A Stormy Welcome

Hello from Alamogordo! 

My name is Julie and I am one of two CLM interns working at the Lincoln National Forest in the Sacramento Mountains of Alamogordo, NM. We arrived in New Mexico back in June, and because of COVID-19 had to quarantine for two weeks. But since then we have been able to be out in the field almost every day and have not had many COVID related issues because of the outdoor nature of the internship. 

Using a GPS and our own two feet, we conduct botany surveys by systematically moving through areas of the National Forest searching for and recording locations of different rare plant species with the hopes of protecting as many of their populations as possible. Some of the plants we have been focusing on are Tall milkvetch (Astragalus altus), Wooton’s alumroot (Heurchera wootonii), Wooton’s hawthorn (Crataegus wootoniana), and Sacramento Mountain Thistle (Cirsium vinaceum). 

Sacramento Mountain Thistle (Cirsium vinaceum) 
Wooton’s alumroot (Heurchera wootonii)

The beginning of July signified the beginning of the New Mexican monsoon season, which brings big thunderstorms into the mountains almost every afternoon from July-September.

A few weeks ago, Emma, my co-intern, and I were in a new survey plot area of 6,000-acres. This was our first big survey plot that was not along a trail, so we were eager to start tackling this massive area and find some rare plants. When we got out to the survey area, we discovered it was rocky and dry, populated by juniper and piñon pine. We were up on top of a peak, in relatively exposed area with very few tall trees, when clouds roll in and we hear the rumbles of thunder. Staying off the tall, exposed peaks, we kept surveying, even when the rain started. The road that we had taken to reach this remote area was a dusty, rocky road that would more or less turn into a mud slide in the rain. We became increasingly aware of this fact the heavier the rain got and the longer we stayed out there. 

Emma in the rain at the start of our day (I know it doesn’t look that rainy in the photo but trust me it was.)

As the rain increased, the small dirt roads became more flooded, and the lightning flashed overhead, we were forced to call it for the day. So, we climbed in our truck and started to inch our way out through the muddy roads. Eventually, after moving at a snail’s pace through the mud, we made it out safe and sound (though very damp) and still got a good start on our survey plot that day.

What a great introduction to the monsoon season and the big weather in the Sacramento Mountains! 

The First Month

Hello from Alamogordo, NM! My name is Emma and I am wrapping up my first month as a CLM botany intern working with the Forest Service in the Lincoln National Forest located in the Sacramento Mountains of southern New Mexico. It has been a fun but unpredictable couple of weeks as New Mexico requires a 14-day quarantine for out of state visitors due to COVID-19. My fellow intern/roommate Julie and I had to keep ourselves busy with various virtual trainings and many hours spent studying the rare plants in the region from keys and guidebooks. We were so excited when we got to start heading out into the field after the two-week quarantine was over!

The Lincoln National Forest!

The original intent of our internship was to validate a habitat suitability analysis for rare plant species in the Lincoln National Forest, however, COVID has delayed some aspects of the model and so, for now, we are focusing on completing large scale surveys of areas that have proposed trail maintenance and restoration plans. The Lincoln National Forest is home to some amazing rare plants, such as the chlorophyll lacking Arizona coralroot (Hexalectris spicata var. arizonica) and the tiny Ladies Tresses orchid (Microthelys rubrocallosa). The time period following our quarantine was filled with tours of the forest and visits to some restoration sites with staff ecologists and hydrologists. It is more challenging than usual to meet other forest service employees, however being outside in the field helps to avoid some COVID restrictions.

One particularly fun outing we had in June was to check out some of the protected areas for rare wildlife species in the Sacramento Ranger District. There are three major districts in the Lincoln National Forest and each has different rare plants and animal species. While Julie and I primarily work in the Sacramento District there is also the Smokey Bear District (the original “birthplace” of Smokey Bear) and the Guadalupe District. The Sacramento district is home to the Mexican Spotted Owl, the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse and the Sacramento Mountain salamander. We were able to hike out with the seasonal crew that was completing wildlife monitoring for the summer and see some of the animals. While I am definitely a plant person, it was interesting to see how different biologists operate in the forest.

A Sacramento Mountain salamander

Over the past two weeks we have started going out on our own to survey for rare plant species in areas that are a part of the South Sacramento Restoration Project, a large scale forest management plan currently underway in the Lincoln Forest. These sites have proposed restoration plans and it is important to gather information on what rare plant populations exist there (or don’t) in order to evaluate the potential environmental impact of treatments. We have also gained some experience in writing reports on our surveys as well as working with GPS and habitat data. So far it has been a great learning experience and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the internship has in store!