Sierras and Great Basin, II.

While Sierra precipitation continues to blanket mountain ranges in snow and swell Carson City with rain into April, bouts of nice weather provide us the opportunity to conduct habitat and species surveys in remote field sites.  Since my last post, my team and I have searched for a rare cactus species on proposed mining sites, collected data for a Short-Eared Owl population study, pressed plant specimens from the field, and cataloged species associations of the coniferous forests in eastern California.

Our mentor, Dean Tonenna, received Mining Notices for operations on BLM lands at nine locations near the Singatse Mountain Range and Mason Valley in Lyon County, NV.  We were tasked with surveying the mining sites for a rare cactus on the BLM Sensitive Species List. We encountered one occurrence of the species, Sagebrush Cholla (Grusonia pulchella), on our last proposed drill site to survey.  We recorded the GPS coordinate of the cactus and mapped the location with the proposed mining sites on ArcGIS.  Dean included the finding in his report and made specific recommendations for site modification.

Mason Valley, Singatse Range, Lyon County, NV.

Our next adventure required finding a remote study plot within Dixie Valley nestled between the Stillwater and Clan Alpine Ranges in Churchill County, NV.  We collected occurrence data along transects as a part of the Western Asio Flammeus (Short-Eared Owl) Landscape Study with the Intermountain Bird Observatory.  We observed Northern Harrier, Horned Lark, Killdeer, Common Raven, and Red-Tailed Hawk.  Unfortunately, we did not record a single occurrence of Asio flammeus over the eleven transects.  We camped within the study plot following the survey and prepared to collect plant specimen vouchers for the area in the morning.  After a brilliant sunrise, our mentor walked us through the dominant species of the Salt Desert Shrub plant community and species specific to Dixie Valley.  We pressed a variety of species, a few of which included Phacelia crenulata, Astragulus iodanthus and Lepidium flavum.

Sunrise over the Clan Alpine Range, Dixie Valley, Churchill County, NV

This week my intern team took the opportunity to attend a Cooperative Weed Management Area meeting in Quincy, CA for the Plumas area of the western Sierras.  The meeting included many stakeholders, scientists, and herbicide applicators for updates on noxious weed projects during the 2017 field season.  Following the meeting, our mentor had us pull off the highway onto an old logging road up into a Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) and Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) forest.  Similar to the Dixie Valley plant community survey, we rapidly assessed the dominant vegetation and learned about the differences between the western and eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada ranges.  Hiking up and down fresh mountain streams, we encountered a variety of early-blooming wildflowers.  The fresh rain and scents of the Pines, Firs, and Cedars reaffirmed my love for temperate conifer forests.

Temperate Conifer Forest of the Western Sierras

On the weekends, we fill our time with exploring new hiking trails, skiing at Lake Tahoe and playing soccer.  Ash Canyon and Clear Creek Trail are just 10 minutes from our house in Carson City and offer miles of maintained trails into the canyons of the eastern Sierras.  When it is snowing or raining (like yesterday), we plan out future backpacking trips and prepare for fieldwork during the next week.  We have plans for Monday to visit the Pine Nut Mountains to survey for noxious weeds and other invasive plant species. Can’t wait!

Clear Creek Trail

Carson City District Office – BLM

Connor Kotte

Sierras and Great Basin

An expanse of open land, unimpeded in its darkness, spread out before me in all directions.

Although I missed out on a cross-country road trip, my midnight flight from O’Hare to Reno Tahoe Int’l. provided perspective to the scope and scale of the landscape I was entering.  Where ~80% of the state is public land, I felt incredibly excited to be embarking on a 9-month adventure with the BLM in Carson City, Nevada.

Before I knew it, I was settling into our shared housing, familiarizing myself with the area, and fast becoming friends with my awesome intern team.

View from our backyard, looking west, Carson Range

My first two weeks were filled with training, herbarium work, conservation plans, and preparations for the field season.  We completed a variety of training sessions including a lengthy ArcGIS marathon.  I learned about the local herbarium system and helped mount plant specimens from past years.  We started developing official conservation plan documents for sensitive Nevada plants and prepared for our five-day herbicide applicator course in Boise, ID at the end of the month.

Desk station, GIS training, accompanied by Intermountain Flora and apple

Just today we were able to get out in the field and complete a few tasks thanks to the warm dry weather.  We collected sections of Willow (Salix sp.) saplings and buried them in moist soil packets underground to elicit growth of new root systems.  We also used spades to remove invasive Thistles (Cirsium spp.) throughout the study plot area.

Field site, East of Carson City

Elsewhere, we are able to take advantage of the amazing outdoor recreation opportunities that Western Nevada has to provide! My first day in NV wasn’t complete until we hit the Reno Climbing Gym. I shredded my fingers.  Endless mountain bike and running trails are found within a mile of our house.  Last weekend we visited a place twenty minutes from Carson City that received 30 feet of snow this winter – Lake Tahoe. We explored the lakeside towns, hiked a beautiful ridge overlook, and have plans to go back tomorrow for skiing!

Running trails, Carson City

Example of Tahoe Snow

Eagle Rock overlook, West Lake Tahoe

As soon as the rain and snowfall from the region’s record-breaking winter allow, we’ll be exploring the Sierra Nevadas and Great Basin Desert further to work towards the goals of the BLM CCDO Botany Dept., Seeds of Success Program, and CLM Internship.

Carson City District Office – BLM

Connor Kotte