Dark, Dank, and Claustrophobic

USFWS biologists stand within Valentine Cave

This week we were lucky enough to meet up with Katrina Smith, the Natural Resource Specialist from Lava Beds National Monument. Only a 40 minute drive drive south into California from our headquarters in Klamath Falls, this was a scheduled office field trip — an opportunity to learn more about the bat populations of the area and the cultural heritage of Tule Lake National Monument (also historically known as Camp Tule Lake). For the respect of the history of Camp Tule Lake and the incarceration of thousands of Japanese citizens and non-citizens, I will write a separate post in the future that is dedicated to this dark time in history.

Jenny helps set up mist nets outside of Camp Tule Lake structures.

A few months back we had worked with Katrina at Tule Lake assisting in bat mist netting, so the opportunity to hear more about her work in Lava Beds was especially compelling. She explained that there are fifteen species of bats found within the monument, and that species monitoring included winter hibernacula surveys, spring mist-netting, and acoustic surveys. There are three stations set up in Lava Beds that use stationary acoustic monitoring to give occupancy model information for population counts of each species; Katrina mentioned wishing the Park Service had access to more, but informed us that each station costs upwards of $2,000 and requires active data analysis in the form of paid employees, of which the monument is lacking in during winter months especially. The three species unanimously found at each site included the silver haired (Lasionycteris noctivagans), yuma (myotis yumanensis), and pallid (antrozous pallidus) bats.

Technicians prepare the acoustic monitor, Sonobat.

Many of us had heard mention of white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has affected and killed millions of hibernating bats throughout North America. Until this past year, the disease had not been recorded in any bats in California. However, this past spring in Plumas County (near Lassen Volcanic National Park) four bats have since tested positive for low levels of the fungus, marking the spread of the disease to this part of the country.

Katrina takes a swab sample of a myotis volans.
This particular bat had very healthy and intact wings.

The bats we mist netted for at Camp Tule Lake this April were not affected by white-nose syndrome, but biologists continue to monitor the populations living in the abandoned buildings left over from Japanese internment and incarceration during World War II. Much like the risk to specific bird species in the area, migratory bats also continue to face threats of habitat loss, wind energy, and disturbance of roosting sites by the public. Katrina mentioned the need and desire to better understand the patterns of movement in bats as they migrate, and encouraged us all to come volunteer at any point in the future!

Some of the spaces required crawling to get through.

Our day continued with two cave tours from one of the Park geologists took us deep into Valentine Cave and Scull Cave! We learned about the formation of lava tubes and a little more about the research being done regarding climate change and the unique environments within each cave system.

Each cave boasts complex bacterial communities
The cooling of lava creates different textures on the cave floors.
The entrance/exit of Skull Cave.
Panoramic view of Lava Beds National Monument

The SOS Work Begins !

We have officially made our first Seeds of Success collection! The past three weeks since coming back from training at the Chicago Botanic Garden have been full speed ahead for SOS scouting and collections. We have completed two collections for Seeds of Success, meaning we collected >10,000 seeds each for two separate species – Castilleja sessiliflora and Nerisyrenia linearifolia.

Each collection came with its own challenges. Our first collection, Castilleja sessiliflora proved to be difficult because of the cryptic nature of the individuals. When their seed is ripe, the plant has dried and turned a brown shade conveniently similar to the shade of the soil. There were also relatively few plants in the population we collected from, so we had to be very thorough when scanning the ground for the individuals. We collected 20% of the seeds from every individual, bringing our estimated total seed count to around 15,000. Our collection of Nerisyrenia linearifolia proved to be a much easier task, with an abundance of easily identifiable and conspicuous individuals. We were able to collect more seed from this population because there were more plants with more fruits per plant, so we estimated a total collection of about 30,000 seeds.

It was incredibly satisfying to find species and populations with seed that was ready to be collected. However, two collections in three weeks leaves a lot of time unaccounted for. Most of our time has been spent scouting for populations of species on our target list. We have driven many miles scouring the Carlsbad Resource Area for species we want to collect. We have had some very successful days, finding two or three locations with multiple species abundant enough for future collections. We have also had days where we’ve found virtually nothing. These days definitely feel somewhat useless, but it is encouraging to know that we’ve crossed off an area on our list and won’t have to revisit those sites that weren’t fruitful.

The species pictured above are all on our target list for collection.

Carlsbad has been a great place to work in so far, but it is a town of over 30,000 people, with an immense amount of oil and gas development in the surrounding areas. So, my weekends have been spent getting out of town and exploring. Highlights so far have been Guadalupe Mountains National Park which includes the highest point in Texas (8751 ft), the cute mountain town of Cloudcroft (at 8600 ft!) in the Sacramento Mountains, and the Organ Mountains near Las Cruces (my favorite so far). I look forward to more weekends exploring New Mexico and West Texas; I’m learning so many new plants and enjoying the desert heat (mostly).

Field Season in Full Swing!

Field season has really taken off since my last blog post!  In the past 2 weeks, my  partner and I have completed 6 entire collections for the Seeds of Success program. The species that we have collected thus far include Balsamorhiza incana, Townsendia incana, Lomatium foeniculaceum, Cerastium arvense, Oxytropis sericea, and Arnica sp.

Collecting is such rewarding work, but we have definitely encountered a few difficulties along the way.  Due to abnormal weather events this spring, plants within the same populations seem to be very developmentally out of sync with one another.  This finding has required us to return to collections multiple days in a row to collect the individuals that are further behind in their maturation.

This whole experience has been a learning process, but we are getting very good at perfecting our techniques and equipment use.

On a brighter note, this past weekend was the 4th of July.  Lander, Wyoming hosts a fun festival which includes a parade, barbecue, rodeo, and fireworks after dark.  The whole town came alive and it was really great to experience the strong sense of community here.

A beautiful Wyoming sunset!

This double rainbow made an appearance during the 4th of July festivities.

In a field of Wyethia

Exactly a month ago I submitted my first blog post and had been working here in Idaho Falls for a total of three days. Since then, things have picked up at a wonderful rate. The rain has left us (for now), the snow is melting, and plants are blooming! Often times we are traveling from the northern tip of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, far east into the Wyoming ranges, and down south to the beautiful Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest of Utah. Covering an amazing amount of country and finding seeds in between.

Look at this beautiful Oenothera sp. (Onagraceae) at the base of the Lemhi Mountain Range outside of Howe, ID. These flowers were growing with one of our target species, Erigeron pumilis.

The tremendously small Calypso bulbosa (Orchidaceae) nestled underneath a dense Douglas-Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) outside of Alpine, WY.

In lieu of beautiful flowers, it feels necessary to share with you all the stunning field of White Mule’s-Ear (Wyethia helianthoides) we came upon while looking for a moths outside of St. Anthony, ID. As were were getting closer to this 0.25 mile field made up exclusively of white flowers, I thought to myself, “This is horrible! Look at how prolific this invasive flower is. Think about all the willows that would be growing in this area if this aster had not taken over!” To my great surprise, this beautiful species is 100% native to the region. It is know to dominate rich, moist sites. White Mule’s Ear often hybridizes with Yellow Mules-Ear (Wyethia amplexicaulis) creating a slue of peach or pale-yellow composites! 

White Mule’s-Ear (Wyethia helianthoides) as far as the eye can see.

Olivia Turner was equally enthused about the field of white.

Soon after our hearts melted in front of thousands of Wyethia, we came back the following week with a full itinerary. We managed to have two successful seed collections of Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagitata) in a week. This means we collected over 30,000 seeds for the Seeds of Success (SOS) program. Each balsamroot head has roughly 50 seeds. 50% are viable. To gain the 10,000 viable seeds required for SOS and the 5,000 for Rocky Mountain Research Station, we ended up collecting over 1,200 heads to ensure a viable seed count. 

This is a herbarium voucher of Balsamorhiza sagitata pulled from one of our seed collection sites near Swan Valley, ID.

Arrowleaf balsamroot just gone to seed!

It is quite the opportunity to continue learning the greater impacts the SOS program has on restoration projects. Simply knowing each seed collected by my hands could one day be part of a site reclamation project is amazing in itself. 

Claire Parsons

Caribou-Targhee National Forest S.O.