G.L.O.R.I.A !

This week, Claire and I assisted with the absolute coolest long term vegetation monitoring initiative known to human-kind: GLORIA (GLobal Observation Research Initiative in Alpine environments). It is just as intense as it sounds. We went with a group of botanical scientists, fellow interns, and volunteers to the Lemhi Mountain range in Idaho to establish the fourth GLORIA site in all of Idaho. Just last year the first three were established, which is the minimum number of plots allowed according to GLORIA standards. This fourth peak would bring Idaho up to the preferred number of GLORIA locations and allow us to extract more data about changes to the alpine environment over the years.

On our way up!
Getting started once we reached the summit.

Starting the day early we scrambled up to 10,000+ ft. with packs full of survey equipment. Once up there, we quickly began conducting the measurements and calculations needed to set up the many sections-essentially making a cardinal directional pie out of the mountain peak. We then got to crouching. The real work of a GLORIA plot is the thorough surveying of existing vegetation on the peak so that changes can be noted through the years. This includes monitoring soil temperature and snow pack by burying four tough temperature loggers up on the mountain (those little nuggets have a lifetime of 5 years! How incredible!)

Refreshing our memories on the many alpine plant species before starting the surveys.
Working on the plots 🙂 Couldn’t be happier!

The sun moved across the sky as data sheet after data sheet was completed and plot after plot was delineated. Our brains were steeped in the wonderful names of the teeny-tiny alpine plants, picking out some rare ones here and there and marveling at the flowers of so many others. After one task was done, there was always another to move to. The sun and wind kept us company and on our toes with multiple sunscreen applications and rubber bands on clipboards to prevent flyaways!

Arctic alpine forget-me-not (Eritrichium nanum)-one of the sweetest little plants we found!
Old-Man-of-the-Mountain ( Tetraneuris grandiflora ), another wonderful example of some of the beautiful plants up in the alpine!

Right before the sun set we were safe off the mountain, marveling at the work we had accomplished and already missing the beautiful alpine. It was truly thrilling to be part of such a top-notch research team, preforming globally recognized science, and learning from the top notch botanists of Idaho. The entire experience had a surreal feel to it, and is one I wish I could rewind and live all over again.

Imagine spending the day up here, you wouldn’t wanna come back down either would you!

From Idaho to Utah

The past few weeks have been popping with traveling, camping, and seed collection all around Idaho and Utah.

One of our many stops was on the Curlew Grasslands, it was an awesome day.

My co-intern and I, Claire, have been able to explore some awesome country and have continued to meet and collaborate with a whole slew of professionals (thanks to the top notch planning of our mentor!) including Forest Health specialists and a conglomerate of Forest botanists from both Idaho and Utah. We’ve even met other seasonal workers and shared SOS collection stories and techniques as we scouted for and collected seed together.

At one of our collection locations ft. Claire 🙂

Spending the day with other seed collecting friends and botanists in Utah.

Our primary plant for seed collection these past few weeks has been Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagitatta). Just yesterday we spotted balsamroot growing on an unusual space on the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache NF in Utah-it was a rocky, scree covered slope within a canyon. The population was robust, so we split into groups and faced the steep climb head-on with paper bags in hand. As I climbed up using both hands and feet I stopped here and there to pop off a few seed heads and turn down my long sleeve shirt in the burning sun. The balsamroot continued to flourish the higher up I got-eventually I came to the top and found a clearing of penstemon, hawksbeard and balsamroot. The flowers were fluorescent in the sun and the darker seed heads of the balsamroot bobbed as warm wind moved through the canyon. I took a moment to breathe and located our trucks on the canyon floor-they were small, white dots far below! -and then turned to take in the canyon view.

Up on top!

I could see that to my left and right along the slope the balsamroot was loving the rocky habitat. I could hear the other collection teams communicating, their voices echoing a bit between the canyon and mountain walls. After roaming around to cover the extent of the population where I was I packed my paper bag in my backpack and headed slowly back down.

We all met back at the trucks, laughing about the bizarre habitat, the intense climb, and our surprise at the amount of balsamroot we found. It was a super successful day and a great end to the work week!

What a Week!

If anyone ever asks if you want to go hang out with entomologists and botanists-don’t think twice, just answer “YES!!”.

That is exactly what myself and my CLM partner, Claire Parsons, did when our mentor proposed learning and working with USDA entomologists and Idaho renowned botanists for a week on a Research Natural Area (RNA). RNAs are preserved areas that represent a habitat and can be used for education, research, and monitoring purposes. The one we happily raced to was a low shrub upland salt desert shrub habitat within the Salmon-Challis National Forest and BLM land in Idaho.

At the heart of the RNA: Middle Canyon!

Our goal was to verify the RNA’s integrity, plant diversity, document baseline pollinator presence, and search for some lovely rare plant species. Claire and I, besides having the opportunity to botanize and learn from the coolest and most knowledgeable people, received direction on the Seeds of Success (SOS) process-one of our primary projects this summer. We found two populations, one of Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagitatta) and Shaggy Fleabane (Erigeron pumilus) that we can come back to during seed-set!

Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagitatta).

Within the first two days on the RNA we found three rare species: Spreading Gilia (Ipomopsis polycladon), Lost River Milkvetch (Astragalus amnis-amissi), and the super dainty Alkali Primrose (Primula alcalina). All signs that the RNA is a diverse and special place that should continue to be preserved. Finding the plants meant that official documentation was needed; Claire and I were able to exercise our GPS know-how and complete the official field-paperwork.

Alkali Primrose (Primula alcalina), how sweet!

Such an awesome group of scientists-watching the entomologists at work was super cool.

We also observed pollinator catching, drafted comprehensive species lists, and asked as many questions as we had all while hiking through canyons, along rivers and alluvial fans, and crunching across the desert shrub steppe.

The river (you can kind of see it going around a bend here) gave us a chance to cool our feet down mid-day!

Going up Middle Canyon, we choose to walk off the trail a bit and search out as many plants as possible.

The fun didn’t end either, after field work we would all head back to the field station nestled below the Lemhi mountain range. Claire and I pressed our plant specimens, ogled and peppered the entomologist as they ordered their tiny, winged specimens, keyed out plants we had collected in the field, then enjoyed dinner while laughing and conversing below the mountain peaks.

A sneak peak of all the pollinators doing good work out on the RNA.

Keying out some paintbrush (Castilleja angustifolia) with M.M.-the coolest botanists in Idaho.

It was so refreshing to be surrounded by professionals who loved botany and ‘talked’ botany; I couldn’t get enough of it. I made connections, became so much more familiar with the plants of the region, and feel super prepared to execute SOS work, bring it on!

Caribou-Targhee National Forest, ID