Never have I ever seen a bat up close. At least until last week! I attended a workshop that was held right here at Lava Beds National Monument on field survey techniques to study bats. One of the survey techniques discussed during the workshop was mist-netting. Mist-netting relies on the element of surprise to capture bats in a wall of thin netting. Although I didn’t have my rabies vaccine and was unable to handle bats, I held the honor of being the data scribe. We noted the sex, age, and reproductive status of each captured bat. In addition, we measured the bat’s forearm length and body weight. Based on qualitative characteristics such as tail structure or fur, we were able to identify the species which each bat belonged. However, some bat species look so similar that the only way to decisively pinpoint their species is through acoustic identification. After releasing the captured bat, we recorded its echolocation calls and used software called SonoBatLIVE to automatically classify the bat based on the call characteristics. SonoBatLIVE is the same program I use during my Bat Walk interpretative programs so I was excited to see it in a different context.
I had heard the sharp chatters of over fifty bats tucked into a tight crevice. I had seen thousands of bats emerge out of a cave. But I was able to really get up close and personal with a bat even if I couldn’t physically touch it. By doing so, I busted the most widely held myth about bat: the belief that they aren’t cute. I call them ugly-cute. Like a pug or bulldog. Here’s to hoping that these photos can convince you!
“Spies.” “Disloyals.” “Japs.” These words erased and replaced the names of eighteen thousand Japanese American citizens imprisoned at the Tulelake Segregation Center. They were no longer individuals. They were all the same in the U.S. government’s eyes, linked by their ancestry to those who attacked Pearl Harbor. “A Jap’s a Jap,” said General John DeWitt to justify internment. To be Japanese meant you were stripped of your freedom and undeserving of humane treatment. Tulelake Segregation Center surely embodies this sentiment. The entire town of Tulelake could fit in a just few of the barracks that held over ten Japanese American families. The barracks were not only overcrowded, but also enclosed in layers and layers of barbed wire. Those imprisoned were closely watched by armed guards wherever they went. The only crime they had committed was being Japanese.
Tulelake Segregation Center is a unit of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument; it is also half an hour from Lava Beds National Monument. Last week, along with my co-workers at Lava Beds Resource Management Division, I took a tour with an interpretative ranger of the segregation center. One of the most powerful moments during the tour was the visit to the jail. “Show me the way to go home,” reads a graffiti message on the walls of one jail cell. When a nation you considered your homeland isolates and brands you as an imposter, where do you call home? How do you make sense of a government that not only turns its back on you but also actively spreads racist sentiments against you? “It whipped up hatred and fear toward an entire group of people based solely on our ancestry,” writes George Takei, whose family was imprisoned at Tulelake. Takei calls internment “America’s Great Mistake.” Today, we are living with this legacy. Yes, the U.S. government has formally apologized for its blatantly racist segregation of Japanese Americans, but that by no means translates to a nation free from discrimination against Asian-Americans and other people of color.
After the tour, I reflected on how much further we have left in this nation to progress. We have so much to improve upon that I can’t help but feel sad or angry. However, I also remembered when I spoke with a program manager and resource assistant from our regional inventory and monitoring network. All three of us were Asian-Americans. We shared our experiences working for the National Park Service as people of color. I was able to see other people who looked like me and came from similar backgrounds as me achieve genuine success in the NPS.
Do you enjoy eating fresh fruits and vegetables? Well, if you live in a remote park, you might have to jump some hoops and hurdles to just to get them. Unless, of course, you grow your own fruits and vegetables, which is exactly what the staff at Lava Beds National Monument are doing! At the beginning of my internship park employees came together to build a community garden next to staff housing. The community garden arose from a growing need among staff members for fresh, affordable food. Fresh, affordable food is hard to come by living inside a remote park because the nearest grocery store is almost an hour away and fresh produce there comes at a hefty price. Given some investments in time and seedlings, the garden provides the opportunity to have produce right outside our doorstep. Over time, it also will become a space for connections within the park community, bringing together interns, seasonal employees, and managers across divisions in the struggle for good food. It is, after all, a community garden not just a small-scale farm.
Early in the season, the garden plots were just large boxes of soil and compost. Now, the garden is full of flowers and bustling with butterflies. But recently, we’ve encountered the first enemy to our garden: a very gluttonous squirrel. It has mowed over lettuce, cilantro, and cucumbers, leaving only little nubs in its path. This squirrel even has a palate for spice; it snacked on my cayenne peppers. Frankly, there have been moments when I’ve discovered the entire plant gnawed off and contemplated giving up on my garden plot altogether. But as Rudyard Kipling once said, “gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful!’ and sitting in the shade.” I’ve come to realize that gardens are made of sheer persistence. And so the members of the community garden have teamed up to battle this squirrel by making natural repellants to spray on our vulnerable vegetables. Look out hungry squirrel because we’re up to the challenge of defending our garden!
Science is often valued as a way to understand how the world works and leverage that understanding to better human society. Yet, there is growing mistrust in science among the public. Some people see science as pretentious, elitist, or misleading; this attitude is frankly dangerous.
Interpretation can play a significant role in repairing the relationship to science as I learned during my three days of training at Yosemite National Park. Together with some amazing individuals from the Klamath Inventory and Monitoring Network, I attended two of the Bat Chat programs at Yosemite. The Bat Chats combined scientific data collection with interpretative talks by recording echolocation calls with visitors while sharing information about bats. The data collected from the Bat Chat was then incorporated into a long-term acoustic monitoring program to examine the effects of climate change or habitat disruption on bat species. Visitors were able to actively engage in the scientific process rather than passively observe it. Because both interpreters and visitors were collecting data together, there was less of an us-them hierarchy between citizens and scientists. By intertwining bat biology with personal experience, the interpreters constructed genuine emotional connections to scientific facts. You could see visitors’ faces light up and hear them ooh and ah when we heard bats! This upcoming week I’ll be incorporating the lessons on science communication from Yosemite to improve on my own Bat Walk program.
Weather in the desert is wild, so wild that you can see snow in June! A few days ago, I woke up to snowfall outside my window and all across the entire park. I couldn’t believe that only a week ago I was complaining about the dry desert heat. Some of you might be unimpressed by snow no matter the season but to put my excitement in context, both Virginia (where I go to school) and Guam (where I grew up) have very little to absolutely no snow. So this surprise snowfall was especially impressive for me!
Its the most wonderful time of the year – June! . . . Photo Credit: Ranger Jillian at the Big Nasty Trail today . . . ⛄⛄⛄ . . . #lavabedsnationalmonument #findyourpark #ilovelavabeds #nature #summersnow
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Inspired by the wild weather, a couple of other interns and I decided to go venture out and explore some caves. After crawling to the end of Valentine Cave, we turned off our lights and lied down on the cave floor in absolute darkness. At first, the dark and confined space is creepy but somehow in the quiet shadows I found myself feeling calm and almost on the brink of sleep. Even though I had already been inside a cave during my first week here at Lava Beds, I never paused to appreciate the solitude you can find within caves, solitude that is simultaneously eerie and relaxing.
After Valentine Cave, we set our sights on Golden Dome Cave, which is named after the glittering bacterial colonies that resemble golden dust and line the cave’s vast walls and ceilings. The bacteria are hydrophobic so water gathers as beads on top of them and the bacteria appear shiny. Before arriving at Lava Beds, I assumed caves were only colored in shades of gray and brown. Golden hues were the last thing on my mind but as I’ve learned, Lava Beds is full of surprises!
Since its emergence in 2006, white nose syndrome (WNS) has killed over 5 million bats across the Northeast region. The disease is caused by a fungus that destroys the bats’ skin and wings, leading to dehydration or starvation. WNS has spread rapidly throughout the eastern U.S. and some occurrences have recently been documented in the West. National parks and monuments throughout the West are closely monitoring bat populations for any signs of WNS. Lava Beds National Monument is no different; the Bat and Cave Team here monitors bat populations to estimate their numbers and watch out for irregular behavior.
One of the methods to estimate bat populations is mobile acoustic monitoring along a transect. This week, I accompanied the Lava Beds Bat and Cave Team on a mobile transect for the first time! We attached a microphone to a large post on a car and then recorded over 50 bat echolocation calls as we drove along the park. Afterwards, we processed the data to identify the bat species we encountered and plotted them on a map. If you’d like to see the results we found on Google Earth, click here to download the KMZ file!
Although acoustic monitoring is an integral part of protecting the bats at Lava Beds, many of the visitors to the park aren’t aware of it or how it works. That’s where my interpretative program comes in! By incorporating real-time acoustic monitoring into an evening program, visitors can experience echolocation firsthand and connect with bats as well as science and nature as a whole. So far, I’ve done three of these “bat walks” and I’m amazed at the level of enthusiasm visitors of all ages have for bats. They’re curious about topics like species differences, migration, and hibernation. Throughout the summer, I hope that I can keep improving my program to further facilitate this curiosity!
As its name suggests, Lava Beds National Monument is known for its geologic formations built by volcanic eruptions especially its vast networks of caves. Caves draw in a huge number of visitors that seek to explore their twists and turns. So far, I’ve been to three caves at Lava Beds and can attest to the adventures you can find by exploring them!
Although most visitors are interested in the geology of the caves, they are often anxious about the bats that reside in them. A lot of this anxiety about bats can be traced to common misconceptions that give the creatures a bad reputation. The image of the blood-sucking bat is all over popular media like movies and TV shows. So this week, I’ve been working on an interpretative program for park visitors that will clarify some of these misconceptions. By developing this program, I’ve dispelled my own preconceptions about bats and discovered that bats are misunderstood yet remarkable creatures! Echolocation is only one of their many superpowers. Some bats are also immune to scorpion stings.
As part of my program, I will demonstrate a new software that monitors bat echolocations in real time. Visitors will be able to “see” bats through their calls and experience them in a non-harmful or overwhelming way. The first time I tried out the software we found a hairy winged myotis, which is only about 3 inches in length and 10 grams in weight. Most of the bats I’ve seen back home are larger fruit bats distinguishable by their audible calls. So I was so amazed that through this form of acoustic monitoring, we’re able to identify bats we can’t see or hear! Although I have to wear a 4-foot-tall microphone while monitoring, I am excited to look foolish in the name of science.
My name is Dominique Ong (Dom for short) and I can officially check seeing a bald eagle off my bucket list! Together with another more experienced and extremely patient intern, I helped conduct a survey to observe the presence and behavior of eagles. We hiked up a butte, or steep hill, to reach an unobstructed view of the eagle’s nest. This eagle survey is part of my work with the National Resources team at Lava Beds National Monument. The park is located in Tulelake, California, which is about 5-6 hours from Portland or San Francisco.
While at Lava Beds, I’m excited to check more and more things off my bucket list. My bucket list is constantly growing because the high desert environment is a place that is especially unfamiliar to me. I am originally from the island of Guam so immense deserts and snowy mountains are not exactly sights I’m used to seeing everyday. Even at the University of Virginia, where I study environmental science and global studies, I don’t see the unique wildlife and formations here at Lava Beds! It’s definitely an adventure out here and I can’t wait to explore my first cave and meet some bats.