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From First-Timers to Advocates: Surveying in Hells Canyon

Botanist Lanny Flaherty and partner Carli place flags near Macfarlane's Four-o-Clock plants, hiding in the grass.
Botanist Lanny Flaherty and partner Carli place flags near Macfarlane's four-o-clock plants, hiding in the grass.

I’m still buzzing from our first two field surveys of the season. 


The part of my work I enjoy the most is connecting with supporters both new and evergreen. You are a wonderful group of people who I draw so much inspiration from. I hope to continue to get to know you at future events and out in the field amongst the pollinators, wildflowers, and big old trees!

Botanist Callie Zender and GHCC member Emelie (affectionately referred to as MoJo) collect survey data in the Imnaha River Canyon
Botanist Callie Zender and GHCC member Emelie (affectionately referred to as MoJo) collect survey data in the Imnaha River Canyon

Survey season kicked off with the reinvigoration of an old GHCC project - mapping the known populations of Macfarlane’s four-o-clock along the Imnaha River Canyon. I enlisted the help of a good friend, botanist, and wetlands consultant, Callie Zender. Callie worked as a botanist for the Wallowa-Whitman in 2022, monitoring species of interest. With Callie on board for this outing, we were able to collaborate closely with current and retired local Forest Service botanists. We had a great group of botany nerds join us along the talus slopes of the canyon to check on the Macfalane’s populations Callie had visited two years prior. 


Macfarlane’s four-o-clock (Mirabilis Macfalani) blooms magenta and clings close to the slopes in long-lived colonies, with stems emerging from a tuberous rhizome, deep under the ground. To have had the chance to see this special, showy flower blooming feels like a great gift, knowing that there are only 13 known populations of the plant in existence. If you’d like to learn more about Macfarlane’s four-o-clock check out this awesome article written by volunteer and retired Forest Service botanist Eugene Yates.

The star of our first survey outing: Macfarlane's Four-o-Clock in bloom.
The star of our first survey outing: Macfarlane's four-o-clock in bloom.

This irreplaceable landscape along the Imnaha River Canyon is where it has chosen to grow. Being part of "the four-o-clock family," we might expect Macfarlane’s to bloom in the afternoon but these flowers have adapted to their canyon landscape, blooming through the day to take full advantage of the sun. To see this flower in bloom, winking between invasive and prevalent cheat grass is very motivating. We need eyes on this plant in order to protect it!


I never know what sort of group dynamic will come together for these outings and I’m always struck by the power of a shared cause. When we encounter pieces of our ecosystem that are either thriving, vulnerable, or in the case of Macfalane's four-o-clock, critically endangered, I feel like our survey groups become eco-warriors.


One of our survey volunteers was botanical rebel Sandy Paulson, who joined GHCC back in 2018 when we conducted our last Macfarlane’s outing. She described her passion by imagining how she could entice others to visit this irreplaceable bloom. I relate to this. I want to invite people out onto the land to fall in love with it, and to see how the vital pieces of this unique ecological puzzle call us to take action to preserve and maintain all the special pieces that make up this intact landscape.

Christina DeVillier and son Fable observe one of our survey subjects - a sleeping bumblebee.
Christina DeVillier and son Fable observe one of our survey subjects - a sleeping bumblebee.

Last weekend an intergenerational group of volunteers headed out to Buckhorn Overlook to survey the bumblebees in two separate wildflower meadows we have visited in years past. GHCC has been collecting bumblebee data for the NW Bumblebee Atlas Project, run by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. This year the Xerces Society made a few updates to their survey protocol. We collected more in-depth data on flower species in bloom at each site and determined what percentage of the meadow was covered by which flower genera. There were so many beautiful, blooming resources available for our bumblebee friends! 


We carefully collected bumblebees and bumblebee mimics alike in our nets for further inspection. The observations made by the group, along with the photos of all of the sleeping bumblebees, will be sent to the Xerces Society for review. With this data, we’ll be able to get an idea of which bumbles are doing the hard work of keeping this special landscape blooming. We saw a diverse representation of resource preferences and we caught a few bumblebee imposters in our nets. One was, in fact, a fuzzy black and yellow moth with impressively patterned wings.

Nash Wadhams holds a sleepy bumblebee mimic - not fooling anyone with those ornate wings, little moth!
Nash Wadhams holds a sleepy bumblebee mimic - not fooling anyone with those ornate wings, little moth!

On survey day two we were fortunate to have Carrie Caselton-Lowe along with us. Carrie is a studied entomologist, environmental science, and community educator. Armed with botanical and entomological knowledge, Carrie echoed something I’ve been encountering frequently this outing season -- “the more you know the less you know.” To make our best guesses as to which bumblebees were in the area, we leaned heavily on the Socratic method. There is so much complexity in nature, and it’s best to share observations to see what hypotheses can be drawn.


It has been great to get out in the field with enthusiastic first-time and returning surveyors. I aim to follow in the footsteps of some very inspiring people I met on these outings, learning more, knowing less, and advocating for a protected Blue Mountains Ecoregion. 


Thank you to all of you who joined and shared your stories of dedication to the pieces of our ecosystem that speak to you the most. Next up will be an outing in support of our ecosystem engineer superheroes - beavers! We will be partnering with Ian Wilson of Grande Ronde Model Watershed to get into the riparian areas where our friends are hard at work and in need of protection. Check out our events page to stay in the loop! 


See you in the field, 


Nash Wadhams

Outreach and Membership Coordinator

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