Capture-Mark-Recapture

USFWS Fish Biologist Nolan Banish explains the data collection process

Another week, another federally listed threatened or endangered species! This past week we were introduced to the threatened fluvial bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) of Deming Creek. The bull trout of this particular region fall within the Upper Sprague River core area of the Klamath Recovery Unit. Deming Creek is believed to support the largest local population of the species in the Upper Sprague River core area, with high relative abundance, quality habitat, and a stable population number. Deming Creek is also unique in that it is free of nonnative brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), a congeneric species that competes and often hybridizes with bull trout.

Jenny measures the length of a bull trout capture
Red band trout capture

Our goal for the next two weeks is to determine just how effective backpack electrofishing is in achieving a high recapture percentage in bull trout, and therefore a higher confidence interval in population size. We are sampling two hundred meter reaches of Deming Creek in two day increments; the first day being the capture and mark portion of the study, with the second day acting as a 24 hour buffer for the fish to re-acclimate to their habitat. The second day we will conduct the same survey of the reach, walking upstream and e-fishing and capturing any fish we see. By comparing the recapture counts to the previous day’s capture numbers, we get a percentage of our productivity, with that goal to better understand the confidence interval of our population estimate.

Blocknet set up

After about an hour and a half drive east of Klamath Falls toward Gearhart Mountain, we entered Winema National Forest, and the location of our survey site. We began by setting up an initial block-net that spanned the creek from bank to bank. We configured another identical net two hundred meters upstream from the first with the purpose of maintaining the same density of fish within the two nets for the duration of our sampling. Starting at the lower block-net, the four of us (Nolan, our mentor; Jenny; Brianne; and I) began the arduous journey across the slippery rocks and deceptively tumultuous riffles in search of any flash of the white underbelly of a trout that has lost equilibrium due to the electric current.

Jenny acts as primary netter while Nolan wears the electrofisher backpack

Within the first twenty seconds we’d caught our first fish: a 124mm red band trout! The next three hours entailed rotating of tasks between the four of us β€” electrofisher, first netter, second “ghost netter” and bucket holder β€” the latter being the most awkward of the four as you are the one to transfer each catch to the bucket while protecting the bucket from the imminent and inevitable dangers of capsizing through your own demise due to the slippery creek bottom.

Capture of different age classes of red band and bull trout

I think my favorite role is that of the primary netter, but as Jenny and I were reflecting on how reminiscent this week has been to our pasts of playing high school and college sports, I was reminded of how gratifying and crucial each role is to the greater purpose of the team. The thrill of netting a >200g red band or bull trout is palpable as Brianne locates the convulsing fish, Jenny lunges forward towards the anode for it and I shriek with excitement when I realize it’s a recapture from the day before as I gingerly transfer it to my bucket.

Fremont-Winema National Forest
Our tent set up for the week’s work

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 πŸ™‚ 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!

A Desert Full of Life

Some people may think of Wyoming as just wide open land. A vast swath of desert with not much to see. Some might even think it’s boring. But, once you work out there you know that there is plenty to see and learn about. A variety of flora, fauna and a range of features that create different biomes. The evolution of my perspective from learning more and more about the natural world is amazing to me. Before I did any field work with plants, they just didn’t appeal to me much. I was one of the people that would look out onto the open plains of Wyoming and think that there were some shrubs, and along with the blue skies it was kind of nice to look at. A desolate, homogeneous landscape that stretched on forever. Chances are that I would take a quick glance and keep on moving. Now I realize that those shrubs stretching to the horizon are sagebrush, and a few other things, but mostly sagebrush. Just learning that single genus began to pull me in a little. I wanted to learn more. I was told that there were several species of sagebrush, and several subspecies. Some species prefer certain soil conditions and other abiotic factors. The charismatic genus Castilleja, or Indian paintbrush, is a root parasite that steals resources from sagebrush (from other plants too, but in dry areas sagebrush is a common host). Becoming aware of different species and how they are interconnected in complex ecological webs has opened my eyes. Now instead of seeing an expansive monoculture, I look closely at individual plants. Seed heads, leaves, and other morphological factors that set them apart. It’s like I’m seeing a whole new world.

Castilleja sp.

Animals on the other hand, have always captured my attention. In addition to the variety of plants in Wyoming, there are some pretty charismatic animals. I’ve seen pronghorn and wild horses every day in the field. Some raptors, the occasional elk, prairie dog, or sage grouse…and one rattlesnake.

Prairie Dog
Calves are curious and kind of slow to move out of the way

Journey Into The West

An adventure of self-discovery and the path of Botany….

Dog Valley- Humbolt-Toyiabe National Forest, Verdi, NV

I graduate from my university as a student of Wildlife Conservation Biology, from the University of New Hampshire. I traveled into the west in search of working with invasive species, primarily plants. It was either through luck or good fortune. I met Dirk Netz, the botanist for the state of Nevada. Along with Nicole Spehn, we are entering an amazing world of Western Botany.

The goal of Dirk Netz, Jessica Kindred, Great Basin Insitute, Desert Research Institute, Burea of Land Management, and many more is to create a seed back that is viable in response to increase fire frequency and intensity. While grasses are well known and critical to the success of fire restoration, the perennial and annual forbs are also critical to the success of restoration.

Our first week opened the door to the amazing world to the world of Western Botany. We had the opportunity to travel into the Humbolt-Toyabie National Forest’s Dog Valley for hands-on experience in the identification of species critical to the ‘Seeds of Success Program’, other native grasses and forbs, and familiarize ourselves with the terrain and landscape.

Our second week we were able to team up with fellow interns from Great Basin Insistute, the volunteer group I worked with prior, and Jess Kindred, the leader for the program on the BLM side. With her and her team we were able to familiarize ourselves with the SOS program in-field. Our search lead us to Contact a small mining town in search of Thurber’s Needle Grass, a species of interest for the SOS program. We also learned how to collect tissue sample for plants of interest to determine possible speciation and regionality differences.

For our next week, we had the opportunity to collaborate with a number of people from both The Nature Conservancy and Desert Research Insitute. We were able to learn about programs beyond the SOS Program. We helped collaborate on assessment protocol on Nevada’s riparian habitat. This habitat is a relative unknown primarily because of few known locations, presence/absence, and due to Nevada’s ephemeral. However because of Nevada’s l, the landscape there are a wide and varied types of riparian habitats that exiistΒ (saltwater, hotsprings, coldwater).

This week we are heading out to examine the success of our burned area reseedings. While this is an entirely new field for me I am discovering that it is a field that I am loving more and more. I cannot wait to continue to learn feeding and catering to my inner botanist.

Embracing The Botanist Within

My campsite and its breathtaking view of a typical Nevada sunset (near Carlton, NV).

Prior to my CLM internship, I typically believed that you had to formally work towards an identity in order to truly become it. For example, I was hesitant to call myself a botanist before this position because I had not received a degree or formal training in botany. I would simply tell people I enjoyed identifying plants. Now, I would argue that I have always been a botanist and will always be one, regardless of what my degree might indicate. This position has reminded me of who I am and where my passion lies. (spoiler alert: it lies with the plants!)

The gorgeous view from where I took lunch on my first day in the field.

The first day I went out into the field to identify plants was one of my most memorable field days. My coworker, mentor, and I intended on visiting four different sites that day to scout for native plant populations and practice off-road driving. We all can admit, it was quite the ambitious plan to make for ourselves that afternoon. We made it to our first site and spent nearly the entire day there just getting to know the plant community. There were so many new forbs and grasses just waiting to be identified! We soon came to learn there is nothing more threatening to the constraint of time than three impassioned botanists in a high desert full of blooming forbs. I have never been introduced to so many plants in such a short period of time! All of which were incredibly beautiful and unique. I could say this to describe my first day in the field and every day in the field since. And this is just the beginning because it’s only my fourth week in Nevada! With every new plant I learn, the more I understand about the system it is a part of. It has been both exhilarating and inspiring to know that not only is this my job, but this is what I love to do and who I am. As we were sitting on rocks eating our lunches that day, I thought to myself, I could do this every day for the rest of my life and feel completely & entirely fulfilled. Since then, I have continued to immerse myself fully into the wonderful world of plants.

This is the Cobweb Thistle, otherwise known as Cirsium occidentale.

Ultimately, this internship has completely altered how I would identify myself as a professional in my field. As I’ve mentioned before, I believe I always was and always will be a botanist regardless of whether I am in practice or in my heart. My curiosity and drive to understand the plants around me will never leave. Identifying plants and recognizing their phenology has become the brunt of my job responsibilities, and was exactly what I needed in order to embrace the botanist within me!

The California Tiger Lily, Lilium pardalinum, basking in the sweet sunshine.

Trapping Season and Exploring Wyoming

The past couple of weeks have been dedicated to constructing drift fences on the north side of Ferris Mountain. Our project focuses on population density of wildlife within the area; specifically herpetofauna. These drift fences are effective techniques to sample species in a particular area. Each drift fence is built in a Y-shape formation with pitfalls located in the center of each line segment, and a funnel trap connected to the end. There are a total of 12 drift fences within the North side of Ferris Mountain that we will open for ten consecutive days and check each day to monitor our progress. Constructing the drift fences was arduous at times, but when you work in such a beautiful place surrounded by the solace of nature, it is easy to smile. I am excited for trapping season to begin and am ready to find some herps!

One of the 12 Drift Fences built within the Ferris Mountain Range (Whiskey Gap)

We were able to take a break from building drift fences to help with surveys for monitoring Greater Short-horned Lizards, the state reptile of Wyoming. This was the first time I was able to PIT tag a reptile and get an in-depth understanding on why the recapture method is so important. Because evidence indicates that populations are declining in Wyoming, it is vital to gather as much data as possible to understand the resources they are tied to and what may be affecting their numbers. I was so very grateful to be a part of this survey, and look forward to getting the chance to work with these uniqure creatures again!

PIT tagging a Greater Short-horned Lizard
Greater Short-horned Lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi) blending in to his environment

During the fourth of July weekend I was able to hike in Medicine Bow with my roomates. We explored several trails and discovered some hidden gems. The amount of snow left from the late winter lingered over the mountains and I found myself walking in snow drifts knee deep. The beauty was awe-inspiring and left me with an overwhelming feeling of joy and happiness. The ability to be able to explore Wyoming and what it has to offer has only made me more excited for what is to come within my job and out of it. I am so gracious for the opportunities I have had and for what awaits me!

Lost Lakes Trail in Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest


Alpine Phlox in Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest

Life lessons from plants

This month in southeastern New Mexico has reminded me of the tenacity of life by displays of brilliance in what many would consider an arid wasteland. I am grateful for each of these moments and their valuable lessons…

Rain fell on the distant desert landscape as we hurdled down the highway surrounded a bunch of other over-sized work vehicles. I’ve acclimatized to the shock of existing in a booming oil and gas development town, something I had a hard time stomaching for months. My thoughts of wanting to leave have subsided, and I now see it as a personal mission to do what I can to protect this landscape from exploitation. It isn’t any easier to grasp, but I now collect seeds with a greater sense of responsibility, hopeful that they may be returned to the man-marred earth soon.
One of my absolute favorite plants, Hoffmannseggia glauca or Indian rushpea. This plant’s pioneer nature is evidenced by its success in this freshly-developed sand and caliche road. It also gets it done with the rhizomes. Not even the mesquite stood a chance. Resilience and beauty, this plant has it all.
Unlike native plants, many invasives are bemoaned for their resilience. This Salt-cedar, Tamarix chinensis, situated itself on the historic Pecos River Flume in Northern Carlsbad leaving numerous leaky cracks resulting in algae-slicked concrete below. I’m amused by the conflict between two of the largest catalysts of riparian ecosystem destruction captured in this scene. A humorous reminder that the wheel keeps turning.
Not all plants have the hardiness to persevere as diligently as Tamarix. Despite its looks, this cactus, Coryphantha robustispina ssp. scheeri, is a BLM special status species due to its small range in SE New Mexico and a small portion of Texas. Because of oil and gas development in the region, it’s listed as endangered by the state of NM and a species of concern by the USFWS. This individual was found on accident when scouting for seeds to collect. It was a stone’s throw from a large well pad. I guess the lesson here is that we all need a little help sometimes…
I should end on a more positive note… This Yucca elata is huge!! I stared at it with a child-like sense of wonder for a good minute. I’ll leave the interpretation of its lesson to the reader…

I hope that everyone else’s internship is progressing positively. Mind the summer heat.

Desert wanderer
Alex

A Band of Birders

This week I had the great opportunity of attending a bird banding session with an Audubon Rockies group in Wyoming’s Keyhole State Park. While this was my first hands on experience with bird banding, it was the third of such events this summer. Like any good birding experience this banding event begins at sunrise by setting up ten mist nets in various locations within walking distance of the processing site. These nets placed in a variety of locations allow for the assessment of bird species by habitat as some nets remain in wooded areas while others are in open shrublands.

The best part about birding is watching the sunrise. Can you spot the doe?

Capturing birds in any area allows for the collection of very detailed information on diversity and health of ecosystems. Seeing birds up close, assessing their health and mating status provides us with much more information than could be obtained by a simple audio and visual survey. Banding birds means that the data collected at one small sight can be applied on an international scale. By entering band numbers into an international database, recaptured birds can be tracked across vast landscapes and even continents. This allows scientists and the public to gain a greater understanding of these impressive migratory bird species on an individual and population level.

So far this year 105 bird species have been banded at this sight in Keyhole State Park. Among the species I identified and was able to handle were Bullock’s Oriole, Western Wood-Pewee, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, and this handsome Cedar Waxwing.

Cedar Waxwing posing to show off his one red feather

These banding sessions are open to the public and great chance to see what goes into bird banding and data collection, and even get a chance to hold and release a bird if you’re lucky. There are two more bird banding events this summer on July 25th and August 8th. If you are in the area I would highly recommend checking one of these out and spending a night or weekend in the park while you’re at it! Check out Audubon Rockies for more information on how to get involved.

Katherine, Resources Intern at BLM’s Buffalo Field Office

WYLD and wonderful.

These past few weeks have been crazy busy. During the week of July fourth, we were only in the office from Monday to (half of) Wednesday because of the BLM’s Independence Day paid holiday schedule. My Monday was spent reading vegetation transects and monitoring livestock compliance around two of our pastures: Pickett Lake and Eagle’s Nest. Reading transects means that my team and I are physically walking down a straight line between established posts or rebar to record 20-25 points of data. Every 5 or 6 paces, we stop and measure the droop or stubble height of the designated key grass species for that site. This is an important thing to study because if the grasses are getting too low, the ecosystem and landscape can be seriously affected by it and may not be able to recover easily, if at all, once the cattle leave. If we are performing livestock compliance checks, that involves us literally counting any “trespassing” cows/sheep when we see them on pastures that should be empty. This can take us a long time somedays, because our allotments are literally hundreds of thousands of acres. We also have to draw and get pictures of the brands on the livestock. This is crucial for the BLM to know which ranchers they need to contact in order to get the animals moved. That day we found some pretty little forbs, and I even saw my first sage grouse on the way back to the office. πŸ™‚

This forb is called scarlet globe mallow, or Sphaeralcea coccinea.
One of my favorite forbs to identify out in the field: buckwheat. The scientific name for this species is Eriogonum ovalifolium.
One of our upland transect sites — Wamsutter Road Well. We measure the key grass species Achnatherum hymenoides, Elymus elymoides, and Pseudoroegneria spicata. This site almost always has several dozen cattle and wild horses around the well nearby. As soon as we park the truck, they are surrounding it, looking to see what we have for them — which is literally always nothing.
The very first greater sage-grouse hen, or Centrocercus urophasianus, I saw out in the field. I was lucky enough to see her accompanied by a few chicks. πŸ™‚

On Tuesday, I went out to the field with one of the BLM’s wildlife biologists, and assisted her in the procedures for sage-grouse “HAF,” or Habitat Assessment Framework. Her transect-reading protocol reminded me a lot of AIM’s, so I had a little bit of a head start on HAF’s approach. When we first got there, we used a compass to align ourselves and set three 25 meter transects at 0, 120, and 240 degrees. Along the transects, we used the LPI, or line-point intercept, method to record vegetation heights and forb diversity. LPI sampling provides a quantitative look at the cover of important species in the ecosystem. Since sage-grouse feed on forbs, and nest in sage brush, these were our study’s focus. This took us all day to do, especially since we read two sites and had to abandon the second site to wait out a storm for a bit. When we got back to Lander, I was inspired by my fun day and immediately started studying my forbs. I love seeing all of them out in the field and being able to name them has been really fulfilling. Ever since this Tuesday, I have been studying, and studying, and have learned so many of them already!

Another one of my favorite forbs to identify. This is a perennial paintbrush flower with the genus name of Castilleja. There are so many varieties of this plant that it can be hard to identify the specific epithet every time… like this time. πŸ˜‰
This pretty little flower is called bitterroot, or Lewisia rediviva. You can just barely see some bright yellow sedum, or Sedum lanceolatum, flowers blooming in the background too.
The storm that we saw approaching our second transect site from miles away. Once the lightning started, we decided to head back to the truck for a little while and wait it out.
My coworker’s favorite lizard to find out in the field. This chubby little thing is a greater short-horned lizard, or Phrynosoma hernandesi.
A neat little bridge that we crossed while leaving our transect sites.

Wednesday was a shortened day because of the holiday, so we spent it in the office managing various data that we had been piling up for weeks. The long weekend that followed was a really awesome one for me because my boyfriend flew in all the way from my home state. πŸ™‚ While he was here I showed him some of my favorite places like Hell’s Half Acre, Sinks Canyon, and The Bus. We also went to a rodeo for our first time ever haha… I still have some mixed feelings about that! Towards the end of the weekend, we drove into Boulder, Colorado to see the Dead & Company’s last performance of their Summer Tour 2019. It was such an incredible show and the setlist was nearly perfect. This was probably the best way we could have ended Johnny’s visit out here. He had to leave me the next day from Denver, so I dropped him off and then made the 5.5 hour drive back to my little home in Wyoming.

A (surprisingly) cute picture of myself at Hell’s Half Acre, Johnny’s first stop in WY!
A beautiful view up the Popo Agie Middle Fork from our hike in Sinks Canyon State Park.
One of my favorite short hikes to see the sunset. The Bus has lots of small trails for mountain biking and hiking and just so happens to be managed by the BLM! Johnny somehow found the deteriorating bus that the spot is named for before I ever did.
The double rainbow that we saw at the rodeo in Lander. After a tiny bit of rain, something so beautiful was left behind.
I loved my drive back to Wyoming from Colorado; there were so many pretty landscapes!
Naturally, I took about 30-45 minutes longer than I should have to get back home due to the amount of times I stopped to take pictures. I’m not even a little mad about it.

For the past two weeks at work, I have been getting into the routine of transect reading and livestock compliance checks, and learning the country and the vegetative species of our two allotments. Once we spend about a week out in the field, we are usually ready to spend a whole day in the office compiling, summarizing, and scanning all of our data.

A huge caterpillar we found at the Baby Antelope upland transect site last week. I think this is the larva of the pearl crescent butterfly, or Phyciodes tharos.
A large herd of wild horses being directed by their stallion at the end. We saw this group while we were coming home from the field last week.
One of my favorite, and a frequently visited, riparian transect site called Lost Creek. The key species we look at here are Carex nebrascensis, Juncus balticus, and Scirpus pungens.
My pressed forb and grass collection from just yesterday’s day out in the field. This is just a taste of the plant variety that I see everyday.

The weeks are still going by way too fast, but it’s exciting to see how much I have learned, and just as refreshing to know that I have only been out here for a month. Wyoming is seriously WYld and wonderful; I love living out here.

Curlew National Grassland Restoration Project

After nine years of highway reengineering, conservation planning, archeological protection, nonprofit partnerships, and extensive research, the beautiful seed of wetland restoration was planted this week at the Curlew National Grassland in southern Idaho! What exactly does this mean? It means, 3,400 perfect graminoid starts were planted along one mile of Rock Creek to establish a strong streambank stocked with native plant species. With the proposed reconstruction of highway ID-38 back in 2010, the Caribou-Targhee National Forest hydrologist, forest botanist, Rose Lehman, and many other partnered to establish a strategy that ensured the structural integrity of this location in the Curlew (see photo below). This meant a variety of regulations and compromises such as: upsizing culverts, avoiding stream meanders and/or natural springs, and Native American lands.

The red pin indicates the graminoid planting at the
Curlew National Grassland, ID.

Two Idaho native graminoids were chosen for streambank stabilization: Nebraska sedge (Carex nebrascensis) and Baltic rush (Baltic balticus). The planting took a total of two days. Co-intern, Olivia Turner, five volunteers from the Sagebrush-Steppe Landtrust in Pocatello, ID, two hydrologists, and myself gathered together for the second day of the project. Buckets filled with plant starts and shovels in hand, we successfully spread out along the parameter of the stream. Each 2-person team would simply create holes in the mucky Idaho clay and ease every juvenile into the soil. The ground along the stream is incredibly moist and idealistic for these younger individuals. So ideal that the estimated regenerative success rate is 90% for this particular project area! That would promote roughly 3,060 individuals to take root and thrive!

Nebraska sedge (Carex nebrascensis) left and Baltic rush (Baltic balticus) right.
The perfect Nebraska sedge (Carex nebrascensis) finding a new home along Rock Creek.

The project was a complete success. The day was filled with affirmation for the future of this particular site. It was a wonderful experience to step aside from SOS and terrestrial botany for a moment and participate in wetland restoration. The future of this project paints the picture of a lush wetland habitat filled with native sedges and rushes, a running stream, moose in the willows, and the pink flowers of mallow blooming.

Olivia Turner crouches by Rock Creek while planting.

Sending nettle stings, coyote pawprints, and garter snakes where you all may be!

Claire Parsons

Caribou-Targhee National Forest S.O.