This week, Claire and I assisted with the absolute coolest long term vegetation monitoring initiative known to human-kind: GLORIA (GLobal Observation Research Initiative in Alpine environments). It is just as intense as it sounds. We went with a group of botanical scientists, fellow interns, and volunteers to the Lemhi Mountain range in Idaho to establish the fourth GLORIA site in all of Idaho. Just last year the first three were established, which is the minimum number of plots allowed according to GLORIA standards. This fourth peak would bring Idaho up to the preferred number of GLORIA locations and allow us to extract more data about changes to the alpine environment over the years.
Starting the day early we scrambled up to 10,000+ ft. with packs full of survey equipment. Once up there, we quickly began conducting the measurements and calculations needed to set up the many sections-essentially making a cardinal directional pie out of the mountain peak. We then got to crouching. The real work of a GLORIA plot is the thorough surveying of existing vegetation on the peak so that changes can be noted through the years. This includes monitoring soil temperature and snow pack by burying four tough temperature loggers up on the mountain (those little nuggets have a lifetime of 5 years! How incredible!)
The sun moved across the sky as data sheet after data sheet was completed and plot after plot was delineated. Our brains were steeped in the wonderful names of the teeny-tiny alpine plants, picking out some rare ones here and there and marveling at the flowers of so many others. After one task was done, there was always another to move to. The sun and wind kept us company and on our toes with multiple sunscreen applications and rubber bands on clipboards to prevent flyaways!
Right before the sun set we were safe off the mountain, marveling at the work we had accomplished and already missing the beautiful alpine. It was truly thrilling to be part of such a top-notch research team, preforming globally recognized science, and learning from the top notch botanists of Idaho. The entire experience had a surreal feel to it, and is one I wish I could rewind and live all over again.
Some people may think of Wyoming as just wide open land. A vast swath of desert with not much to see. Some might even think it’s boring. But, once you work out there you know that there is plenty to see and learn about. A variety of flora, fauna and a range of features that create different biomes. The evolution of my perspective from learning more and more about the natural world is amazing to me. Before I did any field work with plants, they just didn’t appeal to me much. I was one of the people that would look out onto the open plains of Wyoming and think that there were some shrubs, and along with the blue skies it was kind of nice to look at. A desolate, homogeneous landscape that stretched on forever. Chances are that I would take a quick glance and keep on moving. Now I realize that those shrubs stretching to the horizon are sagebrush, and a few other things, but mostly sagebrush. Just learning that single genus began to pull me in a little. I wanted to learn more. I was told that there were several species of sagebrush, and several subspecies. Some species prefer certain soil conditions and other abiotic factors. The charismatic genus Castilleja, or Indian paintbrush, is a root parasite that steals resources from sagebrush (from other plants too, but in dry areas sagebrush is a common host). Becoming aware of different species and how they are interconnected in complex ecological webs has opened my eyes. Now instead of seeing an expansive monoculture, I look closely at individual plants. Seed heads, leaves, and other morphological factors that set them apart. It’s like I’m seeing a whole new world.
Animals on the other hand, have always captured my attention. In addition to the variety of plants in Wyoming, there are some pretty charismatic animals. I’ve seen pronghorn and wild horses every day in the field. Some raptors, the occasional elk, prairie dog, or sage grouse…and one rattlesnake.
An adventure of self-discovery and the path of Botany….
I graduate from my university as a student of Wildlife Conservation Biology, from the University of New Hampshire. I traveled into the west in search of working with invasive species, primarily plants. It was either through luck or good fortune. I met Dirk Netz, the botanist for the state of Nevada. Along with Nicole Spehn, we are entering an amazing world of Western Botany.
The goal of Dirk Netz, Jessica Kindred, Great Basin Insitute, Desert Research Institute, Burea of Land Management, and many more is to create a seed back that is viable in response to increase fire frequency and intensity. While grasses are well known and critical to the success of fire restoration, the perennial and annual forbs are also critical to the success of restoration.
Our first week opened the door to the amazing world to the world of Western Botany. We had the opportunity to travel into the Humbolt-Toyabie National Forest’s Dog Valley for hands-on experience in the identification of species critical to the ‘Seeds of Success Program’, other native grasses and forbs, and familiarize ourselves with the terrain and landscape.
Our second week we were able to team up with fellow interns from Great Basin Insistute, the volunteer group I worked with prior, and Jess Kindred, the leader for the program on the BLM side. With her and her team we were able to familiarize ourselves with the SOS program in-field. Our search lead us to Contact a small mining town in search of Thurber’s Needle Grass, a species of interest for the SOS program. We also learned how to collect tissue sample for plants of interest to determine possible speciation and regionality differences.
For our next week, we had the opportunity to collaborate with a number of people from both The Nature Conservancy and Desert Research Insitute. We were able to learn about programs beyond the SOS Program. We helped collaborate on assessment protocol on Nevada’s riparian habitat. This habitat is a relative unknown primarily because of few known locations, presence/absence, and due to Nevada’s ephemeral. However because of Nevada’s l, the landscape there are a wide and varied types of riparian habitats that exiist (saltwater, hotsprings, coldwater).
This week we are heading out to examine the success of our burned area reseedings. While this is an entirely new field for me I am discovering that it is a field that I am loving more and more. I cannot wait to continue to learn feeding and catering to my inner botanist.
Prior to my CLM internship, I typically believed that you had to formally work towards an identity in order to truly become it. For example, I was hesitant to call myself a botanist before this position because I had not received a degree or formal training in botany. I would simply tell people I enjoyed identifying plants. Now, I would argue that I have always been a botanist and will always be one, regardless of what my degree might indicate. This position has reminded me of who I am and where my passion lies. (spoiler alert: it lies with the plants!)
The first day I went out into the field to identify plants was one of my most memorable field days. My coworker, mentor, and I intended on visiting four different sites that day to scout for native plant populations and practice off-road driving. We all can admit, it was quite the ambitious plan to make for ourselves that afternoon. We made it to our first site and spent nearly the entire day there just getting to know the plant community. There were so many new forbs and grasses just waiting to be identified! We soon came to learn there is nothing more threatening to the constraint of time than three impassioned botanists in a high desert full of blooming forbs. I have never been introduced to so many plants in such a short period of time! All of which were incredibly beautiful and unique. I could say this to describe my first day in the field and every day in the field since. And this is just the beginning because it’s only my fourth week in Nevada! With every new plant I learn, the more I understand about the system it is a part of. It has been both exhilarating and inspiring to know that not only is this my job, but this is what I love to do and who I am. As we were sitting on rocks eating our lunches that day, I thought to myself, I could do this every day for the rest of my life and feel completely & entirely fulfilled. Since then, I have continued to immerse myself fully into the wonderful world of plants.
Ultimately, this internship has completely altered how I would identify myself as a professional in my field. As I’ve mentioned before, I believe I always was and always will be a botanist regardless of whether I am in practice or in my heart. My curiosity and drive to understand the plants around me will never leave. Identifying plants and recognizing their phenology has become the brunt of my job responsibilities, and was exactly what I needed in order to embrace the botanist within me!
The past couple of weeks have been dedicated to constructing drift fences on the north side of Ferris Mountain. Our project focuses on population density of wildlife within the area; specifically herpetofauna. These drift fences are effective techniques to sample species in a particular area. Each drift fence is built in a Y-shape formation with pitfalls located in the center of each line segment, and a funnel trap connected to the end. There are a total of 12 drift fences within the North side of Ferris Mountain that we will open for ten consecutive days and check each day to monitor our progress. Constructing the drift fences was arduous at times, but when you work in such a beautiful place surrounded by the solace of nature, it is easy to smile. I am excited for trapping season to begin and am ready to find some herps!
We were able to take a break from building drift fences to help with surveys for monitoring Greater Short-horned Lizards, the state reptile of Wyoming. This was the first time I was able to PIT tag a reptile and get an in-depth understanding on why the recapture method is so important. Because evidence indicates that populations are declining in Wyoming, it is vital to gather as much data as possible to understand the resources they are tied to and what may be affecting their numbers. I was so very grateful to be a part of this survey, and look forward to getting the chance to work with these uniqure creatures again!
During the fourth of July weekend I was able to hike in Medicine Bow with my roomates. We explored several trails and discovered some hidden gems. The amount of snow left from the late winter lingered over the mountains and I found myself walking in snow drifts knee deep. The beauty was awe-inspiring and left me with an overwhelming feeling of joy and happiness. The ability to be able to explore Wyoming and what it has to offer has only made me more excited for what is to come within my job and out of it. I am so gracious for the opportunities I have had and for what awaits me!
This month in southeastern New Mexico has reminded me of the tenacity of life by displays of brilliance in what many would consider an arid wasteland. I am grateful for each of these moments and their valuable lessons…
I hope that everyone else’s internship is progressing positively. Mind the summer heat.
This week I had the great opportunity of attending a bird banding session with an Audubon Rockies group in Wyoming’s Keyhole State Park. While this was my first hands on experience with bird banding, it was the third of such events this summer. Like any good birding experience this banding event begins at sunrise by setting up ten mist nets in various locations within walking distance of the processing site. These nets placed in a variety of locations allow for the assessment of bird species by habitat as some nets remain in wooded areas while others are in open shrublands.
Capturing birds in any area allows for the collection of very detailed information on diversity and health of ecosystems. Seeing birds up close, assessing their health and mating status provides us with much more information than could be obtained by a simple audio and visual survey. Banding birds means that the data collected at one small sight can be applied on an international scale. By entering band numbers into an international database, recaptured birds can be tracked across vast landscapes and even continents. This allows scientists and the public to gain a greater understanding of these impressive migratory bird species on an individual and population level.
So far this year 105 bird species have been banded at this sight in Keyhole State Park. Among the species I identified and was able to handle were Bullock’s Oriole, Western Wood-Pewee, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, and this handsome Cedar Waxwing.
These banding sessions are open to the public and great chance to see what goes into bird banding and data collection, and even get a chance to hold and release a bird if you’re lucky. There are two more bird banding events this summer on July 25th and August 8th. If you are in the area I would highly recommend checking one of these out and spending a night or weekend in the park while you’re at it! Check out Audubon Rockies for more information on how to get involved.
Katherine, Resources Intern at BLM’s Buffalo Field Office
These past few weeks have been crazy busy. During the week of July fourth, we were only in the office from Monday to (half of) Wednesday because of the BLM’s Independence Day paid holiday schedule. My Monday was spent reading vegetation transects and monitoring livestock compliance around two of our pastures: Pickett Lake and Eagle’s Nest. Reading transects means that my team and I are physically walking down a straight line between established posts or rebar to record 20-25 points of data. Every 5 or 6 paces, we stop and measure the droop or stubble height of the designated key grass species for that site. This is an important thing to study because if the grasses are getting too low, the ecosystem and landscape can be seriously affected by it and may not be able to recover easily, if at all, once the cattle leave. If we are performing livestock compliance checks, that involves us literally counting any “trespassing” cows/sheep when we see them on pastures that should be empty. This can take us a long time somedays, because our allotments are literally hundreds of thousands of acres. We also have to draw and get pictures of the brands on the livestock. This is crucial for the BLM to know which ranchers they need to contact in order to get the animals moved. That day we found some pretty little forbs, and I even saw my first sage grouse on the way back to the office. 🙂
On Tuesday, I went out to the field with one of the BLM’s wildlife biologists, and assisted her in the procedures for sage-grouse “HAF,” or Habitat Assessment Framework. Her transect-reading protocol reminded me a lot of AIM’s, so I had a little bit of a head start on HAF’s approach. When we first got there, we used a compass to align ourselves and set three 25 meter transects at 0, 120, and 240 degrees. Along the transects, we used the LPI, or line-point intercept, method to record vegetation heights and forb diversity. LPI sampling provides a quantitative look at the cover of important species in the ecosystem. Since sage-grouse feed on forbs, and nest in sage brush, these were our study’s focus. This took us all day to do, especially since we read two sites and had to abandon the second site to wait out a storm for a bit. When we got back to Lander, I was inspired by my fun day and immediately started studying my forbs. I love seeing all of them out in the field and being able to name them has been really fulfilling. Ever since this Tuesday, I have been studying, and studying, and have learned so many of them already!
Wednesday was a shortened day because of the holiday, so we spent it in the office managing various data that we had been piling up for weeks. The long weekend that followed was a really awesome one for me because my boyfriend flew in all the way from my home state. 🙂 While he was here I showed him some of my favorite places like Hell’s Half Acre, Sinks Canyon, and The Bus. We also went to a rodeo for our first time ever haha… I still have some mixed feelings about that! Towards the end of the weekend, we drove into Boulder, Colorado to see the Dead & Company’s last performance of their Summer Tour 2019. It was such an incredible show and the setlist was nearly perfect. This was probably the best way we could have ended Johnny’s visit out here. He had to leave me the next day from Denver, so I dropped him off and then made the 5.5 hour drive back to my little home in Wyoming.
For the past two weeks at work, I have been getting into the routine of transect reading and livestock compliance checks, and learning the country and the vegetative species of our two allotments. Once we spend about a week out in the field, we are usually ready to spend a whole day in the office compiling, summarizing, and scanning all of our data.
The weeks are still going by way too fast, but it’s exciting to see how much I have learned, and just as refreshing to know that I have only been out here for a month. Wyoming is seriously WYld and wonderful; I love living out here.
After nine years of highway reengineering, conservation planning, archeological protection, nonprofit partnerships, and extensive research, the beautiful seed of wetland restoration was planted this week at the Curlew National Grassland in southern Idaho! What exactly does this mean? It means, 3,400 perfect graminoid starts were planted along one mile of Rock Creek to establish a strong streambank stocked with native plant species. With the proposed reconstruction of highway ID-38 back in 2010, the Caribou-Targhee National Forest hydrologist, forest botanist, Rose Lehman, and many other partnered to establish a strategy that ensured the structural integrity of this location in the Curlew (see photo below). This meant a variety of regulations and compromises such as: upsizing culverts, avoiding stream meanders and/or natural springs, and Native American lands.
Two Idaho native graminoids were chosen for streambank stabilization: Nebraska sedge (Carex nebrascensis) and Baltic rush (Baltic balticus). The planting took a total of two days. Co-intern, Olivia Turner, five volunteers from the Sagebrush-Steppe Landtrust in Pocatello, ID, two hydrologists, and myself gathered together for the second day of the project. Buckets filled with plant starts and shovels in hand, we successfully spread out along the parameter of the stream. Each 2-person team would simply create holes in the mucky Idaho clay and ease every juvenile into the soil. The ground along the stream is incredibly moist and idealistic for these younger individuals. So ideal that the estimated regenerative success rate is 90% for this particular project area! That would promote roughly 3,060 individuals to take root and thrive!
The project was a complete success. The day was filled with affirmation for the future of this particular site. It was a wonderful experience to step aside from SOS and terrestrial botany for a moment and participate in wetland restoration. The future of this project paints the picture of a lush wetland habitat filled with native sedges and rushes, a running stream, moose in the willows, and the pink flowers of mallow blooming.
Sending nettle stings, coyote pawprints, and garter snakes where you all may be!
On 7/9 we all went on a staff excursion to Lava Beds National Monument in Tulelake, Northern California. This trip, in combination with the trip down to Camp Tule Lake to assist in bat surveys, has awakened in me a deep love of bats and their ecology! I have decided to dedicate this blog post to interesting facts about one native bat species in particular, Townsend’s big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii).
We had a chance to tour two caves, Valentine Cave and Skull Cave. There was something magical about descending into the depths and feeling the air cool rapidly. We had a chance to learn about cave features, the history of the caves, various cave monitoring efforts at the monument, and how this all relates to bat monitoring and ecology at Lava Beds.
On to the bat of the hour:
Townsend’s big-eared bats fold one or both of their comically large ears against their head during torpor and hibernation, forming coils like a ram’s horn
The longest-lived Townsend’s big-eared bat on record was over 21 years old! It could have grabbed a drink at its local pub. Interestingly, they live shorter lives in captivity than in the wild
Bats play an amazing role – they are the only night-time consumers of flying insects, so thank your local Townsend’s big-eared bat for being a great camping buddy
Townsend’s big-eared bats love cavernous structures; caves, mines, lava tubes, and abandoned buildings all across the upland Western United States suit them fine. They also utilize deciduous and coniferous forests on the Pacific coast and have been recorded roosting in the hollows of redwood trees!
All facts are cited from:
Gruver, J., D. Keinath. 2006. “Townsend’s Big-eared Bat (Corynorhinus townsendii): a technical conservation assessment.” (On-line pdf). Accessed July 14th, 2019
Besides caving, we’ve been finishing up some work associated with milk-vetch surveys, studying brook trout fecundity, researching beaver-trout interactions and implications for bull trout management, gathering information on endemic sculpin, and getting ready to embark on electrofishing excursions in the coming weeks. Til next time!