Dead Stick Botany

As my coworker so eloquently put it, we are officially entering “dead stick botany season” here in northern Wyoming. As if learning how to identify grasses for the first time wasn’t difficult enough, learning to identify dead or dry grasses has proven to be quite the challenge for me. But, flowering plants are still abound and much easier to find in a key than grasses are. Even this late in the season, there are some angiosperms here still doing their flowering thang. Check it:

Rush skeletonweed (Chondrilla juncea)

Not an angiosperm, but that’s fine. Horned lizards are the state reptile of Wyoming.

Now that we are in the full swing of the field season, our crew has officially gotten a groove going. Each day, we arrive at the field office early to beat the heat, load our truck and head out to one of our ninety-something randomized field sites to collect species richness, canopy gap and soil data. Once we’ve finished with data collection, we return to the Buffalo BLM Field Office and complete entering the data into DIMA (an online database specific to the type of monitoring we do).

Amiah (CLM intern) looking at canopy gaps along a transect we established.

Dominic (BLM hydrologist) working the spud bar as we try to get a 30″ soil pit dug. Camille and Amiah (CLM interns) in the background carry out the Line Point Intercept method along a transect to collect species inventory of the site. I like my job.

Soon enough, most plants will no longer have obviously identifiable features and our ID season will come to an end. After speaking with my supervisor, I learned once it becomes too difficult to identify plants in the field, all us interns have the option to work with the rest of the office departments and explore other interests we may have such as wildlife biology, hydrology, mineral rights, GIS, etc. I’m not entirely sure what interest I’ll end up exploring, but I’m absolutely looking forward to new experiences.

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.

Interns Unite!

Over the week of July 18th, the Taos and Santa Fe SOS crews joined forces to scour the slopes of the Carson National Forest for native seeds. We met at the Taos BLM field office, our government pickups laden down with tents, sleeping bags, a few musical instruments, plant presses and all the other essentials for an overnight in the field. Joining us on our hitch into Carson was the one and only Jessa “seed czar” Davis, the Taos AIM crew, Kerry Dicks (resident Archeologist), and Olivia Messinger Carril, co-author of “Bees in Your Backyard” (an awesome reference book for the bees of N. America). Together we drove north out of Taos through the sagebrush Mesa in a line of government white Chevy Silverado’s. To the locals we must have looked as much like a convoy of Botanists as something out of Mad Max.

Eventually we turned down the dirt road into the Carson National Forest and made our first stop in the foothill slopes of San Antonio Mountain. There we discovered a population of Oxytropis sericea and Linum lewisii, which we would collect from the following day.

Botanist convoy

Onward and upward we drove, into the aspen groves, buckwheat fields, and alpine lakes of the Carson NF, stopping for plenty of “drive-by botany” along the way. Several times during these stops, Olivia let loose her little tikes, each outfitted with their own bug nets. The cuteness was hardly bearable.

Eventually we arrived at the lower Lagunitas Campground, and set up aside the mountain lake nearby. Olivia then schooled us in some pollinator collection techniques, one of which involved deploying several cups of soap at regular intervals throughout the landscape before returning to collect and pin your specimens. As the light grew dim, the SOS interns, AIM crew, Jessa, Kerry, and the Carril family gathered around an inviting campfire. Alex, one of the AIM crew members, roasted a fish he caught from the lake and shared it with everyone as musical instruments were tuned and played into the night.

The largest and smallest bees found in N. America. Right: Xylocopa, and Left: Perdita. Photo from “Bees in Your Back Yard”, photo by Joseph Wilson (quarter used for scale).

I couldn’t remember the last time I had been regaled by ghost stories around a campfire, but I won’t soon forget the stories told that night.

As the sun slowly rose the next morning, so too did our crew. After breakfast, each group drove began to depart separately. We in the Taos-Santa Fe SOS team then proceeded to descend from the Lake, and made two collections along the way down that surely wouldn’t have been possible if not for the combined man (and woman) power of the group. On our drive towards a third collection in Questa we stopped at the Taos Cow for some world-famous ice cream of the coffee, chocolate, and lavender varieties.

That night, Ella Samuel, Laura Holloway, and Rebecca Schaub of the Santa Fe crew stayed in the modest home of the Taos Crew; Sophie Duncan, Jack Dietrich, and myself. Luckily our synergistic efforts at seed collecting were also transferrable to the grill, and together made a pretty solid pasta salad, some mouth-watering veggie burgers, and fragrant grilled pineapple. Like any good night, we finished it off with a game of Settlers of Catan before falling into well a deserved sleep.

The next morning, we collected seeds downstate in Truchas and Chimayo before parting ways. We’re currently planning another reunion… hopefully it will involve just as much comraderie and Catan as our former gathering.

Until next time,

-Jack Lynch

CLM intern (BLM) — Taos, New Mexico

Team building on our first day

Like all of the interns, I had been eagerly awaiting the start of our program and was looking forward to meeting the team I would be working with for the next six months. The interns working with New England Wild Flower Society first met at the check-in counter of Logan International Airport and, after only a brief introduction to one another, we set off on our journey. Conversation flowed easily as we shared stories of past field experience and places that inspired us to follow our passion for conservation. It’s no wonder our excitement built up thinking about our trip to North Carolina Botanical Garden for our training on field protocol.

Our flight between Boston and New York went by quickly, and soon enough we found ourselves at our next gate ‘talking story’ and enjoying each others company. Meanwhile, fog had rolled in and delayed in our flight. On the upside, we had more time to bond. But as we chatted, the weather got worse and our lighthearted conversations did not match the increasing heaviness of the weather outside. Soon enough our “Delayed” flight changed to “Canceled”.

In a matter or moments we had come together and started brainstorming about the possibilities of making it down to NC for as much of three day training as possible. There would be no flights for 24 hours and flying to nearby cities would not pan out. In the end, we made the decision that if we drove, we could arrive before the training started (short of a first dinner together and a bit of sleep).

For the next nine hours we rotated driving, making our way south through the night. At times the rain came down in buckets and I was afraid that the thunder would wake the crew that was fortunate enough to fall asleep in the back of the van. At 4:30 in the morning we made it to our hotel, just in time for a quick nap before waking up and attending the first day of our training. Despite being a bit tired, we were all excited to start this new chapter, all the more because we knew that we had a strong team that willing and able to take on unexpected challenges (with great attitudes too boot!).