Over the Mountains and Through the Vernal Pools

This past week, another intern with the Carson City Botany Team and myself, traveled west over the Sierra Mountains to attend the Basic Wetland Delineation certification course in Sacramento, California as our alternative training to the Chicago training in June. The class was taught by two instructors with the Wetland Training Institute based out of Wisconsin. The curriculum was centered around the 1987 US Army Corps of Engineers Wetland Delineation Manual. While there were several hours of lecture on various aspects of wetland delineation, we also spent three full afternoons practicing delineations in the field. We frequented vernal pools that were in full bloom, as well as a riverine site and a disturbed site.

For those unfamiliar with wetland delineation, the Corps Manual provides guidance for professionals on how to decide what is a wetland and where to map the boundary. There are three criteria used to evaluate a site: vegetation, hydrology, and soil. If these three parameters reflect wetland features, then an area can be designated as a wetland and falls under the jurisdiction of the Corps of Engineers (with expanding buffer habitats surrounding the wetland usually falling under state or other federal agency jurisdiction). The purpose of wetland delineation is to map the wetland and use the information for protection or development purposes.

While I do not have any pictures to post from the trip, I can mention some of the plants we saw in the vernal pools and the other sites. In the pools, we found woolly marbles (Psilocarphus brevissimus), tidy tips (Layia fremontii), frying pan poppy (Eschscholzia lobbii), goldfields (Lasthenia fremontii), and field cluster lily (Dichelostemma capitatum). I also saw a familiar friend from the Midwest while I was out surveying in one of the riverine areas: water smartweed (Persicaria amphibia). This plant is recognizable in the early vegetative stages by the black chevron on its leaves. I was elated to find such a familiar face amid all of the new friends I was meeting (I suppose I just accumulated major nerdy botanist points for this statement…hahaha!). The vernal pools of California are quite a sight when in bloom; the overwhelmingly bright yellow flowers are seen from afar, while the purple gems are hidden until one comes closer. I was blown away by how beautiful all of the pools were this past week.

Overall, I had a wonderful time learning about wetland delineation this week. Both instructors were incredibly knowledgeable and had worked together for so long they were comfortable teasing one another in class. They were full of great stories that illustrated the concepts they were trying to teach. I met several people within the environmental science field who came from all sorts of backgrounds and professional settings. Best of all, I learned several new plant names and reconnected with an old plant friend! Traveling over the mountains and through the vernal pools was quite the adventure this week and I am grateful for the opportunity to gain such valuable skills in wetland delineation!

Until next time,

Maggie Gray, Carson City BLM District Office, Nevada

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