Blowout Penstemon (BOP). It’s endangered and it’s only found in Wyoming and Nebraska… and nowhere else. Originally discovered in Wyoming by Ferdinand Hayden in 1877, the plant was thought to no longer exist in Wyoming, only in Nebraska where it was first discovered. However, in 1996 a botanist from the BLM rediscovered the species in Carbon County.
This perennial herb, this pioneer of a plant, was one of the first plants to establish itself in wind-swept sand dunes. The ever shifting sand dunes are a crucial habitat feature for BOP to exist. If a dune begins to stabilize, the dunes may become overgrown with other vegetation.
The BLM works with other local, state, and federal agencies to develop conservation strategies that will nurture long term viability of the species. The key is to avoid potential threats to the plant and it’s habitat from impacts associated with activities like energy development, live-stock grazing, off-road vehicle use, plant collection, and wind farms. However, with a Biological Assessment (BA) in place, managers and biologists can continue to enlist the land in multi-use programs, while protecting and enhancing conditions for this beautiful plant.
Over the past month here in Missoula, MT, we have been busy implementing new wildlife and forestry monitoring before the season comes to a close. We have been helping with a Snowshoe Hare project conducting habitat monitoring on stands with the ultimate goal being: to determine how long after thinning projects it takes for hares to re-enter and use the area. The monitoring consists of horizontal cover data, canopy cover data, habitat typing, shrubs and seedlings found in the plot, pellet counts (my favorite) and habitat typing the area. Looking for the little m&m sized pellets is like a scavernger hunt!
The forestry monitoring project we have been working on is a new project so it has been a difficult process to determine our exact protocols and plot locations. However, it has been a great opportunity to be on the planning side of a monitoring project to see how protocols are determined. The picture below is a group of us at our first site, trying to finalize the protocols. The goal of the project is to monitor the response of understory vegetation to different thinning treatments (clear cuts, single tree selections and salvage) over a long term timeline. We are establishing plot locations and collecting baseline pre-treatment data. The data we are collecting is horizontal cover, canopy cover, vegetation height, fuels data (Brown’s survey method) and understory plant diversity and composition (with a Daubenmire transect).
Besides the monitoring projects above, I have been busy helping monitor a riparian site using Multiple Indicator Monitoring, collecting seeds of Black Hawthorne (Crataegus douglasii), Snowbrush (Cenothus velutinus) and Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata), preparring herbarium samples and surveying for more sensitive plants. The photo below is of Pyrola picta, White-veined Wintergreen, a sensitive plant that is found in moist and dry forests. Unfortunately, this year most of the plants we have found did not flower, perhaps due to the lack of snowmelt. Thanks for reading!
I’ve been in Carson City for four months now. This past week I have been doing weed monitoring at sites where there has been fires in previous years. This involves a lot of hiking. It was a pleasant surprise that most of the fire sites we observed were weed free and the native vegetation seemed to coming back in full force. I really enjoyed hiking amongst the wild tobacco and perennial grasses. Due to the vastness of the various fires, it was more effective to camp. My team and had a pleasant evening camping amongst the large pines near the Indian Creek Reservoir. Overall, it has been good work.
September was my last full month in Hollister work for the BLM in Central California. Mostly this month I have been continuing my work assisting with a seedbank study. We are hoping to determine the size of the seed bank in the soil for 2 endangered plants that we are tasked with recovering: San Joaquin Woolly Threads (Monolopia congdonii) and San Benito Evening Primrose (Camissonia benitensis). During the summer we collected soil from the population areas and are now sifting the soil and (in the case of the Woolly Threads) extracting and couting seeds. Later in the fall, the soil of both species will be used to grow out seedlings which then will be counted. By knowing the size of the collection area and the amount of soil collected and used, an estimate of existing seed bank may be established.
For my last post I wanted to include some of my favorite pictures from this field season that I haven’t had an excuse to put up yet:
Ryan blazing a “trail” on Laguna Mtn. in search of T&E plant habitat
Chimney near the San Benito River
boat on the San Benito River
Pestle found on Monocline Ridge sand dunes
Good luck to everyone! Rachel, BLM Hollister, CA
Time is passing quickly this field season in Lakeview. October is upon us, meaning that autumn is officially here and that many of our field botany projects are winding down. It is interesting being in the high desert at this time of year for me. The past several years I have lived in an area with many deciduous trees, making fall a spectacular transition of color. In the desert, the season appears in more subtle ways: sagebrush in flower, quaking aspen turning from verdant to yellow, and the temperature at night dropping down to almost freezing. While visually, the change in season here contains more shades of brown than red and orange, the feeling of autumn is pervasive.
In the field, we have returned to working on special status species surveys that can still be completed at this time of year. While we don’t have the same bright flower colors to see from afar, surveying and identifying is still possible. It feels good to be able to spend so much time outside right now, hiking and taking in the seasonal changes.
Perhaps my favorite part of my internship thus far has been the reclamation portion. I have had the joy and frustration of surveying reclaimed well pads for surface compliance. In other words, I get to tell huge oil companies, like XTO (formerly Exxon), that they need to do more for the Earth! The most frustrating part of this is seeing the reality of how little these companies actually do.
In the reclamation process, I learned that it is more important to return the land to its natural contour than to have thriving vegetation. Of course the thriving vegetation is necessary, but it comes after the original contour is intact. The contour is the ‘permanent’ part of the landscape, while vegetation waxes and wanes, the contour remains consistent. In addition to that, the soils must be free of weeds and returned in the layers in which they were extracted. I have visited a few locations that looked great from afar with tall flowering grasses, forb diversity, and desirable shrubs; and then, I walked the perimeter to find that the vegetation had concealed a huge pile of rocks or soil that had not been incorporated into the shape of the contour. This created a steep slope that almost looked like the area was on a pedestal or something similar. At first it was rather hard to fail a reclamation effort like these, knowing that they would have to destroy all of the vegetation in order to fix the problem. But I know I am part of the learning process for these companies. The standards of the BLM are rightfully high!
After learning of all the work it takes to return the Earth to her natural state, I wonder if the destruction, in the first place, is necessary. Yet, I do enjoy the luxury of hot showers, lights at night, and road trips… so I conclude that less is best. And thankfully, I know I am not alone.
Another month gone by and another blog post typed. The months are flying by and my time is growing shorter here in Wyoming. September was an exceptionally quick month for me which included a small vacation home to see my friend on leave from Afghanistan.
I am finally at the point of this internship where I feel extremely comfortable with all the tasks assigned to me. You need a basal bark treatment on some Russian olive? Finished. You need some seed clipping and post treatment monitoring of houndstounge? No problem. You want some surveying done in a canyon? Handled. Transects, outreach and education, and GIS mapping. Done, done, and done. With a month left in the internship I feel very capable of any task assigned to me and if I don’t know how to do it, I know how to educate myself about it (50% co-workers, 50% Google). I am looking forward to the final month of my internship: Russian olive cutting, spring treatment monitoring, a two day conference in Yellowstone, and who knows what else. At some point I’ll figure out how to load pictures up here and put up a ridiculous amount of photos but until then keep your eyes open for weeds!
I was hoping to get two seed collections last week. One was successful, the other was not. But even the successful collection had its problems.
1. I learned the hard way: collecting wind dispersed seed on a windy day is not the best idea. The goal for this collection was Liatris punctata (dotted blazingstar or spotted gayfeather). I think that this small Asteracea may be one of my favorite plants here in Montana. The actual collection, however, was tedious. Some individuals had already completely dispersed, while others were just finishing up flowering. Depending on how ready the seed was, when you touched the plant, half the seed went zooming downwind. The paper bag in which the seed was going also really wanted to go traveling downwind. The second day of the collection I got smarter. We have a bunch of plastic jugs that have the tops cut off for when we collect berries. I put the paper bag into the jug, which was much easier to carry and much less likely to fly downwind. In spite of windy conditions and long hours collecting, the seed was successfully collected.
2. Limber pine would be a LOT of work to get 10,000 seed. For one, the population of limber pine that is here is an anomaly. The elevation here is lower than where you usually find limber pine. For this reason, individuals were scattered here and there among the more numerous Ponderosa Pine. I went out with Robert from the NRCS. He wanted to get some seed for his organization and I figured I would get a collection for Seed of Success while we were at it. Needless to say, it did not happen. Between the two of us, who were out there a good 5 hours, we got (estimated) 700 seed. Getting a collection of 10,000 would have taken days. It was a really good day, however. I got to work with and aide someone from another agency. I also learned how to tell a ponderosa pine from a limber pine. By the end of the day, I could look at a cone on the ground and tell you which species it belonged to. We should have gone out a couple of weeks earlier; the cones had already dispersed the majority of their seed. We were happy when we found a cone with one or two seeds and extatic for the few cones that we got 6+ off of. The only downside to the day was how sticky the sap was. My hands were instantly attracted to pieces of grass, pine needles, small rocks, and the pine seed itself.
Kimberly, Miles City MT
Time for another post already!? Well, you’re in luck, I finally put some pictures onto the computer! Here’s some of what we’ve been doing…
Inventory on prairie streams…
And catching catfish!!
Additionally, I just got back from a Wetland Restoration Course in Bozeman, MT. The course was great, not only did I learn a lot of theory, but I learned how professionals actually apply it out in the field. I networked a lot, and I really feel excited about different careers options that this internship has shown me.
Miles City, MT