Chapter 3: Milk-vetch. I become an archaeologist.

I’ve learned that a biologist at Fish and Wildlife must wear many hats in order to get the job done. This includes possibly dealing with species you’re not familiar with, and interacting with the public in different ways.

A couple of weeks ago, we did milk-vetch surveys, making use of all of the information we learned at the CLM Workshop in Chicago.

Our first day, we scouted a potential new site for our species, Applegate’s milk-vetch (Astragalus applegatei), that we learned about from an anonymous tip (submitted by mail no less!) that the office had received. It was all very exciting. Armed with a letter with a description how to get to the site and a map they supplied with an area of interest circled, we hiked about a mile out to the site in question and looked for our plants. I felt very much like an archaeologist, trying to piece together the location of the plants from a pretty cryptic description of the location from a letter written long ago. We found hairy vetch (Vicia villosa), invasive, and similar looking, but we didn’t find any Applegate’s milk-vetch (AsAp), much to our disappointment. It’s not called a rare species for nothing. We think the tipster might have mixed them up, and we’ve sent a response with pictures of the vetchs we found to try and confirm the misidentification. Still waiting to hear back on that front.

Our second task with milk-vetch was surveying a known population. Contrary to what you’ll find on Wikipedia about AsAp, there are around eight populations extant. They are surveyed on a rotating schedule. We surveyed a site that had last been surveyed in 2013. There isn’t cause or manpower enough to survey each site every year. Most of the populations exist on private property, so they are not protected from take. It’s a sad situation sometimes. Our lead biologist on the species told us that a site they’d surveyed just last year was bulldozed immediately after for development. Life of an endangered plant is rough. Still, AsAp is a tough plant. At least to of the locations where it occurs are mowed regularly, and it seems to do fine with that. In fact, mowing seems to beat back its competitors, and there has been discussion about mowing aiding AsAp growth and propagation (it lies low to the ground, and so can be undisturbed by mowing). The site we surveyed had cows actively grazing, and the plants seemed to be doing just fine.

Anyway, surveying was done in two ways: censusing, which is basically counting every plant you see in a general area, and sampling, which is where you count a subset of the population and extrapolate a guess of the total count from that (which we helped design the protocol for). All-in-all we counted thousands of plants, and we estimated the site to have over 100,000 plants from sampling data. It involved many flags, flagging tape, a GPS, walking a lot, and teamwork.

The lead biologist happens to also be assigned to grey wolves (Canis lupus). We did a little work on them during the week, which Jessie and Jenny both definitely explain, so you can read about it on their posts. It was interesting to do our mammal and vegetation work at the same time, but USFWS covers a lot of ground.

Until next time,

Brianne Nguyen
USFWS, Klamath Falls Fish and Wildlife Office

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.

IMG_0559

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?”

Wenatcheeee!

One last heave and I manage to squeeze my life into my car; I am finally ready to hit the open road. It takes a few seconds for this realization to dawn on me after hours of countless reshuffling of my possessions. It’s at this point, once I hop in the car and put my key in the ignition, that I realize what I’ve been packing for. I’m finally headed to the great state of Washington!  …but what is Wenatchee!?  A surge of emotions too chaotic to pin down to one feeling rush through me as I grip the steering wheel tightly trying to keep everything in check. Check. Double check. The most important things to remember, myself and my already homesick travel buddy, Spirit. Did I remember his toys? Food? I run through the mental list one last time. I grabbed all my love plants. Triple check. Unfortunately, I reassure myself, there is always one thing I am forgetting, so progress for progress sake I must ‘get the show on the road!’

After a successfully uneventful drive from the armpit of California to the immensely beautiful expanse that is the Eastern Cascades, it takes all my effort to stay awake and entertain a so called intellectual. It’s at this point that I contemplate if successful and uneventful should be used in the same sentence.

Camping at Cape Disappointment was just “awfully” drab as the name states. Who in their right mind wants to go to a beach with black sand!? It makes for a bright sunset!

Who wants to watch a man pour his broken heart all over the Walmart pavement? There are pigeons for that!

Who wants to watch a twenty foot tall pastor lecture biblical themes to you? Hardcore movie fanatics!

Who searches rest stop trash cans with an IPad? Competitive geocaching retirees!

A hippie bus only able to travel 35 mph!? What sight-seeing!

Reality beckons. Three hours into the most bizarre life interview I’ve ever witnessed, let alone experienced and nothing sounds more enticing then my scrawny floor mat to lie upon and sleep. As I sit in this dingy basement trying to keep my eyelids from getting heavier, I wonder why I’m here, straining to search for any type of sign to reassure my heavy heart; to make sense of all this change and wrap my head around my surroundings. The first night is always rough in a new place, especially when you realize you might actually have standards.

Minus all the paperwork and signing my life away to the government (oh wait I already did that a long time ago!), Wenatchee, WA holds a lot of promise. By the end of my first week, I’ve learned more plants than my feeble brain can even manage to soak in. It’s a good thing my overall disposition is a bright shade of optimism with a slight hue of empathetic. I need this to make sure my confidence doesn’t drain out the pin sized holes forever forming in my brain. When looking at the differences between an agoseris, a microseris, and a crepis on the second day of the job, it takes all my effort to minimize the obvious amount of head spinning one would expect.

Thank goodness for the cross training days that have offered me glimpses of the raw beauty of the Columbia Basin, and to a peculiar yet vaguely identifiable light that shone out of the forests of Leavenworth, WA, reassuring me that everything this summer is going to be all right. As if one can help the stress that comes with life situations, even when aware that life in all its eccentricities always has a way of working itself out. Now in the third week, I am encouraging a growing need for exploration and a ravenous thirst for more…

The adventures are just beginning,

Calo Girl and her Slobbery Steed

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