The Start of Something New

Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia.

WHERE WERE WE?

A few new things have happened since the last time I posted, so let me get you up to speed. After my inaugural blog post, Caroline and I went out on few more botanical surveys. Since we were still familiarizing ourselves with the plant species found throughout the Mon, we were lucky enough to have two incredibly knowledgeable botanists, Emily and Ken, at our office that were open to having us help them conduct rare plant surveys. Although Emily and Ken were nearing the end of survey season and still had a lot of land to cover, they never made our presence feel like a burden. Each of them took time to help us identify species and test our knowledge. It really gave me and Caroline a glimpse into the day-to-day of a career path that we might one day pursue. While it has been nearly a month since the last time we went out on a survey, I often find myself grateful for the fact that we were able to spend so much time with such great teachers. Just like the times we’ve had to endure intense off trail hikes through dense red spruce (Picea rubens) forests and huge patches of stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), my time with Ken and Emily will forever be etched into my memories, my knowledge base, and my heart.

Emily (foreground) took us to the boardwalk in the Cranberry Glades to check the incredible bog that harbors such a beautiful and special ecosystem.
Ken guiding us through the hardest off-trail hike yet

GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS

Alternate-leaf Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

After a short delay and a few email exchanges, we were finally on the track to go out to the field to collect seed! With the help of our mentor, Amy Lovell, we were able to connect and meet up with the lead botanist at the Bartow office, Todd Kuntz (about two hours away from the Marlinton office). Before meeting Todd, Caroline and I heard nothing but great things about him from our coworkers; so our expectations we’re pretty high! On our first outing with Todd, he took us to the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area. It was a whirlwind of a day where Todd taught us heaps of knowledge about the plants’ growth habits and seeding patterns.

The following week, we met up with Todd again to collect some new species. Little did I know, we were headed to a trail that led up to the highest point in West Virginia, Spruce Knob. Once we had reached the top, I was completely and utterly awed; not just by the height, but also by the vastness of the view before me. I felt as though I were literally on top of the world. Never in my life had I seen something so ethereal and so perfectly crafted by the Earth. That moment was a beautiful conclusion to a wonderful day of picking seed and picking Todd’s brain about everything related to Allegheny plants.

Although I haven’t yet returned to Spruce Knob, I continue I relish the memories of being on the top of world and yearn to bask again in her glory. May we meet again, Spruce Knob.

Me at the peak of Spruce Knob

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

The transition between botanical surveying season to seed collection was gradual, and only slightly overwhelming. With the main seed processing and propagation center becoming more restricted about visitors due to COVID-19, we had to rethink our expectations on how we would learn how to clean, process and store the seeds that we would be collecting over the next few months. We shifted our plans and began researching and learning the seed processing techniques on our own and designed a small scale processing center. At this point, the supplies have arrived and we are ready for setup! I am more than ecstatic about the prospect of starting from the ground up with my co-intern, Caroline. Until then, we’ll be exploring this beautiful state and gathering some seeds along the way.

-Ivy

Prepared for the worst…

This past weekend I attended a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) Wilderness First Aid training here in Boise. I wanted to do this training because there have been several times where I have been out in the field, decently far from a hospital, without service. I realized that if anything were to happen, I really would have no idea what to do. Since I expect to spend more and more time outside, both for fun and work, I figured it is good for me to be prepared in case someone gets hurt.

Within the first few minutes of the class, I immediately felt out of place. During our brief introductions, where the icebreaker was to list your favorite way to get into the back-country, I realized that I was way out of my league. Almost all of the other students were back-country skiers, rock-climbers, backpackers, and mountain bikers. My nerdy, sheltered self– who broke her ankle attempting the very easiest route available at a bouldering gym– has never even seen snow, let alone ski!! I introduced myself, just said, “hiking” and then vowed to hide just how little I knew about outdoor adventuring.

Despite this rocky start, the class went well. These were two fully packed days: we learned what to do in case of cuts, burns, broken bones, sprained ankles, heatstroke, hypothermia, and more. We also learned how to be resourceful, improvising splints out of things we might have with us while out in the field. Throughout the entire weekend, we took full COVID precautions, with everyone wearing masks and gloves and checking temperatures at the door. We also were outside for the majority of the class. 

Our NOLS instructor demonstrating wound care techniques on a fellow student

[Image description: two people wearing masks on a basketball court with a whiteboard, a playground, and a school building in the background. One of them (the instructor) is standing, wrapping a bandage around the student’s arm right arm.]

All of the skills we learned were put to the test as we acted out scenarios that might happen in the back-country. We took turns being the patient and care-givers, mostly working in teams of two or three. To help with making the scenarios realistic, our instructors even used wound makeup to simulate cuts, bruises, and scrapes.

Here, our instructor is demonstrating how to check for proper circulation to the feet after applying a full leg splint.

[Image description: The same instructor as in the previous image is leaning over while a different student sits with her right leg (which is wrapped in a foam pad and ace bandages) outstretched. The instructor is wearing blue gloves and touching the student’s toes, which are obscured by the makeshift splint. They are outside on a basketball court with a whiteboard behind them.]
My team made our splint out of various items of clothing and a foam pad. Not the most beautiful, but functional nonetheless.

[Image description: The legs of someone sitting on a grey, gravelly surface. She is wearing grey field pants and a sandal on her left foot. Her left leg is lying so that the inside of the leg and foot faces upwards with her knee out to the side. The right leg is outstretched towards the camera, wrapped in a foam pad tied around the leg and foot with jackets, shirts, and an ace-wrap.]

I left the training Sunday evening tired but feeling much more prepared for my days in the field than I’ve ever felt before. I now know what kinds of tools to bring for different trips and how to act under different scenarios. I hope that I will never have to use these skills, but now I am more confident in my ability to deal with trips that don’t go as planned. I also feel more capable of helping people I find during my adventures. Now, instead of panicking if someone is injured, I can say, “Hi, my name is Lili, and I have wilderness first aid training. Can I help you?”

Until next time!

Lili

See you later Lincoln NF!

This summer has really been a crazy whirlwind and I can’t believe it’s over.

During the past couple of weeks, I have been doing a seed collection project which is part of conservation efforts to save the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly, which is an extremely rare, endangered and endemic butterfly. As the botanist on the project, I have been collecting seed from a variety of its nectar plants and most importantly its host plant, the New Mexico Penstemon (Penstemon neomexicanum). This species of penstemon is pressured greatly by cattle, elk and horse grazing in this forest, which has contributed to the butterfly’s decline, so hunting down viable fruiting individuals has preoccupied us for the last couple of weeks.

New Mexico Penstemon (Penstemon neomexicanum).
View of Alamogordo from the mountains.

As my mentor is out on a fire detail and my partner injured for most of the summer, I have gotten the chance to be the lead botanist and really played an integral role in the project which has been a great learning experience and I think will benefit me in my future career. I have really enjoyed seed collecting, as I find it very relaxing, and I have gotten to see some beautiful new parts of the Forest.

Sneezeweed (Helenium hoopsii) seed.
Emma and I in front of the Lincoln National Forest sign at the end of our last field day!

This week is our last week as CLM interns and I will really miss being able to hike around the Lincoln everyday. I am so thankful for my time here as I have learned so much about the flora of New Mexico and about working for a federal agency, which I know are invaluable to my future career, wherever it takes me. I have gotten to work on so many different projects, hike so many miles, meet new people, live in a new region of the country, and see countless cool, beautiful plants. I am really grateful for my time spent in the Lincoln National Forest as a CLM intern and will definitely never forget it!

Happy trails!

Julie

Goodbye to the Lincoln!

The past few weeks have been exciting and full of new experiences for me. I was finally cleared by my doctor to go into the field and I have been helping Julie with a seed collection project. We were tasked with collecting seeds in an effort to protect the New Mexico Checkerspot Butterfly habitat, which is currently threatened due to excessive cattle and elk grazing. Julie and I have been driving out to different sites around the forest trying to sustainably collect seeds from a long list of potential nectar and larvae plants, including New Mexico Penstemon (Penstemon neomexicanus), Sneezeweed (Helenium hoopesii), Cut-leaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata) and many more. Julie and I got to virtually attend a seed collection workshop from the Institute for Applied Ecology in Santa Fe to learn proper techniques for sustainable seed harvesting. We were assisted by a rotating crew of botanists from the Lincoln NF and even the former NM state botanist, but it was up to us to organize the collection sites and data. I really enjoyed seed collection because it was relatively relaxing and allowed us to drive to many different sites in one day. It does have some frustrating aspects, such as locating the target plants throughout the forest and making sure that we are collecting the correct species and all of the surrounding habitat data, but it is so satisfying to see how many seeds we can collect at the end of the day. I missed working outside so much and it was great to finish out the internship working on an important project with Julie. Plus, fall has arrived in NM and the leaves are starting to turn into beautiful shades of red, gold, and orange. The scenery makes me appreciate my work environment and this job so much!

Penstemon neomexicanus seed capsules
Fall colors!

This is my final week as a CLM intern! It went by so fast and even though the injury stopped me from going out in the field for a lot of the experience, I still learned a lot and had a great time in the Lincoln. I was exposed to the inner workings of a government agency, got to hike every day for work, and made a new friend in Julie. I loved being in a completely new place and learning about all of the fascinating animals and plants in the Lincoln NF, many of which are rare endemics that I will probably never see again (or until I return). The Forest Service staff were very supportive and informative – especially our supervisor/forest botanist Aurora. I learned how to conduct botanical surveys, worked on my plant ID, organized a land-use database and collected seed to save a rare butterfly! I am so grateful to have had this experience and will take all of the things I have learned on with me to the next adventure. 

Goodbye! – Emma