In the Swing of September!

As summer comes to a close in Western Montana, I turn my attention back to the beginning of the season. I have been dusting off my rare plant survey skills to help out with some Whitebark Pine surveying and Howell’s gumweed monitoring/seed collection. Howell’s gumweed has quickly become one of my favorite flowering plants. Not only is it cute, but it is fun to collect and smells amazing!! Like many other gumweed species, it grows mostly along disturbed areas like roadsides and decommissioned roads. This makes for a great restoration species, but also makes it subject to roadside spraying. We revisited a historically prominent and very large population that had been mistakenly sprayed with herbicide last year. Unfortunately, much of the population had been decimated by the spraying. This species tends to dwell with the most noxious of weeds, so this makes that it would unknowingly get caught in the crossfire between an herbicide handgun sprayer and oxeye daisy.

The population had once been counted at around 9,000 individual plants, the number had been knocked down by about 60%. We estimated only about 3,000 plants remained. We were able to make a collection of seed that will be used for genetic testing and future grow outs.

This season I was able to experience collaborative efforts from many different organizations. The most special partnership so far has been with a former CLM Intern, Jen McNew, who was an intern in the San Juan Islands in 2014. Jen now works for the BLM Missoula Field Office, and was kind enough to take the Lolo Botany Crew to a BLM Grindelia howellii population. Grindelia was collected and memories were made.

Whitebark pine surveying also made up a larger part of this month. On a trail monitoring project we found upwards of 20 Whitebark pine, including 2 individuals that could be potential plus pines. I had not seen so many Whitebark pines in a stand like this, so it was really cool to be present for this find on our forest. The trail we were monitoring led up to a historical lookout, so we were rewarded with a cool view!

Skookum Butte Lookout
Bighorn Sheep Herd

After numerous bear sightings this season, I finally got to see some different wildlife on the forest. I recently spotted my first Pika while monitoring some collection sites. The elusive creature slipped away into the rocks before I could grab a picture, but I did get some cool pictures of a large Bighorn Sheep herd that was blocking my path on the same road. I expected to see these sheep also on rocky hillsides as well, but it seems they like to come down to the valleys right where I need to be driving through.

There is something strange about this snowshoe hare…

Another animal that I found somewhere unexpected: a domesticated rabbit is occupying a picnic area in the southern part of the forest. If you happen to be eating your lunch at Fort Fizzle on the Lolo, keep your eyes out for this little guy! You never know what you’ll see in the field.