This past month has been very successful regarding collections. My coworker and I have had the opportunity to collect Astragalus drummondii (Drummond’s milkvetch) and Hedysarum boreale (Utah sweetvetch) from a hillside. It’s possible that Hedysarum boreale has never been collected from this area before, so that’s exciting! We’ve also collected three different Penstemon species, including Penstemon humilis (low beardtongue), Penstemon paysoniorum (Payson’s beardtongue), and Penstemon laricifolius (larchleaf beardtongue). We’ve been told that Penstemons are excellent for use in fire restorations, so that makes these collections even more special. This past Tuesday, my coworker and I stumbled on yet another Penstemon (Penstemon procerus–littleflower penstemon) that we are hoping to collect in the future.
Speaking of future collections, we are intending to get at least a few more species before the end of our internship and surpass our target of 20 species. These would include Gentiana affinis (pleated gentian), Astragalus bisulcatus (twogrooved milkvetch), Ipomopsis aggregata (scarlet gilia), and Cordylanthus ramosus (bushy bird’s beak).
On a personal level, I have truly been enjoying the area. My coworker and I have explored Wyoming, Colorado, and most recently, Utah. We even got to swim in the Great Salt Lake, which I recommend doing at least once.
Since the last post, I was getting slightly discouraged as almost nothing was going to seed. In addition, the species that were going to seed were mainly vegetative and we were getting worried many collections would not be able to be carried out.
However, in the past two weeks, my co-intern Maggie and I were able to finish five SOS collections! After waiting (mainly due to the cold and precipitous weather), seeds were finally ready. We were able to collect Balsamorhiza incana, Townsendia incana, Cerastium arvense, Lomatium foeniculaceum, and an Arnica sp. For half of these collections, we are fairly confident that we have collected well over 20,000 seeds! It is interesting to see how different the plants look once they are going to seed in comparison to how they looked at the beginning of the internship–they are skeletal versions of themselves.
After going back to locations multiple times (for scouting, collecting, etc.), I’m also struck by how quickly the vegetation can change. One day at Red Canyon (one of our main collection locations), there was Linum lewisii (Blue flax) dotting the landscape. Less than a week later, all the petals were gone from the flax and white lilies were (and are) everywhere. You truly never go to the same place twice.
It has been extremely rewarding and we’re hoping that we can keep up this pace of collecting in the weeks to follow.
After a little over a month here, I’m slowly getting acclimated to the town and the expectations of the internship. Since last time, my co-intern and I have been scouting for seed collection areas, which have included different areas in Red Canyon and various trips outside of Lander, such as Tough Creek (north of Shoshoni) and along the Gas Hills Highway. So far, we have vouchers for roughly 15 collections that we hope will be ready soon. We welcome the outdoor time after a very precipitous beginning of the month!
We also had the opportunity to work with a botanist from the Nature Conservancy in the Red Canyon area, which included identifying plants and monitoring different types of seeding methods. Broad spread seeding applications and the presence or absence of furrowing were two of these methods. The two main species we worked with were Indian Rice Grass and a sage (Artemesia) species. It was incredible to be able to learn how to identify each of these plants from such a young age! They were roughly a centimeter or so tall (if we were lucky!) as we had our faces to the ground, scouring the plot to count each plant 🙂
Another exciting opportunity we had this past month was to be on an SOS (Seeds of Success) conference call that discussed the BLM Native Grass and Forb Seed Increase IDIQ Contract. Having only worked with seeds from the Midwest, I at first did not understand why this new “seed grow-out” idea was so exciting for Wyoming and those nearby. The seed grow-out involves BLM offices collecting a certain amount of seeds of a certain species and sending it out to a third party. This third party will then grow these seeds (and multiply them), and then field offices can buy these seeds back in bulk. From my limited experience, I couldn’t understand why the field offices would not just purchase seeds from a local/Wyoming native plant nursery. The fact is, there are no native plant nurseries that the field offices can buy in bulk from! So whenever these field offices must purchase seeds for seeding projects (such as for rehabilitation, reclamation, and restoration), the seeds are not able to come from the same ecoregion that they are being planted in, and therefore not truly native to the region and are not as successful as they could be. So this is really exciting! I’m hoping to be able to be on similar calls in the future and find out how this progresses!
Although I haven’t yet finished two full weeks, I have already learned and experienced enough for a much longer period of time. Of course there has been the traditional office work (trainings, meetings, etc.), which have been helpful, but ultimately, the field days have been the most exciting by far. Already, I have been to JBR (Johnny Behind the Rocks, a trail-based recreation area with a gorgeous view of the Wind River Mountains), Red Canyon, and a site near Tough Creek. At JBR, we have conducted (and will continue to conduct) BLM sensitive plant surveys for Phlox pungens (Beaver Rim Phlox) and Physaria saximontana var. saximontana (Rocky Mountain Twinpod). At Red Canyon, we had the opportunity to assist a pollination biologist from Laramie in putting out vane traps, as well as helping with hand pollination and bagging specimens. It was a great day, both because of the tasks and the company:) Two of the nearby ranch dogs followed us in the field for almost 8 hours and were very sweet as you can see! More recently, we attempted to look for voucher specimens for Eriastrum wilcoxii (Wilcox’s Woolystar) and Lupinus pusillus (Dwarf Lupine). However, it has been a little cool this Spring, so unfortunately we couldn’t collect any specimens yet. But we did find some very young Lupinus pusillus (see pic)! Anyway, it has already been a wonderful experience so far and I can’t wait to see what the next 5 months has in store!