After the Eutrema penlandii monitoring effort we headed out to a short trip near Walden, CO to look for Phacelia formosula. This plant is our first biennial and, therefore, species that we surveyed for frequencies rather than density. Basically, this means that instead of a permanent plot with a permanent set of transects we have a permanent plot with transects that move each year. This way we can follow the trends of the plant population and their movement in an area. Unfortunately, this species saw a rather large decline in 2016 and we were hoping for some recovery this year. Although the species did not have a boom this year, we did see some promising trends that the plant will come back, but only time, more data collection and some more data collection will tell.
The interesting part of this story is that a Pandora’s box of complications is opened when you start to ask questions about why this plant is in decline, because so little is known about it. Are the flowering plants creating adequate amount of seed? Is that seed germinating? What are the conditions needed for germination? Have those conditions been met in the last few years? What additional information do we need to know about the plant in order to answer these questions?
A former intern here at BLM Colorado attempted to answer a few of these questions. Going so far as collecting soil samples, looking for seed in them and trying to grow those samples out. Continued investigation in this area is still needed.
In the intervening time between my rare and threatened plants data collection I have started to help my fellow intern with seed collection. I was excited to take part in this process, having learned about it at the CLM training. It is a pretty straight forward process, but we learned first hand that illegal seed collection on BLM land is somewhat of a problem when we had a BLM ranger come visit us on site. Apparently some concerned observers in the area had witnessed illegal sagebrush seed collection in that area in the past. I did not know that was a problem and that the BLM would respond to such a call.
I also found while attempting to look at some demography data that we collected on Astragalus osterhoutii, that someone had sorted the data so that the tag numbers of a couple hundred plants and the information about those plants was jumbled into an incoherent mass of numbers and letters. After spending a week sorting this data out, the demographic data was a lot more coherent and insightful. I am hoping to continue looking into some of the demography data we have collected, sometimes for more than 10 years, in order to answer some of the questions that are still looming, such as the ones mentioned for P. formosula.
This last week we headed over to Fairplay, near Mt. Sherman, to set up and read a Modified Whittaker plot near our E. penlandii monitoring plot. Conducting the plot in this way allows us to look at the overall trends of plant populations in the area to understand what might be affecting E. penlandii. For this plot we were blessed with the presence of a handful of botanists from the Colorado Natural Heritage Program. Although I have seen it time and time again, I am always happily surprised by the fact that there are so many women in botany. One of the reasons I was so excited by the idea of Carol as a mentor, besides the fact that she is extremely fun to be around, is the fact that she is a woman with a PhD in botany, getting stuff done.
The four other women amazing women from CNHP that we met up with have all been working in Colorado for many years and all of them were very well versed in alpine and riparian plants. Having them as a resource was a huge help when it came to the 50+ plants that we needed to identify – not a simple task when this includes a variety of Carex, Juncus and Potentilla with few distinguishing features. I love when my dreams of working in this field are justified by meeting amazing people. Let’s all take a moment to raise our glasses to the dedicated plant people of the world.
After finishing the plot, I made my way up a scree field to the top of Mt. Sherman-14,036 ft above sea level. Mt. Sherman is not the highest peak in Colorado, nor is it the most impressive peak that I have summited (that distinction goes to Mt Whitney, which I bagged at sunrise while collecting Forest Health data for the Forest Service in the Sierra Nevada). BUT the gratification felt similar. Let me wax poetic a second to be grateful for legs and lungs that can carry me, eyes that can take in the experience, and knees that only slightly complain when I run down the trail to catch up with my fellow crew mates.
Salida was our most recent stop and one of the most amazing small towns that I have seen in Colorado. During this visit we all wanted to partake in the local scene and so after work we stopped at a local bar where we walked in on a circle of 12 people playing harmonic folk music. Each person had a different folk instrument, and they must have communicated through the language of music because I never saw them speak to each other. Not a bad place to call home or pass through in the quest for more plant knowledge.
One would think we would slow down in September as the summer winds down but we still have a few more trips, a few more hikes and a lot more data to collect this season. As Jack Torrance demonstrated, though, work must be balanced with play and this summer’s intensive fieldwork was broken up by many new experiences. The most memorable had to be the solar eclipse viewing trip that we took a few weeks back. And it turned out that the 2 minutes of darkness, stars coming out and a lot of end of the world talk was well worth the trek up to Nebraska and back.
Till next time,
Colorado State Office