Saturday, July 28, 2018

Trip to the "Magic Grove"

 In June I took the Nevada Conservation Corps crew I had been working with on thinning projects plus some Rangercorps interns up Mt. Washington to apply verbenone to limber pine seed trees. Seeds were collected several years ago to test for resistance to white pine blister rust. In case these trees are resistant, we want to keep them safe from mountain pine beetles. When mountain pine beetles enter a tree, they send out a pheromone called verbenone to signify when the tree is full of pine beetles. So if we apply a synthetic verbenone, then the beetles are fooled and go to other trees.

The first obstacle getting up Mt. Washington is a very steep and curvy road. We also came across a log down, but fortunately the NCC crew had a saw and was able to take care of that.

The views are marvelous! This is looking into Spring Valley and the Schell Creek Range.

We summited Mt. Washington and then went down the other side.

It's kind of steep. Steep enough there are very few plants.

But there were a few of these gorgeous Nevada primrose (Primula nevadensis).

Then we got down to the "Magic Grove" of bristlecones. These tortured trees live with extreme winds, few nutrients, and a short growing season. Despite that adversity, or maybe because of it, they manage to live for millennia.

This natural area is delicate and not visited by many. Those who do visit are reminded to be gentle.

We posed by the "Quarter Tree," which is featured on the Great Basin quarter.

There are a lot of other cool trees up there too.

After applying verbenone to the selected trees,

it was time to climb up Mt. Washington from the other side.

This little tree is raising the treeline on the mountain.

You can actually find pieces of old bristlecone wood even higher, indicating that when the climate was warmer, the forest moved up the mountain. Dendrochronologists have taken sections and tagged these pieces of wood to find out exactly when the trees lived. There's lots more info stored on these mountains than might appear at first glance. That's also why campfires above 10,000 feet aren't allowed in the park--these wood fragments are too valuable to be burned up.

And before we left the mountain, I had to get a photo of the highest elevation cave in Nevada--that slit on the mountain. It just goes down to some snow, there's not much to it. But the scenery is spectacular!

And what better way to end a gorgeous day than at Kerouac's, listening to the Front Porch Pickers.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Regrowth in Strawberry--2 Years after the Fire

I had a couple opportunities to go up Strawberry Creek, which burned in 2018 in a lightning-caused wildfire that burned over 4,000 acres. (Here's a detailed post about the Strawberry Fire.) Elk are often present early in the morning.

Restoration specialists from both the BLM and NPS have worked to reseed the burned area, including aerial reseeding. That work, plus the benefit of three inches of rain in May, has led to some great results, as you can see below.

There was lots of Palmer's penstemon (the pink flower-Penstemon palmeri) and firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) along the road.

The gate is currently closed at the park boundary, but hopefully park management will choose to open the road again to the public. However, the bridges were taken out, so even though I had permission to go down the road, I couldn't drive past the creek crossing.

I walked up the road to the trailhead, which showed signs of some overland flows.

A closer look at the entry point showed a few inches of new debris.

After I jumped over the creek, I went to the interpretive sign about the Mountain Shrub Community. You can see how the mountains line up and changes in the illustration to what I photographed.

Up higher I found some beautiful penstemon.

I conducted a bird survey up Windy Canyon and then headed down a different way. I eventually had to traverse this mess of downfall. Too much of the park's forests are like this, meaning more huge fires in the future.

I also found some fun aspen carvings. Many were in Spanish from the Peruvian sheepherders. I guess H2O is universal.

Coming back down I saw more beautiful flowers.

Near the creek, the aspens are resprouting quickly.

It will be interesting to see how this watershed recovers from this wildfire. There is such an opportunity to interpret the changes that occur after fire here.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Orientation to Cave Rescue, Oak City, Utah

In June I helped teach a two-day Orientation to Cave Rescue class for the National Cave Rescue Commission (NCRC) in Oak City, Utah. This class introduces cavers and first responders to cave rescue terminology and techniques. (The recent cave rescue in Thailand would be the other end of the spectrum--the super complex and technical rescue.)

We started with part of the day in the classroom at the Oak City Community Center. Then we moved out to the pavilion to practice some patient packaging.

I noticed that in the Thai cave rescue they were using SKEDs just like this one, except a different color. SKEDs are good litters for small spots, as you basically wrap a person so they look like a burrito.

The nearby playground gave us a perfect opportunity to practice moving the litters. We had obstacles, but many of the "cave walls" were invisible, making communications much easier than in a real cave. Students still had to follow the "cave passage," though, which included belly crawling and climbing and sliding down slides.

The second day was a full day mock rescue. I was to be an "angel," or observer for one of the patients. My job was to make sure he was safe. We headed to the cave ahead of the students, geared up, and headed into the little hole.

The students had three patients to find, and Rodney was the furthest back in the cave. It didn't take them too long to find him and start doing a medical assessment. They realized they would need a litter to carry him out.

The litter came and they packaged him in it. Since it was such a warm cave, he didn't want the full packaging of a vapor barrier (tarp) and two blankets.

After a bit, it was time to start moving him towards the entrance.

It took lots of coordination to get him out of the small pit and to the next team that moved him forward. Rodney is checking to make sure that I'm getting some photos. :)

Then came more obstacles. Even though the students were new to cave rescue, they did a good job of moving Rodney carefully through the cave. At the same time, other students were dealing with the other two patients. Plus a couple students were on the surface, running the Incident Command Post and experiencing the very different situations top-side faces.

 A communications system using military field phones and a spool of wire was set up, and that helped get some communications out to the surface.

A few more maneuvers, and Rodney was out!

Because it was a mock rescue, he was magically cured and then freed from the litter.

We held a debrief so everyone would know what happened in other parts of the incident. The lead instructor, Bonny, led the debrief. The debrief also highlighted things that went well and areas that need more practice.

It was a great weekend, and I was impressed how far some of the students had come to take the class. We had students from not only nearby Utah and Nevada, but also California, Montana, and Wyoming. Some drove 14 hours one way! Fortunately, they all thought it was worth it and are looking forward to learning more about cave rescue. It's a type of rescue that isn't needed often, but when it is, it takes specialized skills.
For more on upcoming cave rescue training, check out the NCRC page. There's also an annual national weeklong seminar (next May in Indiana), plus various regional weeklong seminars (such as next February in Texas), plus there will be additional Orientation to Cave Rescues and Small Party Assisted Rescue classes listed.

To read more about actual cave rescues or to report one, here's the American Caving Accidents page.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

2018 Beetle BioBlitz

 June 12-14, 2018 were the dates for the Tenth annual BioBlitz at Great Basin National Park. A BioBlitz is a short-term event that focuses on biodiversity. This year the topic was beetles. Nevada State Entomologist Jeff Knight came out to the park to lead the event.

He started with a presentation explaining what beetles are and how to collect them. Then the group went out in the field and used forceps (tweezers), sweep nets, and other tools to collect beetles. They brought what they found back to Baker Hall, which had turned into BioBlitz Headquarters for the three-day event. Jeff put the beetles under his microscope, which was attached by a camera to his computer so more could get a view.

Meanwhile, handfuls of leaf litter were put into buckets with lightbulbs, with the heat, making the beetles retreat down into a bag that was later examined.

Everyone was so excited by what they found. The event was open to all ages, and there were definitely some budding young entomologists.

Some folks tried to puzzle out their finds on their own.

They used guidebooks and asked entomologists for some guidance when they got really stumped.

For two nights there was light trapping, where a white sheet was put down and a light put on top of it. Beetles (and other insects) came to the light, and we saw species that had been hidden during the day.
We also took a black light out to check out some nearby areas and found lots of scorpions!

 On the third day, Forest Health Specialist Danielle Malesky gave a talk about mountain pine beetles at the Wheeler Peak amphitheater.

Talk about a wonderful outdoor classroom!

After explaining how this native beetle has killed lots of trees, she showed how high value trees (such as those in campgrounds) can be protected by using a synthetic pheromone called verbenone. This pheromone mimics the smell that the beetles put out when telling other beetles that the tree is already full and they should look for a different tree.

Her colleague applied SPLAT, verbenone in a caulking tube.

The zig-zag pattern is applied to four sides of the tree and lasts for about a year.

Meanwhile back in Baker Hall, entomologists from as far as Los Angeles County Natural History Museum were working on their samples.

At noon we celebrated with a delicious hot catered lunch by Salt & Sucre sponsored by the Great Basin National Park Foundation and Western National Parks Association.

It was a great way for everyone to come back together again and share where they had been hiking and what they had found.

Following the lunch, Jeff Knight gave a talk about the preliminary results of the BioBlitz, which was more than 500 specimens representing at least 65 species added to the park list. Most of the work lies ahead, back in his lab.

The final part was a raffle of items donated by Western National Parks Association. Then it was time to clean up and say farewells. Participants will be updated as results come in.
If you're interested in participating next year, the topic will be bats and it will be held in August 2019.  To be added to the mailing list, send an email to BioBlitzes are a great way to learn more about an area and meet people who have similar interests. They are held all over the country (and world), and I highly recommend participating in one if you'd like to explore a place more thoroughly!

Many thanks to everyone who participated and helped sponsor the 2018 Beetle BioBlitz!
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