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The Gift of Bonsai

Garden Blog - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 4:30am

Thirteen years ago, when I was working as an exotic animal veterinary technician, I bought my friend a gift—a juniper bonsai—that would set me on a course that I never could have imagined.

I already had a yard full of tropical plants, succulents, and orchids, but once I added my first bonsai, I knew something had changed. It was the beginning of a journey that took me from Gainesville, Florida, to Washington, D.C., to Japan and finally here to the Chicago Botanic Garden, where I am the curator in charge of the Bonsai Collection, which is known as one of the best of its kind in the world.

 Chris Baker pruning bonsai.

Tending this large bonsai is a delicate task.

Shortly after I purchased my first tree, I started learning about bonsai and joined a prominent bonsai club in Gainesville. In 2006, Gainesville (home of the Gators) hosted the State Bonsai Convention. That weekend was an eye-opening experience for me, as I got to learn from and assist international bonsai artists like Jim Smith, Colin Lewis, and others. That weekend convention was very influential and would fuel my desire to continue learning.

Less than a year after that convention, I had an opportunity to move to Baltimore, Maryland, and work at the National Aquarium. I quickly joined the Baltimore Bonsai Society and continued learning. Feeling more and more drawn to a career in horticulture, I made the move from veterinary technician to horticulturist of the Rainforest Exhibit at the National Aquarium. This opportunity made me think that I actually could have a career working with bonsai. Then, during a Baltimore Bonsai Club event at the National Arboretum’s Bonsai and Penjing Museum in Washington, D.C., I had a chance meeting with the curator Jack Sustic. I introduced myself by saying, “Hi, I’m Chris Baker. I have aspirations of being a bonsai curator some day, and I would like to volunteer here at the collection.” That sentence would forever alter my path. My time as a volunteer and then intern at the National Arboretum was inspirational and educational, and ultimately would lead me to Japan.

Jack Sustic would become a mentor and friend; he introduced me to Torhu Suzuki at the Daijuen Bonsai Nursery in Okazaki, Japan, where he had spent some time. Suzuki, or “Oyakata” (an honorific reserved for a person of high authority) as we would call him, was a third-generation bonsai master and prominent figure in Japanese bonsai culture. In 2012, I spent six months as an apprentice at Daijuen. In that time I learned so many lessons and skills that I use every day. It also gave me an entirely different perspective on how the practice of bonsai has evolved in Japan for centuries.

In April 2014, I started as the curator of bonsai at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Having the opportunity to be the first full-time curator here at a collection of this caliber is a dream job, which comes with a lot of expectations and responsibility. During the display season (April to November), horticulturists Joe Olsen and Gabe Hutchinson provided great support in keeping the trees watered and benches looking great for our visitors. The remaining trees are kept on the south end of the Garden, in the production area. Brian Clark, manager of plant production, and his team help care for the trees on my days off. Last but not least, the support of my 12 volunteers is essential. They are a great team of dedicated people who each brings something different to the Collection. 

 Volunteer Eileen Michal working on Bonsai with Chris Baker.

Volunteer Eileen Michal working on the Collection with me.

I’m often asked what has drawn me to bonsai, and why would I pursue a career in it, with only ten or so full-time curator jobs in the entire country? For me, bonsai starts with an appreciation of nature over all things. An ancient tree has the power to move people and evoke emotion. It’s what inspired the Chinese centuries ago to take something of beauty they saw in nature and grow it in a container.

Creating bonsai takes the eye of an artist, the horticultural knowledge of a botanist, and the hands of a mechanic. I have been painting and creating art with many mediums for years. I often draw my trees prior to styling them. It allows me to see different style ideas before I even touch a single branch. I love the horticultural aspect of bonsai, from soil science, to fertilizing, to advanced techniques of grafting and air layering. To me, the mechanical aspect is fun as well. I enjoy making large bends in branches using rebar and guy wires on developmental trees, as well as doing the fine detail work for a show-quality tree. A bonsai is never finished, and the skills and knowledge of a true bonsai expert take a lifetime of study to master and fully understand all it has to offer.

Bonsai has taught me many things, introduced me to wonderful people, and taken me to places I never thought I’d see…At this point in my life, it just seems silly for me to do anything else.

 Bonsai Book

Know someone else curious about the Garden’s Bonsai Collection? Bonsai: A Patient Art makes a great gift.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

December

CLM Internship Blog - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 4:22pm

Happy holidays everyone,

Hopefully you all have plans to see family or friends for the holiday season.  I was home over Thanksgiving (Iowa) so I will not be returning for Christmas or New Years. Instead, I am opting to hit the slopes and hoping to avoid the typical crowds.  This will be possible because we have finally gotten some PRECIPITATION IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA.  The news was predicting the “storm of the decade” and went on for days about preparing to be without electricity and stocking up on food.  In the end, we had one gusty morning and then it drizzled for two days (I was unimpressed).  I was, however, thankful to see the much needed rain.  I think I saw about 8 rainbows in a single day.

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As far as work goes, I am still chipping away diligently on my restoration projects.   I have completed a draft CEQA document on my largest project, and have now begun the NEPA document.  I am simultaneously writing contracts and installing infrastructure e.g. access roads and gates at the project site.

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In between writing these documents, I am applying for a streambed alteration permit, a 401 permit, an endangered species act permit, and a 404 permit.  I can’t eat lunch in California without getting a permit first.  Having spoken to other project managers conducting large-scale restoration projects in California, I have learned that it is not uncommon for the cost of project permitting to be equal to or even more expensive than the cost of the actual project construction.

On a side note, a few months back our small staff at the Preserve constructed a barn that we had de-constructed from another BLM property in the Sierras several months earlier.  We had no instructions, just pictures and a numbering system on the parts.  Here is a final picture of the constructed barn (still standing after the “storm of the decade”).

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Goodbye Cedar City!

CLM Internship Blog - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 4:20pm

It has been quite hectic since my internship ended and it feels like I’ve taken longer than I imagined to write my final reflective post.
I am very thankful to everyone who makes the CLM internship possible at the Chicago Botanical Gardens and at BLM. It’s been an extraordinary experience. There were days full of hard work and others that were quite relaxed but there was always learning going on.
I am very happy with my experience, the people I met and the skills I gained.
Due to staff changes right before the internship, my experience is likely to have been very different than that of past interns who may have had better planned and straightforward internships. That is not necessarily a negative thing because I feel this gave me the opportunity to have a wider range of exposure to different projects and staff at the office.
One of the best experiences I had was translocating prairie dogs. I believe that the conservation issues involving prairie dogs is in need of better solutions. There is much needed cohesion between BLM and outside knowledge from other organizations and institutions. If there is anything from this experience I would like to pursue, it would be the conservation of prairie dogs and pigmy rabbits.

Some advice I would give to other interns would be to ask your mentor about participating in as many training opportunities as you can.
When starting the internship it is good to take notes and pictures when learning plants because it helps the learning process considerably.
Most importantly, encourage yourself to think outside the box and express your ideas even if it seems to go against the usual way of doing things.

Thanks again everyone for helping me make this an incredible opportunity!

Winter Northeastern California

CLM Internship Blog - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 4:18pm

Greetings from Northeastern California!

It’s finally starting to feel like winter here, as I am writing this in the middle of “The Worst Storm California has had in Years”, according to weather.com.  While it is only raining here in the valley, the nearby mountains should be getting a foot or two of snow!

I’ve been working on a few projects lately.  I am working with the ELFO hydrologist to install some stream monitoring equipment in all the streams in our field office.  The equipment we are installing measures the water temperature and the flow of the streams.  It is nice to still be out doing field-work, and I am learning a lot about hydrology from working with the hydrologist.  I did not expect to learn about hydrology when I signed up for a botany internship, but this is one of the great things about CLM: you gain experience in a lot of different areas.

Installing the equipment only takes about an hour, but getting to the locations takes some time.  Yesterday I was hiking in some dense clay mud that stuck to my boots in giant clumps.  It made hiking difficult, especially hiking over rocks, as the muddied-up boots had no grip on the rocks.  This, with a 60 pound pack full of tools and steel pipes, can make climbing into a rocky canyon quite difficult.  Nonetheless, we have successfully installed equipment at 6 streams so far.

IMG_0625 IMG_0624 IMG_0623I am also working on a project known as FIAT. (We have yet to be sued by the european car company). FIAT stands for Fire and Invasives Assessment Team.  It is an effort to improve habitat for sage grouse.  The biggest threats to sage grouse are conifer encroachment, fire, and invasive annual grasses.  This project aims at pinpointing where these threats are most prevalent, and coming up with strategies to limit their impacts.  I am helping with the GIS side of things.  I have been attending meetings at several BLM offices and helping the ELFO GIS specialist create project area polygons.  It has been interesting going to the different offices and seeing how much everyone knows about the land in their field office.

In other news, I broke my finger playing football on Thanksgiving.  It hasn’t impacted my work at all, but it has made typing this entry a bit frustrating.  The good news is, I have a doctors appointment in Reno tomorrow morning, and Reno is only 30 minutes from Mt. Rose Ski Resort, so… IM SKIING 2 FEET OF FRESH POWDER TOMORROW!!!!

 

-Sam Gersie

BLM ELFO

Susanville, CA

 

Soft and Warm

CLM Internship Blog - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 4:15pm

Landscape.Dec (1)

Over the past few days, I have been visiting sites for the first time since before the rain came and have discovered all the areas where water is pooling. What was once a dried up patchwork of bunch grass and soil is now a wetland teeming with frogs, ducks, and geese. I took some time to bird watch spotting Northern shovelers, gadwalls, mallards, great egrets, great blue heron, red-shouldered hawk, Northern harrier, and a white-tailed kite! White-tailed kites are more commonly sighted this time of year because they are less dispersed, roosting communally during the winter. Sometime their roosts can have over a hundred individuals. Northern Harriers, with their white rumps, are one of my favorite raptors to watch as they hunt low to the ground, gliding just above the tips of the grass. I also get a kick out of the great blue heron, standing perfectly still, trying to decide whether or not I can see him. And when he finally takes off, he looks disgruntled for having been bothered. For whatever reason, I personify them as being old grumpy men with something to prove. As they fly off, I imagine them saying, “I still got wings”.

It has been an enjoyable, socked in Willamette Valley Winter so far. I am fortunate I get to roam around some of the few oak woodland habitats that still exist. Everything feels so soft this time of year, the edges blurred by the fog, the moss on the trees, the soggy ground. I wonder how I would feel differently if I didn’t have a heated shelter to return to, stocked with canned goods and frozen berries. I am glad I don’t have to dig for my stashed nuts when I get hungry. Those wild animals sure make me feel soft too.

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Final Wrap Up

CLM Internship Blog - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 4:14pm

I have been working here at the Medford District BLM for just over 9 months now and my appointment is rapidly approaching its end.  I am saddened to be leaving, but with the weather becoming so nasty and the fact that the plants in the Rogue Valley are dying and going into dormancy, there wouldn’t be much for me to do even if I could stay.

The past few weeks have been slowing down.  I have been doing a lot of wrap up data entry and tying up loose ends here in the office.  There is a good chance I will be coming back next season which will be nice seeing as how I feel I really got the hang of this job and I know I will be able to hit the ground running early next spring.  Because of this potential in a renewed appointment, we have been loosely framing a plan of action for the 2015 collecting season.  I recently mapped over 12 years of Seeds of Success collections for my district and this proved to be insightful in terms of visually assessing what areas have and haven’t been targeted and hit hard with collections.  For this future collecting season we are going to target areas that have had little to no collections made, many which are located in the Illinois River Valley and along the Wild and Scenic stretch of the Rogue River.  This will be a great opportunity to explore new territories that are not so easily accessed and focus on rare and endemic serpentine plants.

Prior to this internship, my botanical knowledge was very much lacking.  Building a strong foundation of botany over the past 9 months has truly reshaped my interpretation of ecology.  It appears I have been approaching environmental settings with a major piece of the puzzle missing, and now that I have established this understanding, I can view ecosystem in a whole new cohesive light.

I am very grateful for this opportunity I have been granted with and I look forward to next year where I will be able to expand and fine tune my new skill set.  I leave you now with a few highlight photos of this field season.

Happy Winter.

Mason London

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Looking Back West

CLM Internship Blog - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 4:13pm

This blog post is a little late in the making. It always takes me a little while to reflect on a job or experience. When I originally moved out to Idaho I really struggled with a culture that I felt was much more conservative and closed-minded. I have always viewed myself as being well suited to deal with conservative rural communities despite being a very liberal leaning person from a large suburb of the Twin cities. I had never lived in an area with so much religious influence and the farms and ranching operations were quite a bit bigger than I was used to in the Midwest. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, it was my first time living out by myself and not at a bio-station or other living arrangement that often comes with technician work. These factors challenged me throughout the season although I got used to them quickly. Like a lot of challenges, they turned out to be excellent living experiences. While I don’t miss the general mindset of the state, I did become accustomed to it, and feel that a prevailing culture is not a reason to avoid an area, but it does make things harder. IMG_0106IMG_0110IMG_0165

Looking back there were many challenges and learning experiences. Some of the obvious ones were learning new skills and sampling techniques, becoming familiar with the area and culture, and learning how to manage a crew, even a small one. The not so obvious ones included living in a new place, finding the energy outside of work to explore, exploring the surrounding Idaho, and personal and professional challenges with coworkers. A lot of these were really difficult and often left me drained or unhappy. But in retrospect, the best place to be looking at them from, these challenges are the most important things I’ll take out of this internship. The places, events, and people that challenged me will be the teachers I have to learn from.
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I enjoyed a lot about my time in Idaho. As I drive around my home town I realize that often I’m not seeing the streets in front of me, but a mental map of Twin Falls, with all the landmarks I’d come to know, is projected on top of what’s actually in front of me. I look at old pictures and miss the beauty and smell of sagebrush, the shape of buttes and foothills, and the giant canyons that gave the landscape its surprise and drama. I can’t imagine that Twin Falls would ever become a permanent home, the landscape is settled into my heart and I would dearly like to spend more time there. I had a lot of fun and came away with several wonderful friends and one of the most important friends I’ve ever had. I was able to take trips in nearby states and see some amazing things I didn’t know existed. If the chance ever arises, go to Dinosaur National Monument.
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My internship expanded my skillset and gave me the opportunities to build confidence in many different ways, particularly in trusting my own judgment and knowing that I don’t know as much as I think I do, but that’s ok. I have a wider range of tools at my disposal both internally and externally. The opportunity to work with other people in my office and in other offices such as the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, allowed me the chance to ask many questions and see the topic of management through many different lenses. The internship also helped define what I’m interested in doing in the future. It reaffirmed that I wish to go into management, but helped me better understand in what possible capacities and what areas definitely aren’t of interest. This has been a fantastic experience that I am so lucky to have had.
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The Long Road Home

Plant Science and Conservation - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 9:15am

Golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta) is gaining ground in its native Oregon for the first time in more than 80 years. Recent reintroductions have seen the charismatic species flourish on its historic prairie landscape. To keep the momentum going, scientists are pulling out all the stops to ensure that the new populations are robust enough to endure.

“Genetic variability will be key to the reintroduction success of golden paintbrush,” explained Adrienne Basey, graduate student in the plant biology and conservation program of the Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University.

 Golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta).

Golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta) growing in propagation beds in Oregon. Photo by Tom Kaye

Basey, who previously managed a native plant nursery, is now studying the genetic diversity of golden paintbrush plants before, during, and after they are grown in a nursery prior to reintroduction to the wild.

“My work is looking at the DNA, or genetics, of the wild, nursery, and reintroduction populations to see if there is any change through that process,” she said. If there is a change, she will develop recommendations for adjusting the selection and growing process to better preserve diversity. “My goal is to give both researchers and practitioners more information to work with,” she noted.

Building for the Future

The research is unique in the relatively young field of restoration science, according to Basey’s co-advisor and molecular ecologist at the Garden, Jeremie Fant, Ph.D. “Adrienne’s study is awesome because of the fact that it has data and the samples to back it up; it is early on in this game of reintroductions and restorations, and potentially could have a lot of impact, not just for that species but what we tell nurseries in the future,” he said.

 Adrienne Basey with herbarium specimens.

Basey works with herbarium specimens

Basey is working with data collected over the past decade by research scientists at the Institute for Applied Ecology in Corvallis, Oregon, and University of Washington herbarium specimens from Washington and Oregon dating as far back as the 1890s, and data she has collected from existing plants during field work. “It’s a perfect partnership,” said Dr. Fant, who noted that the Garden is guiding the molecular aspect of the study while colleagues in Washington and Oregon are providing a large portion of the data and samples.

The availability of all of this information on a single species that is undergoing restoration is very rare, explained Fant. “It’s a very unique scenario that she has there, so we can look at how diversity changes as we go from step to step and hopefully identify any potential issues and where they are occurring in the process.”

The study itself will likely serve as a research model for other species in the future. “There isn’t much research out there to help propagators understand when and where genetic diversity may be lost during the production process,” said Basey’s co-advisor and conservation scientist at the Garden, Andrea Kramer, Ph.D.

Last year, Basey, Fant, and Kramer worked together to write a paper outlining ten rules to maximize and maintain genetic diversity in nursery settings. “My goal is to support reintroduction efforts by informing nursery practices and demonstrate to nurseries on a broader scale how their practices can influence genetic diversity through a single case study,” said Basey.

A Green Light Ahead

Her preliminary research is focused on four golden paintbrush populations. Early evaluations show clear distinctions between a few of them, which is good news. Basey will next compare those genetic patterns to those of plants in reintroduction sites.

According to Fant, earlier studies by other researchers have shown that many restoration efforts for threatened species suffer from low levels of genetic diversity prior to reintroduction, due to a number of causes ranging from a small population size at the outset to issues in propagation. It is critical to work around those issues, he explained, as the more genetic diversity maintained in a population, the better equipped it is to survive environmental changes from drought to temperature shifts.

Basey will also compare the current level of diversity of golden paintbrush to that of its historic populations, to get a better sense of what the base level should be for reintroduction success. She plans to wrap up her lab work well before her summer 2015 graduation date.

 A golden paintbrush is visited by its primary pollinator, a bumblebee.

A golden paintbrush is visited by its primary pollinator, a bumblebee.

For now, she is pleased with the level of diversity she sees in the current population. “I think the fact that it has a high genetic diversity means that these reintroductions could be successful,” she said. “But if we are creating a bottleneck, we need to know that so we can mitigate it as quickly as possible.” (A bottleneck is an event that eliminates a large portion of genetic variability in a population.)

Fant is enthusiastic about the timing of the study as the field of restoration is taking off. “We can jump in early as programs are being started,” he noted. “If we all learn together, I think it really does ensure that everyone gets what they need in the end.”

For Basey, it’s about building a bridge between the theoretical and the applied aspects of restoration. “My interest isn’t so much in this single species but more in the communication of science to practitioners. I like to bridge the line between research and the people who are using research,” she said.

Basey, like the golden paintbrush, is looking toward a bright future.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Long Road Home

Garden Blog - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 9:15am

Golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta) is gaining ground in its native Oregon for the first time in more than 80 years. Recent reintroductions have seen the charismatic species flourish on its historic prairie landscape. To keep the momentum going, scientists are pulling out all the stops to ensure that the new populations are robust enough to endure.

“Genetic variability will be key to the reintroduction success of golden paintbrush,” explained Adrienne Basey, graduate student in the plant biology and conservation program of the Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University.

 Golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta).

Golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta) growing in propagation beds in Oregon. Photo by Tom Kaye

Basey, who previously managed a native plant nursery, is now studying the genetic diversity of golden paintbrush plants before, during, and after they are grown in a nursery prior to reintroduction to the wild.

“My work is looking at the DNA, or genetics, of the wild, nursery, and reintroduction populations to see if there is any change through that process,” she said. If there is a change, she will develop recommendations for adjusting the selection and growing process to better preserve diversity. “My goal is to give both researchers and practitioners more information to work with,” she noted.

Building for the Future

The research is unique in the relatively young field of restoration science, according to Basey’s co-advisor and molecular ecologist at the Garden, Jeremie Fant, Ph.D. “Adrienne’s study is awesome because of the fact that it has data and the samples to back it up; it is early on in this game of reintroductions and restorations, and potentially could have a lot of impact, not just for that species but what we tell nurseries in the future,” he said.

 Adrienne Basey with herbarium specimens.

Basey works with herbarium specimens

Basey is working with data collected over the past decade by research scientists at the Institute for Applied Ecology in Corvallis, Oregon, and University of Washington herbarium specimens from Washington and Oregon dating as far back as the 1890s, and data she has collected from existing plants during field work. “It’s a perfect partnership,” said Dr. Fant, who noted that the Garden is guiding the molecular aspect of the study while colleagues in Washington and Oregon are providing a large portion of the data and samples.

The availability of all of this information on a single species that is undergoing restoration is very rare, explained Fant. “It’s a very unique scenario that she has there, so we can look at how diversity changes as we go from step to step and hopefully identify any potential issues and where they are occurring in the process.”

The study itself will likely serve as a research model for other species in the future. “There isn’t much research out there to help propagators understand when and where genetic diversity may be lost during the production process,” said Basey’s co-advisor and conservation scientists at the Garden, Andrea Kramer, Ph.D.

Last year, Basey, Fant, and Kramer worked together to write a paper outlining ten rules to maximize and maintain genetic diversity in nursery settings. “My goal is to support reintroduction efforts by informing nursery practices and demonstrate to nurseries on a broader scale how their practices can influence genetic diversity through a single case study,” said Basey.

A Green Light Ahead

Her preliminary research is focused on four golden paintbrush populations. Early evaluations show clear distinctions between a few of them, which is good news. Basey will next compare those genetic patterns to those of plants in reintroduction sites.

According to Fant, earlier studies by other researchers have shown that many restoration efforts for threatened species suffer from low levels of genetic diversity prior to reintroduction, due to a number of causes ranging from a small population size at the outset to issues in propagation. It is critical to work around those issues, he explained, as the more genetic diversity maintained in a population, the better equipped it is to survive environmental changes from drought to temperature shifts.

Basey will also compare the current level of diversity of golden paintbrush to that of its historic populations, to get a better sense of what the base level should be for reintroduction success. She plans to wrap up her lab work well before her summer 2015 graduation date.

 A golden paintbrush is visited by its primary pollinator, a bumblebee.

A golden paintbrush is visited by its primary pollinator, a bumblebee.

For now, she is pleased with the level of diversity she sees in the current population. “I think the fact that it has a high genetic diversity means that these reintroductions could be successful,” she said. “But if we are creating a bottleneck, we need to know that so we can mitigate it as quickly as possible.” (A bottleneck is an event that eliminates a large portion of genetic variability in a population.)

Fant is enthusiastic about the timing of the study as the field of restoration is taking off. “We can jump in early as programs are being started,” he noted. “If we all learn together, I think it really does ensure that everyone gets what they need in the end.”

For Basey, it’s about building a bridge between the theoretical and the applied aspects of restoration. “My interest isn’t so much in this single species but more in the communication of science to practitioners. I like to bridge the line between research and the people who are using research,” she said.

Basey, like the golden paintbrush, is looking toward a bright future.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Winter (or lack thereof) in southern Oregon

CLM Internship Blog - Wed, 12/10/2014 - 2:39pm

Greetings from southern Oregon where it’s still slowly cooling down, but not enough in my opinion. Growing up here, I remember a lot colder, rainier winters, and times when the local ski area would be open by now, but alas, there’s not even an inch on the mountain. Last year was a very bad drought for southern Oregon as well as northern California and it’s not looking much better. Last year was the lowest snow measured since the Forest Service started measuring snow pack here fifty years ago. All I want to do is hit the slopes, but it looks like I’ll have to travel a little farther for that this year. The local, seasonal outdoor ice rink where I’m a hockey instructor is even struggling due to the above average temperatures. Maybe someday it’ll get cooler.

Recently I’ve been doing a lot of GIS analysis for the RMP here. Kind of slowing down a bit. The highlight as of late is attending the American Exploration and Mining Conference in Reno, Nevada last week. I was able to attend technical sessions, meet folks from industry, as well as from other federal agencies. With that, I’ll leave you some sweet pictures of my days in the woods and some bonus nice looking gold.

 

Wagner Butte in the distance and some north slope snow

Wagner Butte in the distance and some north slope snow

Nevada gold!

Nevada gold!

View from Hobart Bluff

View from Hobart Bluff

Mt. Shasta, California

Mt. Shasta, California

More scurfpeas and a new species in the Las Cruces District

CLM Internship Blog - Wed, 12/10/2014 - 2:32pm

Greetings world,

As of 2008 there were only two known populations of Pediomelum pentaphyllum, one in southwestern New Mexico and one in southeastern Arizona. Other populations had been reported in the past, but either could not be found in recent surveys or had sufficiently vague localities that no one was really sure where to search. I mentioned one of those vague localities in a previous post here, a Mexican Boundary Survey specimen that was collected in the general vicinity of the Rio Grande somewhere between Doña Ana and Big Bend. It could be in New Mexico, Texas or Chihuahua–good luck! In 2008, Pediomelum pentaphyllum was petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act based, in part, on this very limited distribution. Here’s an approximate map of the known populations in 2008:

Over the next few years, more searches were made. My first, very brief, work with the BLM was one of these, wandering around for a couple of weeks and finding all kinds of fun plants but no Pediomelum pentaphyllum whatsoever. A couple of botanists in Arizona (Marc Baker and Laura Pavliscak) did succeed in finding a couple of new populations (or one bigger population, depending on how you want to look at it; “population” is essentially an undefined term!), though. So, that puts us up to threeish populations:

However, this year either conditions were better, the botanists conducting surveys were better, or (most likely) we were just plain lucky! More populations in Arizona and New Mexico were found by myself, Joneen Cockman of the Safford Field Office, and our associated field crews. I don’t know how you might count the number of populations at this point but the gist is there are a fair number of them–and more being found, last I heard from Joneen! Pediomelum pentaphyllum is starting to look a bit less rare:

Just in case you’ve forgotten what Pediomelum pentaphyllum looks like, here are a few more pictures of it:

And here’s what the habitat looks like for several of the new populations. Try spotting the Pediomelum pentaphyllum–there’s at least one in each photo!

I think we’re starting to get a better idea of the habitat Pediomelum pentaphyllum likes. All of the new populations found this year were in loose, sandy soil with Prosopis glandulosa and “other shrubs”. The other shrubs could be Artemisia filifolia, Atriplex canescens, Atriplex polycarpa, Lycium pallidum, or Larrea tridentata–but in any case it’s not just our typical boring mesquite shrubland. Hopefully, as we continue to refine our idea of good Pediomelum pentaphyllum habitat, we’ll be able to keep finding more populations and have a better idea of where it isn’t going to be found as well. I also learned this year that some populations of Pediomelum pentaphyllum are guarded by Crotalus scutulatus:

The other exciting development here is that Nerisyrenia hypercorax, a new species we (Michael Moore, Norm Douglas, Helga Ochoterena, Hilda Flores-Olvera, and I) discovered last year on the west side of the Guadalupe Mountains, has been published in the Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas. There’s also an episode of Plants are Cool, Too! that includes this species. Nerisyrenia hypercorax is a gypsophile, meaning it occurs only on soils high in hydrated calcium sulfate, a.k.a. gypsum. As you may have guessed from my post about Alkali Lakes, gypsum in New Mexico is home to a whole slew of rare plants and makes for excellent botanizing–at least, provided you avoid some of the worst of summer heat, which seems to be amplified on gypseous soils! We keep finding new species on gypsum–Michael Howard, our soon-to-be-retired state botanist, found another new gypsophilic plant (Linum allredii) just a couple years ago. And, of course, I have pictures of Nerisyrenia hypercorax:

And of its habitat:

Big Bear Lake, Nov-Dec

CLM Internship Blog - Wed, 12/10/2014 - 2:28pm

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It has been a busy but fairly quiet month.  I’ve been inside entering data, doing herbarium work, and working on data cleaning projects.  It doesn’t make for facinating blogging, but it’s interesting work.  There’s a lot of troubleshooting involved, which I really enjoy.  It’s also a great sense of accomplishment to see all of this season’s new rare plant finds, weed mapping, and rare species monitoring get inputted into our database.     

I will be shifting focus in January in order to work for the restoration program.  In preparation for the change, I’ve been spending time with folks in the program.  Throughout the summer, I’ve helped out with the program here and there, working with volunteers on National Public Lands day and helping with planting projects.  However, there’s a lot left to learn.  I will be doing greenhouse work, working at restoration sites, and helping to write grants for following years’ restoration work. 

Pictured is Eriastrum sapphirinium, in flower on October 7 near Jenks Lake.   

Mountaintop Ranger District

San Bernardino National Forest

Farewell Carson City, your company has been delightful…

CLM Internship Blog - Tue, 12/09/2014 - 4:40pm

Hello friends. This is my last post about my CLM internship 2014. Since the last one many things have happened and there is a lot to tell, share, and express this time. October and November both were super busy with wrapping things up and still having SOS program running. Primarily because of Great Basin vegetation peculiarities, a big part of native species actually seed out in middle and late autumn, which happen to be our last months here. We all managed it well, with a team of eight people we were able to accomplish a lot. Eventually we’ve made way more collections than the average number of collections since 2004. Unfortunately we, as probably all SOS teams, didn’t get any feedback right away.  But of course we hope that all our collections are of a good quality and will be useful for many-many purposes.

With all trips that we made for seed collection we also had to prepare an annual report, just as the whole field office does, about our time being here, what we’ve done and what we could have done better – sort of an overview of 2014 program. It was fun and interesting.  We really felt like part of a field office team and that we played an important part in the office’s life. It was a funny period of time, when you have a few weeks to go but there is a ton of ideas where to go, what to collect, what is the most important to do and so on… It is certainly sad, that we didn’t get to do everything that we thought about, but at the same time it is good to stop and move on. There is always something that you lack time for or would like to have “just a week more”, so it is a good idea to stop at some point having a little bit of time to wrap things up.

In general, it has been an incredible time. This was my first summer our in the west and I must say that it was incredible. From the very beginning of my time here I felt like this part of the world is unique and being a botanist here is just a lucky occurrence for myself. And regardless of the fact that we all have learned a solid number of species and biology of local flora, you never feel like it is enough. The nature is so diverse, the transition between Great Basin and the Sierras is indeed incredible. These two huge ecoregions for botanists provide something unknown and interesting every time you are outside. Our team spent truly a lot of time in the field and it is one of the things that I’m very grateful for. Overall it was a great experience with exceptionally bright and positive moments and I know that such memories I will never loose. Again, we had a wonderful team in Carson City and I’m thankful for the work shared fun time spent together to all my friends – Alex, Andrew, Ari, Mary, Ethan, Laura, and Rebecca. Special thanks of course to Dean – our mentor for whom it was not easy to manage such a big team but turned out really well – I’m very glad that that I was part of CLM 2014 Carson City botany team.

Andrii

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Beautiful Great Basin (Boundary Peak on the horizon)

Wet Wetland Winter

CLM Internship Blog - Tue, 12/09/2014 - 4:36pm
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We have been seeing a lot of cool looking mushrooms pop up in the prairies.

Well it took a little longer than usual, but the moisture finally settled in the Willamette Valley and the thirsty prairie pools have been filling up, attracting flying V’s of waterfowl and inviting new green life to proliferate.  It is this time of year when we start to see more grey than blue, but there is something warm and inviting about the misty mountain tops.  And while the hardwoods have dropped their colors, the rivers grow more colorful with the silver backs of Chinook, Coho, and Steelhead.  It is always a relief and a rush of joy to see them return to spawn after facing the endless gauntlet of polluted water, damns, fisherman, degraded steam habitat, aquaculture parasites and diseases, and predators.

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Here is a burn treatment adjacent to a shade cloth treatment planted with Kincaid’s Lupine.

So, we have been dodging the rain, making quick attempts at spreading native seed. Soggy handfuls of seed make it hard to disperse evenly.  But none the less, we successfully seeded all the prairies that were control burned earlier this fall.  This past week, we spent several days with a youth crew planting starts, pulling weeds, planting willow stakes, and installing shade cloth.

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Willow Stakes planted by youth crew.

Glaciers and Caribou

CLM Internship Blog - Tue, 12/09/2014 - 4:35pm

Hello fellow interns,

Winter has arrived, albeit rather mildly.  I’ve yet to experience a true Fairbanks chill as the November temperatures have been rather uncharacteristically warm (daytime temperatures usually in the teens) with the exception of one -7ºF day.  Warmer yet in the hills as they are above the infamous temperature inversion that traps cold air (and air pollution) in the valley.  ’Freeze up’ is in progress on the Chena River in town and trees are coated with ice and frost, reflecting light magnificently and resembling gravity-defying chandeliers.  ’Termination dust’ has fallen and although Fairbanksians curse it for halting summer activities, they soon change their tune and curse Mother Nature for not providing enough for winter activities like skiing.

Mid-November freeze up in progress along Chena River.

Mid-November freeze up in progress along Chena River.

In the office, I’ve been working on tracking down lots of past invasive plant species data, cleaning it up, and getting it ready to submit to AKEPIC (The Alaska Exotic Plants Information Clearinghouse).

I’ve also been still working away at identifying plant specimens from our office and over the past few weeks I’ve had the pleasure of going to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks to compare our specimens with those in their herbarium.  This has been a really fun and valuable process for me as I’ve been able to see a larger scale herbarium in action and be around and get advice and identification help from some very talented botanists.   We thought we might have a rare plant Arnica lonchophylla amongst our specimens, but alas it turned out to be the more common Arnica angustifolia ssp. tomentosa. Although an admittedly intermediate specimen, as verified by one of the herbarium’s very talented pseudo-retired botanists.  I’ve also really enjoyed this experience as it has allowed me a glimpse into the academia side of things.  It has been very interesting and enlightening to be able to compare and contrast these two very different worlds.

The biggest recent happenings, however, occurred in late October when I was able to go to Anchorage for the annual Invasive Plant Conference!  The conference was a really amazing opportunity to witness and experience the full scope of the invasive species management community across Alaska.  I was able to meet, talk with, get advice from, share management successes/failures with, strategize and laugh with people from all over the state who work for all different types of organizations and agencies.  Not to mention learn a lot from many great lectures, presentations and workshops.

I was also able to visit with my Anchorage CLM counterparts Bonnie and Charlotte, complete with some time on the Matanuska Glacier!

All in all, a great week in Anchorage.

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December has brought even milder temperatures in the 20s (what the heck Fairbanks?!) and more AKEPIC and plant ID work.

I also had the opportunity to drive north to Central, AK to monitor the winter caribou hunt along with some peers from Alaska Department of Fish and Game.  After a nasty drive across Eagle Summit in nearly white-out conditions we arrived at a very cold Central field station.  One heater malfunction, one rented ‘hotel’ room and several greasy meals later we were able to comfortably sleep in the field station. The next few days were spent driving along the Steese Highway checking hunters’ permits and licenses as they emerged from the surrounding hills on snow machines towing caribou.  The hunt was remarkably civil with no citations written and no fist fights or shots fired between hunters (apparently this civil-ness is quite a rarity).  The scenery was breath-taking as usual: rolling hills of snow dotted with the black silhouettes of spruce trees.  Certain portions of the road looked like a moonscape of pure white snow with no vegetation in site.  Something you would see in Antarctica (or Mann’s planet from Interstellar).  Mornings before sunrise (i.e. before 9:15 AM) and evenings after sunset (i.e. after 3:45 PM) were spent at the Steese Roadhouse for more greasy fare.  It is the sole restaurant, general store, and gas station in Central.  After one day of hunt monitoring weather forecasts started predicting some ominous snow storms, and thus, with the hunt slowing down and weather on the way we left on the second (and last) day of the hunt and headed back to Fairbanks for fear of being snowed in.

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Us monitoring the caribou hunt along the Steese Highway.

Hope all you CLM interns still on board are having a great winter!

Katie

Fairbanks, AK

 

 

 

Baby, it’s not so cold outside…

CLM Internship Blog - Tue, 12/09/2014 - 4:30pm

Whelp, it’s been a balmy 45 degrees here in Taos. About ten degrees higher than normal. No snow. No ice. Just mud. I have to use four wheel drive just to get up my road, then do some Tokyo drift moves to get in my driveway before the tires finally grip gravel. My dog, who is white, insists on running through all the mud he can find and tracking it through the house, finally depositing what’s left on his feet in the bed. I wake in the middle of the night to dried mud nuggets between the sheets. On the plus side, I can make a small fire before bed, and it’s still relatively warm in the morning.

Otherwise, there’s not much to report. Attempting to orchestrate some community groups for weed removal and eventual re-seeding. And up to my eyeballs in NEPA…. I think I have about five different projects going on, two of which I’m starting from scratch. I’ll be sure to report on them once I’ve removed the subsequent gray hairs…

With that, Happy Chrismahanakwanzsolistikah!

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It can be lonely, oh so lonely…but, that’s OK-I got field work!

CLM Internship Blog - Tue, 12/09/2014 - 4:29pm

Hello fellow CLM-ers!

I know many of you live in remote areas of the country.  I live in a town of 4500, which is small, but it’s still suburbia nonetheless.  I have the library, gym, grocery stores, and restaurants to keep me busy if need-be.  Also, the Big Horn Mountains are right here for adventures.  But with all the other interns gone it’s kind of lonely.

Let me elaborate, this summer I had 2 room mates and 4 friends outside the homestead. We hung out all the time! Exploring the area, traveling around the state or to Colorado and South Dakota, we exercised together (Ms. J. Pastick), went to conferences together and then worked together! A lot of ‘we’ time. Well…that is no longer.

My time in Buffalo became quiet very quickly. Initially, I didn’t want to just enjoy it, so I turned to the office to get that socializing ‘fix’ I need, as if it’s a drug. I worked with range-land conservationists, wildlife biologists, environmental policy specialists, natural resource specialists, and the recreation planner (she’s fantastic, a lot of personality, and very admirable). As you can see, there is a lot of networking to be had in this office. Then, after work I went to a co-workers house for dinner and look at these great leftovers!

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Then, the moment of truth-a field day to myself!!! (queue the music-dun dun dun).

I started to worry for me, thinking I would lose some sort of character I’ve obtained through socializing all these years and all this time in Buffalo.  I know this seems irrational, mainly because it’s only 1 day, and that our line of work (botany, wildlife, and forestry) requires independent field work. In my defense, here at the BFO we haven’t had any solo field days! We’ve always gone out in groups-always.

So, I went out there…gulp….by myself….and….IT WAS AWESOME!  I hadn’t realized how independent I can be.  I drove an hour out, then onto snow covered secondary roads, made a radio call into the office every now and then, went up hills and through valleys.  Then I came to a funky gate that looked difficult.  I decided I shouldn’t open it for fear I couldn’t close it on my own.  So, I parked the truck and walked in a mile.  On my hike, I saw wildlife tracks in the snow, heard bird calls, appreciated the view (see below), and sang to myself.  It was nice.  Not terribly different from being with my co-workers, yet in the same respect, I was alone!

snow!

To all of you interns out there dreading this day-fear not! It’s worth it.  It might even be something to push for if you haven’t already had the experience. On another note, I realized the truck I was using didn’t have chains for the tires or kitty litter. Then, I realized I don’t know what sort of snow conditions would make me want to use the chains.  I don’t know how to put them on either.  I watched a video once, but it’s more memorable to do it yourself. So, that’ll be another project this week.  Yay, more work!

I haven’t talked about science at all in this blog. So…let me talk about my project with the Powder River Basin Restoration Initiative (PRBRI).  Utilizing GIS, I use the buffalo field office layer, than add Greater sage-grouse core and connectivity layer, within those parameters I add the fire perimeter layer and pick a historic fire.  Call the lessee or land owner by looking up their information in the physical range files (billing history).  I double check this information online because sometimes a person has changed ranch hands. Possibly a death in the family or old age. I don’t want to call a landowner and them tell me, “oh, that was my mother-she died.” After I receive permission, I ask for best road access and conditions, inquire about locked gates and the fire. Also, I give a time frame of when to expect me on the property.

I print out maps that include the following details; coordinates, township, range, section, ownership, basement and topography (separate maps), prairie dog towns, fire perimeter, roads w/ names (if available), well #’s (for locating purposes), and fence line (if available). I print out my comprehensive field form. This may take 1-2 hours to assemble, print, and organize.

For mobilizing, I grab 2 GPS units with backup batteries, uploaded maps, and Terrasync technology.  Also, make sure the updated data dictionary has been installed.  Grab UTM’s for road access. Don reflective vest, warm clothing, bring back-up warm clothing, gators, and hand/foot warmers. Check out on white-board, grab a field buddy, and field vehicle.

Now, ready for the field-whoopeee!!  In the field, ALOT of time is spent going to and fro, then traveling down secondary or two-track roads-safely, to get to your destination.  Once I find my historic fire, I hike up to the top of the tallest mound.  This is to get a good vantage point.  In the fall, I can easily use ocular estimation to determine cheatgrass infestation-it is whitish compared to say crested wheatgrass. Then I’ll walk a transect of the fire, taking a vegetation inventory as I go, and mapping distinct areas of cheatgrass infestation, juniper, and sage brush revival.

That’s all for now folks!

Green!

CLM Internship Blog - Tue, 12/09/2014 - 4:25pm

The rain has finally come to California and it’s amazing! As many of you know California has been in a sever drought. We have been struggling to keep planted native plants alive on restoration sites this past year on Fort Ord and seeing rain falling from the sky was like seeing little orbs of life making their way to the earth.

What a transformation. When I started my internship at Fort Ord it was the middle of the Summer and most of the grasses (invasive and native) had dropped their seeds and had started to turn brown. The only green I saw on Fort Ord was from the Oak Trees and and the evergreen maritime chaparral plants (Chemis, Ceanthus, Manzanita). The grasslands have just exploded with green little seedling and it has been a beautiful experience. I have learned a lot with my mentor going out and botonizing. Pulling up seedings and identifying the seed casing still attached. The wildlife has been so active also. After the first rain we got, I saw 7 bobcats (I might have seen one or two twice) in one day! Before that I had only seen 3 over a four month period. The birds are out and about foraging and for a birder like me there is nothing better! Even the herps have been making their way out. I’m hearing frogs croaking and seeing salamanders wandering the paths. Oh, and the insects have been crawling around in droves. Centipedes and beetles have been teeming around the ground. It’s been a struggle trying to avoid smashing them.

I just find it so amazing to have been able to experience this! I love animals and wildlife and it makes me so happy to be able to see the changes and the life that rain brings. I hope we get a lot more because we really need it!

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Cheers,
Manny

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