Final Reflections

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” ~Seneca

As my time as a CLM intern comes to a close, it has me thinking back to when it all began three months ago. It simultaneously feels so long ago and like it was just yesterday. I had so many worries coming into the program: Would I get along with my co-intern? Would I make friends or have anyone to hang out with outside of work? Would I physically be able to keep up with my coworkers? Would I like the work? Was it worth moving 16 hours east of my hometown just to turn around and travel back 23 hours west of my home? I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and with grad school looming ever closer I was tempted to just take the summer off. I am so glad that I decided to accept the CLM position and would highly recommend the program to anyone interested. On that note, I would like to use this final blog post to answer some of my own personal initial worries for anyone who might be considering applying to the CLM program.

My mom stayed the first week to help me get settled and explore the area!

One of my main concerns was honestly that I would not have anything to do outside of work and would feel lonely and isolated from the outside world, forgotten in rural West Virginia. Marlinton is a small town with, at first glance, seemingly little to do and a small pool of people to befriend. Since being here, however, I have found that concern to be entirely invalid. Having a co-intern is like having a built-in friend. I honestly cannot believe how close Megan and I have become in just the few months that we have known each other – she feels more like a sister than a coworker. We have come to a point where we do almost everything together, from working and living together, to hiking, backpacking, game nights, and even just going out to get coffee. I don’t know what I’m going to do without her once I get to Montana.

Megan and I have also discovered that there is a strong community within the coworkers at the ranger station. I couldn’t have imagined a more welcoming and kind group of people and I have made genuine friendships that I will forever be grateful for.

Another major concern was that I would not be able to physically keep up with my fellow coworkers. I am a reasonably small female who spent the last year and a half sitting in front of a computer working remotely, so the concern was embarrassingly valid. It has definitely been a growing process – growing not only in the sense of my muscle mass but also confidence in my own abilities. Even after getting here and finding that I am able to keep up with my peers, there was still the lurking concern that I might get passed up for future career opportunities because of my size and gender since conservation and land management often involves manual labor. During this internship though, I have gotten to work with a number of successful women who have been nothing less than inspiring. My mentor, Amy Lovell, is someone I especially look up to and has been endlessly encouraging to me. She is living proof that it is possible to have an established career and also be a wife and mother, all while still having personal hobbies and interests. I am truly grateful that I had the opportunity to work under Amy’s leadership.

Even with all my other worries, my biggest question coming into this internship was whether or not it would be worth it – was it worth moving, the transition period, the anxiety, etc? The answer to that is an easy and immediate yes. This experience allowed me to grow both professionally and personally and learned so much along the way. I have witnessed first-hand the complexity of restoration projects, the intricate relationship between research and practice, the plethora of roles that the USFS fills, and the wide array of projects that it is able to accomplish. I have made valuable connections and invaluable relationships. To top it all off, I got to learn about plants all summer and it has honestly been the best summer I’ve had in a long time.

This isn’t to say there were no bad days. Here in West Virginia, if the stinging nettle doesn’t get you, the bees, hornets, and wasps will. But the bad days for me were honestly the most valuable of all and I’ll tell you why: There is one particular day that stands out as possibly the roughest day I have yet to have out in the field. My mom called me that evening and I recounted the long list of mishaps to her. She started telling me how sorry she was that I had such a bad day, but to my surprise I found that, even with everything that had gone wrong, I didn’t actually consider it a bad day. It was a long day for sure, but not a bad day. It was in that moment that I knew I had chosen the correct profession. That peace of mind alone makes the whole internship worth it and I highly recommend the CLM program to anyone and everyone who might be interested.

Megan and I standing amongst a field of stinging nettle. Megan, I miss you already!!!

Under the Desert Stars

The moon on our first overnight in California

This month has been a great combination of honing research skills and gaining new experiences. In regard to skills, I have counted tens of thousands of seeds, created graphs and statistical analyses with Python, and, of course, spent plenty of time in the field. My two new major work experiences go hand in hand: overnight trips and live animal trapping. So far, I have spent the night out in the desert either for logistical reasons –too far to drive there and back in one day– or for trapping. It’s actually quite nice to work in the late evening; the sun is setting, so everything has a nice sunset hue, the temperatures are lower, and the desert itself is a little more active. Some of the more energetic evening wildlife I’ve seen are the bats in Utah, and the desert stink beetles (Eleodes sp.) all over the Mojave. These funny invertebrates walk around with their thoraxes in the air, ready to spray potential harassers. For sleep, I have elected both sleep inside our work truck, when it looked a little too cloudy for comfort, and under stars on clear nights. For those clear nights, I was taught to spread my tarp on flat even ground, without any rodent holes. The reason for this being that if you cover their holes accidentally, you will spend your night listening to the sound of constant escape attempts from these little critters. Speaking of little critters, these subterranean mammals can also be the bane of a research garden.

Stink Beetle with its thorax raised

Over the past month, I have both trapped alongside regular plant assessments, as well as on trips with the sole purpose of removing rodents. These critters, kangaroo rats and pocket mice specifically (in the Heteromyidae family), can really tear up our precious plant specimens. They can chew off leaf tips, or even uproot entire plants. Despite our perimeter fence that surrounds the entire garden and even continues fairly deeply below the surface, sometimes these cuddly pests sneak inside. Luckily, we can deal with them humanely. At night we set rectangular traps with openings that shut when passed through by hungry rodents. We bait these boxes with birdseed, and in the morning we collect them, releasing any intruders far away from the garden. The “k-rats” and pocket mice are very cute, and hop away after release with surprising speed.

In terms of just living out here in Vegas, I have continued to see a lot of amazing scenery and wildlife! There’s plenty of amazing sights within the city at wetland parks, and out in recreational areas like Red Rock and the Spring Mountains. Below are some of the neat stuff I’ve been lucky enough to see!

Next month, beyond continuing field work, we begin our effort to plant even more Joshua Trees for research, so I plan to have a lot to talk about with that! Thanks for reading, see ya next month.

Mojave Desert at sunset

Monitoring and More

After a brief period of pretty warm weather, it’s started to cool down here in the Lincoln NF! It’s definitely crazy to think that we’re over halfway through the season- I’ve already learned so much more about botany down here in the southwest, and can’t wait to put my experiences to use in the future! Meanwhile, we’ve been assisting several different projects along with our plant surveys, the latest being some monitoring of known populations of Goodding’s Onion (Allium gooddingii), one of our listed rare species. In the Lincoln, these are persisting on the floor of spruce-fir and mixed conifer forest, generally around 9,000-10,000ft of elevation. This is in our Smokey Bear district, among the Sierra Blanca mountain range, which contain some of the highest points in the forest and makes for some pretty sweet (and literally breathtaking) views! We did a couple days of monitoring in this area, along with the state botanist and her assistant, Missy, who was the best hiker among us!

Missy among the Allium gooddingii.
Monitoring technique using cross-hair transect sampling.
These views beat the office lunchroom!

This particular area was home to significant recent fires, including the Little Bear fire in 2012 and the Three Rivers fire just this past spring. Part of our monitoring efforts were to compare these disturbance areas. This species is disturbance-dependent, and debris left by felling does cause issues in terms of space for populations and not harming existing populations during debris removal. Several populations were pretty vigorous!

Another project we helped out with was constructing some beaver dam analogs, to slow down water flow in stream/riparian areas and prevent further erosion. This included some post-pounding and lopping of willow branches, which is what we used to weave through the posts and create a woody barrier through the stream. It definitely was reminiscent of my fencing and trail work days! Helping out with such projects always provide a nice variety of tasks throughout these weeks, and provide even more experience in different functions of the Forest Service.

A half-constructed beaver dam analog.
Post-pounding using a generator-powered post driver.
The crew gathering and transporting materials (willow branches) for the dams!

Besides these projects, we’re also continuing our plant surveys and making progress on the amount of area we’ve covered. No unknown populations have popped up yet, but we still have several weeks more of surveying!

A quick pause on our pre-survey hike to check out these moody fungi.

Buzzing

Buzzing. A common cacophony throughout the Ottawa National Forest. From the low hum of happy bumblebees, to the erratic zipping of deer flies around my head, to the roar of angry ground wasps, buzzing seems to be all around me. It took a bit to get used to just how many insects were here on the Ottawa, but I will take the buzzing flies any day over the clouds of mosquitoes that plagued us in June. My mentor, Ian Shackleford, gave us fly patches for the backs of our hardhats to combat against the flies. While these patches are not a necessity all of the time, one day in particular there were a few sites that felt like I was under attack, so I decided to give one of the patches a try. The result? After a little less than ten minutes, twelve or so flies had buzzed themselves stuck to the back of my head.

A part of me felt a little guilty for trapping the flies down this way, but another part of me was glad for the reprieve from them getting stuck in my hair.

The buzz of bumblebees is my favorite one, and with so many wildflowers blooming, I get to hear it often. I got the opportunity to work closely with the bees when I joined up with our wildlife technicians for bee monitoring. The technicians are working on part of a study of eDNA, or environmental DNA, to detect what kind of pollen bees may be carrying. We went out and did the traditional collection of bees, which involves netting for 30 minutes, but then we meticulously set out bee bowls (colored bowls with soapy water) in a crosshair pattern. This water (and the insects that unfortunately for them slipped in throughout the previous day and night) was collected the next day and then run through a filter to collect the tiny pollen grains that insects carried into the water. This filter and the insects from the bowls will then be sent to the lab to run PCR to amplify the DNA of the pollen that the water contained. The idea behind the study is to compare the surrounding environment to what is actually caught in the water and what the bees we netted were carrying. One of the most important things I learned from tagging along these days was how challenging field research can be, especially when the study might not have been designed with the specific location in mind and the difference between theory and practice of data collection. For example, the wildlife technicians have had trouble with slugs climbing into the bowls overnight, which creates a thick slime that cannot be filtered. Additionally, it seemed that the detergent they used also created a problem for filtering the full amount of water, but they had limited supplies and could not use more than one filter. These are all problems that will need troubleshooting in the coming years to make eDNA studies more feasible and valid.

A golden crab spider (Misumena vatia) on purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), one of the invasive plants we manage. The flowers of this plant are very beautiful and attract plenty of bees.

I also get to hear the buzzing of bees when I am working on my primary task of invasive plant management. Ian had my co-intern Emily and I help him with the biomonitoring of two weevil species he worked to get approval to release, Larinus obtusus and Cyphocleonus achates. Larinus obtusus, the more abundant of the weevils we found at each site, eat the seedhead of the spotted knapweed, reducing the seed production and seedbank of the plant. This is vital for reducing numbers of a plant that can have viable seeds in the seedbank for at least 8+ years. Cyphocleonus achates is the root boring weevil of spotted knapweed, and much larger than the other weevil we monitored, yet much more elusive. We only found two individuals in our entire day of monitoring, but this still means that they are present at at least some of our sites, a good indicator that they are surviving (at least at some level) the cold winters here.

My mentor, Ian, takes a picture of the elusive Cyphocleonus achates on my finger. He loves posting to iNaturalist!

In the past decade, the weevils have become more widespread, and I spend a few seconds looking for Larinus obtusus whenever I see a large patch of knapweed. I have had pretty good luck of finding them, even when I am not on forest land. However, it is still unclear if they are actually reducing the knapweed populations. At two of our sites, it seemed humans were the reason for much of the knapweed decline, well, more specifically the vehicles of humans. However, at the last site it seemed that native grasses have started to form denser patches again. This could be because of reduced knapweed populations, intentional native replanting, a combination of the two, or completely unrelated. This ambiguity is what intrigues me about ecology and keeps pulling me back in for more… though it does make it challenging for people like Ian to know if his weevils are working.

A close-up of the Cyphocleonus achates that I netted and counted in our sample.

As a grand finale for our day of weevil monitoring, we went to a nearby site of a rare plant, the dwarf bilberry. These plants resemble blueberries, but as the name suggests, they are considerably smaller. They are low to the ground, inconspicuous, and the berries themselves could fit under my fingernail. Sue Trull, the botanist who focuses on native plant restoration, had planted these bilberries, and they have been thriving at the site, so much so that there was a bounty of them (by rare plant measures) to be harvested to send to Toumey Nursery to grow into new plants that could be planted to help bolster the population of bilberries on the forest. While picking some of these bilberries, making sure some remain to expand the site’s population for next year, we decided to update Sue on the bilberries. She replied with elation about their success at the site and offered that Emily and I could try one if we liked. We both felt a little bit important, getting to eat a whole berry of a rare plant (which each contain three to five individual seeds), and we jumped at the chance. I had low expectations for the flavor of these berries based on their appearance (see picture below). I imagined the fruits must be quite dry and have just a little flavor based on their small, wrinkled form, but the experience of trying something so unusual was not something I was willing to pass up. To my surprise, and overall delight, I had underestimated the dwarf bilberry. The teeny tiny berry packed so much flavor, and while it was reminiscent of a blueberry, it was not the same flavor entirely. It almost seemed to be a sweeter, more concentrated blueberry flavor, like the filling of a blueberry pie after it has been cooked down, but without being cooked at all. It seems every day that the forest teaches me something new, provides me with a new flavor of life, or straight up tells me I was wrong before. I am looking forward to all the surprises to come, and all of the growing that remains between now and November, both from the plants and from myself.

The bounty of dwarf bilberries that we picked and will send to the nursery to be grown for next year.

Tessa Fenstermaker, Ottawa National Forest

August in Boise

August brought us cooler temperatures and smokey skies. The extended drought and hot weather brought about the early seeding of our target species for seed collection. This forced us to go higher in elevation where it’s cooler and essentially turn back the phenotypic clock. We got to go up to the Sawtooth Mountains and the Salmon-Challis Forest to look for the early seeding Diethera canescens and chaenactis douglasii.These species love to grow in disturbed rocky soils, which manifests in the form of steep roadsides. We traversed loose rocky soil and grabbed seed from these plants while sliding past them downslope. In Stanley, we got to experience one of many Idaho’s famous hot springs. Sunbeam hot springs was right en route to our campsite for the night! There were several pools of water that varied in temperature, ranging from burning hot to icy river water. It was perfect for hopping in and out of hot and cold water, like a free outdoor spa for our sore bodies. Up in Salmon, we got to harvest golden currants at our campsite. After being out in the desert for the first few months, it was great to see greenery like trees and come at the right time to harvest berries!

We also began cleaning and germinating seed back in the lab. This consists of weighing the raw material and then separating out the roughage from the viable seeds by testing if each one breaks upon application of slight pressure. We had collected 200 heads of seed for every population we visited. It is a tedious process, but a little company and music makes it go by fast! We then set up petri dishes for experimental germination treatments. Seeds were carefully laid out in grids on 5×5 on each petri dish and different temperature stratification methods were used to germinate the seeds. This would determine the differences in germination strategies between populations of the same species due to climate variability. 

Each week keeps us on our toes! The best part about field work is the variability in week to week or even day to day tasks. Can’t wait to see what the rest of August brings!

Wildfires and Mussel Surveys

During the month of July, my time at Klamath Falls shifted to a new task and a rude-awakening to the wildfire season in the Pacific Northwest. On July 6th, the Bootleg Fire began burning roughly 30 miles from Klamath Falls. It is the largest fire to burn this year so far, currently staying around 414,000 acres, and is fortunately 84% contained! The smoke can get pretty dense and can feel very apocalyptic. Being from the Midwest, I have only ever experienced the travelling smoke from the west, but when you travel to California and you get evacuation texts, it’s very surreal. Hearing residents and coworkers talk about how the smoke season and fires are earlier than normal, it definitely puts climate change into perspective. Speaking of, this region is also experiencing a drought, putting tension between federal agencies and farmers, and forcing residents to conserve their water. Having said that, I have really been thinking about climate change and the importance of immediate action and how valuable this position is becoming for me. I am learning from experts in their fields, who dedicate time building bridges between private landowners to adopt conservation/restoration practices. These conversations are crucial in a bigger picture sense, as well. The information I’m learning on top of the first-hand climate disasters, I feel as though I am building on my ability to have those conversations with people close to me and strangers.

Driving to Lake Tahoe. Felt like I was on Mars.
Pyrocumulus cloud formed by the Bootleg fire. These clouds triggered lightning and wind, exasperating the conditions.

On a lighter note, we got to switch our tasks from electrofishing to helping with mussel surveys. Specifically looking for any native and listed Western Ridged, Western Pearlshell or Winged Floaters in the Sprague, Williamson, and Wood rivers. All of which are freezing cold, but on a hot day, feel great. Our days would consist of kayaking down stretches of these rivers looking through an aquascope to detect presence or absence of any of these mussels. I feel very lucky to be able to kayak all day while also contributing to necessary conservation tasks. Now, we are back to electrofishing and starting to help in Brook trout removals. In the coming weeks, we get to backpack into a field site for a few days to do more trout surveys. I really hope to be able to see a Bull trout!

For most of my weekends, I am out camping and seeing something new if I can. My partner and I love finding rivers to swim in and new hikes to explore. I am very grateful to have had this opportunity to learn so much, grow as an environmentalist and see the beauty of the PNW.

View of Crater Lake from Mount Scott. It was pretty smoky that day.
Awesome redwoods from Jedidiah State Park.
Largest tree in the state park.

Klamath Change

Been quite the busy first few months in the Klamath Basin. Since I was going to the Pacific Northwest I made the smart choice of getting a functional Subaru Outback to fit in. In 8 days I made the 2000+ mile journey across the continental US from North Carolina to Klamath Falls, Oregon. With a cat I might add. I stopped by some national treasures on the way such as the Grand Canyon, Painted Desert, Joshua Creek, and Yosemite. After over a week of camping and driving I was glad to make it to my apartment and get settled in.

Our first week working with the Klamath Falls Fish and Wildlife Office was initially going to be uniquely uneventful, with the finishing of paperwork, safety protocols and government clearance stuff and we would move on to getting in the field the following week. However, Climate change is really rocking the Klamath Basin and we’re experiencing one of the worst widespread droughts on record. 2020 was a difficult water year, and low snowmelt and unusually high temperatures in 2021 has led the Upper Klamath Lake to have record low intakes. This has led the lake to not meet the minimum requirements for endangered fish and resulted in no additional water being delivered downstream to farmers for irrigation. Anticipating some unrest from farmers we were advised to stay away from the office, since it was located only a few 100 yards from the A-Canal (which directs water for irrigation downstream). This led to some pushing back of our schedule and a few other inconveniences. 

Now our first two weeks were anticipated to be desk work and some scientific paper and recovery plan research. But, in an enjoyable turn of events we were offered a tour of our rearing facility for endangered Klamath suckers. Sampling efforts have shown that there has been no substantial recruitment of endangered adult short nose (Chasmistes brevirostris) and lost river (Deltistes luxatus) suckers in the Klamath River basin for the past two decades. So we were eager to learn about and explore the hatchery. Our tour eventually became a full week of work. Once there we toured the entire facility, seeing the indoor larval tanks where several thousand sucker larvae harvested from spawning areas were being raised. We then visited the outdoor ponds where larvae were moved to once they reached the appropriate size. We happened to be there on a big larva delivery day and then spent the rest of the day individually counting thousands of ~10 mm transparent larvae into tanks (strangely therapeutic). We would occasionally come back to the hatchery and work on larvae husbandry and maintenance of the fishery.

We were also just in time to watch and participate in a gamete collection of suckers that reached a large enough size to be treated to produce gametes. The entire process was quite fascinating. Only one female successfully produced eggs. We were given the honorable opportunity to fertilize said eggs with the milt collected from two other males. Once fertilized the eggs became exceptionally sticky and would need to be constantly stirred with a soft feather while a fine particulate was added to coat them for transport into the incubator.

The following week we finally made it to the field to electrofish for bull trout and other salmonids in Long Creek, located in the Basin’s Sycan core area for bull trout recovery. At Long Creek we electrofished stretches of stream between beaver dams. This is a project we assist the USGS with and our task there was to count all the beaver dams between the antenna arrays while PIT tagging all salmonids we capture to assess how able they are to traverse these barriers. We hoped to capture and tag as many bull trout as we could there since they are our focal species. During our first few weeks of electrofishing it was quite cold (and even snowed on us a few times). Once I completed the right-of-passage and fell into 6℃ water. We continued electrofishing in Long Creek and counting dams right on till the seasons fully changed and I enjoyed watching the fauna and flora emerge. Being an avid herper I was ecstatic to catch my first west coast herp species, the Valley Garter snake.

Some days we’d get completely skunked and some days we’d tag many fish.  At the time we were sampling Long Creek there wasn’t much fish activity. We were able to tag around 100+ fish, but we were unable to find a single bull trout (the closest being a hybrid between Bull and Brook trout). While at Long Creek one of the first fires of the season burned right through the road leading to our field site. It was quite the scene as I have never seen the smoldering remnants of anything other than a prescribed burn. After several weeks of diagnosing equipment malfunctions and battling leaky waders and the elements we were happy for a change in scenery.

Aftermath of the first Sycan Marsh wildfire

We then moved on to help with a short habitat survey for the Modoc sucker. We walked along a known inhabited creek to survey and locate pools where we could later monitor modoc suckers for population estimates. We measured the length, depth, and width of these pools and gave them a waypoint on the GPS. Some of the creek ran through cow pastures, we’d have to keep a close eye on the bulls who occasionally bellowed at us and once began to approach us till we scurried out of sight. While there I also found some of the first west coast amphibians in the field. We would come back later to do an overnight survey during a new moon. Modoc suckers tend to come out of hiding and rest at the bottom of these pools on dark nights, hence the need to stay survey overnight. During the night survey I stumbled upon some very large and handsome Bufo.

Measuring one of the last pools of the day

For the next 4 weeks we conducted mussel surveys in several rivers within the Klamath Basin. Around the beginning of these surveys the Bootlick fire ignited. Recently the Western Ridged Mussel was petitioned for listing so we set out to look for mussel beds. This has been some of my favorite experiences working with the KFFWO. To sample for beds we did floatation surveys from kayaks. Each person involved in the survey would use an aquascope to view the bottom of the river bed to count mussels, both dead and alive, in their section of river (usually left bank, left middle, center, right middle, right bank. Varied depending on # of observers).  During these surveys we would float down beautiful waterways with an amazing crew of people to work with and count/id mussels as we observed the world beneath the ripples. It wasn’t always a fantastic dream though. Occasionally we’d encounter areas too shallow to effectively float down or get stuck on a random submerged rock and fight your way to freedom. The Bootlick fire grew exponentially, reaching over 400,000 acres this month. Keeping count of the hundreds of live/dead mussels in your head could get mentally tasking and sitting in the Oregon sun for up to six hours can get fairly exhausting and the air quality from the wildfires could get pretty low. But honestly I cannot complain. Besides many mussels we would also come up on young otters, mink, bald eagles, few suckers, beautiful crawdads, and even a couple western pond turtles.

Smoke rising from the Bootlick fire

In my free time I like to go out and find west coast amphibians and reptiles. I am very passionate about amphibians, especially salamanders.  I’ve found a handful of awesome lads when exploring the area which has so many amazing sites to see and wildlife. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with biologists at KFFWO and cooperating with other organizations and contractors to help the wildlife we all love.

Native American Perspectives on Public Lands and Stewardship

In recent years, I’ve noticed some governmental agencies and nonprofit organizations push to increase racial and ethnic diversity in their staff along with shifting their perspective on land stewardship. But what about representation of Native Americans in the conservation field, especially given their participation in ongoing ancestral stewardship practices?

Where I am from — which is Tongva or Kizh land later incorporated by colonizers as Los Angeles, California — it is not very common to see many people of color, much less Native Americans, in the conservation field. My pathway into the environmental field has been a long and challenging one. As a woman of color, it has taken a lot of trial and error to find or make entry points. It’s been hard to figure out the pathways in, to find mentors, and to many a time be the only person of color in the room.

However, that hasn’t been my experience during my internship this summer in the Lincoln National Forest which is the traditional land of the Apache people.

Mescalero Apache Village in the late 1800s in what is now the Lincoln National Forest.

In recent conversations with four Native American staff, they shared with me what it’s like to work in this field — in some cases on their ancestral homelands — and how Native Americans are shifting the field’s perspective on stewardship.

Aurora Roemmich, my direct supervisor here in Alamogordo, New Mexico, is the Botanist for the entire Lincoln National Forest. She is Lakota and a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. She built a career for herself working many years as a seasonal employee with the Rocky Mountain Research Station in the Black Hills of South Dakota before becoming a permanent employee with the Forest Service.

“As far as the Southwest goes, it has been one of the most diverse areas in the U.S. Forest Service, even just the mix in leadership positions has been a lot more diverse than what I’ve seen elsewhere,” Roemmich said in a conversation with me.

The presence of Native American communities is quite visible here in the Southwest as opposed to other parts of the county where the U.S. government forced Native Americans to relocate far away from their ancestral homelands, sometimes to very small reservations. In California —which has some of the most coveted coastal land in the nation — many Native American communities do not have large reservations or tribal status. However, here in the Southwest, many tribes live in large reservation systems that are on parts of their ancestral homelands.

Another manager who I work with is Jennifer Hickman, the Soil Scientist for the Lincoln National Forest. She is Navajo and Mississippi Choctaw. A tribal member of Navajo Nation, Hickman grew up in Crownpoint on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico.

Jennifer Hickman (left) working with a Native American student on soil burn severity at the Discovery Natural Resources camp on Mescalero Apache land.

“Maybe [we] are seeing more representation in the Forest Service here in the Southwest because of the exposure that the Southwest brings. In New Mexico and Arizona, we have our reservation lands,” Hickman said. “A land base helps provide that exposure. A lot of tribes in other states may not have a very large land-based reservation.”

I feel it’s important to acknowledge that all public lands have rich, long histories that predate European settlement. It’s also important to acknowledge that many Native tribes may have lived on what we now call public lands right up until the point that the lands were designated as National Forests, a National Park or another type of public land.

Erica Enjady (pictured left), a member of the Mescalero Apache tribe, is on temporary assignment as the Natural Resources Staff Officer and has worked with the Forest Service since 2016. The land that the Lincoln National Forest manages are the ancestral homelands of the Mescalero Apache.

“It’s a really great opportunity to be home and having to oversee the natural resources of my tribe’s traditional homelands,” Enjady said. “It is important to have that Native American voice in the agency.”

There are culturally significant places across that country that are now located on Forest Service land, that are now managed by the National Park Service, or on Bureau of Land Management land. Enjady explained that there are sacred places, former ceremonial grounds, or even current ceremonial places on public lands.

“It’s important for employees and the general public to understand that connection so that we are able to protect that and manage the landscape responsibly,” Enjady said.

LaTasha Wauneka-Anderson is the Assistant Recreation Staff Officer and has worked on the Lincoln National Forest for five years. She is Diné from Window Rock, Arizona. She shared that given the history of U.S. policies with Native Americans, she felt conflicted and was not sure if she wanted to work for the U.S. Forest Service. This country’s history with Native Americans is filled with war, genocide, forced relocation, the establishment of a reservation system and the forced removal of children from their families to live in boarding schools.

“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to work with the agency given that history, but the more I worked within the agency, the more I felt like that was kind of my tool, my way of taking back the space for Natives,” Wauneka-Anderson said. “We have that space to make our voice heard, to bring awareness to native issues, to bring awareness to the history of the federal government and native communities and that of land management from a tribal perspective, especially the traditional ecological knowledge aspect of it all.”

LaTasha Wauneka-Anderson cleaning up and bucking down trees from a developed recreation site.

Western trained practitioners and academics are starting to acknowledge the importance of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). According to one definition by the National Park Service, TEK is the “on-going accumulation of knowledge, practice and belief about relationships between living beings in a specific ecosystem that is acquired by indigenous people over hundreds or thousands of years through direct contact with the environment, handed down through generations, and used for life-sustaining ways.”

Prescribed fire or a controlled burn is an example of land management that emerged from TEK. As large-scale fires ravage the West and become a major contributor to carbon emissions, land managers are now beginning to explore and implement prescribed fire as a solution. Enjady explained that there is a long history of fire suppression in land management that has often resulted in unhealthy forest conditions like being overly dense and having a higher risk for wildfire and insect and disease outbreaks.

A fresh fire scar from the Three Rivers Fire in June 2021. The cause of fire is unknown.


“For the past 20 years or so the [Mescalero Apache Nation] has really been working on trying to correct that and restore the health and conditions of the forest,” said Enjady.

Before joining the Forest Service, Enjady worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a forest manager and oversaw forest management on the Mescalero Apache Reservation which borders the Lincoln National Forest.

In this age of mass extinction, the list of rare, threatened and endangered plants continues to grow, and rare plant conservation is on the rise. Hickman suggested that key ceremonial species should also be considered when developing conservation plans.

“With all the climate change, with all the decline of wetlands, we are also seeing a decline in some key ceremonial species that have been used for generations and generations,” said Hickman.

“For me plants are a big part of my cultural background,” Roemmich said. “There are a lot of plants that we use for medicinal purposes and our oral tradition is rich with legends featuring different aspects of the natural world, including plants, wildlife and the night sky. The ethnobotanical use of plants really drove me to become a Botanist and seek a career with the Forest Service.”

The U.S. Forest Service has supported the development of employee resource groups for employees of diverse backgrounds. Here in the Southwest, Native American employees have led the way in creating an employee resource group for Native American and Alaskan Natives across the agency.

The resource group aims to provide mentoring opportunities, support, recruitment, and retention of Native American employees in the agency. Enjady, Hickman and others across the Southwest have encouraged the development of this group. “We recognize that oftentimes, people of color, not just Native Americans may find themselves the only person of color working in their district or unit,” Enjady said. “And so we hope to provide that support system and we hope to grow to be a voice for the agency, and a voice to the agency as a collective group.”

It was a privilege to interview these professionals, as much as it is to be here working in the Southwest. Here are some takeaways I got from my conversations with these women: No matter what field we work in, and especially in the areas of environmental conservation and land management, we should educate ourselves about what ancestral homelands we are living and working on. Land acknowledgements are also important but shouldn’t solely be symbolic, one-time acts untethered from real connections with tribes. We should learn the history of Native peoples, their tribes, and tribal affiliations. When reading up on the history of Native Americans, it’s recommended to read work from Native Americans authors.

To learn more about the ancestral lands that you are living on, visit this website: https://native-land.ca/ .

Native Land website with interactive map that displays traditional territories of indigenous nations. This map is not intended for academic or legal purposes.

Quick Pit Stop at Dolly Sods

One of the neatest parts of being here in the Monongahela National Forest is that for the first time in my life, I’m only a few hours away from my grandparents (as opposed to almost 20 hours when I’m at home). After not seeing them for over two years because of a tight school schedule and then pandemic restrictions, I finally got to go and visit them and my aunts, uncles, and cousins in the area. I had the joy of looking at old pictures of my cute mom when she was around my age, I ate more sugar than I have probably all year, and returned to West Virginia with homemade applesauce and a freshly waxed car because my Grandpa was so excited about a ceramic car wax he had found.

To top the weekend off, Dolly Sods was immediately on my way back to the Ranger Station, so I impulsively turned my freshly waxed car to drive the five-mile gravel road up the mountain. I had heard it mentioned a few times by fellow coworkers but really knew nothing about it. It turns out, Dolly Sods is the highest plateau east of the Mississippi River and is one of the most unique ecosystems within the Monongahela Forest. While the views from the plateau were breathtaking, I was most excited about the plants I found (because I’m a nerd).

Looking out towards Seneca Rocks from Dolly Sods

I didn’t realize that blueberries and huckleberries grow wild across the plateau. I had never seen blueberries just growing out in the wild, so it was a really pleasant and yummy surprise! What was even cooler is that not a day later, Megan and I came across a patch of wild blueberries while monitoring fire restoration plots. I probably would not have been able to identify the plants without fruit had I not just seen them on Dolly Sods.

Blueberries!

A similar thing happened with another plant I found. I am from Missouri originally, where gooseberries are as prevalent as wild blackberries and raspberries. When I was taking the Identification of Woody Plants in college, my professor had said, “Gooseberries are the one type of berries that can be found worldwide.” So, of course, the first plant I looked for when I got to West Virginia was gooseberry, and was surprised that no one I asked knew what I was talking about. I was beginning to doubt my professor until I came across the below plant while at Dolly Sods. It looked very similar to the Missouri Gooseberry plant, but not quite the same.

Skunk currant (Ribes glandulosum)

It turns out that gooseberries and currants are in the same family (Ribes) and the plant I found on Dolly Sods was a skunk currant. I lost my sense of smell back in February when I had the coronavirus, so I did not have the pleasure of smelling the fruit, but it apparently got the name because of its fruit’s pungent odor. Currants and gooseberries are differentiated by the thorns or spines on gooseberries and the lack thereof on currants. Ironically, I found Missouri gooseberry while doing a wetland survey not one week later! It was like finding a nice little piece of home, though they are definitely not wanted here because they act as an intermediate host for white pine blister rust.

I also found several American mountain ash trees, which American folklore claims to fend off witches and woe, and some common mountain laurel. All in all, it was a super fun place to stop by and I will be making a fully planned trip here before the end of the internship.

To the Botmobile!

The past few weeks here in the Lincoln National Forest have certainly flown by! Each week is a whirlwind of activity- we’ve been completing a good amount of surveying work, starting out with helping the Natural Resources crew with Mexican spotted owl and New Mexico meadow jumping mouse habitat monitoring. This process includes gathering data on the vegetative growth in protected plots, and has given me practice on identifying grass species in the field. In turn, they’ve been helping us botany folk with our rare plant species surveys! I was pretty excited to start those, since that indicated switching the majority of the time to being in the field.

Our survey days have been pretty adventurous so far! With the NR crew, we have about 5-7 people covering at least several miles of surveying and have been able to complete almost 7000 acres in just a few weeks! A large portion of that was pinyon-juniper habitat, and while we haven’t found any rare species in that particular area, it’s mostly previously unsurveyed ground so just gathering data there is helpful for future analysis and the South Sacramento Restoration Project in general. Our other major site was mixed conifer, which while botanically more interesting, still yielded no rare plants. But even negative data is still data!

A view on a rainy day over our pinyon-juniper site, a relief from the Alamogordo sun!
Out on one of our early survey days at around 9000ft elevation.

 A typical survey day consists of all of us hopping into our Ford Explorer (the Botmobile!) and driving up to a couple hours to our survey site- luckily, we’ve specially curated a playlist that includes plant-themed bops such as “Plantasia” by Mort Garson (1976), early 2000s hits by Fergie, Shakira, Rihanna, etc., and even the internet viral sensation “Actual Cannibal Shia LaBeouf”- an eclectic warm-up to our long days of hiking. Some of our sites have included some interesting 4WD challenges, but our Botmobile has consistently exceeded expectations and remains as reliable as ever. Upon arriving, we plan our routes using our GPS units and Avenza. I’ve already gotten much better at reading topographic maps, a skill that saves a ton of energy when you can predict how steep an elevation gain might be. Once we have our plan, we set off, hopefully scrambling over brush and fallen logs as successfully as we’re able and in whatever (safe) weather happens upon us. I’ve definitely taken my fair share of falls over a tree or on a muddy slope, but it certainly adds to the excitement of being out in the field! We typically each are able to bushwhack about 5 miles before we have to head back, and the entire time we’re keeping our eyes peeled for any rare species that may pop up. Hopefully by the end of the season we can claim to have found an unrecorded population!

The summer weather sometimes brings surprises- this one made us regret our lack of saws!
A typical look at our botanical survey obstacle course.

Our next few weeks we’re starting some Goodding’s Onion monitoring, as well as continuing the botanical surveys for this restoration project. I’m definitely looking forward to spending more time out in the field and exploring even more of New Mexico in our off time!

Sunrise views over the lower Rio Grande just outside of Las Cruces, NM.