Class of '12
Northern Hills District Botanist - Black Hills National Forest
With a hand lens magnifier, canteen and hiking boots, Rylan Sprague is ready for his work day as a Northern Hills District Botanist with the Black Hills National Forest.
“I’m honored to manage all plant resources in the Northern Hills,” said Rylan. “We conduct field work, hike and survey, protect sensitive species, document GPS points, and restore and enhance habitats.”
A member of the Cheyenne-River Sioux Tribe, Rylan’s connection with the Black Hills is both physical and spiritual.
“Tribes would come here in the early spring and summer to collect plants that can’t be found in the surrounding prairie including sages, berries, and turnips,” said Rylan. “Being able to work in the Black Hills hiking all day is enjoyable, and it’s spiritual too. This experience has brought me closer to the hills.”
Initially working with the U.S. Forest Service as a seasonal hydrology technician, Rylan mapped springs, streams and wetlands. When the full-time botanist position opened up, Rylan was hired through the Student Career Experience Pathways (SCEP) partnership between BHSU and the Forest Service, working closely with Dr. Mark Gabel, Herbarium curator and professor emeritus, and Dr. Benjamin van Ee, instructor of biology.
“Dr. Gabel has been a great resource for anything concerning plants and Dr. van Ee was a mentor for me. He really made botany exciting,” said Rylan.
Rylan also still keeps in contact with his 6th grade teacher, Brett Swanson; one of many teachers whom Rylan says treated him like full person, rather than just a student in a single subject.
Rylan returns to BHSU often to visit the Herbarium, a great resource to use for plant identification or to deposit plant collections, or to attend classes as part of the master’s of sustainability program.
“If I ever have a question on an ID between species, I come to the Herbarium and find an example of both and see the distinguishing features,” said Rylan. “I also use the Science Lab on campus for DNA extraction and amplification.”