A Snowy Welcome

I was welcomed to the San Bernardino National Forest with a cascade of snow. By Tuesday, January 5, my second day of work, over three feet of snow had fallen. Despite being in Southern California, I was returned to my typical Boston and St. Paul winter duties: clearing roofs and digging out cars.

After clearing the greenhouse roof.

After clearing the greenhouse roof.

This is my second CLM Internship, and I am working at the Big Bear Ranger Station here in Fawnskin, CA. It’s about two hours to Los Angeles, an hour and fifteen minutes to Joshua Tree National Park, and steps away from forest recreation opportunities like hiking, skiing, mountain biking, and OHV riding. Interestingly, my first CLM Internship site has been in the news a lot recently: heard of Burns, OR lately? Yep, it’s crazy to read about what’s going on there and remember visiting the Malheur Wildlife Refuge on a sunny spring day to watch birds.

I am working with the Resource department in their Restoration program. This is not a normal Forest Service department, like botany, wildlife, or recreation; my mentor, along with some others, created and built it up to work on restoration and revegetation within the forest. Many of the restoration sites are OHV damage sites, and the majority of the money funding the department comes from OHV grants. The resource department also works closely with a non-profit, the Southern California Mountains Foundation (SCMF), and together they get this restoration and revegetation work done. Sometimes the Forest Service people will take the lead on a project; sometimes it will be SCMF. This way they can complete a chunk of the many projects waiting to be done.

So far, I’ve been in and out of the office and the greenhouse and spent one day visiting some restoration sites in the forest. I am reading a lot of literature as part of my work updating and revising the Native Plant Materials Notebook. This notebook will be a guide to San Bernardino restoration and plant propagation programs and provide links to many resources to help other National Forests or interested groups create their own program. This is already quite an impressive document, but needs updating as well as some additional sections.

I am learning all about the plant propagation process in the greenhouse. The plants begin in flats, are transferred to “small bullets”, then to “large bullets”, and then into the “tall pots”. They may be out planted, that is, planted at a restoration site from any of the last three pot sizes depending on need. What is really interesting to me is the focus on proper genetic selection of source plants for propagation for your restoration site. I read several papers on such selections, and they focus on choosing local plants in order to avoid both inbreeding and outbreeding depression, i.e. you want to gather seed from enough plants that you have a high genetic variation from within the population, but you do not want to swamp your restoration site with genetic material that could make the plants less fit for the ecology of the site. Interestingly, in the Resource program at Big Bear this translates to gathering plants from within the range of 500 feet vertically (because of the elevation change in this mountainous area) and about one mile horizontally. I have also learned about the watering regimen, some common pathogens, and how to plant seed and transplant seedlings.

It was great to get into the field this Wednesday to visit some restoration sites. Seeing OHV damage in the field, which is such a huge problem here, helped to connect everything that I have been learning from other Forest Service employees and the literature. The landscape was also stunning, with the San Bernardino Mountains brown against the snowy San Gabriel Mountains in the distance. I was happy to recognize plants from my days as a CLM Intern in Burns and to learn some new plants from Mary, a seasonal employee who has been working with the Forest for two years, starting as a CLM Intern. I also got a quick lesson on how to use a Trimble and was able to map a fence.

I am very much looking forward to attacking the Native Plant Materials Notebook, starting some milkweed plantings in the greenhouse, and getting out into the field again to learn monitoring methodology. Other things I am looking forward to doing during my free time are hiking or snowshoeing, joining a gym, volunteering, going to the library, exploring more of the town, eventually going to LA, Joshua Tree National Park, and the hot springs, and studying for the GRE.

Best Wishes,
San Bernardino National Forest

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