Experiencing history

One great thing about reading is that it can offer me a new (or old) perspective on a subject I think I know well. While reading Field Days: Journal of an Itinerant Biologist by Roger B. Swain, I stumbled across a chapter featuring the New England Wild Flower Society (NEWFS), where my CLM internship has brought me. Field Days is a 1983 publication anthologizing Swain’s essays about his observations of plants and animals in nature as well as his observations of people’s interactions with nature. In “Crowbars, Glaciers and Zen Temples,” Swain explains the earth phenomena and the human tinkering behind the landscape of New England. In “Bee Bites,” Swain revels in his companion’s reaction to learning the mechanisms involved in a bee’s sting. In “White Bloomers,” I was surprised to learn that NEWFS has a collection of albino wild flowers—and that these flowers are so prized that a few have been stolen from the grounds in years past. I shared the chapter with my boss one day while cleaning seeds. Even he was surprised by some of the information, commenting that the staff members named in the chapter might only be remembered by today’s most senior staff members.

I didn’t know I would be working at NEWFS, even a year ago, and yet, there was a whole history here before I arrived. It seems obvious to say, but that history is usually locked away in the memories of lifelong patrons, locals and past employees. Encountering this chapter was a glimpse into that elusive past.

In fact, Boston also has a rich history and historical record, and so do many places I have experienced through other internships and travels. Just outside Boston stand the homes in which Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams were born. They are next door to each other in what is today Quincy, on the same block as a Dunkin Donuts and along the public bus line. Our intern team recently discovered that one of our field sites in northern Massachusetts, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, was featured in a conservation brochure written by environmentalist Rachel Carson, the author of Silent Spring. She mentions the dune forb Hudsonia tomentosa, one of our first seed collections at this site. This population’s place in history, as elevated by Carson, gives me more pride in having collected it. I hope we have ensured its future propagation for both the sake of the Parker River ecosystem and for the sake of those who will read Carson’s brochure decades from now. Whether it is a place I have heard of and now am able to visit, or a place that I know well and now may learn of its past, learning the history of the familiar humbles me.

In particular, Field Days mentions that the Garden in the Woods run by NEWFS is famous for a white Trillium plant. Last time I drove to the garden, I passed their welcome banner. I had driven past it several times before, but I had never recognized its significance. There, plastered larger than life in ink next to the block letters naming the garden, was a brilliant white Trillium flower.

The Last Intern Standing (in Shoshone)

Checking in from Shoshone right now – what started as a summer with 9 other interns has now transitioned into me being the last one here. I was able to get a small 3 week extension that has allowed me to stay until the 2nd week of November. And, this has left me bittersweet.

While it was pretty sad watching everyone else go, I know that we all must move forward. It’s the next chapter, and I am extremely happy for my fellows CBGs.  Nearly all of them have been reunited with their loved ones. I’ve heard from one that she has found a job in her preferred town! And, a couple of my closest friends made this summer, are now (or soon to be) traveling internationally – onto their next adventure 🙂 It truly is exciting to see where everyone goes. Life is pretty sporadic during this time, and it is really up to you what you want to do. Anything goes.

Anyway, back to life in Shoshone – So, for me, work has been pretty laid back. It has been really great getting more time with my mentor and the other people at the office. I’ve felt like I’ve really established a trusted relationship and presence here. I am able to work independently, and with this, I no longer feel so much like “one of the interns.” I am blending into our office community, which has boosted my confidence and showed me that I think I am ready for a more stable, long-term job (or masters program? – that is still an IDK).

This CBG internship will be my second seasonal job. I graduated in May 2016, and the summer after I graduated, I took a 4-month AmeriCorps position with the Forest Service through the SCA. While both internships have taught me so much, both personally and professionally, and did wonders to my resume (giving me the skills and experiences I needed to find other jobs), I think I am ready for something a little bit more long term. Don’t get me wrong – it has been so beneficial for me to be able to “test out my interests” with these seasonal positions. And in the scheme of things, that is what I believe they are really meant to do. With this job, I’ve been able to explore: this field, this career path, a new part of the country, a new town, a new culture, etc. But, now, I am fairly certain what direction I want to take next, and I am going to just roll with that right now. I need stability. I need to live closer to my partner. I need community so I may build stronger connections and collaborations, which would in turn allow me to test my skills and abilities. And, I just need to give this all a try.

Well, that’s where this Solo Intern is at right now.

Cheers to my last 3 weeks working in Shoshone. Change is always weird, but this experience has thus far, been much more fulfilling and necessary that I could have ever predicted.

Wish me luck with the continuously dropping temperatures being that I’m an Arizona girl (and haven’t experienced a “real” winter in ~7 years.)



Fall’s Finest

September and October have been lively here at the preserve. As we continue to flood up more ponds each week, more birds continue to arrive. With birds arriving, so too do the visitors. In general, there has been an uptick in how busy and lively things feel.
Mainly, my time has been split three ways. I have been continuing to learn/help with the wetland program. I have also been working on some more botanically-focused priorities. My third overall task has been putting my time into day-to-day operations of the preserve—things like installing signage, doing equipment maintenance, and other odd jobs.
With some minor setbacks being squared away, the wetlands program is in full swing as we shoot for 100% flood-up. I will be finished before that time, but it has still been incredible to see the changes as ponds are flooded up each week.
Botanically, my time has been spent helping with a vegetation monitoring crew, producing a map of potential upland restoration areas, and collecting some seeds. Given that the preserve has many partners, I was able to go out with a vegetation monitoring crew that works for The Nature Conservancy. Though I only spent two days with them, I learned a lot of new species and about the surveying protocol that they implement here at the preserve. This experience was quite rewarding and helped me to hone my botanical skills a little more.
Producing the map was quite an experience. With no experience in ArcMap prior to this project, I had quite a learning curve. Nonetheless, I was able to draw on my experience with the open source QGIS system to complete my task–creating a map of potential and current upland restoration sites on BLM-owned and managed land. While frustrating at times, I am glad to have had the opportunity to learn a little bit about ArcMap and how to troubleshoot within the program.
My third botanical task was to collect some more seeds for an operational collection. I was able to collect seeds from Euthamia occidentalis (Western flat-topped goldenrod) and Grindelia camporum (Great Valley gumplant)–both species of the Asteraceae. These seeds will be put into storage and hopefully, serve as a source of seed in future restoration projects here at CRP.
I find it hard to believe that I am done in two weeks time, but my work here has kept me very engaged. I continue to do all that I can to learn and help out on a daily basis and am looking to finish out these last couple of weeks in a good way.
Until next time,
Tyler Rose
Cosumnes River Preserve

What will winter bring

When I last left off I had traveled to Nebraska to see the Eclipse after which I asked myself, what could top experiencing the moon moving in front of the sun and turning the world dark for 2 minutes as humans all over the States stared in disbelief?

The obvious answer is collecting more data on Sclerocactus glaucus, of course!!

What finally brought us full circle for the field season here at the BLM Colorado State Office was the return of our crew to Montrose to gather data on both Eriogonum pelinophilum and S.glaucus. As we drove over the Southern Rockies on the 70 musing about our return to the cactus that we started this year off monitoring, we looked out of our windows at the changing of the Aspen leaves and felt a little bit of closure to the field season. What a way to go out.

The changing of the leaves

But what lead us back for more data collected after all these months? Basically the years and years of data collected on the Sclerocactus have come to a climax. Carol, my mentor, has spent much of her time at the BLM working towards de-listing this species, and now is the time. Our return to the cactus was brought on by a need for targeted data to make the reporting more sound and complete.

To be honest, when I type those words, de-listing, as an ecologist, I feel a little guilty. Why would we want to de-list a species when the Environmental Species Act (ESA), that it is protected under, is meant to, well, protect it?

I think this is one of the areas that has been the most enlightening to me throughout this internship. The more that I learn about topics that I had thought I understood, the more I realize that one can feel informed and still not actually fully grasp the subtle nuances of the complex field of threatened and endangered plants.

Let me explain, the ESA was was ratified in 1973, passed by a democratic-majority congress and signed by President Richard Nixon only a year before he resigned his office. This act was created in order to preserve not only the plants and animals that were under threat from human and environmental factors but also to protect the environment they existed in. That is a tall order for an agency like the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (and NOAA fisheries) that is tasked with its implementation. In the beginning, listing was used to protect anything thought of as needing protection under a myriad of potential threats including industrial growth (think reservoirs, mining, and human expansion) and recreational use (including our own species of interest Astragalus osterhoutii and potentially Corispermum navicula due to the Wolford Dam and off-road vehicle use, respectively). Also, in the beginning of the Act many plants were listed with good intention but with less than adequate data.

Here is where the problem lies. In Colorado alone there are 16 listed plant species of the around 900 plant species listed for the entire United States. Now, that may not sound like a very large proportion, but under the current funding level for the US Fish and Wildlife Service and given the amount of constant monitoring required for the responsible management of the populations across the states, it is a lot of work. That is where we come in and why Carol has worked so hard to monitor these species. This work is also done at the District Office level within the BLM CO, who would normally completely shoulder the load, but in this case they are treated with two levels of attention.

All of that sounds grand, but the issue becomes particularly thorny when, in the case of S. glaucus, we come to find that the species is more abundant than originally thought (recall the plants listed in the 70s with little data). Given the limited resources available for monitoring, it quickly becomes untenable to funnel precious resources toward monitoring and managing species that may never have warranted protection in the first place.

Here comes the reality of de-listing. Resources currently allocated to species that are more abundant that previously thought could be used to help a species that are actually in peril or to identify species that might not be known to be in peril. Just think that in the lifetime of the Act there have only been 31 de-listings of listed plant species. When you consider that the intention of the ESA is to recover imperiled species, that is not a large success rate.

Additionally, the use of the Act has changed over time. Remember how I said it was used to protect plants once they are listed? Well, an ESA listing triggers a series of mandatory regulations placed on the species, and the land that it inhabits. There are even critical habitats that are protected regardless of where the plant is found (public or private). Which, as you can imagine, is not something that landowners or entities that could make money off the land, appreciate. So instead agencies have been working to use the Act as a last resort, instead of looking to list immediately they instead promote conservation agreements which are agreed to by a range of stakeholders to protect the plant in question. This happens when involved parties recognize that it is in everyone’s best interest to avoid a listing and decide  to come to the table to proactively agree to terms to protect the plant to avoid listing in the future.

I am rather impressed by this idea because it means, ranchers, land managers, mining companies, energy companies, states, and other interested parties come together to resolve differences toward a common purpose. What a concept, but like I have mentioned with P. grahamii, conservation groups don’t always see these agreements as a win. Instead, these groups can be stuck in the old mindset that the ESA is the best way to protect any species. Unfortunately, if conservation groups get their way, that means that many individuals will be subject to regulations and restrictions forced upon them by the ESA, without much recourse save open rebellion against the US Government, which doesn’t typically end well as we’ve seen in the case of the Malheur NWR takeover of 2015. With a listing comes bitterness from industry and a lot more work for regulating agencies (cough cough BLM). It’s a delicate balance. On top of all this, often the protections that come through a collaborative stakeholder based approach can be better tailored to a particular plant and region.

So all in all it is a muddled up, bureaucratic quagmire that can be challenging for different parties to see from the other side’s perspective. But, fear not, that is why we have competent hard working people like Carol and Phil working on it!

Our last outing of the year was actually an overnight trip to Walden where we looked at Corispermum navicula, which, to be honest, was one of the more fun monitoring sites. This plant is an annual (the only one we monitor) and thus we monitor for frequency. This meant walking around the North Sand Hill Dunes for hours with the Esri Collector app on an iPad trying to place ourselves on 300 randomly selected points in search of the plant. What an adventure, with only a few cups of sand found in each one of my shoes by the end.

Brooke an I on the quest for C. navicula

Thanks goodness for winter! I always love the field season and love being outdoors for a while, but I can feel my hands itching to crochet and my sewing machine getting lonely (I know, I am a 1950’s house mom) and I am excited to experience Colorado winter (or any winter at all really)!!

oh, also I ran a marathon, which was painful

A bag of 1,000 Cercocarpus montanus seeds

Until next time when I write about mostly data management and Excel!


Colorado State Office

Keep an Open Mind

Vernal, Utah isn’t well known for it’s tourism. It could be someday; it is close to attractions like Dinosaur National Monument, Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, Sheep Creek Geological Loop, Red Fleet State Park, the Uinta Mountains, Nine Mile Canyon, Fantasy Canyon, and the Book Cliffs. ATV and dirt bike trails are popular here; it’s a bit like Moab without the traffic. It’s also a mecca for paleontology. Just look around town, there are dinosaurs everywhere. There are also crude oil tankers and lifted trucks around every corner. For nine months now, I’ve been a Jeep in a sea of lifted trucks. If Vernal is well known for anything, it’s as the crude oil center of Utah.

Fantasy Canyon

This place doesn’t get a lot of love from outsiders, but for those willing to take a closer look it has a lot to give. As a botany intern with the Bureau of Land Management, I was able to take that look. There are nearly 50 unique plant species that evolved in this area and can only be found here. Many of those species rely on the region’s oil shale, which is also the source of local economy and culture.

White River Beardtongue (Penstemon albifluvis) only grows in oil shale. It is much more showy when in flower, but always a cool find due to it’s rareness.

A federally threatened species of Sclerocactus

A native bee pollinates Pallid Milkweed (Asclepias cryptoceras).

The plants don’t have to be rare or unique to be cool. My internship focused on the Seeds of Success program, so I collected from the common species that can hopefully be useful for future reclamation projects.

This Small-leaf Globemallow (Sphaeralcea parvifolia) was guarded by Phidippus octopunctatus. At 2.5 cm long, this is one of the largest species of jumping spider.  There’s no common name, so.. now calling it the Tuxedo Spider, thanks to males like this keeping it classy.

Sand-dune Rubber Rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa var. turbinatus)… challenges of life on an active sand dune

Vernal has grown familiar and comfortable for me. I finally memorized the labyrinth of unsigned dirt roads into a mental map. I also appreciate the ability to drive on main roads for 80 miles without seeing another human. I will miss the familiarity, the species, and the people I worked with closely. To future interns, I say keep an open mind and this place will grow on you.

A Bittersweet moment. Yes, the Green River was really that green. -Gates of Lodore, Dinosaur National Monument, CO.