an informational label, to large pieces of paper so other people can look at them for species identification, records of where species have been found over time, and other purposes! (Some specimens also just look pretty cool.) The part I liked best, however, was actually organizing the office’s herbarium collection (like a plant librarian!). Basically, almost all of the collection’s over 500 plant specimens were being stored in cardboard boxes, not organized, and it was my job to go through them, organizing them alphabetically by family, genus, and species, and moving them to a cabinet they were intended to be stored in. It might sound boring depending on the type of person you are, but for me it was fun to see lots of Northern Nevada plant specimens, most of them collected in the Santa Rosa and Mountain City-Jarbidge Districts of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest from 1974-1975 by Mont and Ethel Lewis, who I can only assume were a botanizing couple! I also liked getting to review and learn new plant families, and bring order to the chaos so the herbarium collection can actually serve its purpose as a useful reference for people at the office in the future.

Other than work, I’m enjoying fall in Winnemucca, and feeling sad that my term is almost up, but also feeling grateful and enriched by the time I’ve spent here.

Seeds, Berries, and More

As the fall has become colder, and we get closer to winter, the field work continues to prevail while we collect and process seed. Being from Arizona, collecting seed outside in cold, windy, and sometimes rainy weather continues to push my boundaries and show me that I am capable of more than I thought. I have always been used to tolerating the heat but the cold is another story. So as we continue to go out into the field to collect seed all across the Monongahela Forest, I have quickly been learning the best ways to stay warm. 

A photo from Bear Rocks at Dolly Sods in the North Zone of the Monongahela National Forest.

On my last blog post, I stated that I was excited to learn all new ways to collect different species than I have before and now I am learning new ways to process and clean the seed! To start, the seed I have been processing the most is Mountain Ash. Mountain Ash seeds consist of clumps of small red berries that are pruned off of the branches. To process them I start by separating the stems and the berries by throwing away the stems and putting the berries in a medium size sieve. Once I have a decent amount of berries in the sieve, I smush them through the holes in the sieve to separate the seeds from the skin and pulp of the berries. After smashing many berries, I rinse the sieve into a bucket to gather the rest of the seeds and then strain out the water. Once the seeds are cleaned I lay them out on a paper bag for them to dry. The dry seed will then be placed in a bag and labeled. Not all seed processing is done this way because of the wide variety of ways plants have evolved to disperse their seeds. This is interesting to me because of all the different and unique ways that can be used to process seeds depending on the plant. I look forward to learning new and unique ways to process seed in the coming weeks! 

The tools used to process the Mountain Ash seeds and some of them drying out on a bag.

Not only is it interesting how all the seed collection and processing happens but also why it is important to collect seed from around the forest. Collecting seed on the forest is important for a couple different reasons. One reason is to use the seeds to plant on different forest restoration sites. This is achieved by collecting seeds from a variety of species, processing these seeds, and then sending the cleaned seed to a plant nursery. Once the nursery is done growing the seed, the plants will be sent back to the forest so they can be planted on the current restoration sites. The second reason we collect seed is to increase the genetic diversity of the plant species around the forest. The restoration sites on the forest consists of both plants that have been bough from nurseries in the surrounding states and from the nurseries that planted the seeds collected on the Monongahela forest. By planting native species from different places, the genetic diversity of the forest will increase. This greater diversity will hopefully allow the restoration sites have an increased chance of survival and success. 

The Changing of the Seasons

I cannot believe October is ending already. The summer has come and gone faster than I could have ever imagined. However, fall on the Monongahela National Forest has been one of the best falls I have ever seen. The biodiversity of plants around the forest creates a unique and beautiful color change that creates an assorted color scape that changes every day. This fall is one I will never forget!  

With the changing of the seasons, my fieldwork has also changed along the way. The beginning of October came with the end of the summer field seasons for botany surveys. Many of the larger projects were finished in September, but I was able to help finish surveys for future trails on the southern half of the forest. This was an amazing opportunity to take in a lot of the early fall foliage and be able to help find more interesting and cool plants like ferns and fungi.  

These past couple of weeks I have also been helping finish some of the research that I talked about on previous blog posts. Back in June and July, Katie and I helped a graduate student, Breezy, from Kentucky University on some of her research that compared bat behavior between wetlands in restoration and old forest locations. While Breezy is back at school, Anna Branduzzi from the non-profit Green Forest Works and I helped take water samples of her wetland locations. It was nice to see yet another aspect of Breezy’s research and go back to some of the places and see how they are also changing during the fall.  

Anna collecting water samples from wetlands

Even though the field season has ended for some people, there is other field work that has just begun. Specifically, I have had the opportunity to begin seed collection in various locations around the forest. Over the past week I have enjoyed this seed collection and have been excited at all the new techniques I have learned. Seed collection is interesting to me because the method of collection is different for every plant. While in undergraduate, I had previous internships where I collected seed from many herbaceous plants that can be found in prairie ecosystems. Even with this experience I was able to learn new ways of collection because of the several types to plants we were collecting from. These plants consist of tress like Mountain Ash, Stripped Aspen, and several types of Hawthorns. While collecting from tress, I was a little nervous about if I was going to be able to reach the berries or seeds because I am short. However, I learned that there are many techniques to help reach the higher up seeds. One example includes the methods used to collect mountain ash. To collect the groupings of berries at the ends of the higher branches we used a long pruner to cut off the berries from the branch and collect them off the ground. This method can be seen in the picture below of my co-worker, Hannah, using the long pruners. As we continue to collect seed in the coming month, the already collected seed will be sent to partnering nurseries within the states surrounding West Virginia. These nurseries will then grow the plants for restoration use in the coming years. 

My co-worker Hannah collecting Mountain Ash fruit

As I come into my last month of this internship, I have been doing so much reflection on just how much I have been able to accomplish and all the amazing people I have been able to meet along the way. I am so thankful for all the experiences this internship has already brought me and I cannot wait to see what this last month has to offer. I am excited to continue to collect seed and see everything that West Virginia and the Monongahela has to offer before going back home to Arizona and the desert.  

Greenhouse Planting Party

October snow in the Spring Mountains!

Seedlings, snow, and Santa Rita mountains! It’s been a busy month out here in the desert, planting thousands of delicate Joshua Tree seeds; I’ve been organizing, prepping petri plates, germinating, and finally gently nestling these fellas in the soil mixes I described last blog post. All in all, this process is fairly arduous and complex, but the seeds themselves make it a lot easier. As soon as they are set in a little pool of water, they suck it up rapidly and most start producing a root within 2-3 days! A couple weeks into this task, we already have many of our early planted trees starting to emerge with their bright green leaves above the surface. The goal of this planting is to have about 4 plants per genetic line in each of our 4 sites. Sadly, I will be wrapping up this internship before USGS plans to plant these seedings in the desert, but in the meantime I will continue to plant seeds, care for the seedings, and make sure everything stays organized!

Joshua Tree seeding ~2 weeks after planting

Besides using my green thumb in the greenhouse and the usual Joshua Tree field work, I’ve also been asked to start helping with a couple projects. This week, I will be going into the field to help take cuttings of a desert shrub called Eriogonum fasciculatum. We will be taking branches and leaves from wild bushes in a bid to grow cuttings from them. Next post I will go into more depth with this project and the field work, along with whatever else interesting comes up!

Golden Eagle I saw out in the field in CA

Lastly, I took a trip down to the Santa Rita mountains in SE Arizona! These mountains are known as “sky islands” where interesting birds that wouldn’t be found elsewhere in the desert can be spotted. Below are some photos of things I saw in the area and on the way there and back! Until next time, thanks for reading!

Saguaro Cacti mean welcome to the Sonoran Desert. Adios Mojave!

Northern Nevada Fall

Road to Angel Lake in the Ruby Mountains, Elko County.

Hi CLM blog,

What’s new with you? For me, the end of September and first part of October have brought some changes, at work and in general. The end of September marked the end of the two Reno Seeds of Success crews’ terms, so I had to say goodbye to the four of them (in a professional context at least), which was sad. Working (and hanging out outside of work!) with them was the highlight of my September, and I’m hopeful that we will remain friends even when we don’t have plants and seeds to look for together! I’m going to visit a couple of these cool people this weekend so I’m optimistic.

Why yes, there *is* a roller rink in Reno that we went to after work during the Reno crews’ last week!
A cool mountain lake that I fell into and then decided to make it my latest-season swim on record (9/25). On a fun weekend adventure with some of my Reno friends! Near Saddlebag Lake along Tioga Pass in CA.

Now that the seeds are almost completely dispersed for most species, I’ve started working on some other things. I made a tissue sample collection for Machaeranthera (/Dieteria) canescens at Angel Lake, and got to enjoy the fall colors and dense fog up there, which was cool to see. Lots more moisture than the atmosphere had contained for many months was hanging over the tops of the mountains, and at higher elevations like Angel Lake you could get pretty much engulfed by it!

Colorful aspens and low-hanging clouds on the drive to Angel Lake

In October a few cloudy systems have moved through Winnemucca also, and the mountains around town have been intermittently snowy, which I’ve really enjoyed. Maybe it’s just that I’m a Midwestern person who has rarely seen that, but having snow on the tops of the mountains gives them more definition and helps me notice peaks in the distance that I’d scanned over without really seeing when they were snow-free. I also learned that tumbleweeds, once dry, can clump together to form aggregations several feet long across four-wheeler trails, which added a kooky obstacle on one of my runs last week (of course, after googling the phenomenon, I learned that what I experienced was on the small end of the spectrum of tumbleweed aggregations!). In general I’m really appreciating being cold sometimes after a hot summer––much more what I’m accustomed to.

Some cute sedges near the Saddlebag Lake hiking trails. There were almost enough to collect––too bad we weren’t on the clock!
Sunset from one of the Water Canyon hiking trails, Winnemucca. Note to self: no more evening hikes––seeing a cool sunset is not worth hiking back down the trail in the dark!

The other main thing I’ve been doing for work is some re-seeding of disturbed areas in the Santa Rosas. There are some heavily grazed and fire-affected areas along the Quinn River near the northern edge of the Santa Rosas, and I’ve been bringing bags of seed mix up and broadcasting it over these disturbed areas. Hopefully this will help some native grasses and forbs take root in this semi-bare, dry ground.

This hillside is one of the areas I re-seeded––you can see there’s a fair amount of bare ground that might be able to support more plants than are currently growing!

If it was seed conservation summer, now it’s ecosystem restoration autumn. I’m excited to see what comes next as the seasons keep changing.

Bye for now!

Emma

A (Final) Walk in the Woods

A slow but consistent exodus has been occurring in the Lincoln, as the markers of fall have begun arriving and summer comes to an end. Several times an hour the high and strained call of an elk bugle will pierce the air, and the nights down in the desert have called for closed windows and warm blankets. It seems like every day is another seasonal’s last day, and our crew has dwindled down to a handful of people. Some are road tripping, moving on to their next job, or traveling back home. The last few weeks have definitely been busy as we’ve finished the work left for us in the forest!

Currently we’re just finishing up our last bits of botany surveying. While we haven’t found any rare plants actually in our survey areas, we did accidentally find a robust population of Wooton’s Hawthorn (Crataegus wootoniana) one day earlier in the season! During one of our Mexican Spotted Owl habitat monitoring days, we sat down in the shade for lunch and noticed the branch right next to one of our crew, Joe’s, face was that of a hawthorn branch! We recently traveled back to the location to check and get an estimate of the population, and there were definitely at least several hundred!

Our accidental find of Crataegus wootoniana

Some other work we’ve recently been doing is helping out with seed collection of Goodding’s Onion (Allium gooddingii) for long-term storage, or seed banking. The seeds will first be sent to the Arboretum at Flagstaff in Arizona (which is a neat little place that does some cool botanical projects- definitely check them out!) and then to the National Laboratory for Genetic Resource Preservation in Fort Collins, Colorado. Collection involves hiking out to known populations that are currently seeding, and collecting a specified percentage of the population depending on the area. We were able to collect a large number of seeds, which hopefully will help out with future research!

Heading out to Allium gooddingii populations for seed collection in the Lincoln’s D1, or Smokey Bear district.
Collecting in a recent burn area.

In other office news, we did gain a new crew member! Miss Malaxis (named after the orchid genus that we’ve been seeing a good amount of in our surveys) has been appearing often in front of our district office. There’s an ongoing debate on whether Miss Malaxis is a male or female, but the name will remain regardless. They’re extremely affectionate, sweet, and loves climbing the trees outside the office! If I wasn’t traveling so often and didn’t already have three cats at my home in Indiana, I for sure would just take Miss Malaxis with me!

Miss Malaxis hanging out with us after a day in the field!
The titular orchid, Malaxis porphyrea

Besides Miss Malaxis, this season has been full of other fun finds! I think my time here in the Lincoln was made 100x better by the fact that our entire crew was awesome. I definitely was concerned about coming out to the NM desert in a small military town, knowing no one, and wondering how I would fill up my free time after coming from an environment of living with 5-20 other people! As it turns out, the environmental field is a small world, and I actually knew people from ACE working in the same forest- besides that, our crew and the other seasonal crews (wildlife, trails, etc.) often got together outside of work for exercise, hanging out, and other fun times. It was great having a network of people to explore NM with, as most of the others were also from all over the country as well. I am extremely appreciative of how welcoming everyone was! NM itself is also a really neat state, with lots of opportunity for hiking and adventures (when it’s not too hot out!). I saw my first wild bear in the Carson NF, and I’ve now been to the tallest point in both AZ (Humphrey’s) and NM (Wheeler)- my next goal is doing a 14er in Colorado!

Working in the Lincoln has been a great first-time Forest Service experience, made all the better by our awesome botanist, Aurora, and other supervisors Jen and Pete, who we helped with their projects. I definitely want to say thanks for making this internship such a good time! As for my future plans, I’ve got many applications in with the Forest Service for next spring, and am definitely hoping to get another season in. While COVID has made doing grad school a concern for me (I really don’t want to do an essentially virtual master’s), I am in communication with a couple potential advisors- we’ll see where the next few months take me! When I leave here in a few days, I’ll be heading up north to Colorado for some solo hiking and camping, and then heading over to Flagstaff to visit friends and scope out NAU’s programs. In November I’ll probably be heading to IN, since it’s been almost a year since I’ve been back. I’ll be signing off here with a little photo dump of my last few weeks in NM! Thanks for reading!

A lil horny toad (Seek ID’s it as a Greater Short-horned Lizard, or Phrynosoma hernandesi)! I am not a member of the herp gang so I’m clueless on the accuracy.
A shortcut to our next assessment site. Being 5’0 has it’s advantages!
Megan and Joe like to practice bird surveying by immersion.
Being 5’0 also has its disadvantages. Didn’t stop me from stacking tires during our Friday workouts! (The top one required a little help)
A view of some morning glories at the beginning of our Organ Needle hike in the Organ mountains near Las Cruces, NM. The summit required a small class 3/4 scramble, so be aware!
The tallest point in NM, Wheeler Peak! A Labor Day weekend adventure in the Carson NF.
A vista point on the Rim Trail in the Lincoln NF. Goodbye to the Lincoln NF and Tularosa Basin for now!

The beginning of fall

Early in the morning with the moon still overhead, I stepped out into the cold and slid shut the door of my apartment. It was too dark to see, so I felt each of the keys on my keychain before finding the right one to lock up. Then, I turned around and stopped to look for a moment. The sky was full of stars.

When I started at Ottawa National Forest in early June, the morning sky was blue and dappled with clouds when I left for work, in July I woke to spectacular red sunrises, in August the mornings were dim with the first hints of light illuminating dense grey mist, and, now, I am greeted by stars. I have never watched the seasons change like this before. 

Over the past month, my-cointern Tessa and I have continued to travel the forest mapping and treating invasive plants. We’ve tackled tansy ragwort, honeysuckle, Japanese barberry, glossy buckthorn, Eurasian watermilfoil and more. Sometimes, we hike all day to visit a few small, remote sites, and sometimes we work right along the roadside treating large patches of weeds where invasive species cerews have made gradual progress year after year. 

On a bright Tuesday, Tessa and I headed out to a particularly dense cluster of invasive species infestations lining Trout Creek. Waders on, we trudged through marsh up to our knees. Growing among the reeds were numerous glossy buckthorn seedlings with shining oval leaves that glinted in the sun. The soil was soft, so we could often pull the invasive seedling up by the roots. As we walked, Tessa and I passed ideas back and forth. These seedlings must be coming from somewhere, we surmised, some larger buckthorn that could produce numerous fruits…  the mother tree. We decided we would find it if we could.

Time wore on, yet our efforts to find the mother tree proved fruitless. We waded back and forth through the infestation area and eventually moved on to some invasive honeysuckle sites further along the marsh. 

When we passed through the buckthorn site again, the afternoon was drawing to a close. Making our way back to the truck to head home, we stumbled into a pocket of glossy buckthorn we had missed. Instead of being knee-high seedlings, the buckthorn here was up to our heads. Most of the buckthorn we’ve treated this summer has been no taller than eye-level. We did see one that was fifteen feet once, though. Even though the trunk was only four inches in diameter, cutting through it with a pocket saw felt like felling a real tree. 

With so many plants to treat, Tessa and I decided we would have to come back to the site another day to finish up. As Tessa bent low, sawing through one last buckthorn, I noticed that the normally green, glossy leaves of the plant had begun turning a deep red from the autumn chill. Looking over her shoulder I got a glimpse of a tree colored that same red. Could it be another buckthorn? I looked more closely, following the tree up… and up… and up. Towering over the rest was a great buckthorn, with a trunk a foot in diameter and a crown thirty feet tall. “Tessa… Tessa,” I said slowly, “We found the mother tree.”  

I snapped a photo of the great tree with Tessa standing next to it for scale. Then, we headed back to the office, excited to tell our mentor, Ian, what we found. Before the season is over, we’ll head back to the site to finish treating the remaining buckthorn, including the towering mother tree.

Tessa stands in a marsh with one hand on a very tall buckthorn with red leaves.
The mother tree (center) towers over Tessa

While the search for buckthorn along Trout Creek required wading through waist-deep water, some weed work requires us to get fully submerged. That’s why on a crisp Monday morning, I helped load wetsuits into the truck along with paddles, life jackets, and flippers. Then, Tessa, Ian, a Forest Service botanist named Katherine, and I headed out to Lac Vieux Desert lake for our last snorkel day of the year.

Our job was to find and pull Eusrasian watermilfoil, a highly invasive aquatic plant. Eurasian watermilfoil has a doppelganger though, native, northern watermil foil has fewer leaflets than the invasive cousin it grows side by side with, but if I hadn’t been told to look for the difference the first time we went snorkeling, I never would have guessed they were two separate species. 

We spent the day searching through the water. When we found an invasive plant, we would gather the long flowing stems into balls and follow them down to the lake bottom. When you apply just the right pressure there, the plant pulls up in one continuous clump without the stems snapping and producing fragments. A milfoil fragment two inches long can go on to root into a whole new plant. 

A figure in a full wetsuit with a hood and goggles stands in front of a lake giving two thumbs up.
Ian took this photo of me suited up in snorkeling gear!

The water was chilly, but we checked in with each other often and took turns paddling the canoe when we got cold. Spirits stayed high. As we swam along the shore, swapped stories on the boat, and admired some sizable snails, the buckets of Eurasion watermilfoil we had pulled piled up on the shore. 

On our first day of snorkling for watermilfoil in the early summer, I had to count the pairs of leaflets of every milfoil I encountered to make sure it was the invasive species. Diving on Monday, though, I was surprised to find I could distinguish northern from Eurasian with relative ease.  Everything from the way the plants moved in the water to the feel of the leaves in my hand set the two apart. 

Realizing this, made me stop and think about how much I’ve learned this summer. Under Ian’s mentorship, I’ve been given an invitation to pay deep attention to the natural world and the knowledge to notice things I never would have seen on my own. Now, after months of spending long days in the forest, I’m beginning to see that attention pay off as I recognize the plants around me and see how they change and grow. I’m sure in June I would have walked right by the mother buckthorn and never stopped to look up. Still, I know I’m just scratching the surface. An opportunity to work with the Ottawa’s Timber crew showed me a glimpse of how much more is out there to notice. 

All summer, we’ve been meeting different people on the Ottawa, developing diverse skills, and getting a glimpse at the different jobs various forest departments take on. To this end, on Wednesday we met with Amanda and Megan from the Timber Crew. They gave us insight into all the different tasks needed for managing commercial timber from outlining the boundary of sale areas, to marking trees along future roads, to protecting valuable areas like wetlands and historical sites. Soon enough, Tessa and I were each outfitted with a paint sprayer on our backs heading through the woods to help lay out the boundary of a timber sale area. 

We followed Amanda and Megan through the woods, marking the stumps of trees they selected with bright orange paint. These trees, they explained, would become the outline of a sale area, showing the purchaser where they could go and where they should avoid. 

I quickly learned that laying out the line is not as straightforward as it seems. Skilled timber markers weigh a wealth of different factors as they set the boundary.  As they worked, Megan and Amanda took care to mark trees close enough together that you could easily follow from one to the next. They kept the line smooth, without too many jagged turns, and always ensured that the areas they marked were wide and flat enough for logging vehicles to navigate and turn around. All the while, they made sure to draw lines that avoided fragile wetlands and left a large enough buffer of trees around sensitive areas to provide shade and prevent erosion. Thinking of visitors, they were also careful to leave a good barrier of trees around a popular recreation lake. As we walked, Amanda and Megan sometimes saw great gnarled trees with knots and kankers and bits of shaggy bark. These they also left out of the sale area when they could. They are of little value for timber, they explained, but provide great habitat for all manner of wildlife. As we traveled, Amanda and Megan were teaching us every step of the way, explaining their thought process and talking us through decisions. 

My favorite thing was watching the pair read the land. They paid careful attention to the plants, canopy, and soil as they decided where to paint the line. Blue cohosh, they explained, a knee-high herb with blue fruits and pointed leaves often indicates good timber trees are nearby; black ash, tall with symmetrical pairs of leaflets, on the other hand, is a wetland species that suggests the surrounding area should probably be left out of the timber sale. They chose each tree we marked with careful consideration, taking time to study the landscape. I’m still not sure of my path after CLM, but, after spending the day with Amanda and Megan, I sincerely hope that I can bring the same level of care and stewardship to my job that they do everyday. 

In my first blog post, I explained that I wanted to know all the plants in Ottawa National Forest. What I meant, though I did not say it explicitly, is that I wanted to know the names of all the plants in Ottawa National Forest. Over the last several months, I’ve learned that knowing a plant involves so much more than just knowing its name. It’s a never ending process of seeing how it changes with the seasons, observing its growth and habitat, and understanding its interaction with the world it makes its home. Realizing this makes me hopeful I can meet my goal. I don’t have to memorize long lists of names. I just have to focus my attention on the world around me, be curious, and take notice. 

Mixing It Up in the Mojave

This month has been a wonderful combo of field work, greenhouse prep, and a holiday weekend road trip! I’ve been working to get our project to the point of starting another round of Joshua Tree seedlings to replace the ones we lost over the past year, which requires quite a lot of surprisingly time-intensive steps. I have also started really being independent in my field work, going to all the sites on my own to assess and water the plants. Finally, I’ve gotten to see even more of the southwest, continuing to explore around Vegas, and travelling a bit further afield to northern Arizona and the beautiful Kaibab National Forest.

View from Bristlecone Trail in the Spring Mountains NRA outside Las Vegas

First, here’s a quick update with field work. Everything has been going very well in the routine assessment and watering trips. I have begun working solo, which has not really been an issue, simply because I have been well prepped by my bosses. I have noticed on my California overnight trips, the forest fires from very far away can have smoke blow all the way over to me in the desert. I have actually woken up smelling like a campfire! Also, last week was our final time watering the seedlings. These unusually extreme conditions had us giving the little fellas extra hydration during the summer months, but now that things are cooling down, these desert-adapted plants should be fine without getting an extra drink from us. I am going to miss using the fireman’s hose, and getting to work a hydrant to fill our tank at one of our sites. I’ll still be going out for field work, but only to assess the plants and possibly trap for rodents.

Back at the greenhouse, we have been working hard to plant about 3,000 plants, 750 for each garden. To do so, we have to do a lot of set up. Between data entry and field work, I have been spending my time at the greenhouse: cleaning crates, unfolding plant bands, and filling the bands with a special blend of soil. We mix our soil ourselves, creating a balance that reflects the unique desert conditions. The soil is mostly sand, devoid of nutrients and draining water well. Joshua Trees are not adapted to soil that stays wet for long periods of time, so drainage is key. We also mix in some perlite, for drainage, and mulch, which adds a minimal amount of nutrients for the growing trees. Very soon, we will begin germinating and then planting seeds into this soil, a process I will document for my next blog post!

In personal news, this Labor Day weekend, I drove off in search of California Condors! My quest took me through the mountainous Kaibab National Forest, where I was surrounded by an entire new ecosystem full of new critters and lovely landscapes. I found my condors at the Navajo Bridge near Marble Canyon, AZ. These giant birds sit under the bridge, resting and soaking up the sun. Seeing them was one of the coolest nature experiences I have ever had!

California Condor sunning itself in the early morning.

While in northern Arizona, I also saw some lovely landscapes including some views of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and the red cliffs further east, including the Vermillion Cliffs and the Lee’s Ferry area.

Lastly, I have included some of the lovely wildlife I spotted on my trip around Arizona. Not only were these areas beautiful, they were also loaded up with vibrant communities of plants and animals! Thanks for reading, see you next month!

Pygmy Nuthatch at the Grand Canyon

Collab: Winnemucca x Reno SOS Crews

Hi CLM blog, happy September!

My September has been eventful in terms of work and the fun of meeting new friends on the job! This month I’ve been working with two Seeds of Success crews based out of Reno on two separate hitches. It’s been a great experience, being part of a team of five rather than a solo intern like I am usually. The routines of longer hitches that can span much of the state over several days contrast the single-day trip, Santa Rosas-focused seed collecting that I do when I’m on my own and it is cool to have been able to see both ways of working over the past few months. Here I’m going to share a lot of pictures and some of the things working with Grace, Hannah, Jenna, and Amy helped me reflect on!

An Eriogonum sighting to start us off––my tentative ID is E. racemosum!

1 – Being flexible

Hot spring near Lund, NV. This is the one with little fish that nibble on you while you’re in it!

Being flexible helped make our first September hitch a successful trip. We changed our travel plans fairly last-minute to avoid the fires in California and then again to avoid the smoke blowing across Nevada, and both decisions paid off as we were able to conduct worthwhile fieldwork in safe areas and less smoky locations. The plan we decided on involved mainly scouting for and monitoring rare plants at sites across Nevada, traveling in a counterclockwise loop around the state and working in the Austin-Tonopah District and the Ely District of the Humboldt-Toibyabe National Forest, Great Basin National Park, and the Ruby Mountains. In perfect symmetry with Sierra’s and my earlier trip to the Bull Run Mountains with Jerry Tiehm and Jan Nachlinger, the two species we surveyed on this trip were Eriogonum tiehmii––Tiehm’s Buckwheat––and Silene nachlingerae––Nachlinger’s Catchfly––both rare species. E. tiehmii is a very rare species that grows in a small area that is the site of a proposed lithium mining project, so the species is pretty threatened (it may get added to a list of threatened/endangered species; stay tuned because this is a contentious issue). One of our crewmembers, Jenna, is studying the evolution and speciation of the Silene genus for her Master’s research and this was the last Silene species she had yet to find and collect data on in Nevada, which we were able to do on this trip! It was cool to do some rare plant work as a change of pace from collecting seeds on this trip.

The gang poses with Silene nachlingerae, a rare native plant that Jenna is studying for her Masters research! It’s all dried out and done flowering now, making identifying it an extra challenge but we did it with confidence!

2 – When to take risks and when to back off

An abundant Eriogonum tiehmii plant. Another very rare species!

On the same hitch we encountered both roads on which we proceeded with caution and roads that we decided to turn back from. Our big success for challenging road navigation was near Great Basin National Park, climbing a road with extremely tight switchbacks (we’re talking having to reverse the truck after making half the curve to get the rest of the way around it, and doing this for at least ten switches one way) that maxed out at around 10,000 feet in elevation for some Silene scouting (of course I was especially proud of getting to the top, since I was the one driving!). In contrast to this achievement, we faced an unassuming, sandy road we hoped to use to access another Silene population in the southern Ruby Mountains and after cautiously heading out on it for a few miles, decided to turn around because the truck was handling poorly on the sandy surface. You win some, you lose some when sites are remote and accessible only via roads that can be hit or miss depending on the conditions. It’s satisfying to get to the top, but it’s not worth getting stuck or busting up your truck either! Operating with slightly more caution than I do when it’s only my judgement determining what I do was a good check for me that I hope will be on my mind in future situations.

A hot bath after work!

3 – Building a successful trip around both work and fun

Angel Lake in the Ruby Mountains. In contrast to many of our camping spots, not hot water but an enjoyable swim nonetheless!

The Reno crew of Jenna and Amy took the lead on planning for both these trips, which I appreciated, and learning the ways that both these crews operate on their longer hitches was a new experience for me, namely having a group of fun and nice people both to work with and to hang out with after hours in the great outdoors. They introduced me to one of the joys of Nevada SOS work that I’d heard tell of but so far missed out on––hot springs. And they were just as awesome as everyone had said! We visited three different hot springs on our first hitch and found them all fairly quiet, with only a few other visitors if any. All were warm but varied in temperature, developed-ness, water clarity, and ecosystem type. One was more developed with a concrete hot tub installed to hold some of the spring water, one had very clear water and flowed from a snaking hot creek into a marsh, and one was in a valley with a mud flat-type ecosystem. All had great views of the stars. The most memorable hot spring experience for me was the second one, which was home to minnows that liked eating dead skin while you were sitting in the water. Specifically, I will never forget the feeling of a small fish taking one of my more protruding armpit-adjacent moles (lots of us have those, right??) in its raspy mouth and shaking it back and forth insistently, like a dog with a chew toy. Just like you were at a spa.

We had plenty of other after-work fun too, including playing cards, telling stories, taking hikes, and generally enjoying each other’s company! I was so thankful to get to know a group of such friendly, open, and interesting women and both work and just hang out with them. It was also amazing seeing what dynamic duos each of the two crews were; I couldn’t believe how lucky they (and their supervisors) got when hiring crews for this season––in both teams the co-interns complemented each other well, and were great at communicating, getting along, and having a good time with each other, all of which makes any job much more enjoyable! I was also super glad that these dynamics expanded to make a well-functioning and happy team of five.

I’m thankful to Amy, Jenna, Grace, and Hannah for an awesome few weeks and am excited to meet up again in the future!

And that was my last few weeks! Next week I will be leading a collecting trip with a couple of SOS interns from Boise, so I’m hopeful that will be another fun and learning-filled experience.

Lastly, a moment to thank the folks at the Forest Service in Winnemucca where I’m based:

-Thanks to Boyd for being my check-in person the last few weeks(/months?) and for always being a chill and reliable presence at the office.

-Thanks to Wendy for helping me mail my seed collections even when she’s working on a fire in another state!

-Thanks to Sierra for trusting me to do my own thing while she’s been working on fires and for the super nice write up in the local Humboldt County newspaper! 🙂

Farewell to Summer of 2021 and the Lincoln National Forest

My Summer 2021 sun is beginning to set and I’m taking stock of everything I’ve accomplished during my internship in the southwest. I have really appreciated my time here in the Lincoln National Forest. It’s been great to be a part of a large team-oriented crew. The botany and natural resources teams joined forces this year and with a combined crew of six, we surveyed close to 11,000 acres of National Forest land over a three month period for regionally sensitive, threatened, and endangered plant species.

Crewmembers left to right: Natasha Khanna-Dang, Megan Tunon, Ashlyn Lythgoe, Joseph Ure, Vanessa Hernandez and Shelby Manford

At the end of the season, I honed my skills of reading topographical maps, using Avenza to navigate and surveying the forest through the rain, heat, dense foliage, steep muddy slopes, and countless fallen trees. This was also my first time learning how to key out plants in the field without the help of a thick paperbound dichotomous key and microscope. Instead, I identified many plants with the help of my handy smartphone and a combination of my crewmembers’ knowledge, the Seek by iNaturalist app, the Flora Neomexicana PDF file and the Wildflowers of New Mexico app. Having a smartphone with all the botany related apps has really been a game changer.

One major takeaway for me is that most of the land we surveyed is not ideal habitat for any of the rare plants we were looking for. As a result, we did not find many new populations of rare plants. However, I did get to see what vegetation looks like in a forest that is heavily grazed by cows, wild horses, deer and elk.

I also got to participate in riparian restoration projects and learn about the importance of watershed management in an environment that has been severely altered since the times of settler colonialism. By working with the Forest Hydrologist, Pete Haraden, and Soil Scientist, Jennifer Hickman, I learned what actions are needed to restore eroded riparian areas.

Building one rock dams to restore a riparian area that was severely disturbed by an illegal road.
Photo credit: Shelby Manford.

With the extirpation of beaver by fur trappers last century, a lot of the natural wetlands that were created by beaver dams were lost through erosion, fire, and time. Additionally, a lot of the natural vegetation that traps water has been either heavily grazed or burned in many parts of the forest. This leads to fast running water and deep cuts in drainage areas and canyons that many a time look like chasms. As a result, many of the creeks and streams tend to run fast and dry up quickly after the rainy season, resulting in a low water table and decreased water holding capacity of the surrounding soils. Additionally, the surrounding area’s vegetation frequently converts from riparian species to upland species, which also contributes to the decreased water holding capacity in the adjacent soils.

Crewmember Joseph Ure helping to weave willow branches to create the beaver dam analog. You can see the water is beginning to pool up. Photo credit: Shelby Manford.

If a stream or creek is properly restored, it could have water that runs all year long. A healthy riparian area should have slowly meandering creeks and streams that have room to pool up and create ponds and wetland habitat in some areas. The water will also easily flow onto the adjoining wetland under proper functioning conditions. This allows the water to recharge the aquifer and get absorbed by soils in and around the canyons. A restored riparian area could possibly sustain not only the local habitat and wildlife but also local industry and human communities with water throughout the year. Our restoration efforts consisted of building beaver dam analogs, one rock dams, and Zuni bowls.

Beaver dam analog in action. Photo credit: Shelby Manford.

Another project I’m happy I got to work on was restoration for the endangered Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas anicia cloudcrofti). I worked with the Regional Botanist, Kathryn Kennedy, for the Southwest Region of the U.S. Forest Service and Melanie Gisler, the Program Director for the southwest office of the Institute for Applied Technology. This butterfly is a candidate for federal listing and there is concern for this species ability to persist, as its population numbers have declined in recent years. In 2020, only 8 butterflies and no caterpillars were observed.

Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas anicia cloudcrofti) on an orange sneezeweed (Hymenoxys hoopesii). Photo credit: Hailey Frost who surveyed for these butterflies.

Based on these survey results, a coalition of conservationists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; the U.S. Forest Service; the Institute for Applied Ecology; and concerned members of the public; have been collaborating on how to save this species. We got to work on planting the host plant – the New Mexico beardtongue (Penstemon neomexicanus) which is the only host plant for the butterfly in is egg and larvae stages. On a more positive note, this year’s survey for the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly have revealed the presence of 22 butterflies and 80 caterpillars on the Sacramento Ranger District of the Lincoln National Forest.

During one of our vegetation monitoring days at Bluff Springs. Left to right: Natasha Khanna-Dang, Vanessa Hernandez, Ashlyn Lythgoe, Joseph Ure, Megan Tunon and Shelby Manford.

I would like to thank my mentors Aurora Roemmich and Megan Friggens for providing such a great internship opportunity. Thank you to Pete Haraden and Jennifer Hickman for teaching us a little bit about hydrology and soils. Much appreciation to my crew members for providing camaraderie and support throughout the season!