It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Fall. It is truly the most wonderful time of year. Not because of the pumpkin-spiced everything (which I believe to be an overrated economical addition to the season, not to mention I am allergic to cinnamon). Rather, it is because of the warm autumn yellows, reds, and oranges, the cool, crisp air and frost on the tips of the mountains, and the feeling of accomplishment after a busy field season.

Fall colors presenting themselves and tips of mountain tops white with new snow in the distance, near Berthoud Pass, Colorado. Photo: B. Palmer.

Speaking of which, it has been one whirlwind of a season! I have seen so many fantastic places, and have been able to get some marvelous work experience. I am honored to have been a part of the T&E monitoring projects of the Colorado BLM as well as a small part in Seeds of Success.

Just weeks ago we finished up our last full (not to mention hot) week of field work from Montrose, Colorado. Our crew went to check out the rare deserty-endemic, Eriogonum peniliophylum. Its demography is very restricted to Mancos Shale scrubland, only found in this little area on the western slope of Colorado. We could easily see the landscape was parched, as we drove to monitoring sites that looked like they haven’t gotten any rain in months! The little buckwheat plants were holding on though; despite their ramshackle appearances and low reproductive numbers, they seemed to be doing all right, at least from second glance.

The drab colors of drought – grays and browns oh my. I don’t think I saw a single green color those few days we were out there! Photo: B. Palmer

A very dried out – but still living – Eriogonum penilophyllum. This was a normal sight those few days we monitored this plant.

On this same trip I also took part in some point-in-time counts for Sclerocactus glaucus. This was one of the first things we monitored in the season, so it was neat to go back in the end of the season to see these little cacti again – feels like I have just about come full circle. My mentor wanted to include landscape aspects of this species in the yearly review of the cactus, and this meant including as many point-in-time counts as possible. To jog your memory, the point-in-time helps calculate the density of the populations with a high confidence interval, and compare populations to each other to understand what is going on with those populations at a landscape level. The multiple point-in-time plots we calculated varied greatly, but now we are a step closer at understanding landscape population levels, and hopefully can use these data to understand how it may change in future years.

Although we saw Sclerocactus glaucus in the spring with cute little flowers, with some difficulty we were able to find these in the wrong time of the season for the point-in-time counts…little cacti pups and seedlings included! . Photo: B. Palmer

The crews setting up a point-in-time for Sclerocactus glaucus. We met up with seasonal workers from the Uncompahgre (Montrose) Field Office and Grand Junction field office, all of which have been helping out with finding Sclerocactus glaucus populations. Photo by: B. Palmer

Of course, I have been able to make a few more SOS collections in between helping with the Threatened and Endangered (T&E) plant monitoring. Between T&E and SOS, it has been a very busy season and difficult to get a lot of collections, but I am glad I have been able to contribute even at least a little. It has been very rewarding to go out in the field and see the plethora of seeds that have so much potential, yet at the same time, I am a little disappointed that I couldn’t get to them all on my own. Of course, I hope to have a few more collections made in the coming weeks, before the first freeze on the Front Range.

A dried-out and ready -to-collect population of Orthocarpus luteus, Yellow owl-clover. One of many SOS collections I was fortunate enough in getting.  Photo: B. Palmer

With the exception of a few cool season grass collections (and hopefully a sagebrush or two), as the days shorten, the colors change, and the morning air becomes brisk, the field season comes to a close. One of our last days out, the Colorado State Office Crew drove up to Rifle, Colorado. We were welcomed with changing colors of the Aspens on our way there, and yet again, I noticed the field season coming around full-circle. The first trip we took was to monitor a milkvetch (Astragalus debequaeus) in the same area of Rifle, Colorado, Anvil Points. And yet here we were just a few days ago, on one of the last trips of the season to monitor Penstemon debilis. On our way to the site I was pleasantly surprised with one more SOS collection, a native thistle only found in two counties of Colorado.

Anvil Points, a location of an old, abandoned oil shale mine, and also home to many Colorado native and endemic plants. Photo: B. Palmer

Instead of helping out with the Penstemon debilis monitoring plot (thankfully there was lots of help), I decided to take advantage of the hundreds of fruiting Cirsium barnebyi that lined the road and slopes on the way up the side of the shale mountain. Even though I prickled and poked my hands continuously while grabbing the heads, I am happy to make SOS collections when and where I can! Photo: B. Palmer

I believe I took a picture of a similar sight months ago back in May, marking my first day of field season, and this as one of my last of 2017. Photo: B. Palmer

As I said before, it is the most wonderful time of year. I love autumn, and everything that goes with it – the soft, warm colors, the crisp morning air, the season of hot cocoa (and yes, pumpkin-spiced lattes). But this year, it includes the feeling of a successful, accomplished season – like I have been able to contribute, even at least a little, to the world. Before I wanted into botany, I previously worked as a line cook, with the goal of becoming a chef. I can honestly say I never felt the way about that job as I currently do now. I love this line of work, and hope I can continue down this path in the future. What does the future hold? Who knows – I will be taking the GRE in the coming months, and applying to graduate school for either plant conservation of plant phylogenetics, so I imagine going back to school may be near. What I do know now is that the CLM has been a wonderful program to be involved in, and I couldn’t have asked for a better crew to work with this last summer.

These guys are intelligent, hard working, and good sports! I have learned to much from all of them, and I am happy to have been able to work with them for the 2017 field season! From left: BLM State Botanist Carol Dawson, former CLM intern and BLM contractor Phil Krening, CLM intern Taryn Contento, and of course, myself.

Thanks for an incredible journey CLM!

-Brooke Palmer, Colorado State Office BLM

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