Field Diaries - Sam (November 7, 2017)

On October 7th, I helped Shawn lead a seed collection workshop with the Quivira Coalition at the Red Canyon Reserve, south of Socorro, New Mexico. It was an excellent opportunity to share the skills that I have garnered over this past field season and connect with some new folks interested in native seed collection. Four months prior, my fellow BLM botany interns and I had our first New Mexico botany foray at the reserve, led by BLM botanists Patrick Alexander and Lillis Urban. At that training, we applied the Seeds of Success collection protocols for the first time and experienced a taste of the diverse flora that inhabits the Chihuahuan Desert ecoregion. Returning to this peaceful place with a goal to empower others in native seed collection helped to take my experience full circle, and gave me an opportunity to educate the audience on our efforts with the Southwest Seed Partnership.

The gathering was cozy enough to have a conversation with everyone, yet diverse, including people from ranching, restoration, indigenous ethnobotany, and environmental media backgrounds. I was both surprised and stimulated by the group’s enthusiasm and curiosity for seed collection. After months of following routine collection protocols, it was refreshing to remember that there are always so many more questions to ask about our work. My favorite question was, “what level of experience or education do you need to collect seed?” Shawn was astute to point out that one doesn’t need much experience or even a college diploma to collect and use native seed – only the interest and general guidelines to do so in an effective and responsible manner. With the group’s newfound joy for seed collection, we were able to quickly harvest a collection of sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), one of our prioritized grass species that is highly demanded by native plant producers. While collecting seeds with an elderly Navajo gentleman, I was delighted to hear about the story of the plants from his cultural perspective. I was reminded that native plant conservation plays a critical role in sustaining the integrity of ecosystems and human cultures alike.

After demonstrating how to collect seeds and the accompanying data, we were treated to a walking tour led by Steve Carson of the restoration firm Rangeland Hands. He showed us the progress that they had made to remedy erosion from past overgrazing on the site, with clear signs of success. Looking at the lush vegetation growing in the drainages, it was difficult to envision the barren state of the land just 15 years ago. It was fascinating to hear Steve explain the rock work structures he had installed, and how they help to divert and distribute the flow of water over the land, preventing erosion. I was intrigued by how the hydrology of the land related to its revegetation, and the success of native plant restoration. Furthermore, I was impressed by the fact that these restoration projects were carried out with a minimum of equipment, by using the helping hands of many volunteers.

The day ended on an idyllic note, with a hike down into Red Canyon. Among the storied rock walls, we found beautiful and cryptic petroglyphs from the ancient Mimbres culture. With awe, we watched a barred owl leave its roost and alight among the cottonwoods. And we left the canyon, knowing that our conservation efforts can have lasting and life-giving effects in the fragile desert landscape we inhabit.