Tag: nature

Missing the Weeds

(All of the photos included in this post are from a visit we made one Saturday in February to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. That visit helped spur some of these thoughts.)

When I taught the weeds lab at USU I would (somewhat) jokingly tell people that this class would change their life. And year after year by the end of the semester students would tell me that the class had indeed ruined changed their life; they couldn’t go anywhere without seeing weeds. I would tell them – like I’m telling you now – that it really isn’t such a bad thing. I’m always noticing and pointing them out wherever I go. Weeds are fascinating plants, and the study of them is interesting work.

We saw a bald eagle while we were parked and enjoying our “car picnic”; i.e., a picnic in the car because 28 F is too darn cold to be picnicking outside.

Each year at this time there is a Western Society of Weed Science (WSWS) Conference. I attended the conference for 7 years, presenting on various research projects I had been involved in, and I’m feeling a little sad about not being there this year. So, if you’ll indulge me, I’ll take some time here to talk about some of the work that I’ve found most interesting during my years as a weed science researcher.

While I can identify and tell you about many weeds of landscape and agricultural settings, my real expertise is in weeds of natural areas. One of my major focuses was weed mapping; detecting and then describing weed infestations in a spatial/visual manner – a map. When explaining the idea of weed mapping to others we often compare it to a medical diagnosis and treatment. Without having the proper diagnosis (a weed map telling you what weeds you have and where they are located) it is hard, if not impossible, to prescribe an appropriate treatment (management plant).

Tundra swans! (With some phragmites, a problematic weed in areas like this, in the foreground.)

My weed identification skills are much better than my bird identification skills, but I’m 99% certain this is a great blue heron.

Over the years the USU weed science group has worked with the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on weed mapping projects. And through it all, the aim was never to just create maps to give back to these agencies, but to also improve our methods. How can we be more efficient, yet still effective? How do emerging technologies – like drones – play into the detection process? How do we know which species we should focus our efforts on? And how can we know where to focus our searches so we’re using limited budgets wisely?

In a joint project with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we attempted to answer some of those questions. Throughout that process I got to work at four different wildlife refuges: San Diego NWR, Middle Mississippi NWR, Ruby Lake NWR, and the San Juan Islands NWR. In addition to those visits, I also got to travel and conduct workshops at three other refuges (Kern NWR, San Pablo Bay NWR, and Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes NWR) teaching them how to use the decision-making tool we’d developed.

One of the ways the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge manages the land – both for managing weeds as well as for desired vegetation for bird habitat – is through burning and seasonal flooding.

Each of those refuges had their own challenges – the San Juan Islands, for example, are islands and only some-what accessible, even with a boat – but they all had one thing in common. At each refuge we met passionate scientists, dedicated to making their little corner of the world, and the land in their stewardship, better. And that interaction with other scientists is probably what I miss most about not working full-time any more. And it is definitely what I miss most this week when many of my former colleagues are at the WSWS meetings.

In the meantime, I’ll keep noticing and pointing out the weeds (and whatever other plants catch my eye). And I’ll keep spending time in those natural areas I have come to love even more through knowing their weeds.

The (vivacious, spunky, energetic) reason I don’t currently work full-time as a weeds researcher. Watching her learn and explore the world is worth missing all the conferences.

Garden Tour: Mountain Crest High School Outdoor Classroom

You can find previous Garden Tours here and here.

This Garden Tour is a bit late in coming to you. I don’t really know what happened, except life, I guess. My little buddy and I went exploring our new neighborhood shortly after we moved in, and now, a full two months later, I’m finally getting around to sharing this little gem we discovered – the Mountain Crest High School Outdoor Classroom. Continue reading

Discovering Seeds

This post originally appeared on Gardening Know How as an invited guest blog. The version here is the same, with the addition of a couple more photos.

I have long been fascinated by seeds, as my elementary school self with her shoebox full of horse-chestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanum) can attest. It turns out this fascination served me well when I became a graduate student. As part of my research on different methods to control downy brome (Bromus tectorum), I counted thousands and thousands of downy brome seeds to document the effects of those different methods. If you’ve ever wondered what a plant science graduate student does, you can bet that counting seeds is part of it.

horse chestnut, aesculus hippocastanum

Walking across campus this week, I just couldn’t help but pick up a few horse chestnuts.

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Wildflowers of Joshua Tree National Park

A couple weeks ago I shared some photos of wildflowers from my trip to Death Valley National Park. Since we were in California for National Parks week, we figured we might as well visit Joshua Tree National Park while we were at it. We were perhaps a little bit different from the normal crowd that visits Joshua Tree – we’re no rock climbers, mind you – but we (and probably especially me) once again enjoyed the diversity of plant life we found there. Continue reading

For the Love of Lichen

lichen, tundra

 

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