What is your PL?

Hello from Lakeview, where our lakes have dust devils and our wetlands are on fire.

I live in the parking lot of the Interagency Fire Center fleet and I have watched our team of five fire trucks roll out at least four times this month. We are now at Preparedness Level 4, which I had to look up and that means 60% of our national and state fire crews are engaged in some fire activity.

Our awareness of dust, smoke and heat related health hazards is on point. We can’t drive on roads with vegetation in the middle, smoke outside or have fires of any kind. Our field rig has had a Pulaski, shovel and fire extinguisher since May, but if we don’t carry them now we could be fined. I find myself taking more breaks when I seed collect, but I’ve also grown more efficient in choosing the best fruits. Some field sites will be abandoned until it is safer to drive over the grass and sagebrush, and we’ll probably miss the collection if another accessible population isn’t found.

I like the physical demand of the job, but I wish there was more science involved. Seed collection is just one step in a huge operation, and we do find new information to add to previous data. But if you really want to run some tests and gather evidence that it is possible to afford native seed restorations on public lands, go to a grow-out like the Malheur Experiment Station.

Native plants are the best!

For more information on fires on fires in your area, check out:



Sunset over Goose Lake valley

Sunset over Goose Lake valley

Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park

Heliotropium curassavicum var. obovatum

Heliotropium curassavicum var. obovatum


Further adventures in mescal bean surveying


In my first post, I mentioned going to the Brokeoff Mountains to look for Dermatophyllum guadalupense. Since then, I have digitized some old survey maps for this species and, with Mike Howard, further explored its distribution.

The Las Cruces District Office of the BLM funded some survey work for Dermatophyllum guadalupense in the late 1980’s. This being a while ago, there was no GIS. There were GPS units, barely, but they were big, heavy, expensive, and rarely used by biologists. So plant surveys were done the old-fashioned way. Head outside with USGS topo maps, wander around looking for plants, do your best to match up your wanderings and plant observations with the topos, and write on the maps. So we have an old survey map for Dermatophyllum guadalupense. It’s a set of USGS 1:24,000 topographic maps, cut and taped together to cover the survey area, hand-colored (with crayon, so far as I can tell) to show land ownership, and annotated by hand to show survey routes and locations of plants. Given the modern capabilities of GPS units and GIS software, it is amazing that this approach was state-of-the-art so recently. But, if you knew what you were doing—and the botanist, Phil Clayton, did!—it worked pretty well. So, now, we can scan the map, georeference it, and display it in ArcGIS. Here’s the map, at its full extent:

And here’s a portion of it, zoomed in to show plant locations:

I’ve georeferenced the map, so that it can be displayed in ArcGIS and viewed with other layers. This is a surprisingly straightforward process; basically, you load the scanned image in ArcGIS and then georeference it by clicking on points in the map, then clicking on the same point in a reference layer (for which I used previously scanned and georeferenced USGS topos in the LCDO’s GIS drive—since my reference layer is the same as the scanned map, except for the hand-colored land ownership and plant survey data, this is easy). So now we can look at the old survey map in a GIS context, compare it to aerial imagery, put coordinates on the surveyed plant locations, go outside and know we’re looking at the same place Phil Clayton did 25 years ago, and so on and so forth. Cool!

However, Phil Clayton did not get everywhere and survey everything. Mike Howard found some locations for Dermatophyllum guadalupense that are not in that map. He found three more plants near the end of a road that leads to a livestock water storage tank and had previously looked northwest of the tank, not finding any more Dermatophyllum guadalupense. So, on the third of July, we went out and, this time, wandered southeast of the tank. The short version is: we did not find any more Dermatophyllum guadalupense. But, we got to go outside and examine the area:

We also found another rare plant, Ericameria nauseosa var. texensis:

And Echinocactus horizonthalonius was flowering:

And whiptails (in this case, Aspidoscelis tesselata) were out:

Also, if you were wondering what Dermatophyllum guadalupense looks like, well, here it is:

Habitat typing

After a few months of habitat typing, we were able to take a workshop by the habitat typing man himself: Pfister! Forest habitat typing is mostly used in the west, since there are still high amounts of native plants in places like Montana, as opposed to the Midwest, which you would classify “plant communities” instead. What is habitat typing you ask? Habitat typing uses a collection of information about habitats with comparable structures, functions and response to disturbance.

We use a dichotomous key to key out the climax series based upon trees. “Climax series is the tree species that will remain unchanged in terms of species composition as long as the site is undisturbed.” Then, the dominant understory vegetation is then keyed out to a specific habitat type. For example PSME/SYAL/CARU, which is a Douglas fir climax (PSME), with dominant components of snowberry (SYAL) and Pinegrass (CARU), habitat type 312! With this information we get a better idea of how each stand will function and respond to disturbance, based on a collection of habitats with similar structures.

For the habitat typing seminar we reviewed live samples of understory vegetation and just practiced habitat typing in the field. We met a lot of fellow natural resourcers that work for the forest service, park service et. al. It was such a wonderful experience and we learned a lot!

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