Grand Teton National Park is located in northwest Wyoming. It encompasses the Teton mountain range, the 4,000-meter Grand Teton peak, and the valley known as Jackson Hole. Sagebrush monitoring has been identified as a key component in detecting changes in high elevation parks due to increased rates of climate change. I aided the vegetation monitoring field crew members in hiking to survey points and identifying plant species present. Various data was collected at the sites such as: Bare ground, litter, rocks, shrubs, forbes, and grasses (both native and non-native).
However, the excitement didn’t end there. I was also able to work with crew members who are responsible for monitoring avian productivity and survivorship. We conducted call-back surveys for the endangered Yellow Billed Cuckoo, as well as Osprey, Bald Eagle, and Peregrine Falcon monitoring. During off-work hours, I attended an invasive plant, and Mountain Goat seminar. I am so fortunate have the opportunity to be involved in such a wide array of subject areas as well as meet professionals who a very knowledgeable and dedicated to their work. I look forward the adventures and opportunities that are yet to come!
In the broadest sense, nature is our world in the physical, material and natural form. It is everything not made by the human race. For me, nature serves as a place of tranquility, worship, culture and love. At the same time though, it can be frightening, intimidating and humbling. Nature is, hands down, a force to be reckoned with.
Our ancestors were far more in tune with nature than we are today. With so many distractions in the modern world, it has become increasingly more difficult to access nature. The more we become disconnected, the less attentive we will be. Therefore, I believe it is every individuals responsibility to make the effort to break away from mainstream society, at least once in their lifetime, and become one with nature.
I recently was able to reconnect with nature when a group of high school students from Texas stopped by the Florissant Fossil Beds for a visit. Whitney, my education partner, and I led the group of students and their chaperones into the woods on a nature walk with a specific exercise in mind. Upon reaching the most dense part of the forest, Whitney instructed the students to write down what nature is using their five senses. Given that the students were in the age range of 14-17 years old, I was expecting to hear laughter and gossip, and not see much writing going down. However, the students fully participated and even the chaperones were jotting down their thoughts.
At the end of the exercise, Whitney had the students recite their favorite interpretation of what nature is, however, replacing the “Nature is…” with “I am…”. As you can imagine, some were rather humorous, while others were incredibly poetic.
After the nature walk, I had the students and chaperones participate in the paleoclimatic reconstruction activity I put together for the Geo/Paleo Camp. It was incredible to witness the students draw their own conclusions on how the Florissant valley, during the Eocene, exhibited drastically different climatic conditions than today. The biggest take away for me, and I hope for the students and chaperones as well, is that in addition to making connections with nature on a mental and spiritual level, everyone is also capable of making scientific connections. There is no requirement of a masters or PhD to make that scientific connection. The only requirements are patience, curiosity and an open mind.
This past school year I started a bird club at Wade Carpenter Middle School in an effort to get students to participate in citizen science. Citizen science is collaborative networking between scientists and everyday citizens. Through citizen science people can contribute to scientific data. For example, citizens use eBird to share sightings so that scientists get an idea where populations of birds are located. Teaching kids about citizen science not only inspires them to pursue science careers but connects them with nature. When we start as kids we may be more inclined to be citizen scientists for the rest of our lives.
Students had a wonderful time participating in the bird club. We did all kinds of projects including participating in the schools science fair and taking top honors in the Friends of the Santa Cruz river art contest. But one of our biggest contributions was entering our sightings on eBird. Students spent time counting the number of each species of birds and making sure to correctly identify the bird using their field guide. We bird watched twice a week from August until the week before finals in May. My students learned how to identify birds based on shape, size, color pattern, behavior, and habitat. We also feed birds at our school campus and visited Las Lagunas de Anza (a lagoon located near our school) to bird watch. It was an amazing experience to see my students gain an interest in local birds and have them participate in a citizen science project that contributes to scientific research.
My work here at Tumacacori National Historical Park deals with creating a curriculum for the Santa Cruz river. Much of the program is centered in a citizen science project. Through this program I hope to inspire kids to perform citizen science and contribute to scientific research. Using citizen science becomes a hands on way to educate kids about the environment and science, and gives them a personal sense of nature.