Time flies when you’re engaged! Flying is an understatement as to how fast it’s zooming past, I can’t believe I’m at the tail end of this internship. This season has been fun, scouting and collecting seeds has been a success thus far and we’ve checked off most of our priority species collections and are currently waiting for some late bloomers to produce seed. A couple of weeks ago we had the opportunity of touring the Upper Colorado Environmental Plant Center (UCEPC) in Meeker, CO. Their main goal is to develop and provide plants that will improve land conditions and enhance wildlife habitat. Being a part of the Seeds of Success (SOS) program, it was fun to see where our seeds could end up for cleaning and further processing. This facility was established in 1975 and is a whooping 269 acres! Upon arrival, it didn’t seem so big but it’s huge! We rushed through some portions in order to get to others during our short ~5 hour tour.
Did you know that old school machines are still used to tackle seed cleaning? The methods to clean seeds have been mostly the same since long before you and I were born! Good ol air is crucial for cleaning “fluff” off of seeds, add some mechanical vibrations a voila, clean seeds! OK, maybe not that simple. The seed size and weight need to be taken into consideration so that you don’t loose seeds in the cleaning process so it definitely requires some skill and experience, but that’s the gist of it. Once they clean the seeds they either ship them to various locations to be seeded in the field, or they plant them at that facility for further research and re-vegetation efforts. My favorite project is their effort to help out the endangered Penstemon harringtonii. They went to Battlement Mesa, Co where it is rather common and transported harringtonii, including soil, in efforts of making it more abundant by collecting its seeds and growing it in a controlled environment. I really enjoyed the tour of the facilities and feel as though my job is really making a positive environmental impact.
I also had the privilege of attending the 14th Biennial Conference of Science & Management on the Colorado Plateau & Southwest Region at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, AZ. The major focus was on climate change and how it’s affecting land management. There were also various presentations on archaeological sites and genetic variation that were very interesting. Some of my favorite presentations included a common garden study where 4,000 Fremont cottonwoods (Populus fremontii) were planted at different elevations and they found that mid elevation cottonwood were the most resilient in comparison to low and high elevation cottonwood. Another study showed that temperature restricts high-elevation bee pollinator communities and assessed the bee to fly transition along an elevation gradient. Over 700 species were imaged to measure darkness and it turns out that there is stronger selective pressure for bees to be darker. Bee’s dominate as pollinators at lower elevations and flies dominate at higher elevations and they found that the darker bodied pollinators had a higher heat absorption and larger bodied pollinators had higher thermal regulation. At higher elevations you find an increased size in pollinators as well as a darker body and therefore bees are more sensitive to temperature changes than flies are. The long term effects of this predict that biodiversity of pollinators will decrease as species move in to higher elevations. Winona LaDuke was the keynote speaker on opening day and welcomed the week with a somber yet optimistic note on our current environmental crisis. She is a powerful presence and leading activist for tribal communities with wise words of wisdom. It’s tough to add humor to such a sensitive subject but public speaking comes naturally for her and she managed to combine the two in a robust presentation. She spoke about the injustice that our land has overcome and the priority of water over oil as well as details on her tribe and the importance of community engagement. It went longer than anticipated but time seemed to be on her side since I didn’t notice how much time had passed until I looked at my phone while I was walking out. Time grows wings and flies when you’re engaged!