Volunteer Spotlight: Richard Fleenor

Richard_Fleenor_2Meet Richard Fleenor. Richard is a Rare Care volunteer with UW Botanic Gardens. He monitors rare plant populations on the east side of the state and usually takes one to two assignments a year. Rare Care volunteers live in all parts of the state of Washington, plus northern Oregon.

Richard grew up in Vancouver and loved playing in the woodlands surrounding their house as a kid. He remembers building tree “forts,” with no safety gear or ropes, in Douglas-fir trees 70 feet off the ground. He would hang on with his legs while he nailed in support beams and said there is no way he could do that now. Over the years he has lived in several different places in Oregon and Washington. His rangeland/plants career has taken him to the Willamette Valley in western Oregon, the high desert in SE Oregon, Okanogan County in North Central Washington, and the Columbia Basin.  Although, at first, Richard loved the forests on the west side of the state most, he has become very fond of the wide open spaces on the east side.  When he got the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Plant Materials Specialist position 7 years ago, he and his wife, Sue, moved to Medical Lake, just outside Spokane. Sue is also a Rare Care volunteer and accompanies him on rare plant monitoring assignments.

In the summer they like to bike, kayak, or just take walks in some of the natural areas near their house. Every summer Richard also takes a motorcycle trip with his brother, who lives in Vancouver. This year they plan on riding the loop around the Olympic peninsula. Gardening and yardwork seem to take much of his time as well. Other times of the year he likes to work on his jeep and motorcycle in their garage; and ski in the winter, although not as much as he used to.

Richard has a BS degree from Oregon State University in Rangeland Resources. He states that his favorite classes were range and botany classes. The range classes often included field trips where he got to spend a few days camping out in eastern Oregon. One trip in the fall, he recalls, he woke up to about an inch of snow on the ground.  The air was calm and crisp, the sky was clear, the landscape beautiful, it was awesome! The botany classes also had great field trips where you’d find yourself in a native prairie, old growth forest, or some other really cool place.

Richard became involved with UW Botanic Gardens when he was the Vegetation Ecologist for the Colville Tribes and wanted to learn more about rare plants in the area.  He heard that Rare Care was providing training for volunteers in nearby Omak, so he attended and has been monitoring plant populations ever since. That was about 13 years ago.


A typical monitoring day usually starts early because he often has to travel far to get to the site. He gets as close as he can driving, then gets out the GPS unit to see how far and what direction he needs to go from there. Sometimes the site is right there and there’s very little walking/trekking involved. Other times, like the last time he went out, the site was still about three miles away and on steep unstable ground; you never know. If the plant process goes relatively quick, they identify the population, get a count (best they can), fill out a field data sheet, and head back. If they don’t find the plant, they usually look around until something sends them home (a thunderstorm, water runs out, Sue twists her ankle because she thought she saw a snake, but didn’t, etc.).

His favorite plant is Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa). To Richard it represents “the west.” It grows in relatively arid environments but can still attain heights of 200’ and be 5 – 6’ in diameter. It has a tap root to help it survive drought, is fire tolerant, and can live to be hundreds of years old. If you’ve ever seen these majestic beauties growing on a hillside amongst the bunchgrasses, he said “you’ll know what I mean.”