July 2014

Since my last blog not much has changed as far as my day-to-day tasks. I am still typing away on a NEPA document for a giant garter snake restoration project I am working on. I am currently in the process of selecting a contractor to conduct baseline surveys at the restoration site as well. This information will help with my decision making process as construction activities are carried out, as well as determine the success of the project after the restoration is complete.

I did get one short break from the office for a seed collection a couple weeks ago. Two interns (one SOS, one BLM) from the Mother Lode Field Office came to my field station for a day of plant ID and seed collection. We found several populations of plants we were searching for, that should have been ready (or close to being ready) for seed collection. What we did not find was seeds. Perhaps this is an effect of the drought? Either way we were still able to collect seed from one population (Cyperus eragrostis), so our efforts were not in vain.

Hopefully I will have future opportunities for more collections. In the mean time I am just going to be trying to pump out these documents.

Stay safe in the field-

What is your PL?

Hello from Lakeview, where our lakes have dust devils and our wetlands are on fire.

I live in the parking lot of the Interagency Fire Center fleet and I have watched our team of five fire trucks roll out at least four times this month. We are now at Preparedness Level 4, which I had to look up and that means 60% of our national and state fire crews are engaged in some fire activity.

Our awareness of dust, smoke and heat related health hazards is on point. We can’t drive on roads with vegetation in the middle, smoke outside or have fires of any kind. Our field rig has had a Pulaski, shovel and fire extinguisher since May, but if we don’t carry them now we could be fined. I find myself taking more breaks when I seed collect, but I’ve also grown more efficient in choosing the best fruits. Some field sites will be abandoned until it is safer to drive over the grass and sagebrush, and we’ll probably miss the collection if another accessible population isn’t found.

I like the physical demand of the job, but I wish there was more science involved. Seed collection is just one step in a huge operation, and we do find new information to add to previous data. But if you really want to run some tests and gather evidence that it is possible to afford native seed restorations on public lands, go to a grow-out like the Malheur Experiment Station.

Native plants are the best!

For more information on fires on fires in your area, check out:

activefiremaps.fs.fed.us/

http://www.nifc.gov/aviation/av_saseb2.html

Sunset over Goose Lake valley

Sunset over Goose Lake valley

Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park

Heliotropium curassavicum var. obovatum

Heliotropium curassavicum var. obovatum

 

Further adventures in mescal bean surveying

Greetings,

In my first post, I mentioned going to the Brokeoff Mountains to look for Dermatophyllum guadalupense. Since then, I have digitized some old survey maps for this species and, with Mike Howard, further explored its distribution.

The Las Cruces District Office of the BLM funded some survey work for Dermatophyllum guadalupense in the late 1980′s. This being a while ago, there was no GIS. There were GPS units, barely, but they were big, heavy, expensive, and rarely used by biologists. So plant surveys were done the old-fashioned way. Head outside with USGS topo maps, wander around looking for plants, do your best to match up your wanderings and plant observations with the topos, and write on the maps. So we have an old survey map for Dermatophyllum guadalupense. It’s a set of USGS 1:24,000 topographic maps, cut and taped together to cover the survey area, hand-colored (with crayon, so far as I can tell) to show land ownership, and annotated by hand to show survey routes and locations of plants. Given the modern capabilities of GPS units and GIS software, it is amazing that this approach was state-of-the-art so recently. But, if you knew what you were doing—and the botanist, Phil Clayton, did!—it worked pretty well. So, now, we can scan the map, georeference it, and display it in ArcGIS. Here’s the map, at its full extent:

And here’s a portion of it, zoomed in to show plant locations:

I’ve georeferenced the map, so that it can be displayed in ArcGIS and viewed with other layers. This is a surprisingly straightforward process; basically, you load the scanned image in ArcGIS and then georeference it by clicking on points in the map, then clicking on the same point in a reference layer (for which I used previously scanned and georeferenced USGS topos in the LCDO’s GIS drive—since my reference layer is the same as the scanned map, except for the hand-colored land ownership and plant survey data, this is easy). So now we can look at the old survey map in a GIS context, compare it to aerial imagery, put coordinates on the surveyed plant locations, go outside and know we’re looking at the same place Phil Clayton did 25 years ago, and so on and so forth. Cool!

However, Phil Clayton did not get everywhere and survey everything. Mike Howard found some locations for Dermatophyllum guadalupense that are not in that map. He found three more plants near the end of a road that leads to a livestock water storage tank and had previously looked northwest of the tank, not finding any more Dermatophyllum guadalupense. So, on the third of July, we went out and, this time, wandered southeast of the tank. The short version is: we did not find any more Dermatophyllum guadalupense. But, we got to go outside and examine the area:

We also found another rare plant, Ericameria nauseosa var. texensis:

And Echinocactus horizonthalonius was flowering:

And whiptails (in this case, Aspidoscelis tesselata) were out:

Also, if you were wondering what Dermatophyllum guadalupense looks like, well, here it is:

Habitat typing

After a few months of habitat typing, we were able to take a workshop by the habitat typing man himself: Pfister! Forest habitat typing is mostly used in the west, since there are still high amounts of native plants in places like Montana, as opposed to the Midwest, which you would classify “plant communities” instead. What is habitat typing you ask? Habitat typing uses a collection of information about habitats with comparable structures, functions and response to disturbance.

We use a dichotomous key to key out the climax series based upon trees. “Climax series is the tree species that will remain unchanged in terms of species composition as long as the site is undisturbed.” Then, the dominant understory vegetation is then keyed out to a specific habitat type. For example PSME/SYAL/CARU, which is a Douglas fir climax (PSME), with dominant components of snowberry (SYAL) and Pinegrass (CARU), habitat type 312! With this information we get a better idea of how each stand will function and respond to disturbance, based on a collection of habitats with similar structures.

For the habitat typing seminar we reviewed live samples of understory vegetation and just practiced habitat typing in the field. We met a lot of fellow natural resourcers that work for the forest service, park service et. al. It was such a wonderful experience and we learned a lot!

2014-06-18 10.39.23

2014-06-17 14.29.36

2014-06-17 15.29.55

Living in Carlsbad, New Mexico

I can’t believe I have been working in Carlsbad, for the BLM (Bureau of Land Management), for over a month now. I have been keeping a small journal listing all the different things I do every day. Reading through my journal, I am astounded by plethora of different jobs I have experienced over the past month. My primary task at the BLM has been finding the presence or absence of Dunes Sagebrush Lizard (DSL) in predetermined locations. The DSL is a habitat specialist that is only found in large dune complexes called blowouts, which are surrounded by shinnery oak. The Dunes Sagebrush Lizard was recently listed as “state endangered” in the New Mexico. If a DSL is found in a location there can be no development within 200 meters of that GPS point. Every Friday I use GIS to find locations within BLM land that maybe suitable for the DSL. Mondays I usually go to the predetermined locations and place pitfall traps in the hopes of catching a DSL. In every location we place 10 pitfall traps spread apart to maximize our chances of catching something. The pitfall traps are 5 gallon buckets sunk into the sand so they are flush with the surface; so far we have dug 21 arrays with ten buckets, meaning we have dug 210 holes all across southeast New Mexico. Every day after traps have been sunk, I go into the field and check the traps to see what has fallen in. I record any other reptile that has fallen in as well as wind speed and cloud cover. Traps are set out for five days and then pulled out. If a DSL is caught before those five days the traps are pulled out and we record the GPS coordinate of where the lizard was caught, the sex, and multiple pictures are taken to prove that we have caught a DSL.

Although I check traps every day, I still have time to experience and work with other departments at the BLM. I have been sitting in on NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) meetings to understand intricacies of developing something on federal lands. I have also been helping the BLM place interpretive signs into a nearby river explaining the ecology and history of the river. Last week we were invited to local summer camp to teach kids between the ages of 6 and 12 the differences between reptiles and amphibians and the importance of stream water quality. We have started to conduct macro-invertebrate samples along the Delaware River, and soon we will begin Prairie chicken surveys. On my off days, I have already hiked to the top of Guadalupe Peak (the highest point in Texas), gone 750 feet below ground level to explore the famous Carlsbad Caverns, and have been mountain biking in a nearby trail system. All in all there has not been a dull moment. The BLM is keeping me active and I am thoroughly enjoying my time here in Carlsbad.

Sand Dune

Sand Dune

Pitfall trap

Pitfall trap

Male DSL

Male DSL

DSL and GPS

DSL and GPS

Whiptail

Whiptail

DSL female

DSL female

Side shot DSL

Side shot DSL

DSL in natural habitat

DSL in natural habitat

Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns

 

 

Thoughts from Farmington

Wow, I’ve already been in New Mexico a month and a half. The time has flown by. It’s amazing how that happens when you really enjoy the work that you are involved in. There is so much to say since my last entry, but I had to narrow it down a little for today.
My fellow intern Sarah and I flew solo on making our latest SOS collection; the third of our season. It felt good to have the confidence to manage this on our own. Not to say that the collections are difficult, but this way our mentor could catch up on what she needed to do. I am completely amazed by how tenacious these desert plants are. The area has been in a severe drought even for a desert. I don’t know how anything could survive, but they do. The Utah serviceberry we collected from was showing signs of stress, some not doing well at all, but those tough shrubs still put out seed and promise of a next generation, hoping for better conditions for their offspring.

We should be in the monsoon season, but the rain has been spotty at best. All to the north and south the clouds have blessed the ground with their bounty, but our little pocket around Farmington remains parched. When we have been to areas with rain, it seems like a miracle, and for the landscape I suppose it is. Often I look to the horizon and see spectacular lightning shows against distant dark skies, or the cloud phenomena called virga (this does not happen in the east). According to Wikipedia, “In meteorology, virga is an observable streak or shaft of precipitation that falls from a cloud but evaporates or sublimes before reaching the ground.” It’s pretty wild looking, you can see the rain coming down like purple or white chalk smears but it never actually makes a landing because the air is just so dry. I can’t wait to see the second coming of the plants that result in a little rain here. We get really excited when we see arroyos with running water in them. Rain dance for Farmington, because the seed collection options are slim pickings!

Another part of the job that has been thought provoking is the knowledge paradigm. We all have knowledge, of various kinds. Some is nearly universal, some selective. Part of coming to a new place is picking the brains of your new neighbors. What do you know about this area? It’s an unspoken question usually; I wait for the answers and then suck them up like a sponge when they come. Sheila is our mentor; a nearly native New Mexican (moved here from NY when she was 8 years old). Her understanding of the landscape and its ecology and culture is stunning. To have lived in one state so long makes her a NM wise woman in my eyes. She’s taught us some of those less obvious tidbits of local knowledge that are surely gems. We learned that ponderosa pines smell like vanilla if you get up close, that obsidian isn’t found here, so if you see some it’s an artifact, a shard of life of an ancient, and what petrified wood looks like. Our fuels specialist calls out to crows when she’s with us and they call back, and she knows where to see petroglyphs on canyon walls. Specialists in the office are happy to share their passions with us and their specific knowledge. We went out netting tamarisk beetles this week with a herp enthusiast and learned about the snakes and horned lizards that we found. We took some rocks we found – (BLM allows what they call reasonable take – a few pebbles are ok to keep) to a geologist and learned that they were carnelian, a semi-precious stone. I love spending time with these people. Even though I have almost zero local knowledge, we can all learn from each other. I taught Sheila that you can eat Russian olive berries! I continue looking forward to every day as a CLM intern and learning as much as I can in my short time here.

the Badlands

the Badlands

Netting beetles

Netting beetles

Bull snake sighted!

Bull snake!

Here's Cleome serrulata, a target species for Colorado Plateau seed collection

Here’s Cleome serrulata, a target species for Colorado Plateau seed collection. Maybe in a few weeks!

art of the ancients

art of the ancients

Adventure in the Rubies

A week ago today I was presented with the opportunity to go to the Ruby Mountains in eastern Nevada and if one has heard or seen of the beauty and adventure that can be had in Lamoille Canyon, they are sure to accept the offer. The drive from Carson City was about 5 hours and it was a pretty desolate stretch most of the way across, but there were some friends to see along the way, like Black-necked Stilts and Pronghorn. When we arrived in Lamoille Canyon that evening I was just able to complete a brief and hurried botanical exploration before a very large thunderstorm rolled into the valley. Being from the wonderful state of South Carolina it was great to hear the loud, rumbling thunder above and see and feel the rain after what seemed like forever.

The next day we were able to hike up Lamoille Canyon and over Liberty Pass to Liberty Lake. The walk was loaded with a large variety of wildflowers throughout many different habitats, such as Subalpine, Aspen Forest and Alpine. There seemed to be blooms of all different colors waving in the wind no matter where your eye wondered. Several of the species seen were Hymenoxys hoopesii, Chamerion latifolium, Psuedostellaria jamesiana, Potentilla diversifolia, Rhododendron columbianum, Smelowskia americana, Oxyria digyna, Luzula spicata and so many more beauties of the wild. If all these blooming flowers did not fancy the eye enough there was the pleasant and cheery serenading of several different birds, like the Hermit Thrush, Lazuli Bunting, Lesser Goldfinch and chatty Clark’s Nutcracker. Another very interesting natural wonder was the flight display of the male Broad-tailed Hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus). He would fly off his perch and then proceed to make trills with his wings as he flew almost vertically upward into the sky. Reaching the top of his ascent he would plummet downward towards the earth and turn up quickly and repeat the process making buzzy call notes as well. A truly wonderful thing to be able to see, especially when he landed and through the binoculars you could see him flashing his bright red throat in the sunlight!

The plants were incredible in this area and it was nice to come across a lot of new species in the high country habitats. I brought my fly rod as well and was able to do quite well fishing along Lamoille Creek in the canyon. The brook trout were very eager and made for a couple great evening of fishing on the water.

DSC08973

The beautiful blooms of Dwarf Fireweed (Chamerion latifolium).

Eriogonum heracleoides

Eriogonum heracleoides

Rhododendron columbianum (Syn. Ledum glandulosum)

Rhododendron columbianum (Syn. Ledum glandulosum)

Wondrous! Rhodiola rosea

Wondrous!
Rhodiola rosea

Physaria chambersii

Physaria chambersii

A stately sentinel of the high country - Pinus albicaulis

A stately sentinel of the high country – Pinus albicaulis

Sedum debile

Sedum debile

Flyfishing the high country was a great experience!

Flyfishing the high country was a great experience!

One of the fiesty fellows of Lamoille Creek!

One of the fiesty fellows of Lamoille Creek!

 

May the summer treat you well friends,

Ethan Hughes

CCDO BLM Nevada

Hello again, Stranger.

I am writing from Carson City, Nevada, where I am participating in a soil and plant ecology workshop.  The workshop has focused on interpreting the geomorphology of an area, understanding how that geomorphology affects its soil composition, and how its soil composition determines what type of ecological communities it can support.  The course has been taught by both academic and resource management professionals, who have done a great job of explaining how this information is used to make critical management decisions.  I am grateful for the new perspective, and am excited to dig some more holes!

In the spirit of my previous blog post, I would like to tell you about another one of my favorite days this summer.

I woke up early on Wednesday, July 2nd, stepped outside the trailer, and celebrated under the stars.  The Milky Way formed a rainbow over my head, and I stumbled around in an awestruck, sleepy stupor staring up at it.  I woke up later that morning to an alarm, the sounds of the rest of the monitoring crew getting out of bed, and the trumpeting of Sandhill Cranes.  I drank black tea and watched the purple sky turn pink and blue.

Trailer Sunrise

A coyote – the first I had ever seen in the sunlight – lunged in front of our trucks as we drove lupine-lined two-tracks to our last two HAF sites of the season.  HAF stands for Habitat Assessment Framework, and outlines a methodology for assessing the suitability of Sage-Grouse habitat.  We have put a lot of effort into reading these sites, and so it was bittersweet to complete the project.

We were rewarded for our commitment to the project.  While conducting wetland inventories later that day, we flushed out about 20 Sage-Grouse.  These were the first Sage-Grouse I had ever seen.  We saw almost 100 more Sage-Grouse the following week while conducting more wetland inventories.  It was very special to see such large numbers of the birds we had been working so hard to conserve.

I could not be more grateful to work in the remote and wild Jarbidge Field Office, and I look forward to continuing to conserve it.

Jarbidge

Jonathan Kleinman

Jarbidge Field Office

Bureau of Land Management

Buggin’ Out

I may sound bitter in this post, but something has really been bugging me lately.  What’s bugging me, you ask? The whole collection of bitterbrush seed I’ve harvested is infested with bugs!  Or maybe I should be upset that my bug collection is infested with bitterbrush seed, it’s hard to tell.  I spent several days this week, along with fellow CLM intern, Natalie, harvesting bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) seed at different locations of the BLM Eagle Lake Field Office.  We have been monitoring these populations for over a month, waiting for the seeds to mature from a soft red seed into a dry black seed.  With the wait finally over, we went to work harvesting the seed.  Harvesting bitterbrush seed has been different than any of the other Seeds of Success collections we have done.  Instead of harvesting the seed by hand, it is more efficient to collect bitterbrush seed by placing a hopper (handmade by my mentor, Valda) under the bush, and smack the bush with a stick.  The seed then falls into the hopper along with some other plant matter, and to our dismay, thousands of large, black bugs.

Bitterbrush Collecting

Collecting bitterbrush seed

Most of the bugs that fell into the hopper were Say’s stink bugs (Chlorochroa sayi), although there were several different species of stink bugs being accidentally collected.  These bugs are pests, and feed on the bitterbrush seed by using their sucking mouth parts to extract the nutrients out of the seed.  The bugs were hard to notice when they were on the bitterbrush plants, but several fell into the hoppers every time we smacked the bushes.  Although the bugs could fly, most did not attempt to fly from the hoppers. There were so many bugs in the hoppers that it looked like the whole contents was moving.

Say's stink bug

Say’s stink bug

Knowing that we could not send the seed collection in to be cleaned in this state, we needed a way to get the bugs out of the seed.  We shoveled the seed into several paper shopping bags, and allowed them to sit overnight outside the BLM office building.  We returned in the morning to find bugs crawling all over the bags, the walls, and the sidewalk, as well as some disgusted coworkers.  We decided to move the bags to “The Yard”, the area where BLM keeps many of its vehicles and heavy machinery.  We left the bags there over the weekend, and returned on Monday to find most of the bugs gone.

Today we boxed up the seed (insect traps included, of course) and shipped it to the cleaning facility.  Hopefully enough of the seed is still healthy despite the infestation, and the Eagle Lake Field Office will get some bitterbrush seed back to use in fire rehabilitation.

Remember, fellow CLM interns: Just Say No to Bugs.

Sam

BLM

Eagle Lake Field Office

 

Willamette daisy days parade – Nature Happens!

 

I spent the majority of time this past month searching for two species Erigeron decumbens and Horkelia congesta, an endangered  species and a species of concern both endemic to the Willamette Valley.  Unfortunately, Erigeron decumbens vegetative form blends in with other common grasses and forbs, making it very difficult to differentiate.  But when it is flowering, the striking yellow and purple colors are hard to miss!  While this work was very monotonous, I enjoyed the little things, finding various prairie critters, and listening to birds, good tunes, and NPR.   I now have a stronger back, an acute eye for particular textures and shades of green, and a holistic perspective on the crisis in Iraq.

 

  IMG_1156Erigeron decumbens – Willamette daisy

It has been fascinating observing how the prairie habitat has progressed with the season.  Flowering plants that flooded the fields with vibrant yellows, purples, reds, and blues in May and June are now merely dried up skeletons of carbon, which we now identify as thatch for purposes of habitat surveys.  The lowland prairies, submerged in water just two months ago, are clinging on to the last drops as even the sedges and rushes are beginning to dry out.  The upland, no question about it, wants to explode into a violent torrent of heat and flames and relieve itself of the heavy burden of matted dead grass, although most songbirds and small mammals probably love it.  New flowers are starting bloom, and new pollinators are starting to pollinate.  Grindelia integrifolia, known for its sticky leaves, are beginning to pop out of their spiky buds, and honey and bumble bees are ready to indulge on the sweet sugars they produce.  Ha! Nature happens!  Keep it real!

IMG_0696Eryngium petiolatum – coyote thistle 

IMG_0701Grindelia integrifolia-  Willamette valley gumweed