Jumpin’ round June

Greetings from your favorite botanist, Mack, in the Methow Valley! June has been the busiest month yet up here in the North Cascades from trees to birds to wilderness survival and more. I’m attempting to write this blog earlier than I normally do since the last week of the month will be chalk full of exciting field trips!

Tree Time

Trees have and always will be a major part of working at the forest service (it’s not the “office service” after all). As a botanist, most of my work with trees is related to rare species, ecological associations, and habitat restoration. I’ve been learning a bit more about the fuels and timber side of the forest service from coworkers which has been very informative. Tree related activities this month have included a hazardous tree training class I took to learn more about how dead or injured trees are risk-rated to determine whether they should be removed for safety or left as potential wildlife habitat.

Earlier in the month I was out with one of the silviculturists assessing aspen stand regrowth. One of the projects in the Pacific Northwest has been removing the majority of conifers, instead of just standard thinning, around aspen trees to reduce conifer encroachment and promote the growth of aspen groves to increase habitat and foraging for other species. I won’t get into all of the science and research behind it now, but it’s working! Some of the plots we surveyed had over 100 baby aspens in 1/40th acre, and those areas were treated just under two years ago. Exciting!

In my spare time, I was riding my bike around some of the trails and decided to peek in one of the burn scars where I helped the silviculture crew with replanting a few months ago. I was very happy to see our restoration efforts look like they’re working as many of our seedlings were doing well! The little douglas fir pictured below has grown several inches since we planted it.

Still snowin’

To no one’s surprise, the weather has been all over the place from 80+ degrees Fahrenheit to freezing temperatures and snowing! While access to high-elevation areas has certainly improved, we’ve still had to hold off on most of our whitebark pine surveys due to snowpack. In my free time on the other hand, I’ve been enjoying exploring more of the nearby alpine areas by hiking up in the Rainy Pass area and off the Twisp River. It’s been fun to see plant successional patterns while hiking up from the warmer, lower elevations to the colder, higher areas where glacier lilies and other species I haven’t seen in the valley since mid-March are still blooming.

Another month, another batch of flowers

One of my favorite things about botany is the seasonality of it, and how exciting it is every year to see new and old plant friends show up each month. This is my first year living in Washington and it’s been really fun to see what familiar faces grow in this region and what new characters I’m meeting for the first time. The forest understory is bursting in color right now (happy pride from mother nature!) between the pinks of fireweed and wild roses; reds and oranges of paintbrushes; yellow of wild sunflowers, lomatiums, and heart leafed arnica; many shades of green from all the different foliage; blues and purples of forget-me-nots, penstemons, and lupines; the white of lady slippers, solomon’s seal, lewis’s mock orange, mariposa lilies, and all the Apiaceae (carrot family) species; and the beautiful brown hues of chocolate lilies. Stunning!

Creatures, mostly small

June has been a great month for reptiles, insects, and birds. I’m not nearly as well versed in wildlife biology as I am with plants, but I can definitely appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of all the amazing critters that live out here. One of my favorite finds was the rubber boa my friend and I stumbled across mid-bike ride. I scooped up the lil’ guy and he decided that I was very warm and wanted to be my new bracelet. As tempted as I was to keep him, after much coaxing I eventually managed to get him back in the grass. For the bird nerds out there, I didn’t manage to get any photos but saw my first common poorwill! Such a cute night bird. Other fun friends spotted this month include nighthawks, goshawks, black-backed woodpeckers, williamson’s sapsucker,s and calliope hummingbirds!

As a graduate, I thought I was done with exams?!

Trainings, tests, and more! The less glamorous (but still important) side of botany is weed management and it was a bit of an ordeal this month to get my pesticide applicators license. After studying Washington’s laws and safety regulations, learning about the different types of weed management and pesticide safety and efficay, a long drive to Spokane, and a few hours in a room filling out a scantron bubble exam (haven’t done that in years) I passed my certification tests yay! Very glad I don’t have to drive the 7 hrs roundtrip to Spokane in the foreseeable future.

I also participated in a TESP-IS FACTS training, which is a lot of anagrams for the system the forest service uses to keep track of our rare and invasive plant populations, surveys, treatments, etc. Lots of computer time but very helpful.

Another course I took was a Wilderness First Aid class (I still need to take the extra exam to recertify my Wilderness First Responder eek) with a bunch of my coworkers to help keep everyone safe in the backcountry! The instructor was very into the fake blood and acting (which made it feel a bit like theater class at times). It was a very engaging and informative class, and we even got to dirty and clean wounds from pigs feet in one of the scenarios.

Hope y’all are doing well and enjoyed the blog :) tune in for more adventures next month!

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