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,
USFWS, Klamath Falls Fish and Wildlife Office