Month #1 in Beaverhead County

Days and weeks out here are flying by!

We were busy our first week with white bark pine surveys in some amazing locations along the Continental Divide trail. These missions were not related to seed collection, but really helped me acclimate to the new ecosystem as a whole. I am working on the only botany crew in Beaverhead-Deerlodge NF (consists of six botanists, including myself), so we are tasked with covering as much of the 3.3 million acre forest as possible.

We quickly moved on to rare plant monitoring by checking up on known populations of Physaria pulchella, Penstemon lemhiensis and Primula alcalina. These plants were each super specialized to particular environments, so it was super interesting vising and identifying different habitat types.

Next we begun collecting bees for a pollinator survey which resulted from a partnership between Montana State University and the Forest service. These surveys were really unique and required us to run around in meadows of wildflowers with children’s butterfly nets to catch pollinators. We stayed onsite for a week, pinning the bees to preserve them at the campsite each night. This culminated in a visit to MSU’s pollinator research lab to see the archival process.

Ten-hour days in the field are sometimes long, but I’ve been having a great time at work. I feel like an honorary member of the FS botany crew and am making sure to explore on my free time. I feel super grateful that I am able to work in such an interesting place with such likeminded people.

Some quick bits about my adventures outside of work:

-Spontaneously rode in a 67-mile bike race through the Pioneer Mountains on 1 day notice.

-Met up with some fellow CBG interns at the Bozeman hot springs for a grass ID event.

-Our urban test garden is growing quick down in Lawndale, IL, so check it out if you happen to be in the area (lots of strange weeds to ID)

-Went to my first demolition derby

-Had a good time at the Twin Bridges Bluegrass Festival

-Got some great wildlife pictures and they will be ready to share by the next blog post

New Place, New Plants, New Possibilities

As someone who has lived most of their life below an elevation of 3500 ft on the east coast, moving to the west for the summer and staying mostly around the 6000-7000 ft elevation range has been a great adventure. All of the wildlife is vastly different from what I am used to and I was lucky enough to see my first moose on my first day in Montana. Since then I have seen many new animals in person including elk, antelope, ground squirrels, marmots, snowshoe hares, new snakes, and my new favorite birds – magpies. I am also excited and apprehensive about the other new, larger animals that are more common here compared to home – grizzly bears and mountain lions – but have yet to run into them. 

Enjoying a lunch break in a meadow during a scouting trip at the Big Snowy Mountains.

Along with many new animals that I had not seen before, I am also excited to see and learn of lots of new plants that I had not previously known as well! Some of my favorites so far include all of the species of Phacelia (Scorpionweed), Penstemon (Beardtongues), and Mertensia (Bluebells) which I had not seen in my home state of North Carolina. And I am definitely looking forward to trying some huckleberries for the first time whenever they are in season! There are also some new species within genuses I already was familiar with such as Actaea rubra, Acer glabrum, and many new pines and spruces. The mountains in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest as well as the ones I am used to from North Carolina are both very beautiful and yet so different from each other. Montana has way fewer broadleaf trees than what I am used to and I am looking forward to learning all of the conifers that make up the amazing forest that I am working with this summer. 

Phacelia spp. found June 28th during a trip through the Big Belts. Not the ones on our list, but still beautiful.

Already I have gained many new skills and experiences and I can not wait to see what the rest of the summer brings to me from this wonderful opportunity and I am so excited to help contribute to future restoration projects in order to keep these forests thriving!

Memorial Falls at the Little Belts – just a fun day trip.

Greetings from the UKB!

When I received my offer letter from Chicago Botanic Gardens to work with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Klamath Falls, OR, I was beyond enthralled! Coming from Omaha, NE, I had never experienced a landscape quite like southern Oregon. Knowing I was going to have an whole summer dedicated to studying an entirely new range of species was my sole motivator for making the twenty-two hour trek out here.

My first project started the week of May 8th, where another intern, Loretta, and I, had the opportunity to conduct yellow rail (Coturnicops noveboracensis) surveys within the Klamath Marsh. These small birds, only a few inches in length, reside in grassy marshes and due to their brown and yellow coloration, are difficult to see from the naked eye. Due to the decline in population, rail surveys are important indicators of the health of the marsh. In order to attract yellow rails, we had to create a series of clicking noises with stones (a technique that was difficult to perfect) which lured male rails toward our net. After they were trapped, we carefully handled the bird using a bander’s grip, shown below.

We then placed a silver band around their leg, measured the length of each bird’s wing, tail, tarsus, and culmen. In the end, we surveyed 30 birds throughout the course of three nights. It was a rewarding first project that I was grateful to be a part of!

After a week of rail banding, I spent the remainder of May working with the FWS hatchery crew. The hatchery’s main focus is to restore lost river and shortnose sucker (Deltistes luxatus and Chasmistes brevirostris) populations within Upper Klamath Lake. Larvae from both populations are collected at the mouth of the Williamson River, which feeds into Upper Klamath Lake. The larvae are then brought back to the hatchery and, upon successful survival, will be released once they have matured.

A bulk of our summer has consisted of monitoring bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) populations at Deming Creek and removing brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) populations from Callaghan Creek. Bull trout populations have significantly declined from habitat loss and degradation, which is why they are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Brook trout are an invasive species throughout the Upper Klamath Basin (UKB) because they are out-competing bull trout for vital resources. In order to restore the health of waterways, brook trout removal and bull trout re-introduction must be conducted.

Species monitoring and removal are completed with backpack electroshockers, which are designed to temporarily shock the fish while mitigating harm. For bull trout monitoring, electrofishing gives us the ability to easily record measurements and other useful data that indicates the health of the fish. Below is a picture of a healthy brook trout found at Deming Creek.

Aside from species’ monitoring, electrofishing allows us to capture and remove as many brook trout as possible. At first, I was quite uncomfortable with removing up to 300 brook trout a day, however, I have begun to recognize the importance of invasive species removal.

Outside of fieldwork, I have been able to connect with several employees at the Klamath Falls office, all who have been extremely helpful in providing me with ample resources. I am beyond appreciative to be an active participant in the conservation work being performed within the Upper Klamath Basin and I cannot wait to share more updates about my time with FWS!

Maddie Weinrich

Week 1 at the Manti-La Sal National Forest

I made the 14-hour journey from the lush green of Oregon to the vibrant reds of the Moab, Utah desert. Such strikingly different landscapes but both equally enthralling. After about 48 hours, of which I spent unpacking, familiarizing myself with the town, and hiking to streams to beat the heat, I began work. 

A creek I swam in with a view of the national forest I would soon be working in.

Over the next 5 months I will be working in the Manti-La Sal National Forest collecting seeds. I started a few weeks later than my co-intern because of my college graduation (woohoo!) so it felt as though I was a little behind. My first day consisted of completing the required trainings and after we got into the fun stuff.

Since I was coming into things a little late, my co-intern and supervisor had already scouted for our first seed we were going to collect. We were looking for the Utah Sweetvetch (Hedysarum boreale). The Utah Sweetvetch was easy to distinguish between other similar plant species due to its constricted pods, broken into separate sections. After about an hour in the field we were able to identify a massive population, much of which was ready to collect. We spent about 2 more hours collecting seeds and were able to collect about 24,000 seeds my first day. The following day we were able to collect 20,000 more. 

After two days collecting seed at lower elevation on an exposed landscape, we were recruited up to higher elevation. The recreation crew for the Manti-La Sal needed bodies to help with a large fence project around a lake in the La Sal’s. Much of the La Sal’s have free range cattle which have a tendency to get into everything, a problem I am familiar with from rural Oregon but did not expect to run into here. We were tasked with taking down the existing barbed wire fence that surrounded a small lake and its campground. The fence was in disrepair due to the winter months at high elevation as well as the nosy cattle. A portion of the fence ran through boggy areas surrounding the lake as well as patches of stinging nettle that managed to make contact with my wrists despite my long sleeve shirt and gloves. Both the wet boots and itching wrists were a welcome tradeoff for the cooler temperatures. We spent nearly two days taking apart this fence and were all hugely satisfied to unwrap the last piece of barbed wire from the final t-post. The fence will now be rebuilt with t-post 3 feet closer together for more support and we will all cross our fingers and hope that this year’s snowpack and cattle don’t destroy it again.

My first week of work, although I am exhausted and welcomed the weekend with open arms, has me stoked for the rest of the season. I can’t wait to explore more of the Manti-La Sal NF and my new desert home!

Fantastic Foray to Stuck Truck

The Rocky Mountain Research Station in Boise, Idaho is incredibly busy! I started off my internship by travelling with some forest service coworkers to a Botanical Foray at the Desert Experimental Range (DER) in Utah. Marguerite, Bebe, Anna and I met some amazing botanists who are passionate about the Great Basin. We hiked up Tunnel Springs Mountains, I collected and pressed some cool cacti (and made my first ever voucher!!), and we socialized with like minded botanists. We filled some of our free time with campfire stories, hunting for scorpions, going to Great Basin National Park to scout for rare plants, and seeing some beautiful scenery.

DER Camp
Desert Mojave Cactus
Pressing a Cactus

In the middle of June, I helped assist a BSU project in Bruneau, Idaho. We camped at Bruneau Dunes State Park. We identified species in blocks for a master student’s data.

Jessica – Bruneau
BSU Students + Archie

My last big trip of the month was to the Modoc Plateau in Oregon, California, and Nevada. Elric and I went with Joe, a forest service seasonal employee to scout for plants in predetermined wetland sites for a follow up survey of an AIM season. Hiking in the Great Basin is so unique, one minute you are in sagebrush steppe or desert, the next you are in small wetland areas.

First Night Sunset
Birthday Sunset

We found some amazing plants that weren’t on our species list- like this huge puffball!

Puffball- size of my hand!
IRMI- Target Species
Obsidian Fragment

Then… we hit a little speed bump in our trip. We got stuck in some mud, and ended up having to call for a rescue from Boise. We were about 6.5 hours away, but Jessica and Anna came to our rescue! Elric, Joe and I camped out for about 40 hours waiting for help to arrive, since we got stuck in the late day/early evening on Wednesday 6/28.

Stuck Truck
Rescue Truck
Elric’s Celebration

After long hours of working on the truck’s escape from the mud, we finally got it! We had a celebratory spaghetti dinner, and then we camped close by for the night. We were able to finish out assignment in the Modoc Plateau! We got back late Friday (6/30), and we are so relieved to be back home.

Overall, this has been such a thrilling first month to my internship! I can’t wait to see what the rest of this season holds with these amazing people!

Living Art in Flight

The mornings are early, the dawn quiet but as we rode along in the forest vehicles to the monitoring site of the day the world was beginning to awaken around us. After a bumpy ride through the rough and swirly roads we arrived at the area we would survey for the day, littered with fields of lavender Phacelia exilis, bright yellow Castilleja lasiorhyncha, and deep violet Erythranthe purpurea that shimmered like scattered rubies across the forest floor. For the next couple of weeks, I accompanied a team of botanists and botany technicians to do rare plant surveys in this dazzling area, Holcomb Valley in North Big Bear. The goal of the day relatively simple, map out the boundaries of these rare plant species to understand both the size of the various populations but also to the extent of their range in the area. These polygons formed by the team in the future being used to inform firefighters on where fire retardant should not be sprayed due to the sensitive nature of the species.

One of the sites surveyed in Holcomb Valley in North Big Bear with a field of Phacelia exilis and Castilleja lasiorhyncha. Photo courtesy of Karen.
Seed Collection monitoring in Apple Valley SBF, a sea of flannel bush (Fremontodendron californicum) illuminating the landscape.

I spent much of my time with Katie, a Botany Field Assistant who would teach me the ropes on how to work the tablets in putting down points while also some tricks on ensuring the data collected best represented each population minimizing human error. I also spent time with Joseph a Biological Science Technician with a focus in Botany who was especially knowledgeable in teaching us about the native flora in the area and the minute details that separated one species from another. We focused our sight on P.exilis populations and as we entered the forest I searched for these rare purple flowers with translucent like petals. As I followed Katie, she described the area in more depth telling me that this species was a perennial that enjoyed moist soil and was often found at drainage sites, she explained how different soil types and terrain gives us clues on where to set our eyes on and what trail to follow when mapping a species. I will admit I had some difficulty in this at first as I would have trouble deciding where to start when overlooking a population. Some species seemed to stretch out for miles and as we marched through the thick underbrush and over fallen logs, I called out hesitantly on the finding of P.exilis as Katie quickly followed behind me. As the days went by though I became more confident in not only my sighting skills but also in understanding the polygons on the iPad and where to go to not overlap previous surveys on the same species in the past. However, as we trudged through the forest, I couldn’t ignore the fluttering of butterflies that surrounded me, each very different from the other. Their bright colors and elaborate patterns intrigued me not only for their beauty but for why they evolved to take on that image. There seemingly paper like fragile wings propelling them powerfully up and across the meadows searching for nectar upon the flowers found throughout. In some instances, I became sidetracked as I chased after a few, attempting to take a quick picture in vain. This interest quickly bled into other sites I visited when doing surveys or monitoring plant populations, I became engrossed in gaining information on the pollinators that so closely interacted with the plants we were watching. After a few days of assisting in mapping North Big Bear I could no longer ignore these ornate gems and at lunch breaks I began to take pictures of them to capture their beauty. After the end of the day, we would return to the office, and I attempted (with some luck) to identify the species through both wing patterns and associated plant species interactions.

On our expeditions thereafter I began to record the flowers I saw the butterflies landing upon and the time of day I spotted a certain group appearing the most. While our main goal was on rare plant surveys, I developed a small side project on these trips in learning more about the native butterflies in this area and their connection to the plant species they so loved. As I stood in the field of flowers found in Holcomb Valley, I was mesmerized by the beauty that surrounded me and felt an increased love for the work I was doing. As the shades of purple, yellow, and violet faded towards the end of our surveys due to the oncoming summer heat, the butterflies remained, moving works of art dancing in the morning light.

A female Boisduval’s Blue (Icaricia icarioides) with tips of wings tinged in brown found in the Holcomb Valley area perched upon a fruiting lupine. Picture courtesy of Karen as my ancient phone takes subpar pictures!
An orange butterfly that belongs in the genus of Greater Fritillaries perched upon an Allium. Currently working upon identifying the species!
Ediths Checkerspot (Euphydras editha). Alot of other checkerspot species are common in Big Bear with some notable rare ones such as the Quino checkerspot (Euphydryas editha quino) which is currently listed as endangered.
A female California Dogface (Zerene eurydice) butterfly, Californias state insect! Perched upon a thankfully native Cobweb thistle (Cersium occidentale).