by Dawson White
During the summer of 2009 I had the privilege of being a botany intern of the Colorado Natural Heritage Program (CNHP), and I do mean privilege. Over the course of 10 weeks, western-slope field botanist Peggy Lyon was my personal mentor in all things Plantae. As a born naturalist and emerging botanist, this was the best job I have ever had.
The western slope, specifically the San Juans, had been home all my life prior to coming to Colorado State University. For three years, I was lucky enough to study as a botany field intern for the Andes to Amazon Biodiversity Project in southeastern Peru, and so was not able to see much of my treasured western Colorado. This past summer (2009) I was longing for a good dose of Colorado bluebird-days. After meeting with CNHP Director Dave Anderson and Botany Team Leader Jill Handwerk, I knew I was going to be exposed to some of the most magnificent terrain western Colorado has to offer; and even more exciting, I would be working under one of the top field botanists of the region, Peggy Lyon.
Rare Plant Surveys and monitoring projects were our focus, contracted through various organizations, including the BLM, Forest Service, The Mountain Studies Institute, and The Nature Conservancy. These contracts took Peggy and me to some of the most beautiful places in the West, ranging from the top of spectacular peaks near Telluride, to the Colorado River at the Utah border, the lowest point in western Colorado. I spent every week in a tent in the sticks, right at home, and would return to Telluride on the weekends to get cultured alongside the old friends.
Needless to say, I saw several bluebird-days, each better than the previous. But my biggest feeling of accomplishment came from the wealth of knowledge I gained about our native flora and the conservation initiatives that are being realized because of our efforts. In addition to the rare plants we were tracking, we would make a complete species list of every site we visited, just for fun. At this point my Weber (Colorado Flora) is tattered and brown, a great sight. I learned a large portion of our native plants and can quickly identify any plant to family, and usually genus and species too.
Our surveys and monitoring projects were essential in the progression of conservation and stewardship of our western Colorado lands. The Dominguez Wilderness, for example, was recently granted wilderness status and it was the job of CNHP to produce the regional rare plant report so that the BLM could establish a reasonable buffer zone. Not many individuals can say he or she has successfully helped to conserve a speck of our diminishing wild lands, but thanks to the chance to work with dedicated and talented scientists and professionals at Colorado Natural Heritage Program, I can say that my work helped enact historical conservation legislation! This is an organization that deserves all of our support; for the success of this institution means the success of environmental consciousness and stewardship.