Wow, I cannot believe this internship is over! It feels like the season went by in a heartbeat, yet it also seems like I have doing this job for an eternity. The season is changing, fall is coming, and I am feeling very ready to move on to other things. I am really grateful that this internship has brought me the enchanted land of New Mexico, which is truly a hidden gem. Coming from the California coast to the high desert, I was initially in shock of the different landscape, air, and how magnificent the sky is out here. Learning a whole new plant community has also been a treat, and experiencing the summer monsoons, the heat of the desert, the aspen leaves turning, lightning and wind storms waking me up in the middle of the night, spending more time outside then inside, learning the plant communities throughout the state, being able to spend my time monitoring and trying to protect rare plants and help cultivate a native seed supply for restoration, and overall focusing the past 5 months of conservation in various landscapes and scales has been such an amazing opportunity.
I was expecting to just be doing SOS all season, and once I arrived to the New Mexico State Office I found out that I would be primarily focusing on rare plant monitoring throughout the state. I was a little surprised at first because my expectations were shifted, but I was excited for this new learning opportunity. I wasn’t expecting as much camping as I had this season, but it became such a routine in my schedule, within a few weeks of my internship I was more comfortable sleeping in my tent then in my own room. Being able to sleep under the stars, wake up with the sun, and completely interact and engage with the outside world was really grounding and special to me. I think this internship has allowed me to sink roots in New Mexico and help build confidence within myself, as I spent a majority of the past 5 months virtually alone in my thoughts.
I was able to have ownership over so much of the work that I did in this internship, which was really sweet. Navigating to a site, determining if it is suitable to monitor, then setting up the proper transect area depending on the plant distribution, and collecting data on each plant with data sheets that me and my co-worker created ourselves, and then later entering this data that will be used to examine and analyze these populations. It is pretty amazing that I was a part of the first year that the BLM in New Mexico is doing a widespread demographic trend monitoring project of the rare plants in the state, especially since I had no prior rare plant monitoring experience! It is also so important to have a baseline understanding of these plants so decision makers and land managers can make informed choices when they are confronted with interacting with these species. And over time, this baseline understanding can lead to a greater knowledge of how the plants shift and respond to disturbances, development, herbivory, and everything in between. It is really sweet that I helped start this project that will be going on for the next 10 years!
I really enjoyed creating a poster for the Native Plant Society Conference, I liked being able to communicate the work that I have been doing for the past 5 months to a wider audience. It was also rewarding being able to share my experience and answer people’s questions about the work. I think it is so important bridge the gap between science and the greater community, using outreach, social media (such as this blog..!), attending conferences and conventions, hosting volunteer events, and so on. All this research and time spent on examining these systems aren’t worth anything if no one has access to it!
There is a very specific energy in the desert, the seemingly sparse appearance of life creates space for your own reflection and appreciation of beauty. You just have to be open to it and pay attention to the little things. The way yucca grows so forcefully out of basalt, how the incredibly vibrant and rare Eriogonium gypsophilum thrives on the mooncrust gypsum, how the sage smells so sweet and strong after a monsoon rain, the sweet relief of seeking shelter under a juniper or pinon pine when the sun is excruciating, are just some of the countless wonders I have been so lucky to experience. My primary thoughts behind this internship, besides getting the transects done in time, making sure I observed the right plant height, tag number, and number of seeds, was trying to give as much love and special attention to all these plants that are threatened by a world focused on development and growth of the economy, by a changing climate, and by hungry critters seeking nourishment. I hope I was able to do that, bring more than just sound science to these struggling species, but form some sort of connection in hopes that will survive.