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.