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Identifying a Future in Natural Resources

College of Natural Resources graduate received grants to create field guide to Idaho grasses.

By the time Justin Trujillo graduates he will have seen every corner of Idaho from a bug’s eye view as he captures photos of Idaho grasses — some rare, some not so rare.

The photos are the basis of a book, “A Field Guide to Grasses and Grass-like Plants of Idaho,” which will carry the nontraditional undergraduate on to graduate school this winter. He will graduate with his bachelor’s degree in rangeland ecology and management in December 2015.

Justin Trujillo
Justin Trujillo

The project started on a bit of a whim. It was inspired by the Rangeland Center’s book “Backpack Guide to Idaho Range Plants,” which has been a go-to resource for landowners for several years.

“We talked about how nice it would be to have something to represent the grasses,” Trujillo said. “And I thought ‘I can do that.’”

He teamed up last summer with two rangeland graduate students, accompanying them on their research trips, providing research assistance and using the time in the field to gather photos for his book.

Identifying and taking photos of plants was nothing new for Trujillo, 41. Before moving to Moscow to pursue his degree he worked for the Center for Natural Lands Management in southern California. He worked every day identifying plants and protecting the lands under his management.

While he loved his job and was advancing, a 2004 visit from the University of Idaho to his community college class stuck in his head. He knew he wanted to get his bachelor’s degree, and he knew U of I was the place to get it. With a wife and two kids, the first-generation college student packed up and headed to Idaho.

He will now continue this journey as he enters grad school spring semester, a path he didn’t plan on walking. But funding for his project has proven its worth and he will spend the next two summers capturing as many grasses as possible.

His advisor, Eva Strand, assistant professor in the Department of Forest, Rangeland, and Fire Sciences, worked with him to obtain a MILES Undergraduate Research and Internships grant for $4,000. “That really helped to spend time organizing photos,” he said.

That was followed by a $27,000 BLOOME grant from the American Society of Plant Biologists and subsequent $6,000 supplemental grant from the same entity.

“Having resources like these for undergraduates to use to promote research early in their education is vital in helping students reach their full potential,” Strand said.

The book will not stand alone. Trujillo is working with, Darek Nalle, a consulting economist, to build a phone app, allowing grass identification on the go. Nalle is also incorporating the ability for the app to geocode species over time, as well as build a database of the findings, to track change on the landscape. By May they are hoping to beta test the app, loaded with the first 46 grasses. More will be added later.

“This will give people the option of using technology if they aren’t carrying the book,” Trujillo said. The book is due out in December 2017 and will be available via the University of Idaho Rangeland Center and the Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission.

Article by Jodi Walker, University Communications & Marketing

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