Every Field Season Must End

Like every field season, 2017 is coming to an end. As I found myself in the midst of cool fall air, crunchy leaves under my feet, and spontaneous Colorado snow, I was still blessed with a few cool season SOS collections before packing my plant press away for the winter.

Garden Park, Marsh Quarry Trail, just north of Canon City. The landscape is riddled with Boulteloua gracilis and Bouteloua curtipendula, both of which I collected for Seeds of Success. Photo: B. Palmer

Bouteloua gracilis is quite possibly the easiest grass to identify, thanks to its one-sided rachis! Thus, probably making it one of my favorite grasses. I was able to make three separate B. gracilis collections before the season ended. Photo: B. Palmer

We also spent one of our last field days on a day trip up to Walden, CO, a three-hour drive from the State Office, not for seed collecting, but to install moisture sensors. My mentor had ordered soil moisture sensors/probes to have installed for one of the species the BLM monitors, the federally endangered Phacelia formosula, North Park phacelia. Of all the species we have monitored this summer, this is one that has really taken a downward spiral – we hardly saw any while we were there earlier in the summer. We are hoping that keeping track of the soil moisture content of the different areas will help explain the mysterious disappearance of the little rare and endangered North Park phacelia. So we installed these soil moisture sensors at the five sites that are monitored, because collecting a little more data couldn’t hurt!

CLM intern Taryn Contento is digging a hole in the semi-frozen ground of mid-October, where the sensors were eventually inserted into the ground. Taryn did most of the digging, I did most of the recording! Probes were set at 6″ and 12″ below ground, and buried with the console just outside each Phacelia formosula plot, which will record the data of the sensors over the year, until checked up on. Photo: B. Palmer

The HOBO soil moisture sensor equipment. The heavy-duty plastic box contains the console recording the data, and sitting on top of it is one of two soil moisture probes that goes with each unit. Photo: B. Palmer

But with the end of all field seasons follows the office work that got put off during that season. All important and crucial of course, but easy to put aside when you could enjoy a beautiful day outside in the field instead. However, because it is getting more brisk, I find myself enjoying a hot drink at my computer in my cubicle more and more…that is, with small walking breaks up and down the stairs every once in a while, since the sedentary lifestyle is obviously not for me on a full-time basis.

I have spent a lot of time preparing things for the next season, and identifying plants I have pressed and brought back to the office. Over two months ago, our crew worked on Modified Whittiker plots, species diversity plots that are associated with T&E work of Eutrema penlandii, an uncommon endemic to the Mosquito Range of the Southern Rockies. These plots are set up near areas we monitor for E. penlandii, and we try to determine all the species found within a given area to see how the plant diversity/richness changes over time. We then keep a record of the species found, and update the record in the form of a book of alpine plants in that range to use in future years. For things we could not identify while in the field, we took voucher specimens to look at later…and lo, it is now later! The difficult ones consisted of plants from the Asteraceae, grasses, sedges, and Drabas. The task was tedious and daunting (though not impossible), at least at first, because our office does not have a dissecting scope. Crazy, right? Thankfully, the other CLM intern that is also working in the Colorado State Office, Taryn, was willing to bring in her scope to the office to let me use! And my, how things changed once I got to use that dissecting scope, and I flew through the dichotomous keys with ease. I forgot how fun it is to key things out…when you know the terminology, and can see the parts, from the depths of plant identification, all the sudden everything becomes clear!

Using the dissecting scope, I was able to get a good look of the 2mm long peryginia, and easily determine this sedge to be the uncommon Western single-spike sedge, Carex scirpoidea ssp. pseudoscirpoidea! Woo! Photo: B. Palmer

I have also stayed busy enough wrapping up the Seeds of Success paperwork. Editing and entering data forms, writing the annual report, downloading collection pictures, and making herbarium voucher labels are all a part of end-of season wrap-up. I even started an extensive Target list for the 2018 CLM intern (you lucky dog, you!) to hopefully make the their life easier when it comes to scouting for plant populations. As an intern that may not have had all the experience in the world when I first started, I would have found it helpful to have a little more information about areas to scout for SOS when I started. For those of you that don’t know Colorado very well, we have an extensive range of ecoregions and zones within a small portion of the state. So I decided to enhance next year’s target list, so that maybe whoever is in my shoes next year can have a better idea of how to plan their summer. I made the list to include: interested species, phenology, habitat, and general areas of where one would typically find them, based on the BLM field office and associated counties. No one should have problems finding populations next year! I hope. That is, as long as it isn’t too far a drive for them.

Any person meant to be in the field may often feel the balls and chains of office work dragging them down, but I decided to break it up this past week with a trip to the University of Colorado Boulder. When looking at the list of regional herbaria to send my SOS vouchers to, I decided to go with CU because (1) I went to CU for my undergraduate degree, so I was familiar with their herbarium; and (2) the curator of the COLO herbarium was my plant systematics professor…so I could show off the plant-pressing skills I learned from her when I was a student! So off I went to the CU herbarium, with CLM intern Taryn, to check out the COLO herbarium once again. Taryn had not seen this herbarium yet, so I thought it would be a treat to bring her along. Can you believe they have 560,000 specimens stored there?! I got to drop off my SOS specimens, and we got a wonderful tour of the herbarium. Can you think of a better way to spend an afternoon?

Penstemon osterhoutii specimen I expertly pressed for one of my collections that will consider the University of Colorado herbarium home for the next few hundred years. What an honor! Photo: B. Palmer

Like all things, my second year as a Conservation and Land Management intern is coming to an end. What a wonderful experience it has been! I was blessed to work outside, with a delightful, refreshing crew, in the clean mountain air of Colorado, practicing plant conservation and the other duties of a botanist. Being here in this internship has once again firmly established that this is a line of work I would love to do for many, many years to come.

A beautiful day and magnificent view from earlier in the season, from Mosquito Pass in the Southern Rocky Mountains. We live in a beautiful world, and need to preserve what we can! This has been one fantastic field season!

-Brooke Palmer, Colorado State Office, Lakewood, CO.

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