Wild, Free, and Fruity Forays

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, not every man’s greed.”

-Mahatma Gandhi

Throughout this internship I have felt like a professional forager. And I suppose am, having gotten paid to gather seeds, nuts, and fruit. I love foraging, collecting, gathering or “native plant material collection” as it’s put on my time sheet each week. Actually, I think I’m just a glorified squirrel. Using my tiny hands to grab at any seeds I can find, saving them, and forgetting about every third acorn. :3

There is something primal about gathering seed and fruit. The eyes adjust to the task at hand. They hone in on the color and shape of whatever they search for. Even when the object of desire may be obscured by the surroundings. It may be same color as the leaves, the soil, or other fruit that doesn’t suit the palate. A dormant instinct is reawakened when given the chance. It’s as if a human can partially revert back to being a undomesticated, nomadic gatherer-hunter when out on a foray.

I feel conflicted about foraging during my personal time. Gathering wild foods for the purpose of genetic preservation and restoration stock is a worthy reason to deprive other animals that live in these spaces the full bounty of nourishment. But for my own sustenance? With so much land on earth devoted to food production and life for humans, it seems selfish and unnecessary to just start taking food from the wild where free animals may still live as they should. But I want to be a free animal too! Humans once feasted on thousands of different species from hundreds of families over the course of one year, prior to the invention and domination of agricultural societies. In America we’re lucky if we get more than 50 different species in our diet over the course of a year. So shouldn’t the modern human diet still contain wild varieties of food? Foods that haven’t yet begun to lose their nutritional value through what Nikolai Vavilov (a pioneer in seed saving) called “varietal disintegration.” This is when nutritional value, resilience, and vigor diminishes the longer a species is domesticated. I would like to think so. I wouldn’t forage an entire meal unless I needed to in order to survive. I prefer harvesting some wild greens for pesto or salad garnish. Harvesting a handful of mushrooms for a dish. Or taking a taste of some berries when out hiking.

How do I know this is safe to eat? A general rule is if you’re going to harvest something for ingestion, it should be growing at least a few hundred feet from any roads or buildings. Be sure it’s not near or in any brownfields. Be sure what it is of course. For all of us at CLM that know how to look at plants, this is obvious. Consulting a few books and the internet is a given. Don’t end up like Chris from Into the Wild. Trust your palate. If it tastes bad, spit it out! Our taste buds aren’t just for pleasure, they are for determining edibility of foods we try. In short: Use the senses wisely. Research the plants. Avoid contamination.

Don’t I need a permit? I am not an expert on this but I would assume so, considering we had to use permits to collect seed on any state, national and private land. I have had the pleasure of foraging along the edges of farms where I have worked in the past so I never had to ask for anything more than verbal permission. Ask your neighbors, friends, and family that have some land if you can forage there. Maybe you have a big yard with some overgrown edges that provide some fruit and greens. Be creative.

Eating the local native flora can connect you to the land in a way that buying food from a grocery store never could

Here are some pictures of some of the delicious berries I collected/snacked on when out in the field this summer.

 

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Opuntia humifusa

I just had a taste of this wild candy while collecting it. Watch out for their prickles!

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Rosa palustris

Rose hips. They sweeten up in November, a great time to harvest and dry for tea. Or to save for seed banks of course.

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Vitus riparia

A wild grape found along wet, sunny places.

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Vitis rotundifolia

Muscadine grapes found growing wild. So delicious and refreshing on a hot day. I even eat the seeds.

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Rubus cuneifolius

The sand black berry, one of our target species here at MARSB. They grow in sandy places (DUH) along the coast.

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Rubus phoenicolasius

Native to Asia, and not to the US. The hairy stem distinguishes them from other Rubus species.

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Gaylussacia baccata

Black huckleberries are one of our targeted species that is literally absolutely abundant in the understory shrub layer of the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

 

MMMMM SEEDY..

Where is Vernal?

The right seed, in the right place, at the right time.  This straight-forward goal was synthesized by the Colorado Plateau Native Plant Program, at a conference in Monticello, Utah. It assimilated a broad range of presentations, including the latest research on local plant genetics intertwined with climate variability, new conservation technology, and agronomic requirements for successful seed production. This simplistic goal resulted from a conversation of the various stakeholders involved with collection and production of native plants for habitat restoration.  Often, the center stage of this conversation was Vernal, UT.

I have been an intern with the Bureau of Land Management in Vernal now for several weeks. During that time, I was able to attend the conference in Monticello and see where Vernal lies in the big picture of native plant restoration.  When I first arrived in my new habitat, the local flora was covered with two feet of snow after what had been an unusual winter.  However, I have learned it is a botanically interesting region due to roughly fifty endemic species associated with local geology, especially the oil-shale.  The energy sector also finds this area very interesting. Consequently, there are abundant future reclamation needs. The anticipated demand for native seeds played a key role in Vernal’s place at the conference.

While the snow melted, I compiled data to answer the question of “what seed?” I have become acquainted with the local flora of the herbarium and their locations on a map. However, I got my first taste of the field today, checking on seedlings of a milkvetch species that is endemic to a particular bend of the Green River.  The tiny seedlings were exciting to find and identify, being that they are so unique to that location. The landscape was enamoring, and I look forward to a season of discovering its hidden gems.

A view of the Uinta Mountains

Endemic Astragalus species

Endemic Astragalus species

Budsage… enamoring landscape in the background

Welcome to Carlsbad, NM

My introduction to local conservation policies and practices began where the Black River first surfaces—at Rattlesnake Spings. Here, the texture of my new landscape expressed itself as a collaborative group of dignitaries with interest in the thrival of Popenaias popeii, or the Texas hornshell mussel—the last remaining native mussel in New Mexico and an ESA Candidate species.

Popenaias popeii, or Texas hornshell mussel.

I field-tripped with this lively group of dignitaries to critical anthropogenic influence loci along the Black River. As they discussed the technicalities of flow targets, stream gauge locations and dispersal barriers, they also expressed core values and beliefs about their relationship to this land. Prided on personal liberty and averse to government intervention, these folks articulated a legacy and ethic of individual agency in private stewardship. “They’re a hardy species, and they’ll come back if they have what they need. … [Providing what they need] is up to us. … It won’t be easy, but worthwhile undertakings rarely are,” said private landowner Jim Davis.

This legacy is eligible for institutional legitimacy and merit in the form of Candidate Conservation Agreements (CCAs), Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAAs) and conservation/mitigation credits. The policy concerning this program has recently (this January 18th!) been refined in USFWS’s Director’s Order No 218, which can be found at https://www.fws.gov/endangered/improving_ESA/pdf/Director’sOrder_with_Voluntary_Prelisting_conservation_policy_Directors_Order_Attachment-Final.pdf.

Later in the week, I was privileged to also attend the New Mexico Rare Plant Technical Council’s (NMRPTC) annual meeting in Albuquerque, NM. Here, statewide rare plant advocates met to update New Mexico’s rare plant list as well as to share updates on conservation actions and receive briefings on their new Draft Rare Plant Conservation Strategy and the Strategy’s Rare Plant Scorecard tool (both adapted from Colorado’s models). An Important Plant Areas map is also being developed with these latter tools under an ESA Section 6 grant, all with the purpose to provide proactive measures and guidelines in support of consistent and coordinated rare plant management throughout New Mexico.

Eriogonum gypsophilum, a USFWS Threatened and NM state Endangered species that grows alongside oil and gas development in Southeast New Mexico. Photograph by Ben R. Grady.

During the Scorecard presentation’s section on measuring/representing threats, the speaker displayed a map of potential oil and gas extraction threats to rare plants. It portrayed a giant blob of yellow, black and blue risks in the Southeast corner of New Mexico, encompassing the majority of the lands that my BLM office stewards.

The Permian Basin shown here corresponds with the map of of oil and gas extraction threats that was presented in the NMRPTC meeting.

Working to safeguard native plants and habitats against the threats this blob poses will be a major focus of my work here.

There are secrets in New Jersey

New Jersey has a secret. It wears an industrial mask and is draped in a costume made from the fabric of loud boardwalks, clubbers, and miscellaneous state stereotypes.

But, beneath the façade, there is something very—very different. The secret’s out, New Jersey is bursting at the seams with plant life and environmental diversity.

My partner, Robbie, and I have gained a lot of memorable and joyous experiences exploring NJ and its plant life. We have driven through rough and gritty dirt roads deep into the soul of the Pine Barrens. We did not find the Jersey Devil, but we did find adventure.

We camped under hearts of oaks and pines, nestled in the rib cages of blueberries and huckleberries. N.J. unveiled its rare Lysimachia terrestristhe and Pogonia opioglossoides to us in the summer’s boiling bogs brimming with sun dew and pitcher plants.Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 10.10.03 PM

We have taken shelter from the sobs of the earth and its storming pulse under the spiral bark of the Atlantic white cedar.

We’ve inhaled the aromatic scents of Rhododendron viscosum of the Appalachian Mountains tucked away in the northwest of the state.

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Rhododendron viscosum

We kayaked through the narrow veins of the creeks, and saw the Spartina species thriving on the scalps of muscle clams.

Egg Island, NJ

Egg Island, NJ

We escaped the vicious greenflies and their shocking vampiric bites.

We traced roads that evolved into thick, impassible tickets. We baked like potatoes in the summer’s oven. We searched through the labyrinth of dunes seeking beach plum (Prunus maritima), bear berry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) , and heather (Hudsonia sp.).

Endless Gaylussacia baccata

Endless under stories of Gaylussacia baccata

We saw proud bald eagles, and ravenous osprey gripping fish in their razor talons. We saw black face terns plummeting and breaking the skin of the sea. We eaves dropped into conversations of sand pipers and red winged black birds as they discussed territory defense strategy.

Turkey Beard (Xerophyllum asphodeloides)

Turkey Beard (Xerophyllum asphodeloides)

 

Our alarm clocks were not actual timepieces, but roaring torrential downpours, leaky tents, and whippoorwills gossiping into the night.

Our breath would escape our lungs from the snakes slithering across our boots.

We were freckled with ticks.

We waited patiently for nesting terrapins to cross the road.

We learned the language of the land and had the opportunity to listen closely. It spoke in gentle whispers. It said, “I have a secret. Can you guess what’s under this mask?”

East coast to west coast

Hello from eastern Oregon. I have travelled all the way from southern Florida. All I am asking is where are all the trees? Haha! A few weeks ago, I began working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – Vale District Office – located in far eastern Oregon.

For the past two weeks, I have been learning about the high desert, sagebrush steppe habitat. A group of us have been conducting Rangeland Habitat Assessments in super-southeast Oregon and northern Nevada. With all different backgrounds: wildlife, botany, soil, air, water, and range; the specialists assess the sites to see if cattle should continue to graze in the area, if erosion by air or water is destabilizing the site, or if the site is in its prime condition. In other words, the assessment is to determine how the ecological processes on each site (49 sites) are functioning.

It is interesting to see the slight differences in habitats depending on the dominant species of sagebrush (Wyoming sagebrush, low sagebrush, bud sagebrush, etc.) at the site. The soil could be crusty, pedestals may form where Poa secuna (Sandberg bluegrass) grows, shrub composition alters, as well as forb and grass composition, the slope of the “hills” (not quite mountains) determine water flow and/or water erosion. I could go on. All of these determine whether or not the site is in good condition for the greater sage grouse to fulfill its lively duties. Celebration is required when Bromus tectorum (cheatgrass), a non-native (invasive) plant, is NOT found in the site.

A sagebrush site

A sagebrush site

Sagebrush and paintbrush site

Sagebrush and paintbrush site

In addition to assessing high desert habitat, we have assessed several riparian (watershed) habitats using different criteria to determine how the ecological processes on each site are functioning. Most of the cattle and the calves hang out in the riparian areas during the high-heat summer days. The cattle create hummocks in the riparian areas which ultimately alter the flowing water patterns.

Riparian site among the high desert, sagebrush steppe habitat.

Riparian site among the high desert, sagebrush steppe habitat.

cattle created hummocks

Hummocks (like pedastals) created by cattle in the riparian site.

I am incredibly excited about learning the plants out here. Consciously, I am comparing those I see here to the plants back in southeast United States. It amazes me how plants are adapted to their habitat. A lot of the plants are much more pubescent (hairy) than what I am used to!

In the upcoming months, we will be monitoring and surveying habitats and vegetation for the greater sage grouse throughout the Vale District. Some sites will be on the mountains! We will be conducting “monitoring plots” using the spoke design transect, line-point intercept, gap intercept, vegetation height calibrations, and plant species inventories. All this field work, we get to identify plant species, which is obviously the best part!

It is hard to grasp distance out here. Hills seem closer than they really are. I won’t be getting dehydrated this summer, I am keeping cool! I am beyond excited to share with you all the next few weeks of my journey. Talk to you soon!

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selfie in the sage 🙂

Cheers,

Michelle Smith 

BLM – Vale District

Idaho: Month 2

I’ve been living and working in Idaho for almost 2 months now, and time seems to be going by reasonably fast. Most days I get up very early for work, drive 30 miles each way to and from the office, and come home around 5 pm. By the time I get home, I only have the energy to eat, shower, watch some Netflix, and go to sleep. I enjoy this routine sometimes because I’m busy and time flies, but it also makes me eager for adventure and relaxation on the weekends.

Me on the Snake River Feat. Diana’s toes

I haven’t had the chance to go out and explore very much outside of Twin Falls. I did take a mini road trip to Pocatello to visit a friend from school. Two other CBG interns came with me, and none of us had ever been to Pocatello, so it was good to explore a new area. However, there are still things to do in Twin Falls! I finally went kayaking down the Snake River with some friends and it was a relaxing day on the water.

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Native plant garden in Twin Falls. We came here for a forb workshop led by the Department of Fish & Game.

Almost 2 months into this internship, I can already tell that the rest of my time here with the BLM in Shoshone will be extremely valuable. Most of my time here has been spent training and learning about the botany and wildlife found in our field office. I’m starting to feel more comfortable identifying plants, but there is still so much more for me to learn and apply in the next 4 months.

In the near future, I would like to get more involved in the GIS work happening in our office. By the looks of it, many other interns are using GIS in their work, and I’m jealous. I enjoy collecting data and then analyzing it in GIS because it offers such a unique visualization. I’m always amazed by what GIS can do and I want to continue to improve my skills. If I were to go into a graduate program, I would likely focus on spatial analysis or some type of environmental informatics (GIS/remote sensing/modeling).

Doing work

Work perks

For now, I know that I want to improve my applied ecology and botany skills. Before studying something on the large scale, I want to have on-the-ground experience. Field work is the perfect way of acquiring those skills. Our training workshop in Chicago was somewhat helpful in learning about botany. It was made very clear that all of the CBG interns have varying levels of botany expertise. So when it came to the botany lesson, some people could follow along and identify plant families quickly, while several of us struggled to keep up. My school doesn’t even offer a botany or plant systematics class. 🙁 I guess most of my western botany knowledge and skills will have to be acquired on my own time and on the job. Thankfully, hands-on learning is one of the best ways for me to learn.

The training workshop was a great way to meet other CBG interns, and I am so thankful for that opportunity! I met some great people that I would love to spend more time with. It was great to see so many people with similar interests in terms of conservation and land management. I know that many of you will go on to do great things.

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Go Blackhawks!!!!

The workshop was also scheduled at a perfect time for me because my graduation was that weekend. I went to college in Chicago, so I got to see most of my friends and family. After a month of being in Idaho, I was so so so thankful to see the people near and dear to my heart. It was a perfect refresher. I got on the L after arriving in Chicago, and I never thought I would be so happy to smell the lingering odor of urine on the train. I know it’s gross, but it was a reminder of the last 4 years I spent in that beautiful urban city.

But now I am back in Idaho, and I want to enjoy my time here while it lasts. I’ve never spent this much time in a rural area, nor have I done this much field work. This area is growing on me and I’m starting to feel more at home. I’m so glad I have other interns here with me because we can share the new experience with each other.

Until next time,

Carla

BLM-Shoshone, ID

Botanical Exploration with Jerry Theim

The first real botanical adventure I experienced was in the Calico Mountains Wilderness on an expidition lead by Jerry Theim. Few people would think to place botany and adventure next to each other. But in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, where the terrain is a product of a unique geologic history and as rugged and rocky as anything, searching for rare species is anything but boring.

We met Jerry for the first time at a fork in the road, and as we climbed into his truck we made our acquaintances quickly. Being a very talkative man, he dove into explaining what we would be doing with him that week. His plan was to spend the next four days hiking through out the wilderness, checking various points of interest he had scoped the day before.

As we drove he pointed out the vast geologic expanses, telling us names of the rare species that live there. Steam boat mountain, where Caulanthus barnedbyii was recently found, and the Jackson range, where he spent a week during the last field season searching for a rare Pentstemon species. It was clear that he knew the area well. We pulled onto a 2 mile an hour road and drove up to the base of a canyon that was carved out by a long dried up water flow. “Let’s go botanize!” He exclaimed and we got together our gear for a day of hiking.

Being from Massachusetts, I had never seen anything like the range we were about to venture into. The Calico Mountain wilderness is a vast expanse of multi-colored slopes, most of them very steep and covered in tallus. We set out trailblazing through the canyon, and we approached a dark and ominous slope covered in tallus. I had never even heard of tallus before, let alone climbed on it. I was quite surprised as we began our ascent up the 60% slope of sharp, loose, MINERAL? that slipped and slid as we scrambled our way to the top.

We were headed for an ash deposit a the top of one of the smaller peaks of the bizarrely pigmented mountains. This one was splotched with green from oxidized copper, and brown and pink from other minerals. The ash deposit at the summit was bright white and is a unique soil type endemic to the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area.

Jerry was a pro climber. I learned that day, among many other things about Jerry, that he is a native of Nevada and an avid outdoorsmen. Unsurprisingly he found his way to the top with ease. He is a modest man, and it was not until our last day out that Jerry told us of his botanical accomplishments. Apparently he was something of a local celebrity in the Great Basin plant community. In his exploration of Nevada he had found an abundance of species new to science, many of which now share his name.

During our climbs he told us stories of Arthur Cronquist and his time collecting for herbarium collections in NYC and Cambridge. He was also responsible for many of the collections that made possible the publication of Intermountain Flora, one of the best dichotomous keys for the Great Basin area. He even shared with us what he did when he was not botanizing- limosene driving for the casinos in Reno and carpentry.

He trained us in the methods he used for botanizing rare species, and gave us heaps of plant names common to the area. It was hard to take it all in, and our field books had many new pages filled with species lists. He also shared with us tips for navigating the area, and gave us valuable advice on survival in the desert.

On the way back from the trip, I was struck with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for having been given the opportunity to botanize with Jerry. His training served us well in later inventories for rare species of the area. I will always be thankful for participating in the CLM internship for this reason, and many others.