Vibing in the Southwest

After spending months living in quarantine in Los Angeles, California, I eagerly anticipated starting my internship with the Lincoln National Forest this summer in Alamogordo, New Mexico. As I made my drive out east from LA, I watched the landscape transition from dense urban development, to Saguaro cactus-filled Sonoran Desert, to the more desolate scrub of the Chihuahuan Desert. The Sacramento Mountains finally came into view; a joyous sight after hundreds of miles of desert scrub. I had finally arrived.

Natasha Khanna-Dang enjoying the desert.

Alamogordo is a medium-sized town bordering Texas and is about an hour and a half drive from the Mexican border. This region of the Southwest lies on the traditional and unceded territories of the Apache people. The Mescalero Apache Nation, who still live on a fraction of their ancestral lands, have their reservation on a large section of the Sacramento Mountain Range.

Mescalero Apache camp in the late 1800s in what is now the Lincoln National Forest.

My fellow intern Ashlyn Lythgoe and I will be spending the summer conducting surveys in sections of the Lincoln National Forest that have never been surveyed for rare plants. The data we collect will provide baseline information for large scale restoration, forest thinning, and seed banking projects. The data will also be used by the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station for creating a habitat suitability model. One of the goals of the model will be to develop habitat suitability analysis for identifying exact habitats for endangered, threatened, and regionally sensitive rare plant species.

We are still in the initial stages of our surveys. Unlike other parts of the country, New Mexico, and sections of the Southwest experience summer monsoons. As a result, the flowering season here will start in July and goes on till the end of September. In the meantime, we have been brushing up on our botany skills and assisting the Natural Resources crew a riparian restoration project.

Building one rock dams in order t0 restore a riparian zone that was severely impacted by an unauthorized road and a forest fire. Left to Right: Joseph Ure, Ashlyn Lithgow, and Jennifer Hickman. Photo credit: Shelby Manford.

As a newbie to the Southwest, I was surprised to see the large range in ecotones which includes scrub in the desert floor, grasslands and meadows, ponderosa pine that transitions to mix coniferous forests at higher altitudes, and a bit of subalpine forest habitat.

A juvenile Northern Flicker eagerly waiting to be fed.

New Beginnings!

Hi! My name is Megan Crapo, and I am so excited to start sharing about my time as a CLM intern working with the US Forest Service at the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. To start, I am from Phoenix, Arizona and went to college just outside of Chicago, Illinois. Coming to West Virginia has pushed me farther east than I could have ever imagined and these first three weeks have exceeded my expectations. I can’t wait to see how the rest of my time here will turn out!

These first three weeks have been filled with many adventures. Since my co-intern Katie and I are still waiting on our federal driver’s license and other trainings like pesticide application certification’s to be completed, we have been able to tag along on other USFS projects. This has allowed us to meet our other co-workers and learn about different projects and maintenance needed to help preserve the ~1,400 square miles of the Monongahela National Forest. Some of the projects we have helped with have been botany surveys to keep track of rare and threatened plants in the forest, salamander surveys to help with a local research project on the effects of large woody debris on salamander abundance and species richness (pictures 1&2), and helping with a local restoration project with CASRI by planting red spruce, red maple, and other native plants with the Appalachian Conservation Corp (pictures 3&4).

These first three weeks have shown me just how much work goes into maintaining national forests and I am excited to see what there is in store for the next five months! Soon Katie and I will be able to go out on our own to work on projects such as invasive species management, habitat monitoring, and more!

Adventures in West Virginia

Hello and welcome to my first blog post as a CLM Intern! My name is Katherine Sparks and I am currently working with Megan Crapo at the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. I am so grateful for this amazing opportunity and am super excited to gain such valuable experience!

My journey to becoming a CLM Intern was an adventure in itself. Through a frenzy of trying to complete final projects for my previous internship with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, recovering from the stomach flu, and applying to graduate programs, I came across the CLM program entirely by accident. After spending 40 hours a week staring at a computer screen for the past year, working outside in a national forest seemed almost too good to be true – but I am so glad it was true! I have now made the long journey from Missouri to West Virginia and am living amongst the beautiful Allegheny Mountains.

My first morning in West Virginia (PC Sarah Sparks)

The majority of my first two weeks here has consisted of reading training materials and studying to become a certified herbicide applicator, but this week Megan and I got a break from our computer screens and joined the botany crew for a training field trip at the Cranberry Glades. The goal was to see several sensitive, threatened, and endangered species in order to properly identify them for botany surveys in the future. We specifically looked at Canada Yew (Taxus canadensis), Heartleaf Twayblade (Neottia cordata), Appalachian violets (Viola appalachiensis), and Winterberry (Ilex verticillata).

Appalachian violets (Viola appalachiensis) blooming alongside a logging road near Cranberry Glades (PC Rosanna Springston)

While out in the field, we also came across several species that – while not on our list – were interesting to see and fun to learn about! Cranberry Glades has a population of carnivorous pitcher plants and we were able to see them as well as an open sundew plant. It is believed that the pitcher plant population was artificially introduced into the system, but it was still interesting to see carnivorous plants in a “natural” setting.

Pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea) population within Cranberry Glades bog
Bluebead lily (Clintonia borealis) in bloom along Cranberry Glades boardwalk trail
Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) in bloom along logging road near the Appalachian violets population (PC Andy Wall)

After we finished learning the species for the day, we went out as a group to Summit Lake to conduct a botany survey and practice everything we had learned. We made it through the first plot without finding any of the species on our list and had made it through the majority of the second plot when the wildlife technician from the Gauley Ranger Station spotted a heartleaf twayblade hiding amongst some beech brush. It was an exciting way to end a fun day!

Heartleaf Twayblade (Neottia cordata) found near Summit Lake (PC Andy Wall)
Close up of Heartleaf Twayblade flowers (PC Rosanna Springston)

Hiking through the woods with individuals who are just as excited as I am to learn about plant species and their habits and ecology is a relatively new and undeniably refreshing experience for me. It was a great way to get to know my fellow coworkers better and an even better way to start the field season. I can’t wait to see what adventures the rest of this internship holds!

Megan and I with the botany field crew crouching amongst the rhododendron in search for the Heartleaf Twayblade (PC Rosanna Springston)