Hello once again. My time here at Craters of the Moon continues to expose me to new and valuable experiences in the field of conservation. This past week I went on a 5 day hiking trip, aiding the park’s wildlife biologist in invasive species removal. The target is a plant know as Dyer’s Woad that, if left unchecked, has the potential to outcompete and reduce native plant population numbers. So armed with that knowledge and a 30 pound spray pack we ventured across the lava fields at the southern end of Craters of the Moon National Monument.
Days consisted of hikes ranging from 6 to 12 miles, following previous GPS data points that indicated potential plant hotspots. Some areas were devoid of Woad, others brimming with the vibrant green and yellow plants.
In the end, we sprayed and removed the seed pods from thousands of plants with the goal of reducing and minimizing the spread of the invasive Dyer’s Woad. The resilience in fending off all attempts to stop the spread of it is both amazing and terrifying. Hopefully, with increased awareness to the plight of our native landscape and continued removal efforts this invasive can be managed over time The experience is one I (and my shoes) will never forget.
This post marks the end of another excellent and fairly short work week, one spent mostly behind a very cool telescope. The solar forecast has been fairly calm over the last four days, so there were very few prominences or sunspots to be observed through the solar telescope’s H-alpha (hydrogen-alpha) filter. With the larger telescopes that we set up for astronomy programs, we’ve been observing the moon’s transition from waxing crescent to waxing gibbous, Jupiter and its Galilean moons, the ancient globular star clusters M13 and M92 in the Hercules constellation, the Whirlpool Galaxy, and the double star Albireo. Next week, light from the full moon will most likely drown out some of these objects in the night sky.
This week, I was fortunate enough to have a three-day weekend, so I had more time than usual to explore the area in and around the park. I was invited to ride the Success Loop, a 38-mile scenic drive through public lands north of Ely (pronounced E-lee, not E-lie), the closest town with a grocery store.
There were quite a few aspen trees along the drive, some with arborglyphs carved into their trunks. Quaking aspens are one of the oldest known living organisms on earth, with the oldest aspen colony estimated to be 80,000 years old. There are many aspen colonies within Great Basin National Park that also bear reminders of the area’s human history, namely in the form of arborglyphs carved by Basque sheepherders from the late 1800’s onward.
Farther along the drive, at a mountain pass called the Success Summit, my co-workers and I found a trilobite ichnofossil, brachiopods, and some other marine fossils that I have yet to identify.
Before returning the the park, we made a stop at the Ward Charcoal Ovens. These were used from 1876 through 1879 to turn timber into charcoal for the greater purpose of refining silver ore. After mining in the area ended, they became makeshift shelters for travelers, and according to local legends, even a hideout for bandits. Now completely empty (save for the occasional rattlesnake), you can walk inside these haunting 30-foot-high stone ovens and experiment with their incredible acoustic qualities.
I’ve also gotten connected with the gardeners in the local community, and they have welcomed me into what is essentially a community garden on private property near the park boundary. In return for assisting in the garden, I’ve been allowed to take home a share of whatever vegetable or herb needs to be thinned or harvested!
Keep an eye out next week for some fossil and Full Moon Hike photos!
This week of my Mosaics in Science internship consisted of continued training and learning about the purpose of the aquatic herpetological restoration projects going on throughout Yosemite National Park. There are particular reptile and amphibian focal species of concern in the park including the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog, California red-legged frog, Yosemite toad, and Western pond turtle.
Historically, the lakes and streams above 4,000 feet in Yosemite National Park were fish-less due to the natural barriers seen in Yosemite Valley like steep waterfalls that prevented them from moving upstream, reaching those high elevation lakes. From the early 1900s to even the 1990s, non-native fish were stocked in some of those lakes and streams to promote fishing opportunities in Yosemite’s backcountry wilderness. As a result, the existing aquatic organisms that had existed there for hundreds of years, now had a new competitor and predator that was never there before. The Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog, Rana sierrae, declined by over 95% of its historic range because of the pressures and predation from the non-native fish. Frogs were not the only species affected by the introduction. The trout in the lakes and streams disrupted the food web impacting insects, snakes, bats, and even some bird species.
To add insult to injury, the discovery of a new fungal disease, chytridiomycosis, has devastated populations of the endangered frog, resulting in local extinctions of the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog. The species needs help more than ever to restore those sites to native species only and protect from the spread of Chytrid.
Other amphibian species are seeing declines in populations due to the fungal disease and also the spread of the invasive bullfrog species (Lithobates catesbeianus). American bullfrogs, native to the east coast, is now seen in all 50 states. This species is the largest frog in North America, exhibits voracious feeding, and is said to be a carrier of the chytrid fungus. This makes them excellent competitors to Yosemite’s lower elevation native species, like the federally threatened California red-legged frog, Rana draytonii, which hasn’t been seen in the park for half a century. Habitat restoration and conservation for native amphibian species is needed to combat the invasive bullfrog species.
Similar trends have been seen in the Western pond turtle, Actinemys marmorata. High populations of raccoons and the removal of large woody debris (used for basking) throughout the park have severely impacted populations. Groups like the Yosemite Conservancy and NatureBridge have assisted the park in the education and reintroduction of the native red-legged frog and Western pond turtle species.
Being a part of monumental and important projects like these is an amazing experience. I am learning from such qualified and well-rounded biologists and technicians that I am in constant awe of their experience. This internship has allowed me to have a voice in the matter and provide support when I can.
Hello all, my name is Mauro Hernandez and I will be spending this summer at Craters of the Moon National Monument in Arco, Idaho. I am a recent graduate from the University of California-Santa Cruz with a Bachelors degree in Environmental Studies. I drove out nearly two weeks ago from my home in Fresno, California to Craters and couldn’t be more excited for this amazing opportunity. I will have the opportunity to work as both an interpretive ranger and resource manager.
This park looks inhospitable at first glance
until you travel further in, soon realizing that even in the desert there is life.
Beyond exploring, I have been in training, developing my various programs I will present to the public. I hope you follow along to enjoy this amazing experience with me, because there are more amazing things (especially pictures) to come.
This semester a group of Fourth grade students from High Tech Explorer Elementary embarked on a journey to learn about some of San Diego’s tidepool critters. These students demonstrated their knowledge base of the creatures through the fusion of art and technology.
Students joined our ranger-led Intertidal Exploration program to get familiar with the tidepool ecosystem and the organisms that live here. They were then assigned a species to investigate as they ventured along into the 3D Cabrillo curriculum. Students used the park’s classroom set of ipods to capture 25-30 pictures of an object to create a 3D file online. During a hands-on workshop in their classroom, these young scientists learned how to edit a 3D file and save it in a way that is available for print on any 3D printer. Back at Cabrillo National Monument, we utilized our 3D printer to print dozens of tidepool creatures. During our last visit into the classroom, students put their artistic abilities to the test using acrylic paint to fully cultivate a 3D biomodel. After the exhibition, students agreed to donate these 3D biomodels to Cabrillo’s tidepool volunteers as educational tools.
Beyond our direct partnership with these students, these young scientists went above and beyond using a multitude of art and research in regards to their species. Each student created a watercolor piece replicating their 3D biomodel, species signs illustrating the animal and its demographics, a haiku about the species defense mechanisms, a “choose your adventure” story, and a scientific journal with an associated food web and illustrations.