It has been three weeks since I left Colorado and moved to Carson City, Nevada. I hadn’t spent much time in Nevada or in the Tahoe area before. I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I first arrived here. As I drove westerly across Nevada on Highway 50 – the Loneliest Road in America – I kept thinking how I was going further into the desert and more into the unknown. The Great Basin Desert is unique and far from any desert that I’m familiar with. It is different than the red sandstone arches and pillars of southeastern Utah, the petrified forests and badlands of New Mexico, and the Saguaro deserts of southern Arizona. At first glance, one might think of the Great Basin Desert as a barren and desolate landscape, devoid of life and water. But, as I have pleasantly discovered, the farther you venture into the desert, the more life you find. Multiple species of sagebrush, salt brush, greasewood, grass, and herbaceous forbs are scattered across the landscape. In less than a month, I have gained a great respect for the Great Basin Desert and an appreciation for the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The time has flown by quickly. My days are packed full with learning and working. I have learned more about the Bureau of Land Management, the various land management practices and protocols, the pressing and archiving of herbarium specimens, as well as local geology and botany. This past week was busy. We spent the first portion of the week looking at grasses through microscopes and the second portion of the week planting seedlings.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, we attended a Basic Grass Identification Class in Reno. Before attending this course, grass identification was a weakness of mine. In the past, I could readily classify grasses and grass-like plants to basic groups and families based on key characteristics (e.g., the two-ranked leaves of Poaceae [Grass Family], the usually triangular stem of Cyperaceae [Sedge Family]). But I had found it quite difficult to key grasses to genus and species. Grasses comprise a major component of the environment and can indicate the health and status of an ecosystem. Therefore, it is vital to understand how to identify grasses. The class involved identifying over 45 species of Poaceae and several species of Juncaceae and Cyperaceae. We learned how to identify grasses and grass-like plants based on floret structures (i.e., presence versus absence of awns, bearded versus non-bearded calluses, number of florets within a spikelet, etc.). We applied our knowledge to dichotomous keys and were able to determine the genera and, most of the time, species. The course has provided me with more confidence as a biologist and botany intern. I can use my knowledge to determine the presence or absence of certain native grass species, which could influence the collection or planting of native grass seeds.
Thursday and Friday involved the planting of Mountain Mahogany seedlings. On May 22, 2012, flames from a fire in a residence’s backyard were released into the foothills of the southern Pine Mountains. The escaped embers resulted in the TRE Fire – a fire that burned for five consecutive days and burned more than 7,000 acres. A majority of the fire encompassed BLM land. Native perennial plant species were burned in the fire, including Single-leaf Piñon (Pinus monophylla), Western Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis), Desert Peach (Prunus andersonii), and Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius). Our job this past week was to plant about 300 Mountain Mahogany seedlings in a portion of the burn area where the tree used to thrive. The seedlings were grown from seeds collected by previous Seeds of Success Interns. It took two days, an overnight camping trip, and six interns to complete the planting. The beautiful weather, positive attitudes, and laughter made the planting gratifying! The project contained no impasses and was relatively smooth. When I was in the midst of planting some of the seedlings, I looked around at my fellow comrades and smiled from delight and zeal. Not only were we having a good time, but we were also restoring a species to a recently disturbed area. We were making a difference in the world of ecology and our work was important. I was encouraged to see how the collection of seeds can be used to restore and ameliorate an ecosystem. This project is a great story for the Seeds of Success program and emphasizes the importance of collecting seeds for future restoration efforts.
My seasonal allergies are beginning. Sneezing, runny nose, and swollen, itchy eyes – it must be spring! The leaves on trees are budding, rosettes are appearing more and more, and flowers are beginning to bloom. I’m immensely looking forward to more days out in the field, surveying plant species and collecting seeds.