Am I Going Around the Bend?

It’s funny – most folks at home heard of what I was embarking on with this year’s season and although supportive, could not remove the worried shade in their eyes.

“But Bend, Oregon is so far from home…”
(I’m from New Hampshire – to give a frame of reference).

“You’ve never even visited and you’re moving all the way there just for a job?”
You know it.

Bend has always been one of the handful of places I’ve heard many found voices speak of. Additionally, out of those voices familiar with the Bend Seed Extractory, a fondness turns to an admiration. It’s not difficult to assume that I jumped at this opportunity with no hesitation. To become an integral part to an even more integral spoke in the wheel of a nationwide conservation effort, even for just a short while, is nothing to pass up.

Regardless of the move, the expense, the wear on my vehicle, the summer at home spent without me, etc – going around the bend is something to embrace. And happily, the phrase “going around the bend” turned into “going to Bend”, which turned into a reality.

I’m surprised everyday that I somehow avoided flubbing up, and collected enough dumb luck throughout my travels to cash in such a rewarding position. The phrase “I’m not worthy” is pleading to escape my lips on a day-to-day basis.

Anyhoo, enough of the sappiness.

To give a rundown of what I do at the Seed Extractory:

The seeds collected are sent to the Extractory, where they are processed, “finished” and tested.

The photos below will illustrate the steps I take throughout my day. I have to say, I was incredibly intimidated at first…but it’s amazing how comfortable, and confident you can become in such a short amount of time. I’m only on my third week!

So. The photos in order:

I received seed ready for testing. Here, I randomly select a relative portion of the lot that seems like it equates to a 500 count of seed, (giving the sizes of seed, it’s anyone’s guess… It reminds of those contests where you’re guessing how many gumballs are in a jar – needless to say, I was never close to those). From here, you count out in fives, five sets of 100. While you’re counting, you remove any inert material that may have mischievously stuck around.

From here, in image two, I check out each count to confirm there are no inert material present. Also, not going to lie, I use this as an excuse to get a closer look at these seeds under the scope. Although all of them are incredible, some are ABSOLUTELY gorgeous. And some perplexing. My favorites are the ones that resemble food… I swear I’ve seen a few tat look just like steamed dumplings… probably implying I’m hungry.

Next, image 3, you must test the humidity of seed lot before you measure, and package them. Not only will a high moisture content influence the weight of the seed, but it may jeopardize the seed’s viability when it’s send to cold storage. Excess moisture present will expand, and damage the seed when it freezes. So, as long as the percentage of humidity is lower than 38.0%, you’re good to go – looks like this one is a-okay!

Next, images 4 & 5, one of my favorite parts – the X-Ray. Hesitant at first, this x-ray machine emits less radiation than the amount we’re exposed to when the dentist takes photos of your teeth. Always a lovely image: light radiation shot at your head. Anyways, the objective here is to assess the percent fill of 1 count of 100 sampled seeds. Here gain a snapshot of what we’re dealing with inside. Are the embryos present? Is the seed full? Are there any malformed seeds? Any insect damage? In this image the seeds seem full, and content, but there are some sampled absolutely riddled with holes. Victims in the wake of an insect feast…

And finally (forgive me for missing a photo of the scale used to measure each seed count’s weight, )it’s riveting stuff. I feel sorry you’re missing out) The seeds are then sealed in plastic bags, and sent of their way to WRPIS, for further testing beyond my abilities, and others to be saved in the seed vault.

I’d continue with more detail, but frankly I’m unsure as to whether or not folks are actually as interested in this process as I am. So, until next time!

P.S. I receive the paperwork the interns fill out upon their field seed collection. Let’s step up the penmanship, folks ūüėČ

Corey from the Bend Seed Extractory

Time Vacuum Discovered in Ozark National Forest


If you have 5 months of time you’re trying to relieve¬†yourself from you may now rest assured.. the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests recently¬†unearthed an antiquated time-vacuum beneath restored glade-woodlands.¬†¬†It continues to effortlessly function despite its appearance, and¬†significant aging.¬† All that is required of you is to come prepared with yourself, and yourself alone.¬† Traverse the bluffs, the plots of pine, the prodding briers, passed the oblivious armadillos (that truly have the best intentions) and all¬†under the thick curtains of sun.¬† It will appear as if no change has taken place…but upon checking your calendar (for those who still¬†rely on physical calendars like we aren’t in 2018)¬†you’ll notice someone, or something, has crossed off the previous 5 months.

In all seriousness, however, I am bemused by how quickly this term has reached¬†its end.¬† Of course I’m finally beginning to grow quite comfortable in the grooves I’ve made¬†and found myself in.¬† Things tend to work that way, don’t they?¬† I suppose facing¬†a fleeting sense of time is necessary.¬†¬†It¬†encourages you to become more efficient in your efforts.¬†¬†Good, or bad,¬†your plate from which you place endeavors upon becomes larger than before.¬†¬†However, once¬†you reach those final pages closing that chapter,¬†it serves as a way¬†to gain a notable reflection on: yourself, the things you have accomplished, and the things you wish to improve.¬† Grooves keep you going, but grooves may serve as an obstacle preventing you from acknowledging your overall, wide perspective as well.¬† All I know is I’m disappointed to close this chapter of my life, but I’m also¬†eager to capture the next opportunity that appears before me.¬† Might I add as soon as humanly possible, too.

I’ve discovered in this short period of time that my resolve for conservation, and restoration has only strengthened.¬† Before we work in¬†an actual conducive, and generative environment pertaining to our fields of interest, we tend to either romanticize, or grossly misconceive it.¬† I believe that after meeting too many individuals to count who all share the same common interest as me performs as a tool to reaffirm, and encourage my pursuits.¬† To be in the midst of minds who not only thoroughly comprehend anything, and everything including biology, ecology, and methods of restoration, but who are also in a position to actually make/see a noticeable difference, (and have) has become a ceaseless source of inspiration and motivation.¬† I can only hope that I’ll become eligible to acquire a title such as that.¬† I quickly gathered that I am so far from the knowledge and competence necessary,¬†yet so close to being on a path leading towards just that.¬†¬†If I am¬†given a¬†short moment to come up¬†with one thing I have¬†gained from this internship, it’s gratitude.¬† Gratitude I¬†express for¬†being given the opportunity to develop a sense of what this¬†was all about.¬† I can only hope to find something similar again!

Although I know I’m experiencing what feels like a loss of time, (subletting my apartment in town, planning for the trip back to NH, etc), I will quickly acquire more.¬† I’m positive,¬†¬†I’ll have plenty of spare months ahead that I’ll be willing to submit to this so called “time-vacuum”.¬† I wonder if more will be unearthed?¬† Perhaps there are hundreds, and¬†in other places, too? ¬†Well, one thing is certain, I’ll be sure assist in the process¬†in¬†efforts to find them.

(Candid photo of me.  Notice the impact of 5 months of being sucked away.   Looks like absolute misery, right?)

Until next time CLM,

Ozark-St.Francis National Forest

Scoring Milkweed

My recent endeavors in the Natural State have lead me in a pursuit of collecting the Monarch-necessary Milkweeds.¬† Monarchs have experienced a sharp decline in the most recent decades due to an array of pressures.¬† These pressures range from habitat loss, due to the agricultural-related land management,¬†to¬†droughts influenced by climate change. Given that Arkansas lies within the spring breeding area, it is becoming increasingly apparent that an initiative to¬†assure the ample supply of Milkweed is placed in motion.¬† Monarch’s not only rely on¬†Milkweeds for nectar sources to complete their migration journey (from Canada and North America¬†to the Oyamel Fir forests in central Mexico in the fall) but as a site to lay their eggs – they are the only¬†species Monarch’s prefer.¬† Additionally, as the offspring emerge, the plant serves as a source of nourishment.¬†¬†¬†It may confidently¬†be stated that Milkweeds are essential for their survival.

The project I have been working on is establishing a Milkweed plot.¬† The necessary requirements lie with not only sourcing a location, but sourcing seeds possessing the local genotype.¬† Recently, individual gardeners, homeowners, etc, who have decided to plant Milkweeds (be it aesthetics purposes, or a desire to attract Monarchs) have unfortunately planted Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), which flowers at incompatible times of the year, deterring Monarch’s from remaining on their crucial migration path, but it also carries a parasite, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, which infects the chrysalis, imposing on the health and success of the developing butterflies.¬† Often, these infections¬†render the emerging Monarch less fit, reducing their chances of completing the migration and¬†breaking the delicate¬†link.

I’ve taken it upon myself to search for Milkweeds within the Ozark-St. Francis forests through an efforts driving to various locations, and with the much appreciated¬†assistance of Forest Service employees who have caught sight of Milkweeds during their own projects.¬†After recording the location of spotted populations I have either collected the pods, or tagged under-developed pods, with intentions of returning¬†at a later date.

With these seeds, I plan on planting them into the aforementioned Milkweed plot, in hopes of creating a seed source. This source will prove as a living bank, which may be utilized to rehabilitate populations within restoration areas amongst the forest.  This plot will be placed within close proximity to one of the district offices.  The easily accessible location will assure that routine maintenance will be manageable, and time-efficient.

It is my hope that this project will serve as a pivotal addition to the Ozark-St. Francis district, providing a tool for restoration as well as emphasizing genetic security.

Below are photos of a Monarch, as well as a caterpillar spotted on Asclepias incarnate, while collecting pods!

“We Can’t Stop Here, This is Bat Country”

Upon my second month immersed into the Forest Service, I’ve quickly gathered dull weeks do not exist. Since the summer’s been welcomed like an old friend, and decidedly not leaving in any rush, summer-sensitive projects have begun. And similar to visiting with old friends, you wish to do as much as possible in as little time as possible. It’s a shame, yeah? Regardless of the time constraint, the days are brimming with activities.
One activity I quickly grew partial to, almost immediately upon hearing of it, was bat netting. As many species of animals, summer months are of their most active. Prey is abundant, as well as the bats. At least one would think. Bat species present, specifically the tree-roosting Northern Long-Eared, and Tri-Colored bats, in Arkansas have experienced a sharp decline in numbers due to an outbreak of White Nose Syndrome. Due to this steady decline, bat monitoring has become increasingly crucial to analyze the success of these populations ‚Äď or lack thereof.
In addition to this devastating punch, forest and timber management is still expected to be conducted. However, this poses a great threat in the face of declining numbers. The aforementioned bats roost, and forage in these tree stands. If they are battling an infectious outbreak, as well as becoming subject to timber management, the disturbance to said suffering populations may prevent the remaining individuals from having a fighting chance.
Lastly, it is still largely unknown what services bats truly provide. It is this same lack of solid, cohesive information that leaves no foundation for further investigations into the importance of bats in the ecosystem. Without this information, timber management may carry on, unbeknownst of the damage it may cause to suffering populations. So, the main objective is to document, monitor, and study the activities, and presence of bats in the forest stands across the forest. The netting provides quantitative information on how many individuals are utilizing the space. Comparing this season’s with past-season’s findings may suggest the current success of said species of concern.
The night of the netting was a night one could describe as most ideal, if not exemplary. Great for the bats, and us as well. After pitching the large, incredibly fine, almost tennis-like nets, (which can be noted in the last photograph), the game of biding time began. You could describe the experience like fishing. Patience, eagerness, and witty conversation are necessary. The only exception being you don’t need a rabies shot to handle fish. You could imagine the dismay that rushed over me upon hearing that small piece of information.
Looking back at the experience however, it was probably for the better ‚Äď I don‚Äôt know if I would have been able to let go of these incredibly cute creatures of the night.

The Natural State

Upon my late arrival across the Arkansas border, after driving a short 2-day drive from New Hampshire, I was swiftly confronted by high winds, heavy rain, tumultuous thunder, and threat of a tornado, (which I shortly learned was nothing out of the ordinary for the Natural State ‚Äď lovely, isn‚Äôt it?). I remarked, ‚ÄúThanks for the hearty greeting, Arkansas ‚Äď glad to make your acquaintance, too‚ÄĚ.
Within my first week, the clamorous episode I had experienced that night began to reflect my emotional state. I felt vivid strokes of enthusiasm followed by weighted anxiety reaching depths I had never wished to explore. In a land obscured by canopy, and my obliviousness of the world beyond my home town, it felt as if I uncovered my own ‚ÄúCity of Z‚ÄĚ. However, unlike the unfortunate assumed fate of Percy Fawcett, the ensuing days were brimming with the firm handshakes and animated faced of many, all willing to assist in my transition. Through what began to be a routine conversation of ‚Äúwhat brings you down here?‚ÄĚ, ‚ÄúNew Hampshire? Oh, just right down the road, yeah?‚ÄĚ, and ‚ÄúHow do you like the humidity?‚ÄĚ I shortly grew comfortable (as well as a fine layer of sweat), with the community I would be spending the following months with.
Given the arduous efforts to complete HR protocols, and other seemingly innumerable procedures to be recognized in the system, receive a government license, etc, I spent my first few weeks tagging along with various individuals to assist in conducting biological evaluations, surveys, and other projects in the district. This allowed me to receive an understanding for the local environments, ecosystems, and flora that are present. Not to mention an understanding just how very cold, and very dry Arkansas weather is…
A few projects that illustrated the successful restoration efforts the Forest Service has embarked on is the use of prescribed fires in disturbed, and previously unmanaged environments, fraught with ill-motivated invasive species. Interestingly, I learned of how some of the plots had formed into what they are today – agricultural lands abandoned after financial pressures of farmers reached too grand of a scale. These previously open, and breathable plains were subject to encroaching invasive species, sinking their roots in vulnerable, fertile soils, inviting others to join the party. The kinds who bring friends who trash the place, eating all of the provisions. However, through the application of fire and selective cuttings, even an untrained eye can recognize the significant improvements present. Native species are experiencing a triumphant return, as well as the soils, landscape, etc ‚Äď the starkness creates such a contrast that burned, and unburned sites do not appear to belong to the same plot of land. Not even of the same region.
Additionally, among these native species are the lesser studied grasses. In efforts to enhance our knowledge of grasses, their diversity, as well as their minute taxonomy, our office, including others in the district, attended a course, which was wonderfully organized by my mentor, Jessica Hawkins. The photos attached to this post capture a glimpse of how the course was conducted, and what the attendees gained. Thoughtfully, notebooks were provided, which were filled with specimens located in the restoration fields. Notes were scratched, grasses were taped, heat was felt, but much needed knowledge was acquired. In total, 46 species were marked! (That was our location alone ‚Äď just one restoration area). Now we are all equipped with a personalized grass ID field book, and they‚Äôre fantastic.
I must say, I never imagined the complexities noted, and exhibited by the locally present grasses. Often disregarded and viewed as a homogenous green mass we either walk through, or drive by daily, my newfound appreciation for grasses has bloomed. Mowing will now become a problem…
Needless to say, I am looking forward to the months to come, and what they include. I’m elated with the way this month has unfolded.

Corey Skeens

USFS Russellville, AR