Learning Backwards and Looking Forward

Life in Carson City has been ‘blooming’ the past few weeks. With warm weather and sunny days, the beginning of spring is well under way. Trees are blossoming, birds are singing, and little green plants are emerging from the ground. While we wait for the field season to ‘spring’ into action, us interns at the Carson City District Office are catching up on training, planning for the field season, and sorting through the backlog of plant specimens waiting to be mounted, labelled, and put into their rightful folders in the herbarium.

I feel as though I am learning the local flora in a backwards fashion. As I process the various plant specimens collected over the past few years, I am starting to see similarities within the families as well as the subtle differences between species. I witness the change in the plants through the season as I find specimens collected in different months. So, while the plants are beginning their life cycles for the year outside, I am learning how to recognize them through all seasons. I only hope I will be able to recognize familiar friends once the field season is in full swing!

While many days have been spent in the office, we have had a few days outdoors working on plans for restoration and weed management projects. We visited one fire rehabilitation area to scout for mountain mahogany replanting sites. Another fire rehabilitation area had a tree planting operation in the works, so we went to learn how to plant properly so our mountain mahogany seedlings will do well at the first site. While at our second site, we noted the presence of the noxious weeds, Medusa head and cheat grass, with the hope of returning to do some noxious weed management later in the season.

Many, many projects are building momentum for the field season, but we must content ourselves for now with learning backwards while we look forward to the explosive and exciting field season to come.

Anna Ortega (right) and Maggie Gray (left) hike toward a fire rehabilitation site where mountain mahogany seedlings will be planted.

Anna Ortega (right) and Maggie Gray (left) hike toward a fire rehabilitation site where mountain mahogany seedlings will be planted. They feel spoiled by the views of the Sierra Nevada and Sweetwater Ranges.

Back in the saddle again: Anchorage

Hey CLM-ers. As it turns out, I’m back for round 2–my internship has been renewed for the 2015 season, and I’m excited to start! I’ve decided to be a bit more blog-friendly this go around, so I thought I’d start the season off right and share some wintery travels.

This weekend trip is a perfect example of how both challenging and rewarding wilderness travel can be in ‘the last frontier’. Especially when you’ve never traveled 20+ miles on cross-country skiis, let alone one. But with a good reliable group and expedition savvy, even my blistered heels and snow-encrusted self made it successfully to Tolovana Hotsprings. The lovely little site is a couple hours ~NW of Fairbanks, and boasts 3 hot tubs and 3 rentable cabins. That, and a layer of fresh snow, and a great group of people (shout out to CLM-Fairbanks, great trip with fellow-intern Katie!!) made it quite a magical outing.

Topo map of my backcountry ski.

Topo map of my backcountry ski.


Finally! I had to go above Fairbanks to find it.

Finally! I had to go above Fairbanks to find it.


My first time on classics in nine degree F weather.

My first time on classics in nine degree F weather.


The water was ~120 degrees F

The water was ~120 degrees F


Home sweet cabin

Home sweet cabin


As far as the office goes, I’ve now converted over to the NRCS from AKNHP to study map units in the hopes that I can help assign and define eco-site descriptions to new projects this season. That, and of course, help them whittle down their stack of “the ghost of season-past” field notes into database form.

Hopefully we’ll get another jot of good snow, but if all else fails, bring on the green things. I miss them too!



Out of the Office and Into the Field

I was getting ready for work Wednesday morning, packing my bag for the field when my phone buzzed on the table. It was an email from our mentor Dean: he had an unexpected and important meeting to attend late morning at the office, and our field work would have to be delayed. Disappointment settled in. We had been putting in a lot of office hours in the month since I arrived at the BLM in Carson City, and Wednesday had promised a full day of scouting planting sites in the mountains. Though I know full well that all this indoor work is a necessary prelude to the field season, I still squirm in my chair by the end of each day, rubbing my computer-tired eyes. Because of the trip’s long drive and hike, a morning’s worth of delay might likely have meant “not today”. At least that was my thought as I begrudgingly changed into jeans (of course I still brought my hiking pants, because you can’t get caught with no work pants on.)

At the office the hours swept by in anticipation, leaving me glancing at the clock and thinking, “At what point will it be too late to leave?” I focused my attention on cartography, and putting my new GIS skills into practice, layered contour lines on top of aerial images to create a clear map of our site. By noon I decided to take a break outside to soak up a healthy dose of apricity, and lull my anxious mind. Just as I was dozing off (yes, I did set a timer!), Anna came out to tell me it was time to leave.

To the Pine Nut Mountains!


You can see why I was so eager to get here – it’s beautiful!

The TRE fire burned for 5 days in May of 2012, blackening over 6,000 acres of BLM-managed land in the southern Pine Nut Mountains. The high intensity fire killed off much of the perennial vegetation, most notably pinyon, juniper and mountain mahogany. Our goal, as we scoped out this stark landscape, was to find suitable places to plant 400 mountain mahogany saplings. We split into two groups and began the long hike up, up, up, to the tops of our respective mountains. We didn’t come across the charred remains of mountain mahogany until about 7,000 feet, near the top.


There, over yonder!


Of course, it did take a few minutes to hone our identification skills and distinguish between the different types of charred trees. All of us being new to the area, we had a good sense of what a live mountain mahogany tree should look like, but a dead, blackened one proved more of a challenge. It was an important distinction that would allow us to plant the saplings in a suitable home, and to emulate the pre-fire habitat.


charred pinyon


charred mountain mahogany (please ignore the beckoning, snow-covered mountains in the distance, even though my camera’s auto-focus couldn’t.)

The evening sunlight lit up the diaphanous cheat grass, and the radiance temporarily distracted us from noting its onerous stronghold on the land. Weeds seize the opportunity of disturbed soil, burgeoning and preventing native plants from establishing. Hence why it is so important for native plants to reestablish after a big disturbance such as this fire.


cheat grass at its finest

The two teams reunited en-route back to the car, and thanks to Dean’s keen eye, we got to see a mountain mahogany tree making a concerted effort at regrowth after the fire.


John and Aaron inspecting a tenacious mountain mahogany

We reached the car, and in the darkening sky watched the nearly full moon rising in the east. Lassitude settled over the rest of the group as we discussed who could stay awake long enough for the dark drive home. I volunteered, still filled with an unequivocal vim from an exciting day in the field.