To the Botmobile!

The past few weeks here in the Lincoln National Forest have certainly flown by! Each week is a whirlwind of activity- we’ve been completing a good amount of surveying work, starting out with helping the Natural Resources crew with Mexican spotted owl and New Mexico meadow jumping mouse habitat monitoring. This process includes gathering data on the vegetative growth in protected plots, and has given me practice on identifying grass species in the field. In turn, they’ve been helping us botany folk with our rare plant species surveys! I was pretty excited to start those, since that indicated switching the majority of the time to being in the field.

Our survey days have been pretty adventurous so far! With the NR crew, we have about 5-7 people covering at least several miles of surveying and have been able to complete almost 7000 acres in just a few weeks! A large portion of that was pinyon-juniper habitat, and while we haven’t found any rare species in that particular area, it’s mostly previously unsurveyed ground so just gathering data there is helpful for future analysis and the South Sacramento Restoration Project in general. Our other major site was mixed conifer, which while botanically more interesting, still yielded no rare plants. But even negative data is still data!

A view on a rainy day over our pinyon-juniper site, a relief from the Alamogordo sun!
Out on one of our early survey days at around 9000ft elevation.

 A typical survey day consists of all of us hopping into our Ford Explorer (the Botmobile!) and driving up to a couple hours to our survey site- luckily, we’ve specially curated a playlist that includes plant-themed bops such as “Plantasia” by Mort Garson (1976), early 2000s hits by Fergie, Shakira, Rihanna, etc., and even the internet viral sensation “Actual Cannibal Shia LaBeouf”- an eclectic warm-up to our long days of hiking. Some of our sites have included some interesting 4WD challenges, but our Botmobile has consistently exceeded expectations and remains as reliable as ever. Upon arriving, we plan our routes using our GPS units and Avenza. I’ve already gotten much better at reading topographic maps, a skill that saves a ton of energy when you can predict how steep an elevation gain might be. Once we have our plan, we set off, hopefully scrambling over brush and fallen logs as successfully as we’re able and in whatever (safe) weather happens upon us. I’ve definitely taken my fair share of falls over a tree or on a muddy slope, but it certainly adds to the excitement of being out in the field! We typically each are able to bushwhack about 5 miles before we have to head back, and the entire time we’re keeping our eyes peeled for any rare species that may pop up. Hopefully by the end of the season we can claim to have found an unrecorded population!

The summer weather sometimes brings surprises- this one made us regret our lack of saws!
A typical look at our botanical survey obstacle course.

Our next few weeks we’re starting some Goodding’s Onion monitoring, as well as continuing the botanical surveys for this restoration project. I’m definitely looking forward to spending more time out in the field and exploring even more of New Mexico in our off time!

Sunrise views over the lower Rio Grande just outside of Las Cruces, NM.

Wildlife ecology and mining lands

Hi CLM blog!

The past few weeks have been plenty interesting and I’m excited to tell you about them! Last time I posted was after the Eriogonum Society conference, and since then, my main work highlight has been going on a mini bat blitz over in Elko. The bat blitz was a departure from plant work but in the interest of being a well-rounded ecologist it was a great thing to do (plus I just really love bats)! I went out in the Jarbidge-Ruby Mountain Ranger District of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, and in the Ruby Mountain RD near the Medicine Range for this trip, which was led by a team of BLM ecologists based in Elko. The team was interdisciplinary and interagency, which was awesome, and also included a biologist who specializes in abandoned mining land reclamation, a biologist from the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW), and a biologist from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. It was awesome to work with such a wide range of people from different agencies and backgrounds for the week––I learned a lot from them about bat monitoring but also about how their different organizations can work together. 

A crescent lake near Bear Creek Summit in the Jarbidge area.

I also learned more about the area’s ecology, and one thing in particular that was interesting was learning about the effects of wild horses on sagebrush scrub ecosystems in Nevada. The wild horses running around the landscape are not native (they were introduced by the Spanish colonizing the Americas), and although they look awesome running free they actually cause a lot of damage to the ecosystem. It turns out that when they dig in springs as they try to access more water, they end up drying up the springs instead, and they degrade native vegetation and habitats. Land management organizations have a difficult time managing them, however, because some groups’ love for the animals translates to strong resistance to management efforts (we’re talking death threats, even to a grad student doing their PhD on the impacts of wild horses). I knew nothing about this conflict and challenge in western land management, as someone from Minnesota, but thinking about how to effectively manage land when stakeholders have different levels of knowledge about it and relationships with it is relevant across settings and contexts. I appreciated adding a dimension to what I know about Great Basin ecology as well.

One of the acoustic bat detector deployments we did, just over the Idaho border!

Charismatic megafauna aside, the actual bat blitz was very cool! We set up acoustic monitors at several sites (basically microphones at the top of long poles) that would be left up for about a week to record bat calls that can later be analyzed in the lab using software designed to identify bat species by their distinct calls. This software can make tentative identifications but it’s up to the biologists to go through and make final ID decisions. It was awesome to learn that bat calls are a useful way to assess species richness in an area, and impressive to watch people who were familiar with identifying species by their calls that way. This year there was no bat netting to take physical data, due to concerns about possibly passing COVID-19 to bat populations in the state, but in other years netting is the best way to confidently identify species (although there are tradeoffs with time, resources, etc. that can make acoustic monitoring versus capture a better decision depending on the situation). 

We also did roost exit counts a few nights, where some team members used night vision goggles to watch a roost entrance and said “one in”, “one out”, etc. while other team members kept track of how many bats had entered and exited their roost with counters. This could give an idea of bat activity at specific roosts on a given night, and can be paired with acoustic data collected at the same location to identify the species active there (and potentially what species are roosting there!). The roosts in question on our trip were old mineshafts and tunnels. It was really interesting to see the abandoned mining lands and how the old mines here look and become part of the landscape compared. I was mentally comparing this type of former mining land with the way old iron mining landscapes in northern Minnesota where I’m from look––it’s a lot different, with MN Iron Range minelands now largely converted to minepits filled in with fresh water, steep hills of waste rock dotted with trees, and orangish dirt in some places. Here I’m still learning about it, but the marks of mining on the landscape are a lot different, with lots of small and intriguing but dangerous entrances to underground mines, and no doubt more that I hope I learn to recognize as the season goes on. 

It’s not safe but I can see why people like breaking into closed mine entrances

Milk Vetch and Management

We could hear the river before we could see it, a steady rush of water cascading in the distance. Then, in an instant, the forest opened into light as my co-intern Tessa and I found ourselves on the river bank. More accurately, we found ourselves above the river bank. A steep 10 foot drop separated us from the sprawling shore below. After a moment of contemplation, we slid down the slope, our backs covered in red earth. 

Once we were on the bank, it took only a few moments to find one of two plants we had come looking for. Spread across the shore was a milk vetch, native to the region and rare in Michigan. The milk vetch was in full flower, its long white blooms tinted with green at the base and purple at the tip. 

A moment later, we spotted the second plant we were searching for, an invasive sweet clover. Like the milk vetch it was in full bloom. The plant’s tall stems were sporting tiny white flowers, each with the potential to turn out seeds and create another generation to spread along the shore. I couldn’t help but admire the plant’s beauty as I pulled it. 

Milk vetch and sweet clover are distant cousins, both members of the legume family, but where invasive sweet clover thrives along Michigan’s roadsides and shores, native milk vetch is scarce. As we walked along this river, though, the opposite seemed to be true. The milk vetch flourished. Not taking over by any measure, but coexisting well with the other species and easy to spot all along the bank. The same wasn’t true for the sweet clover. We found only two stems. Perhaps the hard work of interns before us has payed off. The clover, which forms thick clusters along other shores, has had no success in crowding out the milk vetch. 

For almost two months now, I’ve been working on projects like this, helping manage invasive species in Ottawa National Forest.  Over the weeks, I’ve begun to fall into a routine. Tessa and I arrive at the office at dawn and meet with our mentor, Ian, to discuss the day’s plans. Then, we load up the truck and head out into the field, driving from site to site to monitor, map, and manage the Ottawa’s many invasive plants.  

Summer is in full swing in the forest. When I first arrived, the last trees were just beginning to leaf out and the honey suckle we treated had dense clusters of yellow, white, and pink flowers. Now, the very first trees are tinged with orange and honey suckle is easy to identify with round, red and orange berries that catch the sunlight. As summer advances, the raspberry bushes which once bore only thorns are heavy with berries, wild ramps flower, and hazelnut trees tempt squirrels with their ripening fruits. Waking up every morning, I see the orange sun hanging heavy over the hills. In a few weeks, it will still be dark when I leave for work. 

Sunrise over the parking lot as I head to work

This week, we met with some of the forest’s Wildlife Technicians along with members of the Iron Baraga Conservation District for what Ian deemed “turtle day”. He explained to us that the Ottawa is one of the last strongholds of the endangered wood turtle. A herpetologist visited all of the Ottawa’s turtle nesting beaches and made recommendations for how we could make them better habitat for the turtles. It would be our job to turn those recommendations into reality. 

It turns out it’s hard to be a turtle. Busy roads, human poaching, and predators that eat their eggs are all major threats to the shy reptiles. To protect them from highways, conservationists erect knee-high turtle fences around the shore to keep them from wandering up to the roadside. To discourage poaching, the locations of the turtle beaches are shared only on a need-to-know basis. Slowing predation is difficult, but one thing that helps is making sure the sandy beaches where the turtles like to bury their eggs have the right amount of vegetation. Too much vegaition can serve as a physical barrier to the turtles and keep the eggs too shaded and cool, but too little vegetation means the turtles have nowhere to hide from predators. That’s where we came in. 

Working together we spent all day treating invasive species and cutting brush to expose new sandy areas where turtles can lay eggs next year. Hopefully, the new habitat will also give turtles alternatives to burying their eggs on roadsides where they’re vulnerable to ever-rushing traffic.  

As I drove home after a long day in the field, I began reflecting on our efforts. Even though we worked all day to create better habitat for turtles, we didn’t see a single one. For us, protecting turtles didn’t mean interacting with turtles, it meant managing the plants growing along the shore. For others, it could mean controlling predators that eat eggs, or working with people to educate them about avoiding turtle habitat and driving cautiously. Because species don’t exist in isolation, conservation efforts seldom focus on just the target species. To encourage the milk vetch, we pulled clover. To support the turtles, we cut brush and dug up tansy. Everything in the forest is in relationship.

Humans are a part of that, planting trees, building paths, harvesting timber. It’s easy to think of ourselves as separate, but working in the forest has shown me that’s not as true as I thought. 

As I engage with forest management in a hands-on way for the first time, I’ve begun thinking about questions many conservation-minded people before me have asked: What is the nature of the various relationships between humans and the environment? What should those relationships look like to create a healthy, sustainable world? What steps can we take to get there?

Ian lent me the book, Rambunctious Garden by Emma Marris. It explores different conservation frameworks from all over the world and investigates the dilemmas I see every day as as we prioritize projects in the forest. I’m only a few chapters in, and it’s already informing the way I think about the relationship between people and the environments we shape. For me, creative turtle conservation methods became an invitation to think about a whole lot more. 

Yesterday was full of glossy buckthorn. The towering bushes have shiny leaves that glint in the sunlight. We knew about a large infestation of the invasive species along the highway, stretching on both sides of the river. On a hunch, we continued walking past the known infestation. Every time we thought of turning back, we found another plant. Marking them as we went, the buckthorn seemed endless. Still, we treated the bushes and continued on diligently. Finally, as we made our way back to the truck, Ian stopped suddenly. There before us was a plant I now recognized. Brimming with white flowers was the rare milk vetch. 

This was a new milk vetch site, never before recorded in the state. Once we started looking we found several more clusters of milk vetch along the highway. We scrambled to document the population, taking pictures and recording the nearby species. The experience was what I imagine it would be like to go to Starbucks and see a celebrity ordering coffee.

Milk Vetch

Milk vetch can grow well along bright riversides, but we quickly realized the river was hundreds of feet away. Ian thought that perhaps, with workers cutting the tallest plants to maintain the right of way, the milk vetch was able to find a home in the sunlight of the roadside ditch. Looking at the flowers as cars rushed by, I couldn’t help thinking about how complicated conservation is. Humans have drastically shaped the roadside environment. This has given glossy buckthorn the opportunity to run wild. At the same time, milk vetch has been able to find one more foothold in Michigan. 

It seems most management decisions come with benefits and drawbacks alike. Thinking about it, I’m grateful for all the researchers who are working hard to help us understand the many rippling effects of our interactions with the environment and all of the people, beginning in Michigan with Indigenous communities, who have worked hard to manage the land responsibly. Conservation and management are complicated tasks, but they become a little easier, I think, when we recognize our role as one more species, living in relationship in an interdependent world.

First Month in the Mojave!

Adult Joshua Tree in Red Rock Canyon

It’s been one month since I moved to Las Vegas to work with the US Geological Survey, and I’ve already seen and done so much! I have just about completed two rounds of field work. We travel across the Mojave every three weeks, visiting four “common gardens” in three states. The project I am mostly focused on is called the Joshua Tree Genome Project, and on these trips we inspect hundreds of Joshua Tree seedlings. These gardens vary in terms of climate and soil, but no matter what, it’s still very hot! I learned very quickly that working in extreme heat, even in the early morning, requires serious preparation and management. I wear long sleeves and a big sun hat, and hydrate very frequently. We also have to watch our salt intake to make sure we aren’t displacing electrolytes too quickly. That said, it is super cool to work in an environment so starkly different than my humid and forested home state of Virginia. One other aspect of field work that is a very new experience to me would have to be watering. We tow a giant water tank trailer to our gardens, and use an engine and fire hose to shower the seedlings with a lot of water. Its certainly a little more involved than using a garden hose, especially when the wind blows the water right back at you and soaks you completely! Next week I finish this round of fieldwork, which will entail sleeping overnight in the field, so that we can water and work in the cooler evening and morning.

Watering the seedlings

Outside of fieldwork, I have spent quite a lot of time with Joshua Tree seeds. This past month, I have counted thousands of seeds, both to give us an idea of our inventory, and to partition off seeds for future projects. Now that I have finished with the genome project seeds, I have been fiddling around with Python, both with the seed count data and the field data. My third realm of work would be greenhouse clean-up. Not necessarily as exciting as field work, but it is a nice break from data entry, and we get to repot Joshua Tree seedings, which is pretty cool! Overall, I’m glad I’ve been able to work a variety of duties, gaining experience in both office-work and field-work. Eventually, I will also be working in the lab, which I definitely look forward to.

Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia) seeds being sorted

One last thing to mention is the nature around here in Nevada! Coming from Virginia, the only lizards I was accustomed to seeing were skinks, but out here, there is a myriad of cool reptiles! I’m also lucky enough to live near a wetland preserve, where I have seen a variety of new birds! As well, I have seen so many cool desert and mountain flora, including cacti and adult Joshua Trees! Recently, I have learned that there are several endemic species living in the Spring Mountains, just outside Vegas, including the very cute Palmer’s Chipmunks!

Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)

Moving forward, I am excited to continue with field work, begin lab work, and start to really analyze our data! Of course, I also look forward to exploring more of the Mojave and its amazing wildlife!

Palmer’s Chipmunk (Neotamias palmeri)

Wildlife on the Monongahela!

It has been only one month living in West Virginia and I can’t believe how much wildlife I have encountered. While working in the Monongahela National Forest, one thing that I have enjoyed the most has been the amount of diversity I have seen in the mammals, birds, amphibians, insects, and fungi. Growing up I have always been interested in all different types of wildlife, but being in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, the diversity is really different than in the Mon Forest. While being here, I have been very excited to “geek out” about all the wildlife that I have never seen before.

To start, some of the larger wildlife I have seen are bears and grouse. While helping with a highway trash pick-up day, Katie and I saw two black bears cross the road. Unfortunately, it was so fast that I was not able to take a picture of them, but it was still exciting to see my first wild bear. It is also cool to have seen the black bear in West Virginia because it is the West Virginia state animal. Another interesting animal I saw was a Ruffed Grouse, Bonasa umbellus. The grouse is interesting because it is in the same family as the chicken and even looks kind of like a small chicken at first glance.

The amphibians that have caught my attention are the salamanders and newts. I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to help with salamander surveys. This has allowed me to see a handful of different species that range in size and color. Some species include the Northern Dusky, Desmognathus fuscus; the Northern Slimy Salamander, Plethodon glutinosus; and the Northern Red Salamander, Pseudotriton ruber. I have seen the Eastern Newt, Notophthalmus viridescens, a couple of times. These little guys are cool because they spend the first three years of their lives as the red eft stage (pictured below) roaming around on land and then the rest of their lives in water for their adult stage with a completely different coloration of a green dorsal and yellow stomach. They are also the only species of newt that we have in the Monongahela!

Some more wildlife that is hard to miss are the bugs. While being in the field there have been many bugs that I have encountered. I have also helped an AmeriCorps member on one of her projects by doing a “bug blitz.” For the “bug blitz,” we spent a couple hours searching a plot of the forest and tried to catch as many bugs as we could find to later ID them. After doing this multiple times, we can gauge the different bug populations in parts of the forest. This was a lot of fun, and I was able to see so many different spiders, leafhoppers, beetles, and flies that I didn’t realize were so interesting till I was able to get a closer look.

To save the best for last, the group that has caught my attention the most has been the fungi! I always thought fungi were cool, but after coming to the Mon Forrest, the diversity of fungi has blown my mind. I have never seen so many different shapes, sizes, and colors of fungi before. Thanks to the help of an identification app called Seek, I have been able to learn many different names of the common fungi I encounter while out in the field. Some of the common ones I have found and been able to ID are pictured below. However, I am still learning and there are still so many more that have caught my attention, but I have not been able to identify yet, including the last picture of the bright red-orange mushroom.

Overall, I have had an incredibly fun time seeing so much wildlife. Every day I work in the field I am excited to find more new species to add to my running list of things I have never seen before. I am extremely thankful to be working in the Monongahela National Forest, and I can’t wait to see what other wildlife I will see in the upcoming months.

Boise Summer

June has quickly passed and now it’s July in Boise! Last month consisted of lots of crispy flowers due to the heat wave. It seems that with average temperatures higher than last year, we were a little too late to collect seeds from the plants at lower elevation. Temperatures reached 106 in the middle of the day! Thankfully one week, we were sent out to the Lost River where it felt like we stepped back a few weeks in time due to the higher elevation and lower temperatures. The flowers at these sites were almost ready for collection! We got to camp in some cooler weather by a stream and even got to experience some rain, which is rare for us in Boise! After work shenanigans included jumping in the stream, bird watching, and telling our fortunes. 

Some people have a lot of questions about camping and what it’s like to eat out in the field on a weekly basis. For the most part you can keep your diet the same as at home. With a good camp stove and pan you can make just about anything! I’ve previously made salmon burgers, pad thai, and falafel among other meals. This month I’ve been counting macronutrients and getting culinarily creative. My favorite macro friendly meal is “jogurt”- jello pudding packets mixed with nonfat greek yogurt! It has 19 grams of protein, 5 grams of carbs, and 0 grams of fat! Dinner is usually a can of sustainably caught (pole and line) tuna mixed with either hummus or nonfat refried beans, microgreens and other vegetables on a tortilla or bread. This works out to about 40 grams of protein, 60 carbs, and 7 grams of fat.  It’s still possible to eat well without a full kitchen and limited refrigeration in the front country!

Doors to a New Way of Life

All too often, I see bright, passionate young people jumping into graduate programs right after their undergraduate degrees. This might be the best choice for some, maybe even a majority, but I’m sure many have also felt the pressure to go to graduate school because you know school is something you’ve been good at, it’s a sure plan, and it’ll buy more time for things to fall into place. I decided during my last year of college that “might as well” wasn’t a good enough reason to go to school for two to four or more years and decide on the niche I would study and fall into the rest of my life. Instead, I have been forging my own path to test out my interests and desires and see what sticks. My adventure started with a year living in Germany, becoming an ESL teacher, and then moving to Las Vegas to try out van life while working for Nevada Conservation Corps. While in Las Vegas, I learned so much about the people in conservation that make all of the concepts and theories that I’d learned in the classroom come to life and the diversity of jobs that it takes to make it happen. Originally from Ohio, I decided I wanted something a little closer to home this summer and fall, and I landed at Ottawa National Forest.

When I arrived, I was immediately charmed by the small town of Ironwood and awestruck by the towering pines. The John Muir quote “Between every two pine trees is a door leading to a new way of life,” came to mind, and it has stuck with me ever since as I stroll and tromp between pines to get to our work sites. I am on an invasive plant crew at Ottawa National Forest, and after a few weeks, I finally feel like I have settled in a bit. Like many other jobs where nature is the office space, our typical day is tricky to pin down. Some days are straightforward: show up to the office, get your maps, get to as many sites as possible and thoroughly look for and treat the invasive species there such as garlic mustard, honeysuckle, Japanese barberry, glossy buckthorn or goutweed. Other days leave me completely open-mouthed that this is my real life and I’m getting paid to do this: try on the wet suits and go snorkeling for Eurasian watermilfoil.  

My co-intern, Emily (left) and I (right) at Crooked Lake in Sylvania Wilderness Area before snorkeling for Eurasian watermilfoil

When starting a new job, I think it’s important to set goals, and what better place to write them down than a blog post for all to see and read. My biggest professional goal, which I have already made huge strides in, is becoming a better navigator. I tend to rely on my phone for GPS quite a bit when I’m driving in my personal vehicle, and I couldn’t tell you which way a road runs. However, invasive plant sites aren’t nicely saved into Google Maps, so we have to use our paper maps to navigate the dirt, sometimes overgrown Forest Service roads. At first, I was nervous about navigating, afraid to take us down a wrong road. I quickly learned two things– 1.) That it’s not the end of the world to make a wrong turn and 2.) How to make less wrong turns. I’m excited to see how my navigation skills will improve by the end of this internship!

Most of the other goals I have are personal and some of them not directly work-related. Here are a few: see a wild bear, catch a fish, see a rare plant, learn and be able to ID 20 new plants (this number will only increase, as I’m learning new plants every day in the dense and diverse forest), and form new friendships while I’m in Ironwood. In the coming months, there’s a lot I’m looking forward to, the change of season with the spectacular colors of the trees, the different invasive species projects, learning about the innerworkings of the forest service, and of course getting to know my co-intern, Emily, and supervisor, Ian, much better. Field work can be challenging, especially because nature doesn’t care if you’re already covered in mosquito bites and your socks are wet, but even through long, itchy, soggy days, Ian always has a smile on his face and arrives the next day chipper as ever, excited for work at 6 am. It’s an enthusiasm Emily and I have taken note of and hope to emulate even a fraction of. There’s still a lot of adjusting I have to do before I feel like the forest is a second home to me, but I’m finding doors to a new way of life every day.  Each one starts to feel a little more welcoming and familiar than the last.

Tessa Fenstermaker, Ottawa National Forest

The Hunt for Running Buffalo Clover

Megan and I by the Mon’s sign after hunting through the woods for Running Buffalo Clover.

These last few weeks since my last blog post have been jam-packed with projects and rewardingly hard work. Megan and I managed to pass our exams and successfully become certified herbicide applicators! We have spent enough time pulling Garlic Mustard that I see it every time I close my eyes. Now anytime Megan and I go hiking, I constantly get distracted and stop to yank up the sporadic garlic mustard patches we come across.

Outside of our adventures with invasive species, we have also had the opportunity to assist Ruben Sabella, a master’s student from West Virginia University, with his research on the Running Buffalo Clover’s habitat and population ecology. Running Buffalo Clover (Trifolium stoloniferum) was thought to be extinct until 1983 when it was found by Rodney Bartgis in West Virginia’s Nature Conservancy. Through the work of many researchers and conservationists, it is now common enough that the Fish and Wildlife Service is considering removing it from the list of endangered species. Ruben’s research will hopefully add to the evidence needed to cross this milestone.

The main threat to Running Buffalo Clover (RBC) because of its specific habitat needs. RBC needs periodic disturbance in order to thrive – hence its name which refers both to the stolons or “runners” of RBC and the fact that it grew predominantly in buffalo grazing grounds. Using this knowledge, the Forest Service initiated a contract with timber companies to harvest specific sites, giving RBC the disturbance that it needs. Our job was to visit all of the harvested sites in search of RBC populations. We started with 100 flags to mark each population, expecting not to need nearly that many and ultimately running out before we had completed our surveys. It was a pleasant surprise.

RBC looks very similar to common white clover, with only a few distinguishing traits. The main identifying trait is the stolons that connect the individual plants of the colonies, but the easiest way to distinguish them is by looking at their base. RBC’s base fans out with little leaflets while all other clovers have thin and wiry bases.

Now that we have located all of the RBC populations, we will go back and count the individual plants of each colony. Then Ruben can begin analyzing the growth patterns and habitat preferences for his thesis. I have really enjoyed being a part of this project and am looking forward to seeing the results of the research!

The Days Need to SLOW Down

For starters, I cannot believe that it is almost July! This past month or so in Oregon has been full of beautiful sights and many learning experiences and I am in disbelief in how fast it’s going by! That being said, I appreciate this opportunity to look back on those moments and share them, allowing them to settle in my memory and grow in value. It’s worth mentioning that a good reason why this past month flew by is mostly due to the fact that Justus and I have been very busy. Today, being an “office” day, allows me the time to reflect and realize how much I’ve already grasped and seen in this time.

To pick up where I left off, the following weeks were mostly consisting of electrofishing for trout species in Long Creek. My previous mentor, Justus and I traveled the hour and a half ride to the field site for several days together until we were confident enough to take on the task alone and alongside some of The Nature Conservancy employees. All of whom were very kind, knowledgeable and a joy to have during the days that were snowy and cold. Now, it has been just Justus and I traveling everyday to the site, and the weather has taken quite the turn. While we started in the snow, we ended in the heat. With that came mosquitos and leaky, smelly waders. Nonetheless, I gained a lot of electrofishing experience, knowledge about fish behavior, honed in on my fish ID skills, learned how to PIT tag, and grew my relationship with my co-intern. Currently, we are in a heat wave experiencing near 100 degree weather. Thankfully, our time at Long Creek came to an end just before it hit. But, we are on to more field work this week working with Modoc Suckers conducting habitat monitoring. I’m excited to learn more and have experience with a new species.

Here I am PIT tagging my first Brook trout. We first measured the fish and inserted the tag just under their dorsal fins. At first, I was nervous and didn’t want to hurt the fish, but with practice came confidence and reassurance.
A TNC staff member (Katie), Justus and I attempt to catch any fish hiding near this log. I promise we weren’t posing for the picture.
Long Creek runs next to property with a lot of cows and during our time there, some of the cows were on the wrong side of the fence. They nearly came in the creek with us at one point. I realized how much I love cows.

In the days that we weren’t at Long Creek, we were at the FWS hatchery, Gone Fishin’. I’d like to just share that I love that name for a hatchery. At this well-named hatchery, I got to assist in a variety of tasks alongside staff. A FWS staff member (Josh) offered to show us around the property where we were first introduced to staff, the goals of the hatchery, the Lost River and Shortnose sucker species, and some of essential tasks needing to be done. One of which we participated in that same day, was counting larvae that were collected that morning. In each cooler there were thousands of larvae that needed to be accurately counted in each tank. It was straining to the eyes, but very cool to help the first step in their goal to conserve these species. Now, having been to the hatchery a number of times, Justus and I have counted thousands more larvae, helped clean tanks, count mortalities, maintain the grounds, feed both larva and juvenile fish, and the most exciting one- help milk and fertilize eggs. We were lucky to have been there the day that they decided to collect sperm and eggs from male and female suckers to gather fertility data. There was unfortunately only one female with eggs, but they used that opportunity to fertilize, incubate, and hope for development. I really enjoyed watching and helping with these tasks. That same day was when the federal government announced their new regulations on masks- fully vaccinated people didn’t have to wear one. We all simultaneously took our masks off and saw each other’s faces for the first time. It was a bizarre but positive moment.

Another day, we got to go out with FWS staff Michelle, to collect larvae ourselves. That involved boating on the Williamson River, sifting the shorelines with our dip nets until all of our coolers were full. I was grateful to participate in this step to see a larger view of the process of conserving these species.

Here is Javier (fish biologist) and Mark (hatchery manager) milking a male sucker.
If you look closely in the white areas of the cooler (best at the bottom and top of the image), you will see tan-colored little lines that are larval fish. At this stage, they are just millimeters long.

Apart from my internship experiences, I have had the privilege to spend my weekends seeing the beauty of Oregon. Besides the fact that this internship offers me a very valuable education that will set me up for my future, along with connections, unforgettable experiences, etc., I really was drawn to the location, as well. Oregon has a new place in my heart. I feel like it always had one, but now I have the memories here. I owe that to the crystal clear rivers in the mountains, the mountains themselves, the cloudy coast with their enormous slugs (Banana slugs are my favorite), rocky yet lush landscape, the strong coastal winds, the birds, the lack of humidity, and the river rocks.

This experience so far has shown me my abilities and the reality that there are so many places to see, people to meet, and new things to learn. I want the days to go by slower so I can soak in everything and see and learn as much as I can while I’m here. Please enjoy the images! I can’t wait to share what the next month will bring.

Banana slug I watched eat this dying leaf. Just LOOK at that pneumostome (aka the massive hole in it’s side).
Elk River
Taken on coastal trail
First time doing Mount McLoughlin! Very well worth the sore body after.
Stunning blue water of Crater Lake #nofilter.
The coldest, clearest water I ever swam in. Granted, it took me several minutes to build up the nerve to get in.

Kicking things off in Idaho

Hi y’all, my name is Katherine and I am one of the two CLM interns based in Boise, ID. For the next four months, I’ll be working with my mentor Jessica Irwin, my teammate Liza Chang, and a wonderful crew of scientists at the Rocky Mountain Research Station to continue monitoring common garden sites and collecting native plant seed throughout the Intermountain West.

It’s hard to believe a month has already gone by since arriving in Boise. Before a few weeks ago, I had only ever passed through Idaho on my way to the West Coast. Having limited experience with xeric ecosystems, I hardly knew what to expect. So far, the answer seems to be “anything!” — at least, weather-wise. The first week brought rain and even snow on some nearby peaks, followed by a super sunny week in the 90s, and then back to rain again. I’m lucky to say our work has been similarly variable.

We began our season at the common garden sites in Richfield, ID; Orchard, ID; and Orovada, NV. Working with the USFS crew, we collected phenology data on three forb species installed at each site. Because the sites are typically in pretty remote places, we get to camp at the garden and hang out with the crew. So far, we’ve consumed innumerable PB&Js, startled a few snakes, and collected hundreds of teeny tiny leaves. Each week brings new flowers, weeds, and seed “poofs” along with new adventures after work.

For example, on a recent vegetation survey in the Santa Rosa Range we traveled far up a road into the Red Hills, winding through cow pastures and along steep cliffs to a peaceful grove of cottonwoods and mining debris. Though the plants in the area weren’t quite grown enough to collect herbarium specimens, we made the most of the evening by hiking up to the top of the ridgeline. There, we not only found a cactus that had not yet been documented in the area, but were also treated to the most beautiful views of vast, empty valleys. I’m looking forward to more of each in equal measure – new plants, off road adventures, and expansive nothingness.