Denali and Cordova

This month, Josh and I got to do some more travelling outside our known areas in the Chugach. The first weekend in August we were able to do some backpacking in Denali. This 6 million acre park was originally created to protect wildlife, as wildlife biologist Adolf Murie studied the decline in Dall sheep. He has been called “Denali’s Wilderness Conscience”, as he spent 30 years rigorously studying ecological relationships, writing articles for popular conservation magazines, and favored restricted human development in the park. This mentality is still withheld today, as there is a landslide blocking the road roughly around mile 35, making the remaining 55 miles of road impossible to travel via vehicle. The woman who gave us a ride worked there a while back and she said there is some controversy on re-opening the road. Apparently it would be easier to construct an entirely new road, however, this completely goes against Adolf Murie’s advocacy. On the issue to improve the park road during his time, he wrote “my point of view will stress intruding and injuring the spirit of wilderness as little as possible, with sometimes a little inconvenience resulting. I would rather err in that direction.” There is also a surprisingly low amount of trails throughout the park, it is just literally 6 million acres for you to roam around. Although we went on a day that had mostly clear sky, you can only barely see Mt. Denali, which unfortunately is like going to the most acclaimed restaurant only to smell the food. The views were still great, and it was nice to see a new ecosystem. There is a shuttle bus around every 30 minutes that takes you to where the landslide is so you can see more of the park.

Looking out on the park road a little past mile 20
Cathedral Mountain in Denali National Park: the gray area is the Cantewell Formation, a thick bed of sedimentary rocks. This is toppled and intruded by the volcanic activity of the Teklanika Formation. The Teklanika Formation is younger and characterized by reddish- or yellow-brown rocks.
Dall sheep ewe with her calf. The populations within the original boundary of the park are not hunted (because of Adolf Murie) and still share their range with other larger predators.

Cottongrass, Eriophorum species. This grows commonly in the Alaskan tundra

Another cool area we traveled to the second week of August was Cordova, one of the other districts of the Chugach National Forest. Although the town of Cordova is only 139 air miles away from this side of the Chugach, it is not connected to the main Alaskan road systems, making it only accessible by ferry. This 7 hour boat ride took us through Port Wells, between Glacier Island, then into Orca Bay. After speaking with the terrestrial crew leader, she advised for us to have a goal to make a grass and a Carex collection by the end of the week, I think this is because she wanted to have seeds for a wetter area and seeds for a drier area. It was exciting to get to a new place with different species that were more prevalent on our list. Cordova seemed as if it gets 2x the amount of rain Moose Pass does, and a lot of plants seemed to be behind in phenology, especially in the glacier area. Cordova also has way more bears than on the other side of the Chugach, and to be in on a trail anywhere out there, you need to be gun certified. At first I was rather bummed that we weren’t hiking as much, but then our 2nd to last day we saw a grizzly nearby our mapped Carex site. I had thought it was a car on the dirt road and then I saw the 4 legs moving into the forested area. After hiking most the Chugach without a bear encounter, I was rather scared. I turned some music on a portable speaker, clenched my bear spray tight and continued to pick Carex in the pouring rain.

Low tide sunset in Cordova
Josh getting ready to create a Lupinus nootkatensis polygon at the base of Sheridan Glacier
The trees in Cordova are absolutely covered in Usnea, a beard lichen. It is very stringy and flexible, the presence of Usnea in an environment is a good indicator of clean air.
Glacier right outside Whittier where we got the ferry ride

Another interesting fact about Alaska in general is in 1964, a 9.2 magnitude megathrust earthquake caused ground fissures, collapsing structures, and tsunamis. This was caused by an oceanic plate sinking under a continental plate. In the Turnagain Arm area closer to Anchorage that Josh and I are more familiar with, the earthquake dropped this area around 8 feet. This is seen today by the ‘ghost tree forest’, from all the spruce that became water logged after 1964. However in Cordova, the ground was raised, causing new wetlands to emerge. Overall, it has been cool to learn about how this recent history has affected the ecosystem differently from the ground shifting to opposite elevations.

Stolen from ‘’ but I wanted to show a good visual of the ‘Ghost Tree Forest’ from all the spruce that got flooded by the 1964 earthquake.

Overall, we have collected 1,562,248 seeds from 22 populations, consisting of 12 different species and 12 different locations. Other than a couple more collections of grass and maybe some Juncus, we should be finished and starting to process all of this for storage.

This is another cool time of year for the fish viewing sites. These are what most locals refer to as ‘zombie salmon’, where they are typically at the end of their life. If you can see them this far upstream, they typically stop eating and put all of their energy into spawning. These fish do NOT taste good, but it’s easy pickins’ for the bears.

Collecting Seeds in the Rain and Alaska Adventures

Collecting seeds in the rain is just as fun as I thought it would be! Even though August has been the wettest month in Alaska it has also been a month full of adventures.

During the first Week of August I got to Visit Denali National Park. There was a landslide that made it so you could only get to the 45th mile point. Unfortunately you can’t really see Mt. Denali from there but we still got to ride the bus all the up to where the landslide happened and see more of the park. We even got to see some Caribou!

On our next adventure our Mentor sent Katie and I on a ferry to Cordova, Alaska to collect seeds from another part of the Chugach National Forest that is only accessible by boat or plane. Cordova was very wet and rainy. It rained every day we were there except for our last day. We got to see one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen and even got to see tiny sea otters just hanging out in the water. Collecting seeds in the rain wasn’t very fun but all the things I got to see made up for getting so wet.

The bunkhouse that we live in is off of Kenai Lake. We used to have 17 people living in our bunkhouse and we would often have campfires by the lake. Most of the people we live with here at the bunkhouse were doing internships that ended in August and now there are only 6 of us here. The picture of me in my hammock below was taken at our last group campfire by the lake. The second photo is a really cool looking mushroom that I found outside of our office building. I thought it would be cool to share a close up photo of a cut test that Katie and I performed on Bluejoint reedgrass which is one of our smallest seeds that we have collected. The last picture below was taken in front of a beautiful sunset in Anchorage by my parents who came to Alaska to visit me.

This month Katie and I collected seeds from many of the sites that we had been monitoring for collection. In total we have collected from 22 populations a total of 1,562,248 seeds from 12 different species at 12 different locations.

August Highlights

Most of our months field activities have been eaten up by the air quality. The fires surrounding us and the variable wind patterns have made predicting good days to go out difficult. However, we did get to assist on brook trout removal at Crater Lake NP, work on a wetland restoration project, and spend a day out with a stream restoration crew. When the smoke wins, we have been working on office projects for a few different biologists and techs.

The Crater Lake project has been ongoing for three seasons now, meaning our brook trout removal was a slow go, but that is a good thing! Only seeing 1-2 fish a day meant the project was meeting its goals, even if it made the days long. We did however get to see some other fun critters and explore parts of the park we would otherwise not get to see.

Working on the wetlands restoration project with a partners biologist in the office was one of my favorite things so far this season. It is one of few projects that you get to see the results of quickly, which makes it a super hopeful process! The project not only expanded the wetland area on this property, but also worked to create better fish habitat to the river section flowing through it. The owner communicated that within a few weeks, he had been catching more native fish, so like I said, quick results!

The stream restoration crew we joined was working within the Bootleg Fire burn area on Five Mile Creek. Their project was also to create better fish habit, but from the trees remaining after the fire. This process was super informative in regards to what water can do when you change its flow pattern. We got to help move trees into the creek, build BDAs, and build other flow-changing structures. We had done inventory on this creek before this stream restoration project started, so seeing the changes made within that short period was amazing.

When the smoke won, we got to work in the office on different projects for whoever needed our help. We got the opportunity to work with permits by organizing and filing important information from them, to work on data from the telemetry crew, and the time to work on professional development with different people in the office. Even though this internship was very field work based, I have also loved the office component of it. I am a big picture learning person, so seeing the reasons and the outcomes of the fieldwork we have participated in has been helpful for the knowledge base I was hoping to gain in this position.

The Nonsoon and Nightlife

Peanut butter toads

Wonder why the monsoons lag

They dream of rainfall

I thought I would start this month’s blog with a poem about the seasons. For my haiku, I channeled the perspective of a spadefoot toad–Spea multiplicata. It might not seem that they have any thoughts behind those eyes! I tried to imagine a lot goes on behind their blank stare, particularly weather patterns. S. multiplicata is a nocturnal and opportunistic species that spends most of its time in underground burrows dug using their namesake spades. The life history of the toads is closely tied to the monsoons. Monsoon rains rapidly fill up pools in low-lying depressions, which can dry up just as fast. As a result, the average breeding period is only ~1.6 days, and the eggs hatch within 42-48 hours. The tadpoles must complete metamorphosis in as little as three weeks! While there has been enough rain to fill some of the spadefoot’s breeding pools, it’s been inconsistent and patchy.

A haiku seemed fitting for a poem, where I could reflect on the monsoons or lack thereof. In my first blog, I alluded to the monsoons that would “soon arrive”. It appears they never did. As a result, the plant abundance and diversity have been subpar this season, making seed collection a challenge. Only a handful of our target species occur in populations large enough to collect from. Of the populations that are borderline in size, grazing from elk, cattle, or feral horses has reduced them to a size below our collecting threshold. However, what we do collect is important for conservation as the populations that are able to reproduce represent local genetics that are resilient when drought-stressed!

Many people working for the Forest Service have noted the abnormal monsoon season this year. Some weather forecasters have even called it a “nonsoon”. Angie Munoz, a wildlife biologist from the Sacramento District, grew up in the Tularosa Basin. Being a local, she grew up accustomed to the typical monsoon patterns, even though they can be unpredictable. Recently, she took us around D2 to help us identify quality scouting localities. She was taken aback at the absence of wildflowers in places where they’d been abundant in the past. Larry and Taylor, our mentors, also took notice. They joined us in scouting Benado Gap to look for some lower-elevation grasses and wildflowers. Below are photos from this year and two years ago in 2021.

Rocky Mountain Zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora) and Blue gramma (Bouteloua gracilis) abound in 2021

While other crews may be at peak collecting, we’re just getting started! Many species are behind in flowering or fruiting because of the delayed rain, but others are doing their thing and making seeds. Some species we’ve seen set seed include Mertensia franciscana, Monarda fistulosa, Allium geyeri, Allium cernuum, Asclepias asperula, and Pedicularis procera.

Evie and I were able to make our first collection this month–for A. cernuum! We quickly realized what impact differing maturation rates of seeds on the same plant had on planning seed collection. The A. cernuum collection is incomplete, but we hope to revisit the population in a week or so to check on seed maturation progress. Once the fruits mature, the seed capsules quickly dehisce, giving us a narrow window of time to collect. Hopefully, we catch the next wave of mature seeds. Other populations have given us trouble, too. We were going to do a small collection of M. franciscana, but the seeds had dropped before we had a chance to collect them. We also had a couple populations of M. fistulosa we were planning to collect from, but a combination of rain, grazing, and small population size prevented that from happening. After doing seed calculations, one of our larger P. procera populations seemed ideal to collect–we estimated being able to collect 8,000 seeds! Despite having good seed fill, nearly all the seeds were shriveled and soft. Additionally, their insides were a strange black color. We collectively decided not to collect. Collecting is more of an art than a science!

Ironically, we got some decent rain last week! Evie and I tried to sneak in a visit to the nodding onion population last week. Not enough seeds had matured since our first visit. Even if they were ready to collect, the plants were too wet. It almost felt as if we were in the Pacific Northwest, with how foggy and rainy it was! We probably got a month’s worth of rain in 8 hours.

The view overlooking our nodding onion (A. cernuum) population

I went herping the night after the rains to see what creatures they unearthed. Since going on my first “road cruise” for herps in early August, I was hooked after seeing a Chihuhuan or Western “hooknose” snake. These nocturnal and diminutive snakes typically max out at 11″, are non-venomous, and prey on spiders, centipedes, and scorpions. Their upturned, hooked nose helps with burrowing in search of prey.

The Western hooknose snake (Gyalopion canum)

The following pictures include those prey species! When it comes to creepy crawlies (or cutie patooties to invertebrate nerds), nighttime is a great time to see these chitin-clad critters.

A “Jerusalem cricket” (which is neither from Jerusalem nor a true cricket)–a wild-looking
Orthopteran in the Stenopelmatidae family.
A scorpion I spotted using a black/UV light while hiking at White Sands National Park.

Wildfire Season has Finally Arrived!

Since I have lived in the Midwest for my entire life up until now, I have never experienced a true wildfire season. I had heard of the catastrophic wildfires here in Oregon, and I was anxious for them to begin. Fortunately, wildfire season started later than usual due to an exceptionally wet spring. My overly-optimistic, oblivious mind believed that maybe I lucked out, maybe I would not have to endure a wildfire season at all! However, one August morning, I woke up to darkness at 6 AM, the AQI was well over 200, and my optimism was shattered.

Due to my moderate asthma, I have spent little time out in the field. However, I have been able to help with tasks around the office, which has been a learning experience in it of itself! Last week, I had the opportunity to help my supervisor organize current and expired permits that the Klamath Falls Fish & Wildlife office has issued. While this might sound boring to most, yet I found interest in this project as I got to read about the threatened & endangered species permitting process, which I knew little about prior to this task. I witnessed how these permits were communicated among stakeholders and our office, why one may want a permit, and why certain permit requests are denied, while others are approved. Even though office work may not be as enticing as field work, it is a crucial part of employees’ jobs here in Klamath Falls.

Smoky skies calls for amazing sunsets over Upper Klamath Lake!

I also was given the opportunity to help organize telemetry data, which was exciting for me because I have not yet worked with the telemetry team. Working with the data meant I had the chance to use R, which was intimidating because I know close to nothing about coding. R allowed the data to be sorted and compiled to indicate which telemetry sensors suckers have passed by, which was insightful to see that through an analytical lens! I believe that a good balance between office and field work can give me a well-rounded view of the work completed at KFFWO.

Outside of work, my outdoor adventures have also taken a brief hiatus, I have decided to pick up crocheting (and applying for full-time jobs) in the meantime. Although a break from field work is needed at times, I hope to see clear skies before my internship is up!

Making Headlines in August

A highlight of this month was working with the Fish & Wildlife and KIC (Ketchikan Indian Community) crews on restoring salmon habitat to streams at Last Chance campsite. Before we started this project the stream looked like a bowling alley, the water was flowing straight down and starting to erode the bank into the nearby campground. When a stream is flowing like this, there’s no pools or pockets for fish habitat or breeding grounds. We spent the week digging trenches along the creek, then pulled downed trees into the trenches, and covered them with rocks. After a week of manual labor, the stream ended up with more S curves, waterfall features, and pools. We even made the front page of Ketchikan Times! The seeds we are collecting this season will be used on projects like this in the future to restore vegetation to the stream banks.

The rest of the workdays of August were dedicated to collecting and cleaning seeds. On August 28th we were able to send off 7 out of our 8 completed seed collections. The 7 collections that were shipped on August 28 were Vaccinium ovalifolium (Blueberry), Chamerion angustifolium (Fireweed), Ribes bracteosum (Stink Currant), Oplopanax horridus (Devil’s Club), Aruncus dioicus (Goatsbeard), Hercaleum maximum (Cow Parsnip), Gualtheria shallon (Salal). Our 8th collection will be Spirea splendens (Rosie spirea), which we aim to ship out in the next two weeks, hopefully along with Scirpus microcarpus (Panicled Bulrush), and Carex aquatilis (Water Sedge).

Some other noteworthy things happened this month. I stumbled upon a tree covered in “Chicken of the Woods.” Sautéed with salt, pepper, and butter they truly taste just like chicken! The less appetizing photo on the right features some dead salmon. Several species of salmon have almost concluded their runs back to the lakes and streams they were born in. Once they make it back to the lake they lay their eggs or spread their sperm. After such a dangerous and exhausting journey they can rest easy and rot away in bliss knowing they’ve completed their life cycle. Ward Lake in Ketchikan is very pungent and getting harder to visit, but seeing the lake fill up with salmon is a reminder on just how extraordinary nature’s processes can be!

Finally, the top highlight of the month was hiking the Deer Mountain Traverse. Last Saturday afternoon Neave and I sent it up the Deer Mountain trail head right in the center of town and at 4pm on Sunday we reached the parking lot at the base of Mahoney Mountain on the far south side of Revilla Island. The ~18~ mile hike through the alpine, past many lakes, and over several peaks was a once in a lifetime hike. Absolutely beautiful landscapes and perfect weather. It was a great way to cap off an awesome month!

Adventures into Nevada

This last month was quite the adventure! I went all over Nevada looking for ERUM and collecting seeds. We collected quite a few seeds from a number of areas in Nevada and Idaho. I also went to Reno to help with the common gardens. We went downtown after we finished work and saw this amazing art!

I also went on a GLORIA project trip and monitored the top of mountains. I learned a lot from experienced botanists. We also found ERUM up in the alpine habitat and went back last week to collect, and got two different varieties of ERUM seed collections!

One of our locations that we used for camping in Nevada was Angel Lake, which had a lot of ERUM and was also a beautiful locations.

We found a ton of beautiful campsites in Nevada!

Beth tried to take a panorama of our campsite and ended up with this monstrosity of a photo… Anyways, it was another great month, and hopefully I will get a lot more seed collections in this next month before the end of the season!

Steens to Nevada, exploring mountains for ERUM!

This month has gone by fast! The Rocky Mountain Research Station has been busy this month!

Since my last post, I have been busy traveling for seed scouting. One of the research station’s techs, Marguerite, joined me on a seed scouting trip. We are completely focused on Eriogonum umbellatum, and we went looking up by Council, Idaho. We went to this neat lookout with an amazing view.

While we were searching for ERUM, we came across something pretty cool! We left it alone, but it was a neat find!

Old shotgun and ERUM!

Then, Elric and I went out to Nevada with another one of the RMRS techs, Bebe! We had a great time searching for ERUM in northern Nevada. This was during the tropical storm warning, but we lucked out and never hit rain once. We found wonderful places to camp and explore, and we saw some gorgeous sunsets and stunning alpine lakes! We also collected one population of ERUM, and are going back in the future when the plants are seeding to collect from two more populations!

Elric and I went to explore South Mountain (in the Owyhees in Idaho) in search of ERUM. We found a ton of Eriogonum heracleoides, but unfortunately no ERUM. We stopped at a neat lookout and had a nice time exploring the area.

To end August, a forest service tech Joe and I went to explore Steen Mountains in Oregon! This trip was grand. Steen Mountains has a 60 mile loop road that is accessible for most cars (washboards but no potholes), and is 100% worth the trip. We found ERUM all over this range, and in the high elevation site it was still blooming! Joe and I had a nice time exploring the area, and we woke up one morning and realized it was in the 20s while we were sleeping (brr). After a successful seed collecting trip, we traveled back to Boise!

This was a great month of exploring and seed collecting! looking forward to next month with my team!

A deep dive into the bottle gentian

Before going on trips to collect seed, our team does research on every plant on our list so that we can understand what it looks like at every stage and be better prepared to identify it within the field. It usually takes quite a while to learn the key characteristics and the plants sometimes meld together in my mind. For some plants, they are so unique and unexpected that I am ecstatic to find them in the field. One such plant is the bottle gentian, Gentiana andrewsii. It has 5 fused petals, forming a tube that will never open. This closed tube resembles a closed bottle, thus the name.

the icon, the legend, Gentiana andrewsii

While in northern Minnesota, the team saw one in the parking lot of our site and nowhere else. It is such an interesting inflorescence because it never opens. I could not imagine how it could be pollinated. After some outside research into the scientific literature, I learned that only bumblebees are physically able to crawl inside the tube and rub pollen on their sternum in the process. Oddly enough, the corolla tube of Gentiana andrewsii is much longer than the tongue of the two studied bumblebees. This would make it very difficult for bumblebees to access the nectar at the bottom. Instead, most bees access the nectar through lateral lacerations. The bees studied were not known for being corolla perforating species and no other mechanisms for lacerations were provided. Even as they steal nectar from some inflorescences, it was only observed coupled with also entering the tube to retrieve pollen. My theory is that the stealing is not driving changes on either side because the bees get nectar and the plants still get their pollen spread.

Flowering Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)

Gentiana andrewsii is a dependable species for bumblebees because no other pollinators are in competition for the resources. I was bummed that we did not find a large population, but future collections of this plant would be great for native bee restoration efforts!

Check out this video on Facebook of a bee diving head first into the plant.

Working in the field is never a dull time with these views

Check out this amazing paper for more details!

Costelloe, B. H. (1988). Pollination ecology of Gentiana andrewsii. Ohio Journal of Science, 88(4), 132-138.

The First of Many

It has been an eventful and uneventful month. Now you might be wondering how it can be both. Well, as I looked over my camera roll to determine the subject of this month’s blog, nothing stands out. That’s not to say that I didn’t do anything exciting this month because many interesting things happened at work as well outside of work that included many of my first.

First Seed Collection

For instance, Peter and I started our first seed collection of the season since seeds here are finally starting to mature. Our first collection is none other than the lovely Allium cernuum. However, this was after a few failed attempts to collect seeds from Mertensia franciscana and Mornada fistulosa. The plants were either grazed by elk and wild horses or most of the seeds dropped. It was a bit discouraging at first and a learning lesson, but I knew there was other species to collect from.

First UTV Ride

We spent the rest of the month scouting for more species across the forest and monitoring the phenology of scouted populations. As a result, we had the privilege to ride a UTV at the Sacramento Ranger District (SRD). Angie, the Wildlife Biologist at SRD and the one who drove us around, insisted that we take a photo in it to brag to our Wildlife Crew members as they don’t have any.

Although it was a fun experience, I don’t think I will ever get on one ever again. That’s because as we drove, a long stick went through the UTV floor and hit the seat next to me all while making a loud noise due to a stainless steel bottle on the floor being shoved out of the way. At the end of the day, I rather not be impaled by a stick while riding a UTV just to get to a location faster.

Peter and I awkwardly smiling while seated in a UTV.

First Salamander Encounter

The amazing part of being at the Smokey Bear Ranger District is the opportunity to join the wildlife surveys. Usually, the Wildlife Crew at the district joins the Salamander Crew to survey the Sacramento Mountain salamander (Aneides hardiiI), but Peter and I were able to help them for one day since the Wildlife Crew was busy with other surveys. I had never seen a salamander in person before, so I was excited not only to learn the process of surveying them but also to finding one myself.

So after disinfecting our boots to prevent any possible spread of chytrid fungal pathogen to the salamanders and going over the protocol at the site, I was ready to find salamanders. The process involved flipping a lot of rocks and logs, but eventually I was able to capture a few. Initially, I was afraid to pick any of them up as some were tiny that I thought I was going to harm them in the process of putting them in a bag. Moreover, I didn’t know how the salamander would feel. However, the fear quickly went away.

In the end, different data was collected that included surface area of the object where the salamander was found, soil moisture, the weight, and length the salamander captured. Any new adult salamanders that was captured, were marked with a “tattoo”. Which really involved injecting them with a needle filled with fluorescence pigments in a specific sequence to help with identification if they are recaptured again in future surveys. Once all the data was collected, the salamanders were placed back to where it was found.

First Meteor Shower Party

Growing up in Chicago, I never had the chance to stargaze due to the light pollution. As a result, I never knew about the Perseid meteor shower. Peter, on the other hand, knew all about it and that’s because he watches it every year on his birthday. Now, that I reside in smaller town with minimum light pollution, I was determined to experience my first meteor shower.

I searched up places that had a meteor shower party and found that El Malpais National Monument was having one after Ranger-led bat outflight guided walk on August 11. Bats and meteor shower on the same day? Count me in! The only problem it was 3.5 hours away and there was a chance of rain, but I figured it was a perfect opportunity to do a weekend road trip.

In the end, I got to see some bats despite it raining, but I didn’t get to see the meteor shower due to the clouds blocking the night sky. Thus, my first attempt to watch a meteor shower was unsuccessful. Fortunately, I returned to Ruidoso in the afternoon the next day and there was no clouds in sight. Spontaneously, I and a Wildlife Crew member from SRD decided to camp at a lookout that night to see the meteor shower.

Not only was I able to see my first meteor shower, but also the Milky Way!

– Evie