With over 25 years of experience with the Utah chapter of the Conservancy, Joel Tuhy is a self-described amateur naturalist, with a particular interest and expertise in plants. He even has one named after him! Though plants are, in his humble opinion, the Superior Kingdom, his interest in the relationships between plants and their habitats forces him to study the geology, soils, weather, and, yes, even animals, of the Intermountain West.
In doing so, Joel has explored wilderness most of us will never see, and hung off a ledge or two in pursuit of these rare plants. Read on for some of his closest encounters.
Nature.org: Have you ever feared for your life at work?
Joel Tuhy: In the late 80's and early 90's, I did field searches for populations of rare plants in Zion National Park and northern Utah’s Wasatch Range. Wouldn’t you know it, the prime habitats for many of these rare plants were steep rock outcrops and cliff faces.
In Zion, I found that the massive “checkerboarded” sandstone exposures had plenty of small ledges and ramps which I could (and did) scramble up quite a distance. A few times I had gripping trips back down once I turned around and saw how much farther and steeper the return was than I realized.
Meanwhile, I found the Wasatch Range to be rife with outsloping ledges covered with loose gravel and leading to big sheer drop-offs. Thus, the personal motto I developed in Zion and confirmed in the Wasatch Range, is that no rare plant is worth dying for. I’m sure many occurrences went undiscovered by me in those two summers, but I'm glad to be here to tell the story.
Nature.org: Where is your favorite site to work?
Joel Tuhy: My favorite sites to work are small remnant areas that have largely or wholly escaped human impact. In the “early years” of my tenure with The Nature Conservancy, I spent whole field seasons in out-of-the-way corners of Utah’s public lands conducting inventories so these places could potentially become Research Natural Areas (RNAs).
To this day I have pleasant memories of walking through primeval groves of large orange-barked ponderosa pine trees with no roads or stumps in sight, stands of sagebrush with lush cover of native grasses beneath, or desert grasslands with dense soil crusts and hardly a blade of cheatgrass around. Many were formally designated as RNAs, and are thus in-theory protected, though their remoteness and anonymity are probably their best protection. I rarely visit such places anymore, but some day I hope to return to my favorites.
Nature.org: What is the last thing you Googled on the job?
Joel Tuhy: Over the years I have sat through no small number of Powerpoint presentations, given by scientists and non-scientists alike, that I would tactfully describe as stupefying. Thus, on the periodic occasions when I am called upon to create and give my own presentations, I am determined to make it as interesting as possible. I try to accomplish this by using lots of pictures and creative techniques of animation in the slides, without overdoing it to the point of inducing audience dizziness as animated objects are flying around too vigorously. However, I do employ a little-used component of Powerpoint: the use of sounds.
Thus, invoking the One Great Truth of Our Modern Era, namely that "there is nothing that cannot be found on the Internet," my last Google search was for a chainsaw sound, to accompany the sound files I already have on hand of a crackling fire and a mooing cow. Now I know you're interested in THAT presentation!
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