Bittersweet Goodbye to Idaho

For the past five months, I have been interning at the Caribou-Targhee National Forest in eastern Idaho. The focus of my botany internship was a region-wide seed collection project. Brittni, the other CBG intern, and I conducted field surveys and seed collecting/processing of native plant species that were beneficial for pollinators and sage-grouse. We are based out of the Caribou-Targhee NF Forest Supervisor’s Office (SO) in Idaho Falls, ID and work on the CTNF, Bridger-Teton National Forest, southern portion of the Sawtooth National Forest, and northern Uinta-Wasatch-Cache NF.

We made 30+ collections of Erigeron speciosus seeds across the Caribou-Targhee NF, Bridger-Teton NF, Sawtooth NF, and Uinta-Wastach-Cache NF.

I was especially drawn to this job for the opportunities to explore these incredible National Forests. Besides our primary duties associated with the seed collection project, we surveyed and tagged monarch butterflies on the Curlew National Grassland; assisted with the coordination of volunteer seed collection and restoration events; surveyed rare plants; and assisted with botany and pollinator educational and conservation projects. We also got to work with the other specialists on the Forest: we helped the range specialist with Sage-Grouse Habitat Assessment plots; accompanied the soil scientist to inspect fuel treatment burn piles and  timber harvests; toured a Paleo-Indian archeological dig with the archeologists; participate in stream restoration projects with the hydrologists and fish biologist; and transplant sedges, plant sagebrush, and broadcast seed various restoration projects with many of the experts above.

Collecting point transect data for Sage-Grouse Habitat Assessment plots on the Caribou-Targhee NF.

Rose Lehman, our supervisor and the CTNF botanist, insisted on giving us the fullest experience and exposure to every facet of the FS through our internship. For example, my interests lay more in forestry and forest restoration, so she sent Brittni and I to forest restoration conference in Utah for two days. We also participated in the Idaho Climate Summit, meetings discussing rare plants for the Salmon-Challis NF, meetings for the soil inventory of the CTNF with the NRCS, and many other opportunities that enhanced our internship.

Castilleja sp. and Pedicularis groenlandica found while giving a Native Plant Walk to members of the Teton Land Trust and Master Naturalists.

Through this internship I have grown tremendously, both professionally and personally. I have gained experience and knowledge in a wide variety of topics relating to natural resources. My botany skills are far superior to when I started; I am more comfortable using dichotomous keys and am no longer “grass blind.” I am not afraid to ask questions, and more importantly, am not embarrassed for not knowing things. The latter was a difficult lesson for me to learn. For about a month and a half I was constantly frustrated with myself for not instantly learning every plant on the Forest; I had forgotten how difficult it was to work in a new ecosystem because all my previous experience was focused in one ecotype. I also have gained an increased confidence in my abilities and knowledge, and am less afraid to voice them. I have to remind myself that I do have important, relevant, and useful insight. Lastly, I have learned to be realistic about a situation: to set achievable goals and be realistic about the limitations (this is especially important in the context of working with the Forest Service where they operate as a multiple-use agency with many stakeholders and under various regulations).

Wildfire smoke creating a hazy sunset on the Bridger-Teton NF.

Lastly, I would like to thank both Rose and CBG for being so incredibly flexible and encouraging of me taking time to travel to Oregon and Freiburg, Germany to give presentations on research I did as an undergraduate. The conferences focused on forest regeneration and forestry in general, and were invaluable experience for me as a young scientist.

An abundance of wildflowers, including, Castilleja sp., Agastache urticifolia, Geranium viscosissimum, Delphinium sp., Erigeron speciosus, and many more.

It is very bittersweet to leave the CTNF, I am going to miss Brittni and Rose and all the amazing people I got to work with, and I will especially miss the beautiful forests and rangeland of eastern Idaho.

On one of our final days of fieldwork took us on a hike through gorgeous fall foliage.

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