Where is Vernal?

The right seed, in the right place, at the right time.  This straight-forward goal was synthesized by the Colorado Plateau Native Plant Program, at a conference in Monticello, Utah. It assimilated a broad range of presentations, including the latest research on local plant genetics intertwined with climate variability, new conservation technology, and agronomic requirements for successful seed production. This simplistic goal resulted from a conversation of the various stakeholders involved with collection and production of native plants for habitat restoration.  Often, the center stage of this conversation was Vernal, UT.

I have been an intern with the Bureau of Land Management in Vernal now for several weeks. During that time, I was able to attend the conference in Monticello and see where Vernal lies in the big picture of native plant restoration.  When I first arrived in my new habitat, the local flora was covered with two feet of snow after what had been an unusual winter.  However, I have learned it is a botanically interesting region due to roughly fifty endemic species associated with local geology, especially the oil-shale.  The energy sector also finds this area very interesting. Consequently, there are abundant future reclamation needs. The anticipated demand for native seeds played a key role in Vernal’s place at the conference.

While the snow melted, I compiled data to answer the question of “what seed?” I have become acquainted with the local flora of the herbarium and their locations on a map. However, I got my first taste of the field today, checking on seedlings of a milkvetch species that is endemic to a particular bend of the Green River.  The tiny seedlings were exciting to find and identify, being that they are so unique to that location. The landscape was enamoring, and I look forward to a season of discovering its hidden gems.

A view of the Uinta Mountains

Endemic Astragalus species

Endemic Astragalus species

Budsage… enamoring landscape in the background

Interns Unite!

Over the week of July 18th, the Taos and Santa Fe SOS crews joined forces to scour the slopes of the Carson National Forest for native seeds. We met at the Taos BLM field office, our government pickups laden down with tents, sleeping bags, a few musical instruments, plant presses and all the other essentials for an overnight in the field. Joining us on our hitch into Carson was the one and only Jessa “seed czar” Davis, the Taos AIM crew, Kerry Dicks (resident Archeologist), and Olivia Messinger Carril, co-author of “Bees in Your Backyard” (an awesome reference book for the bees of N. America). Together we drove north out of Taos through the sagebrush Mesa in a line of government white Chevy Silverado’s. To the locals we must have looked as much like a convoy of Botanists as something out of Mad Max.

Eventually we turned down the dirt road into the Carson National Forest and made our first stop in the foothill slopes of San Antonio Mountain. There we discovered a population of Oxytropis sericea and Linum lewisii, which we would collect from the following day.

Botanist convoy

Onward and upward we drove, into the aspen groves, buckwheat fields, and alpine lakes of the Carson NF, stopping for plenty of “drive-by botany” along the way. Several times during these stops, Olivia let loose her little tikes, each outfitted with their own bug nets. The cuteness was hardly bearable.

Eventually we arrived at the lower Lagunitas Campground, and set up aside the mountain lake nearby. Olivia then schooled us in some pollinator collection techniques, one of which involved deploying several cups of soap at regular intervals throughout the landscape before returning to collect and pin your specimens. As the light grew dim, the SOS interns, AIM crew, Jessa, Kerry, and the Carril family gathered around an inviting campfire. Alex, one of the AIM crew members, roasted a fish he caught from the lake and shared it with everyone as musical instruments were tuned and played into the night.

The largest and smallest bees found in N. America. Right: Xylocopa, and Left: Perdita. Photo from “Bees in Your Back Yard”, photo by Joseph Wilson (quarter used for scale).

I couldn’t remember the last time I had been regaled by ghost stories around a campfire, but I won’t soon forget the stories told that night.

As the sun slowly rose the next morning, so too did our crew. After breakfast, each group drove began to depart separately. We in the Taos-Santa Fe SOS team then proceeded to descend from the Lake, and made two collections along the way down that surely wouldn’t have been possible if not for the combined man (and woman) power of the group. On our drive towards a third collection in Questa we stopped at the Taos Cow for some world-famous ice cream of the coffee, chocolate, and lavender varieties.

That night, Ella Samuel, Laura Holloway, and Rebecca Schaub of the Santa Fe crew stayed in the modest home of the Taos Crew; Sophie Duncan, Jack Dietrich, and myself. Luckily our synergistic efforts at seed collecting were also transferrable to the grill, and together made a pretty solid pasta salad, some mouth-watering veggie burgers, and fragrant grilled pineapple. Like any good night, we finished it off with a game of Settlers of Catan before falling into well a deserved sleep.

The next morning, we collected seeds downstate in Truchas and Chimayo before parting ways. We’re currently planning another reunion… hopefully it will involve just as much comraderie and Catan as our former gathering.

Until next time,

-Jack Lynch

CLM intern (BLM) — Taos, New Mexico

Transitioning from Seed Collecting to Other Projects

A rare find - Kelso Creek Monkeyflower.

A rare find – Kelso Creek Monkeyflower.

Another rare find - a flowering Cholla cactus.

Another rare find – a flowering Cholla cactus.

Hello again from Ridgecrest CA. As of this week I am entering the third month of my internship. It’s hard to believe. The last two months we have been rushing to gather as many collections as we could for the SOS program. The flowering season is very short in the Mojave, and there hasn’t been any more rain, so it looks as if we may be at the end of our seed collecting. Fortunately, we had more rain this season than any previous years for the SOS program in this area. To give an idea as to what that means in the desert, we have made 18 complete collections so far, whereas in the previous 5 years the average was 6 complete collections. None-the-less, we feel pretty good about being able to provide a good collecting season. We have 3 more months to collect – the hard part will be trying to find something that hasn’t dried up.

The DTRNA volunteers hard at work making a collection of California Poppy.

The DTRNA volunteers hard at work making a collection of California Poppy.

The collection site of California Poppy and Fremont's phacelia in full bloom.

The collection site of California Poppy and Fremont’s phacelia in full bloom.

The highlight this past month: I took it upon myself to work with the Desert Tortoise Research Natural Area (DTRNA), an organization dedicated to protecting the Desert Tortoise, to organize future cooperation with the SOS program to provide seed for the DTRNA. I set up a training day in which the DTRNA joined us in the field collecting seeds. We taught them about the protocol, what we take into consideration, and how to identify the target collection. We made three complete collections in one day! It’s amazing how much can be done when you have a few extra hands. All of the details haven’t been worked out but I really hope that there will be a way to continue using volunteer help to collect seeds and use the extra for restoration purposes in this area. There has also been talk of another organization interested in doing the same thing. I am working with my mentor to figure out the best approach to accomplishing this. Jeff Gicklhorn has been a really supportive, patient, knowledgeable and (incredibly) nice mentor.

One of the great things about the position in Ridgecrest is that the office is very supportive of taking advantage of the learning opportunities through the BLM. This week I am participating in NISIMS (National Invasive Species Information Monitoring System) training, and next week we will be traveling to Las Vegas for a NEPA class. This month is basically already booked full!

Cheers,

Leah Madison

Ridgecrest California BLM Field Office

Rain? In the Desert?

The past month has been full of new adventures, including our first time working under Jeff, on the plant component of our internship. We have had two visits from a group of contract fishers out of Tempe, AZ [and I apologize for not knowing the name of that company]. They come into Bonita Creek and act as a high-effort and high-impact fish removal squad. On a typical overnight set of our nets, Heidi, Rosalee and I typically set out a maximum of 120 nets per trip. These contractors set 500+ nets each night and camp in the area in order to set for 2-3 nights in a row. This allows them to remove fish from a greater area, and in greater numbers, than our BLM staff is capable of doing.

Bonita Creek had begun drying up in a lot of places. Some of the drying pools contained native fish that Heidi wanted us to move to pools that were more likely to stick around until the monsoons came in to raise the water levels. On the day we were out in Bonita Creek cleaning out some drying pools I was stung in the finger by a bee of some kind. I am not allergic (luckily), but I have since learned that you are not supposed to just grab the stinger and pull it out (like I did). This squeezes extra venom into the wound and will greatly increase your body’s reaction to the sting. Needless to say I was surprised when I woke up the next morning to a finger that was so swollen that I could not bend it at all!! I was on Benedryl, elevating my hand and keeping ice on it for 2.5 days before I was able to bend my finger normally again! It wasn’t how I intended to spend the better part of my 4th of July time off, but what can you do?

The Monday after the 4th of July weekend, we traveled for almost two hours to a site along the Gila River called York Canyon. Here we performed electro-fishing monitoring of fish populations. We then turned our sights to preparing for our upcoming weekend “camping” trip. We participated in a restoration planting weekend alongside members of the Sky Island Alliance and the Nature Conservancy in Turkey Creek and Cobra Ranch (in/near the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness). We spent the preceding week testing and coiling over 600 feet of garden hose and loading trucks full of plants and a product called DriWater. So much cool stuff happened over the course of that weekend and I took so many pictures that I plan to have another post just about that trip (coming soon, I promise).

We have also participated in a Spring Snail survey with Arizona Game and Fish staff on BLM lands. I also spent a couple days calibrating and constructing a Rain/Temperature Gauge that will eventually be deployed at a site called Sands Draw in order for our supervisors to get a more accurate representation of local precipitation levels received by restoration plantings in the area. The most recent project that we have started is a re-organization of our office’s Herbarium. Over the years, specimens have gotten out of order, mis-numbered and mis-entered in our database. It will be a fairly long term project that we will complete before we leave to get everything updated and organized. I know it might be strange, but I enjoy semi-grueling organizational tasks, so I am excited to be working on this during our office time! We are also using this herbarium collection to learn to identify our Seeds of Success Target Species for this year. Once we are able to identify these species (and the rains slow down) we will begin SOS scouting, and further down the line, collection of native seed materials.

And now for something COMPLETELY different: Who knew that the desert could be this HUMID? Well, this California girl certainly didn’t!! June 28th, monsoon season was off to a bang with a huge thunder and lightning storm that passed right by our house. We went to take the dogs for a walk before it started raining too hard and at one point we had lightning strikes on all four sides of our complex. For the next two weeks straight, we had storms roll through nearly every evening. It was pretty incredible to lie down in bed and have the room lit up sporadically by lightning strikes. I have seen lightning in every hue, from white, to blue to orange, and in so many fascinating patterns.

Storm clouds near Cobra Ranch at Sunset

Now don’t get me wrong, I LOVE thunder and lightning, but I highly don’t approve of the humidity that comes with them. Give me dry heat over 105 any day rather than being in the mid-90s and 50% humidity. It just makes you sweat like crazy!! [Or as my boss Heidi says, “Women don’t sweat, we glow”, so GLOW like crazy.] The toughest part of the humidity is that it stops our evaporative swamp cooler in our trailer from cooling down the air. It will still move the air, but it’s not cold by any stretch of the imagination. I actually look forward to driving into town/home from work because my car has actual AC and I can feel cold air!!

It’s hard to believe that with the timesheet I turned in last week, I have completed over half of my hours for this internship. With weekend plans filling up between now and the end of September, I somehow feel like the rest of this experience is just going to blow by! I am still enjoying everything I am learning and doing and I hope to absorb all I can in the last two months I have here!

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”
–Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Heather Paddock
Safford, AZ
BLM

Branching Out; Moving into the Coniferous Forest

Let me start this blog entry with a huge thank you to Krissa Skogen and Marian Hofherr for a wonderful training week at the Grand Canyon. As part of one of the SOS teams with an early start date, it was questionable as to whether Drew and I were going to training week since we had received SOS training in March. But, I am really glad that we got the opportunity since there was a lot more to learn and really great people to meet. The Grand Canyon was gorgeous (of course!) and there were so many opportunities to hike, enjoy the sunset/sunrise, and spend time with fellow CLM interns. Plus, it was really helpful for job planning to learn about the various government agencies that commonly employ botanists and wildlife biologists.

Sunrise at the Grand Canyon

Back at work after the 4th of July weekend, seed collecting has become slim-pickings due to the heat and high speed winds that have been blasting the desert and its flora. There are only two collecting trips left before the August/September lull and we will be collecting Larrea tridentata, Krameria sp., and Eriogonum fasiculatum. By the end of these trips, our seed collection count will be around 100 collections, which isn’t too shady when our goal for the season was set at 50 collections. Later, in November, it will be time to monitor and collect some of the common Atriplex sp. that seed in the fall.

At the Iron Mountains with Tommy and Josh

With SOS collecting finishing up, the team is getting involved with floristic surveys that the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSABG) has been contracted to do in the San Bernadino Mountains. This means that the team will split up and get mixed in with ever changing small groups of garden staff that get sent out to the various locations under survey. It will be a great opportunity to experience floristic survey work, learn new plants in a new environment, and work with various RSABG staff and interns.

San Bernadino Mountains

– Jackie McConnaughy

SOS Intern at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, Claremont, CA

Oh Mohave

From the bustle of the Chicago suburbs to the quiet, slow-paced town of Needles, CA, my first weeks of the CLM internship have been a period of great adjustment.  I’m glad to finally be away from the fast-paced days of Gurnee summers that are choked by traffic from the Six Flags amusement park and the mall.  Though not much goes on in close proximity to my residence, I enjoy my work with the Needles field office greatly.  My adviser Tom Stewart has been very helpful with my adjustment to the extreme temperatures and with navigating the region.  I am only beginning to get used to the temperatures that exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit on a sunny, summer day.  A strategy to combat the summer heat has been starting work early.  My field work is done before the afternoon hours.

What I love about the field work is the many lizards I can see dashing across the rocky terrain, the Joshua trees that I had only seen in photographs and the dry climate.  I don’t mind warm weather, but extreme humidity has always bothered me.  Though it is not work-related, I also love the cheapness of produce at some stores in the region.  I have bragged to friends and family about the affordability of avocados, grapes and strawberries.  The only scary part of the work is the threat of rattlesnake bites.  Though I have yet to hear that fear-inducing rattle, I have made myself a promise to not listen to an iPod while collecting so that I do not foolishly stumble across an angry rattlesnake.

As far as work goes, most of my time thus far has been spent collecting seeds for SOS from key plant species such as white bursage, creosote, indian ricegrass, big galleta and more.  Proper and efficient seed collection from desert plants is a new skill that I am developing.  Luckily I spent a great deal of time with flora and fauna identification in college; thus, my understanding of desert wildlife is rapidly expanding.  I hope that my seed collecting can help to preserve plant species that are at risk due to pests, grazing animals, invasive species, pollution and other causes.  Some seeds are extremely easy to collect (white bursage) but some can be very time-consuming (creosote).  I have noticed that my first days of seed collection were awkward and confusing.  Since my most recent field work, I can confidently say that my skills are improving.

I am also using GPS to mark good locations for seed collection as well as animals that are spotted.  I found two desert tortoises (endangered species) on the same morning on my way to a desert spring.  Some employees at the office say that they have only seen one tortoise after years of working in the field!  Photographs of anything that catches my eye are taken at my leisure.

I am on the verge of working with water source management, bat surveys and other projects in the near future.  Until then, I will see you fellow interns at the Grand Canyon.

Kudos.

– Eric Clifton