What’s new with you? For me, the end of September and first part of October have brought some changes, at work and in general. The end of September marked the end of the two Reno Seeds of Success crews’ terms, so I had to say goodbye to the four of them (in a professional context at least), which was sad. Working (and hanging out outside of work!) with them was the highlight of my September, and I’m hopeful that we will remain friends even when we don’t have plants and seeds to look for together! I’m going to visit a couple of these cool people this weekend so I’m optimistic.
Now that the seeds are almost completely dispersed for most species, I’ve started working on some other things. I made a tissue sample collection for Machaeranthera (/Dieteria) canescens at Angel Lake, and got to enjoy the fall colors and dense fog up there, which was cool to see. Lots more moisture than the atmosphere had contained for many months was hanging over the tops of the mountains, and at higher elevations like Angel Lake you could get pretty much engulfed by it!
In October a few cloudy systems have moved through Winnemucca also, and the mountains around town have been intermittently snowy, which I’ve really enjoyed. Maybe it’s just that I’m a Midwestern person who has rarely seen that, but having snow on the tops of the mountains gives them more definition and helps me notice peaks in the distance that I’d scanned over without really seeing when they were snow-free. I also learned that tumbleweeds, once dry, can clump together to form aggregations several feet long across four-wheeler trails, which added a kooky obstacle on one of my runs last week (of course, after googling the phenomenon, I learned that what I experienced was on the small end of the spectrum of tumbleweed aggregations!). In general I’m really appreciating being cold sometimes after a hot summer––much more what I’m accustomed to.
The other main thing I’ve been doing for work is some re-seeding of disturbed areas in the Santa Rosas. There are some heavily grazed and fire-affected areas along the Quinn River near the northern edge of the Santa Rosas, and I’ve been bringing bags of seed mix up and broadcasting it over these disturbed areas. Hopefully this will help some native grasses and forbs take root in this semi-bare, dry ground.
If it was seed conservation summer, now it’s ecosystem restoration autumn. I’m excited to see what comes next as the seasons keep changing.
A slow but consistent exodus has been occurring in the Lincoln, as the markers of fall have begun arriving and summer comes to an end. Several times an hour the high and strained call of an elk bugle will pierce the air, and the nights down in the desert have called for closed windows and warm blankets. It seems like every day is another seasonal’s last day, and our crew has dwindled down to a handful of people. Some are road tripping, moving on to their next job, or traveling back home. The last few weeks have definitely been busy as we’ve finished the work left for us in the forest!
Currently we’re just finishing up our last bits of botany surveying. While we haven’t found any rare plants actually in our survey areas, we did accidentally find a robust population of Wooton’s Hawthorn (Crataegus wootoniana) one day earlier in the season! During one of our Mexican Spotted Owl habitat monitoring days, we sat down in the shade for lunch and noticed the branch right next to one of our crew, Joe’s, face was that of a hawthorn branch! We recently traveled back to the location to check and get an estimate of the population, and there were definitely at least several hundred!
Some other work we’ve recently been doing is helping out with seed collection of Goodding’s Onion (Allium gooddingii) for long-term storage, or seed banking. The seeds will first be sent to the Arboretum at Flagstaff in Arizona (which is a neat little place that does some cool botanical projects- definitely check them out!) and then to the National Laboratory for Genetic Resource Preservation in Fort Collins, Colorado. Collection involves hiking out to known populations that are currently seeding, and collecting a specified percentage of the population depending on the area. We were able to collect a large number of seeds, which hopefully will help out with future research!
In other office news, we did gain a new crew member! Miss Malaxis (named after the orchid genus that we’ve been seeing a good amount of in our surveys) has been appearing often in front of our district office. There’s an ongoing debate on whether Miss Malaxis is a male or female, but the name will remain regardless. They’re extremely affectionate, sweet, and loves climbing the trees outside the office! If I wasn’t traveling so often and didn’t already have three cats at my home in Indiana, I for sure would just take Miss Malaxis with me!
Besides Miss Malaxis, this season has been full of other fun finds! I think my time here in the Lincoln was made 100x better by the fact that our entire crew was awesome. I definitely was concerned about coming out to the NM desert in a small military town, knowing no one, and wondering how I would fill up my free time after coming from an environment of living with 5-20 other people! As it turns out, the environmental field is a small world, and I actually knew people from ACE working in the same forest- besides that, our crew and the other seasonal crews (wildlife, trails, etc.) often got together outside of work for exercise, hanging out, and other fun times. It was great having a network of people to explore NM with, as most of the others were also from all over the country as well. I am extremely appreciative of how welcoming everyone was! NM itself is also a really neat state, with lots of opportunity for hiking and adventures (when it’s not too hot out!). I saw my first wild bear in the Carson NF, and I’ve now been to the tallest point in both AZ (Humphrey’s) and NM (Wheeler)- my next goal is doing a 14er in Colorado!
Working in the Lincoln has been a great first-time Forest Service experience, made all the better by our awesome botanist, Aurora, and other supervisors Jen and Pete, who we helped with their projects. I definitely want to say thanks for making this internship such a good time! As for my future plans, I’ve got many applications in with the Forest Service for next spring, and am definitely hoping to get another season in. While COVID has made doing grad school a concern for me (I really don’t want to do an essentially virtual master’s), I am in communication with a couple potential advisors- we’ll see where the next few months take me! When I leave here in a few days, I’ll be heading up north to Colorado for some solo hiking and camping, and then heading over to Flagstaff to visit friends and scope out NAU’s programs. In November I’ll probably be heading to IN, since it’s been almost a year since I’ve been back. I’ll be signing off here with a little photo dump of my last few weeks in NM! Thanks for reading!
Early in the morning with the moon still overhead, I stepped out into the cold and slid shut the door of my apartment. It was too dark to see, so I felt each of the keys on my keychain before finding the right one to lock up. Then, I turned around and stopped to look for a moment. The sky was full of stars.
When I started at Ottawa National Forest in early June, the morning sky was blue and dappled with clouds when I left for work, in July I woke to spectacular red sunrises, in August the mornings were dim with the first hints of light illuminating dense grey mist, and, now, I am greeted by stars. I have never watched the seasons change like this before.
Over the past month, my-cointern Tessa and I have continued to travel the forest mapping and treating invasive plants. We’ve tackled tansy ragwort, honeysuckle, Japanese barberry, glossy buckthorn, Eurasian watermilfoil and more. Sometimes, we hike all day to visit a few small, remote sites, and sometimes we work right along the roadside treating large patches of weeds where invasive species cerews have made gradual progress year after year.
On a bright Tuesday, Tessa and I headed out to a particularly dense cluster of invasive species infestations lining Trout Creek. Waders on, we trudged through marsh up to our knees. Growing among the reeds were numerous glossy buckthorn seedlings with shining oval leaves that glinted in the sun. The soil was soft, so we could often pull the invasive seedling up by the roots. As we walked, Tessa and I passed ideas back and forth. These seedlings must be coming from somewhere, we surmised, some larger buckthorn that could produce numerous fruits… the mother tree. We decided we would find it if we could.
Time wore on, yet our efforts to find the mother tree proved fruitless. We waded back and forth through the infestation area and eventually moved on to some invasive honeysuckle sites further along the marsh.
When we passed through the buckthorn site again, the afternoon was drawing to a close. Making our way back to the truck to head home, we stumbled into a pocket of glossy buckthorn we had missed. Instead of being knee-high seedlings, the buckthorn here was up to our heads. Most of the buckthorn we’ve treated this summer has been no taller than eye-level. We did see one that was fifteen feet once, though. Even though the trunk was only four inches in diameter, cutting through it with a pocket saw felt like felling a real tree.
With so many plants to treat, Tessa and I decided we would have to come back to the site another day to finish up. As Tessa bent low, sawing through one last buckthorn, I noticed that the normally green, glossy leaves of the plant had begun turning a deep red from the autumn chill. Looking over her shoulder I got a glimpse of a tree colored that same red. Could it be another buckthorn? I looked more closely, following the tree up… and up… and up. Towering over the rest was a great buckthorn, with a trunk a foot in diameter and a crown thirty feet tall. “Tessa… Tessa,” I said slowly, “We found the mother tree.”
I snapped a photo of the great tree with Tessa standing next to it for scale. Then, we headed back to the office, excited to tell our mentor, Ian, what we found. Before the season is over, we’ll head back to the site to finish treating the remaining buckthorn, including the towering mother tree.
While the search for buckthorn along Trout Creek required wading through waist-deep water, some weed work requires us to get fully submerged. That’s why on a crisp Monday morning, I helped load wetsuits into the truck along with paddles, life jackets, and flippers. Then, Tessa, Ian, a Forest Service botanist named Katherine, and I headed out to Lac Vieux Desert lake for our last snorkel day of the year.
Our job was to find and pull Eusrasian watermilfoil, a highly invasive aquatic plant. Eurasian watermilfoil has a doppelganger though, native, northern watermil foil has fewer leaflets than the invasive cousin it grows side by side with, but if I hadn’t been told to look for the difference the first time we went snorkeling, I never would have guessed they were two separate species.
We spent the day searching through the water. When we found an invasive plant, we would gather the long flowing stems into balls and follow them down to the lake bottom. When you apply just the right pressure there, the plant pulls up in one continuous clump without the stems snapping and producing fragments. A milfoil fragment two inches long can go on to root into a whole new plant.
The water was chilly, but we checked in with each other often and took turns paddling the canoe when we got cold. Spirits stayed high. As we swam along the shore, swapped stories on the boat, and admired some sizable snails, the buckets of Eurasion watermilfoil we had pulled piled up on the shore.
On our first day of snorkling for watermilfoil in the early summer, I had to count the pairs of leaflets of every milfoil I encountered to make sure it was the invasive species. Diving on Monday, though, I was surprised to find I could distinguish northern from Eurasian with relative ease. Everything from the way the plants moved in the water to the feel of the leaves in my hand set the two apart.
Realizing this, made me stop and think about how much I’ve learned this summer. Under Ian’s mentorship, I’ve been given an invitation to pay deep attention to the natural world and the knowledge to notice things I never would have seen on my own. Now, after months of spending long days in the forest, I’m beginning to see that attention pay off as I recognize the plants around me and see how they change and grow. I’m sure in June I would have walked right by the mother buckthorn and never stopped to look up. Still, I know I’m just scratching the surface. An opportunity to work with the Ottawa’s Timber crew showed me a glimpse of how much more is out there to notice.
All summer, we’ve been meeting different people on the Ottawa, developing diverse skills, and getting a glimpse at the different jobs various forest departments take on. To this end, on Wednesday we met with Amanda and Megan from the Timber Crew. They gave us insight into all the different tasks needed for managing commercial timber from outlining the boundary of sale areas, to marking trees along future roads, to protecting valuable areas like wetlands and historical sites. Soon enough, Tessa and I were each outfitted with a paint sprayer on our backs heading through the woods to help lay out the boundary of a timber sale area.
We followed Amanda and Megan through the woods, marking the stumps of trees they selected with bright orange paint. These trees, they explained, would become the outline of a sale area, showing the purchaser where they could go and where they should avoid.
I quickly learned that laying out the line is not as straightforward as it seems. Skilled timber markers weigh a wealth of different factors as they set the boundary. As they worked, Megan and Amanda took care to mark trees close enough together that you could easily follow from one to the next. They kept the line smooth, without too many jagged turns, and always ensured that the areas they marked were wide and flat enough for logging vehicles to navigate and turn around. All the while, they made sure to draw lines that avoided fragile wetlands and left a large enough buffer of trees around sensitive areas to provide shade and prevent erosion. Thinking of visitors, they were also careful to leave a good barrier of trees around a popular recreation lake. As we walked, Amanda and Megan sometimes saw great gnarled trees with knots and kankers and bits of shaggy bark. These they also left out of the sale area when they could. They are of little value for timber, they explained, but provide great habitat for all manner of wildlife. As we traveled, Amanda and Megan were teaching us every step of the way, explaining their thought process and talking us through decisions.
My favorite thing was watching the pair read the land. They paid careful attention to the plants, canopy, and soil as they decided where to paint the line. Blue cohosh, they explained, a knee-high herb with blue fruits and pointed leaves often indicates good timber trees are nearby; black ash, tall with symmetrical pairs of leaflets, on the other hand, is a wetland species that suggests the surrounding area should probably be left out of the timber sale. They chose each tree we marked with careful consideration, taking time to study the landscape. I’m still not sure of my path after CLM, but, after spending the day with Amanda and Megan, I sincerely hope that I can bring the same level of care and stewardship to my job that they do everyday.
In my first blog post, I explained that I wanted to know all the plants in Ottawa National Forest. What I meant, though I did not say it explicitly, is that I wanted to know the names of all the plants in Ottawa National Forest. Over the last several months, I’ve learned that knowing a plant involves so much more than just knowing its name. It’s a never ending process of seeing how it changes with the seasons, observing its growth and habitat, and understanding its interaction with the world it makes its home. Realizing this makes me hopeful I can meet my goal. I don’t have to memorize long lists of names. I just have to focus my attention on the world around me, be curious, and take notice.
This month has been a wonderful combo of field work, greenhouse prep, and a holiday weekend road trip! I’ve been working to get our project to the point of starting another round of Joshua Tree seedlings to replace the ones we lost over the past year, which requires quite a lot of surprisingly time-intensive steps. I have also started really being independent in my field work, going to all the sites on my own to assess and water the plants. Finally, I’ve gotten to see even more of the southwest, continuing to explore around Vegas, and travelling a bit further afield to northern Arizona and the beautiful Kaibab National Forest.
First, here’s a quick update with field work. Everything has been going very well in the routine assessment and watering trips. I have begun working solo, which has not really been an issue, simply because I have been well prepped by my bosses. I have noticed on my California overnight trips, the forest fires from very far away can have smoke blow all the way over to me in the desert. I have actually woken up smelling like a campfire! Also, last week was our final time watering the seedlings. These unusually extreme conditions had us giving the little fellas extra hydration during the summer months, but now that things are cooling down, these desert-adapted plants should be fine without getting an extra drink from us. I am going to miss using the fireman’s hose, and getting to work a hydrant to fill our tank at one of our sites. I’ll still be going out for field work, but only to assess the plants and possibly trap for rodents.
Back at the greenhouse, we have been working hard to plant about 3,000 plants, 750 for each garden. To do so, we have to do a lot of set up. Between data entry and field work, I have been spending my time at the greenhouse: cleaning crates, unfolding plant bands, and filling the bands with a special blend of soil. We mix our soil ourselves, creating a balance that reflects the unique desert conditions. The soil is mostly sand, devoid of nutrients and draining water well. Joshua Trees are not adapted to soil that stays wet for long periods of time, so drainage is key. We also mix in some perlite, for drainage, and mulch, which adds a minimal amount of nutrients for the growing trees. Very soon, we will begin germinating and then planting seeds into this soil, a process I will document for my next blog post!
In personal news, this Labor Day weekend, I drove off in search of California Condors! My quest took me through the mountainous Kaibab National Forest, where I was surrounded by an entire new ecosystem full of new critters and lovely landscapes. I found my condors at the Navajo Bridge near Marble Canyon, AZ. These giant birds sit under the bridge, resting and soaking up the sun. Seeing them was one of the coolest nature experiences I have ever had!
While in northern Arizona, I also saw some lovely landscapes including some views of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and the red cliffs further east, including the Vermillion Cliffs and the Lee’s Ferry area.
Lastly, I have included some of the lovely wildlife I spotted on my trip around Arizona. Not only were these areas beautiful, they were also loaded up with vibrant communities of plants and animals! Thanks for reading, see you next month!
My September has been eventful in terms of work and the fun of meeting new friends on the job! This month I’ve been working with two Seeds of Success crews based out of Reno on two separate hitches. It’s been a great experience, being part of a team of five rather than a solo intern like I am usually. The routines of longer hitches that can span much of the state over several days contrast the single-day trip, Santa Rosas-focused seed collecting that I do when I’m on my own and it is cool to have been able to see both ways of working over the past few months. Here I’m going to share a lot of pictures and some of the things working with Grace, Hannah, Jenna, and Amy helped me reflect on!
1 – Being flexible
Being flexible helped make our first September hitch a successful trip. We changed our travel plans fairly last-minute to avoid the fires in California and then again to avoid the smoke blowing across Nevada, and both decisions paid off as we were able to conduct worthwhile fieldwork in safe areas and less smoky locations. The plan we decided on involved mainly scouting for and monitoring rare plants at sites across Nevada, traveling in a counterclockwise loop around the state and working in the Austin-Tonopah District and the Ely District of the Humboldt-Toibyabe National Forest, Great Basin National Park, and the Ruby Mountains. In perfect symmetry with Sierra’s and my earlier trip to the Bull Run Mountains with Jerry Tiehm and Jan Nachlinger, the two species we surveyed on this trip were Eriogonum tiehmii––Tiehm’s Buckwheat––and Silene nachlingerae––Nachlinger’s Catchfly––both rare species. E. tiehmii is a very rare species that grows in a small area that is the site of a proposed lithium mining project, so the species is pretty threatened (it may get added to a list of threatened/endangered species; stay tuned because this is a contentious issue). One of our crewmembers, Jenna, is studying the evolution and speciation of the Silene genus for her Master’s research and this was the last Silene species she had yet to find and collect data on in Nevada, which we were able to do on this trip! It was cool to do some rare plant work as a change of pace from collecting seeds on this trip.
2 – When to take risks and when to back off
On the same hitch we encountered both roads on which we proceeded with caution and roads that we decided to turn back from. Our big success for challenging road navigation was near Great Basin National Park, climbing a road with extremely tight switchbacks (we’re talking having to reverse the truck after making half the curve to get the rest of the way around it, and doing this for at least ten switches one way) that maxed out at around 10,000 feet in elevation for some Silene scouting (of course I was especially proud of getting to the top, since I was the one driving!). In contrast to this achievement, we faced an unassuming, sandy road we hoped to use to access another Silene population in the southern Ruby Mountains and after cautiously heading out on it for a few miles, decided to turn around because the truck was handling poorly on the sandy surface. You win some, you lose some when sites are remote and accessible only via roads that can be hit or miss depending on the conditions. It’s satisfying to get to the top, but it’s not worth getting stuck or busting up your truck either! Operating with slightly more caution than I do when it’s only my judgement determining what I do was a good check for me that I hope will be on my mind in future situations.
3 – Building a successful trip around both work and fun
The Reno crew of Jenna and Amy took the lead on planning for both these trips, which I appreciated, and learning the ways that both these crews operate on their longer hitches was a new experience for me, namely having a group of fun and nice people both to work with and to hang out with after hours in the great outdoors. They introduced me to one of the joys of Nevada SOS work that I’d heard tell of but so far missed out on––hot springs. And they were just as awesome as everyone had said! We visited three different hot springs on our first hitch and found them all fairly quiet, with only a few other visitors if any. All were warm but varied in temperature, developed-ness, water clarity, and ecosystem type. One was more developed with a concrete hot tub installed to hold some of the spring water, one had very clear water and flowed from a snaking hot creek into a marsh, and one was in a valley with a mud flat-type ecosystem. All had great views of the stars. The most memorable hot spring experience for me was the second one, which was home to minnows that liked eating dead skin while you were sitting in the water. Specifically, I will never forget the feeling of a small fish taking one of my more protruding armpit-adjacent moles (lots of us have those, right??) in its raspy mouth and shaking it back and forth insistently, like a dog with a chew toy. Just like you were at a spa.
We had plenty of other after-work fun too, including playing cards, telling stories, taking hikes, and generally enjoying each other’s company! I was so thankful to get to know a group of such friendly, open, and interesting women and both work and just hang out with them. It was also amazing seeing what dynamic duos each of the two crews were; I couldn’t believe how lucky they (and their supervisors) got when hiring crews for this season––in both teams the co-interns complemented each other well, and were great at communicating, getting along, and having a good time with each other, all of which makes any job much more enjoyable! I was also super glad that these dynamics expanded to make a well-functioning and happy team of five.
And that was my last few weeks! Next week I will be leading a collecting trip with a couple of SOS interns from Boise, so I’m hopeful that will be another fun and learning-filled experience.
Lastly, a moment to thank the folks at the Forest Service in Winnemucca where I’m based:
-Thanks to Boyd for being my check-in person the last few weeks(/months?) and for always being a chill and reliable presence at the office.
-Thanks to Wendy for helping me mail my seed collections even when she’s working on a fire in another state!
-Thanks to Sierra for trusting me to do my own thing while she’s been working on fires and for the super nice write up in the local Humboldt County newspaper! 🙂
My Summer 2021 sun is beginning to set and I’m taking stock of everything I’ve accomplished during my internship in the southwest. I have really appreciated my time here in the Lincoln National Forest. It’s been great to be a part of a large team-oriented crew. The botany and natural resources teams joined forces this year and with a combined crew of six, we surveyed close to 11,000 acres of National Forest land over a three month period for regionally sensitive, threatened, and endangered plant species.
At the end of the season, I honed my skills of reading topographical maps, using Avenza to navigate and surveying the forest through the rain, heat, dense foliage, steep muddy slopes, and countless fallen trees. This was also my first time learning how to key out plants in the field without the help of a thick paperbound dichotomous key and microscope. Instead, I identified many plants with the help of my handy smartphone and a combination of my crewmembers’ knowledge, the Seek by iNaturalist app, the Flora Neomexicana PDF file and the Wildflowers of New Mexico app. Having a smartphone with all the botany related apps has really been a game changer.
One major takeaway for me is that most of the land we surveyed is not ideal habitat for any of the rare plants we were looking for. As a result, we did not find many new populations of rare plants. However, I did get to see what vegetation looks like in a forest that is heavily grazed by cows, wild horses, deer and elk.
I also got to participate in riparian restoration projects and learn about the importance of watershed management in an environment that has been severely altered since the times of settler colonialism. By working with the Forest Hydrologist, Pete Haraden, and Soil Scientist, Jennifer Hickman, I learned what actions are needed to restore eroded riparian areas.
With the extirpation of beaver by fur trappers last century, a lot of the natural wetlands that were created by beaver dams were lost through erosion, fire, and time. Additionally, a lot of the natural vegetation that traps water has been either heavily grazed or burned in many parts of the forest. This leads to fast running water and deep cuts in drainage areas and canyons that many a time look like chasms. As a result, many of the creeks and streams tend to run fast and dry up quickly after the rainy season, resulting in a low water table and decreased water holding capacity of the surrounding soils. Additionally, the surrounding area’s vegetation frequently converts from riparian species to upland species, which also contributes to the decreased water holding capacity in the adjacent soils.
If a stream or creek is properly restored, it could have water that runs all year long. A healthy riparian area should have slowly meandering creeks and streams that have room to pool up and create ponds and wetland habitat in some areas. The water will also easily flow onto the adjoining wetland under proper functioning conditions. This allows the water to recharge the aquifer and get absorbed by soils in and around the canyons. A restored riparian area could possibly sustain not only the local habitat and wildlife but also local industry and human communities with water throughout the year. Our restoration efforts consisted of building beaver dam analogs, one rock dams, and Zuni bowls.
Another project I’m happy I got to work on was restoration for the endangered Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas anicia cloudcrofti). I worked with the Regional Botanist, Kathryn Kennedy, for the Southwest Region of the U.S. Forest Service and Melanie Gisler, the Program Director for the southwest office of the Institute for Applied Technology. This butterfly is a candidate for federal listing and there is concern for this species ability to persist, as its population numbers have declined in recent years. In 2020, only 8 butterflies and no caterpillars were observed.
Based on these survey results, a coalition of conservationists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; the U.S. Forest Service; the Institute for Applied Ecology; and concerned members of the public; have been collaborating on how to save this species. We got to work on planting the host plant – the New Mexico beardtongue (Penstemon neomexicanus) which is the only host plant for the butterfly in is egg and larvae stages. On a more positive note, this year’s survey for the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly have revealed the presence of 22 butterflies and 80 caterpillars on the Sacramento Ranger District of the Lincoln National Forest.
I would like to thank my mentors Aurora Roemmich and Megan Friggens for providing such a great internship opportunity. Thank you to Pete Haraden and Jennifer Hickman for teaching us a little bit about hydrology and soils. Much appreciation to my crew members for providing camaraderie and support throughout the season!
On my last post, I talked a lot about one type of restoration project that can be found on old, mined lands within the Monongahela National Forest and in Appalachia, but not all restoration projects that take place on the Monongahela are like the one I described last time. A lot of restoration consists of smaller scale projects like invasive species removal in locations all around the forest, campsites, and roads including scenic highways. Removal of invasive species can include projects like hand pulling of herbaceous species like garlic mustard, using loppers to cut down larger woody shrubs, or spraying foliage and/or cut stump herbicide to get rid of other species. This removal is important to do regularly because it keeps invasive species from spreading throughout the forest and taking resources away from important native species.
A third restoration technique to help support the growth of native species in Appalachia is fire ecology. This is an interesting land management tool that can be used to rejuvenate certain ecosystems and allow the growth of healthy forests. Some ways to make the forests healthy is through reducing leaf litter and downed limbs to increase the habitats to promote the growth of native plant diversity. Specifically, fire can be used in Appalachia to help maintain the oak and pine forests to increase the openness of the forest understory, creating sunlight to the forest floor, and promoting seed germination. It can also help reduce the completion of survival of competitive species by limiting the growth of these competitive tree species like red maple, tulip popular, and white pine which tend to out compete some of the other species when there is an absence of fire. It can promote the native grasses and wildflowers, thin crowded forests which can help prevent disease and insect pest outbreaks and it also increases the food abundance for native wildlife like bears, deer, and birds. It had been seen through surveys that with a lack of fire implementation there has been diminished oak and pine regeneration, and lack of herbaceous groundcover from their historic range of variability.
When it comes to the National forests in Appalachia, fire ecology is used specifically to increase the native diversity. The past couple of weeks I have had the opportunity to help with the pre and post burn tasks and learn a lot about fire ecology in practice. For these tasks I helped with pre- and post-burn surveys of the fire plots. Using a GIS software, the survey location within the burn units was randomly selected and was given to the forestry tech to record the pre-burn survey. This survey includes recording the canopy cover frequency, ground cover frequency, woody shrub density, and the trees in the area. This is an important step in the prescribed burn process so that there can be a baseline of the vegetation within the burn unit to compare the post-burn surveys to in the future. The post-burn surveys typically happen in the growing season within six months after the burn, a full year after the burn during the same season as the pre-burn surveys took place, and then another survey five years after the first burn. These post-burn surveys are important to compare the vegetation growth within the burn units over the course of five years.
Assisting with both the pre- and post-burn surveys has been extremely interesting because it has given me the opportunity to look at another form of land management that is taking place in the Monongahela. Within the forest service, fire ecology has been a recently new technique to use for land management. The methods and research on prescribed burns continues to evolve and being able to help with the surveys allowed me to gain insight on how land management continues to improve over time with research and practice. I have been able to learn so much from working with the fire team and look forward to continuing to help them on their surveys and learn more about prescribed burns within the Monongahela!
I pressed down hard on the gas and held my breath. The truck strained as it inched forward centimeter by centimeter. Then, with a lurch, it fell back. The wheels spun rapidly, kicking up an impressive cascade of mud which rained down on the windshield in great, heavy globs. I sat back with a sigh. We were stuck.
Over the course of the summer, my co-intern Tessa and I have driven down all sorts of roads, winding dirt roads that lead to nowhere, broad gravel roads driven by thundering logging trucks, and roads covered in dense grass that bear only the faintest indication that they are roads at all.
On this day, the dirt road we were crossing was full of puddles. They started off small, nothing our trusty truck couldn’t handle. Soon though, the puddles got larger and we found ourselves taking great care to avoid the deepest spots. We got more confident as we switched into four wheel drive, but when we reached the top of a tall hill where the path below looked more like a pool of muddy water than a road, we knew it was time to seriously consider turning back. Still, we had made it this far, and we had only a bit further to go before getting back to pavement.
We drove down the hill. Slowly, as if we would anger the puddle by driving too fast, we inched our way across the mud. Then, “Squelch!” The truck stopped.
Last week, Tessa and I set out with our mentor, Ian, for Turtle Day 2.0. We would once again be improving habitat for native wood turtles. We were not alone though. Two trucks followed us as we headed north. One contained the Monitoring Crew and another the Great Lakes Climate Corps (GLCC). Though we had been introduced to Ottawa National Forest’s other teams of seasonal workers before, we’d rarely gotten a chance to work with them. Turtle day 2.0, however, required all hands on deck.
With shovels and mattocks on our shoulders and pruners and saws in our pockets, we hiked through the woods to reach remote riverside beaches. These beaches are known to be the favorite nesting spots of endangered wood turtles. Many of the beaches, though, have become overgrown with dense brush which makes it hard for the turtles to find ideal places to bury their eggs. This leaves the eggs vulnerable to being dug up by predators.
Our job for the day was Extreme Makeover: Turtle Beach Edition. With suggestions from herpetologists in hand, we went about digging up willow, spraying tansy, and pulling mullen, until the beaches were once again full of sandy spots that any turtle would be proud to call home. The work was strenuous, but with so many hands, the day passed quickly. At lunch time, it rained, and we sheltered in the trees swapping stories of a summer of adventures.
After realizing we were stuck, there were a few things Tessa and I tried. We put the truck in reverse and attempted to back out of the mud-filled pool. Earth-brown frogs hopped to and fro as the tires settled further and refused to budge.
Next, Tessa suggested that we could lay a path of sticks in front of the truck to give it some much needed traction. I thought this was a brilliant idea. Stepping out of the truck, I quickly realized that the opaque surface of the puddle hid a rut that was less on the scale of a few inches deep and more on the scale of a few feet deep. In places, the water came up to my knees. We gathered great arm-fulls of sticks, but when we tried to set them in place, they floated away.
On a feeble hope, we put the truck in neutral and tried to push it. It didn’t move. Deep down, I knew we would be fine, but as we strained to push the big white truck I couldn’t help but feel cold sweat on my palms and a tightness in my chest. The forest suddenly felt very big and I felt very small.
After another few minutes racking our brains, we realized it was time to accept it, we would need to call for help.
First, we glanced at our cell phones. No service. Next, we turned to the radio, but all of the channels looked unfamiliar. Thankfully, we had a SPOT device with us, which can send a location along with limited messages from almost anywhere in the Ottawa. The best message for our situation, “We need help, but it isn’t urgent” seemed a great deal better than nothing, yet frustratingly vague. Tessa suggested we climb the nearby hill to see if there might be cell service there.
Success! A feeble bar showed up at the top of Tessa’s phone. It was enough to get a phone call out to our mentor Ian. He’d head back to the office and grab supplies, he told us, and be there as soon as he could.
This month, Tessa and I have been tackling purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria). Purple loosestrife is, simply put, a gorgeous plant. It bears numerous showy purple blooms, which stand out strikingly against the greens of the forest. The flower loves any place where water transitions to land, be it a lake, river, or roadside ditch. Its dense roots cling to the mud while its tall stems reach for sunlight. Unfortunately, when left unchecked, this invasive flower can completely take over, crowding the coastline until there is only purple.
Tessa and I have been tasked with following the plant wherever it grows (within the forest), mapping it along highways as cars rush by, wading along lake shores to cut the tall, square stems, and paddling down rivers to pull the plant up by the roots.
That was our objective early on a Friday morning, as Tessa and I loaded the canoe onto the truck, or, I should say, attempted to load the canoe on to the truck. The back of the boat extended a good seven feet past the end of the truck bed. We sent a photo to Ian who agreed we should head out without the canoe. He would reach out to the partner organizations we would be working with that morning to see if it would be possible to find some alternative floatation.
We were the first ones to arrive at the boat launch. We got into our waders and ate wild raspberries while we waited for more people to arrive. After a few minutes a car pulled up, loaded with canoes and kayaks. We introduced ourselves and were greeted warmly. Before we knew it, they were showing us how to identify a reed grass called phragmites which is often invasive. They pointed out the length of the little tuft that most grasses have where the leaf meets the blade and the color and texture of the stem. These were all indicators, they explained, that could help distinguish the native phragmites from the invasive. No doubt about it, we had found our people.
A few minutes later and more partner organizations had arrived. Some were familiar faces we had worked with before and some were new. When all was said and done, we had a crew of nine people. Upon hearing about our canoe conundrum, they had brought extra kayaks for Tessa and I. Loaded with dry bags, sunscreen, and shovels, we were ready to hit the water.
We spent the day paddling our way along a river, pulling the purple loosestrife that had made a home there. The loosestrife in this area had never been treated before, so pulling up each loosestrife proved a wrestling match. Still, with so many people, the work passed quickly. At the end of the day, we left with half a dozen garbage bags full of loosestrife, a sense of deep satisfaction, and some new friends.
With Ian on his way, there was nothing to do but wait. I sat on the truck bed and watched the frogs dive beneath the water. Tessa sat with me and we talked about small things. She read me a letter from a friend back home, and I read her a few poems from a book I carry in my backpack. Sitting there with someone else, the knot in my chest seemed to unwind just a little.
Slowly, the time passed. We ate lunch, and then, decided to climb the hill again to see if Ian had sent any messages. As we crested the hill, we could just see a Forest Service vehicle carefully making its way across the puddles. Ian had arrived!
In the minutes that followed, Ian reviewed best practices to avoid getting stuck and taught us how to use a winch. The device is essentially a giant lever attached to a reel of cable. One end of the winch is attached to a stuck vehicle and the other a suitable sturdy tree. As the lever is pumped, the cable gets shorter. In the end, either the car moves or the tree does.
On a bright, sunny day, Tessa and I drove to Wisconsin. We were headed to an invasive plant management workshop hosted by a local university, a weed management cooperative, and an assortment of pesticide businesses. Arriving at the address, we found ourselves next to lake Superior. We filled out name tags and grabbed muffins from the refreshment table as dozens of people who had the distinct look of folks who spend a lot of time outdoors filled in.
One by one, the attendees introduced themselves. People had come from all sectors to attend the conference. Some were local government workers, some were federal government workers, some came from nonprofits, and some came simply because they wanted to learn more about weed management. There were seasoned veterans and interns like us, all chatting, comparing notes, and catching up.
To start the day, we all piled into a school bus. After a bumpy ride, we arrived at a stretch of out-of-the-way roadside. The conference’s experts took us through the different weed treatments that had been applied to various sections of the road. They were happy to answer questions on everything from the right time of year to apply pesticides to how to target weeds effectively while leaving native plants minimally disturbed.
After heading back to the conference venue, we watched a presentation on local invasive species identification and management. Then a scientist and weed management expert answered questions from the audience. Sitting in the crowd gave me a chance to appreciate the deep symbiosis between research and management. He shared the latest findings on effective weed control with the room and listened with interest to the questions and observations of the weed managers. At the end of the conference, all of the experts invited the attendees to reach out to them with questions big or small.
Some of my favorite moments of the conference were the unstructured times, those moments in between the lectures and presentations when the attendees and experts got to chat informally, ask questions, swap stories, and build relationships. Listening to the conversation, it was clear that everyone at the conference was united by some common goals: control the spread of harmful invasive species, limit their damage to the manmade and natural world, and educate the public about the invasive species in their area so that management work can been done in collaboration with the community.
Most days, Tessa and I are alone. We can spend all day in the forest without ever seeing another person. Attending the conference reminded me of the larger network of people that are working all over to continuously ask new questions, tackle new projects, and promote conservation and stewardship in cooperation.
This is essential because managing invasive species is a massive task. A map of invasive plant sites in Ottawa National Forest quickly begins to look like a map of stars in the sky, with thousands of infestations scattered all over. Thankfully, though we’re not managing these sites alone. Other forest employees, numerous partner organizations and volunteers, and every person who washes their boat between lakes or wipes off their shoes after a hike is managing invasive species right alongside us.
From Turtle Day to our loosestrife paddle, all the biggest projects we took on this month we took on with other people. We’ve had the opportunity to learn from so many wonderful land managers who are generous with their time and insights. In so many ways, this summer has been a continual process of offering help to others and finding in turn that, when we need it, help is never far away.
Bit by bit, the truck began to move. Still, as Tessa pressed the gas, the tires spun. Finally, with a great heave, the tires began to roll. Not spin. Not splutter. Roll. We had traction. We were unstuck at last.
The last few times I checked in I got to share about all manner of interesting things I was doing, namely botany camping trips, native plant conferences, and bat surveys. Now I’m checking in with an update that is a little bit more in line with my job description! In late July, my supervisor Sierra got the chance to go work on the Tamarack fire south of Lake Tahoe as a Resource Advisor, and I got to start Seeds of Success collecting pretty independently. It was a little intimidating starting out but I got comfortable with the protocol after a few seed collections! There is a list of priority species that are desired for collection in the Great Basin, but with the heat and dryness that the area is experiencing, finding any plant population with enough seeds to collect is a win, and opportunistic collections of any native species we can find are also fair game. So far I’ve gotten seeds from Helianthella uniflora, Stipa thurberiana, Pseudoroegneria spicata, Phacelia hastata, Eriogonum heracleoides, and Arnica sororia––a fun mix of native forbs and grasses. It’s been great getting familiar with some new species and figuring out identification for ones I don’t know!
So far, all my seed collections have been in the Santa Rosas north of Winnemucca, and I’ve gotten to see a lot of new country up in that area, including Buttermilk Meadows, Holloway Meadows, Solid Silver, and Buckskin. Those names won’t mean much to anyone not familiar with the area, but in case any northern Nevadans are reading this! I kept hoping to do some work over by Elko, NV, but thunderstorms and then subsequent landslides have kept me away from the area so far. I’m hopeful that next week the forest roads will be safe enough again to head over and see what seeds are left there!
Besides native plants, I’ve seen many cool rock formations and animals the past few weeks. I saw 11 antelope in a group just between the town of Paradise Valley and the foot of the Santa Rosas, which was surprising to me––I’d never seen a group together like that before, just one or two! I’ve also seen lots of chukars, grouse, and quail with their new families that have hatched over the summer, plus some lizards and a few praying mantises. Still no snakes though.
My family also visited from Minnesota the past week so I got to see my parents and sister and show them around for a few days. It was pretty smoky but they loved seeing Hinkey Summit in the Santa Rosas and swimming in Lake Tahoe! We even saw three bighorn sheep on Hinkey which was a first for me; I’m glad they were there for it.
Until next time here’s hoping we all, if not stay cool, at least enjoy the cooler evenings and late summer sunsets 🙂
For this week’s blog post, I just want to start by saying I can’t believe that it has already been two months since the start of my CLM journey. These past two months have been so much fun, and I am so grateful to have been able to meet and work alongside my co-intern Katie. Unfortunately, Katie has left me this past weekend to go onto bigger and better things like getting a master’s degree at Montana State. However, I am so excited to see everything she will accomplish in the coming years, and I am forever grateful to have such a caring, kind-hearted, and hardworking friend. Thankfully, she has agreed to that we would keep in touch with all our future adventures, and I hope to visit her in Montana in the coming year!
To catch up on our previous blog posts, some of the stuff Katie and I have been doing the past couple of weeks has been the repeating tasks like botany surveys, treating for invasive species along the scenic highway, and finishing up the salamander surveys for the summer season. However, the past couple of weeks we have also been assisting with the ecological restoration projects that are taking place on the Monongahela.
For these projects, we have been working very closely with the Reforestation Coordinator, Anna Branduzzi, from the Nonprofit organization Green Forest Work in preparing, monitoring, and restoring mined lands on the Monongahela. Working alongside Anna on this project gave us the opportunity to see all different parts of the ecological restoration process in Appalachia. A restoration project like this includes many steps to jumpstart the natural succession process through activities like preparing the site through clearing or ‘ripping’ the non-native vegetation on the old, mined lands, selecting native species to plant in the previously ‘ripped’ sites, working with conservation crews and volunteers to plant and seed native species, and then continual monitoring of older sites to make sure the vegetation and habitats continuing to survive in these locations.
During our time working with Anna, Katie and I assisted with the preparation of the sites through locating wetland ecosystems in the future restoration locations so they can be avoided in the ‘ripping’ process. Second, we helped plant and seed the native plants in this year’s restoration site. Lastly, we helped monitor some of the older restoration sites by locating the wetlands for future monitoring and possibly to bring an excavator to enhance these wetlands in the future. I really enjoyed participating in all these steps for restoring Appalachia and being able to see all the older restoration sites giving me a perspective on just how fast this restoration can help the secession process on the old, mined lands.
Another part of this restoration process that Katie and I have enjoyed helping with has been the research that is being accomplished in the Monongahela from the surrounding Universities. Some of this research includes the monitoring of ecosystems through looking at animal and plant populations. Recently Katie and I have assisted with a master’s student research project that looks at bat foraging on restored mined land in West Virginia. Her research consists of monitoring bat foraging through bat audio recordings, bug collections, and surveying wetlands on the restored mined lands and old growth forests. She will be able to use this data collected to see how the foraging might be different between the two different locations. It was exciting to be able to assist in this process of collecting data and to see the different ways these restored mined lands can be monitored and continue to improve habitat for native species in both the Monongahela National Forest and Appalachia.
Ecological restoration and the research being accomplished on the Monongahela, specifically old mined lands, is an important part of maintaining the biodiversity within Appalachia. I am excited to continue working alongside Anna, Green Forest Work, other non-profit organizations, and researchers from surrounding Universities to continue the amazing work being accomplished on the Monongahela National Forest.