The bear hair snares that are set up around Yellowstone National Park have to be checked and re-baited periodically. When the snare sights are revisited, the barbs on the wire are checked for hair left behind by bears curious to see what is in the middle of the snare. At the end of the season the hair snares have to be taken down for the fall, winter, and spring. The focus of this week’s work was to do a final check for bear hair, and take down these sights. The barbed wire was taken off the four trees, and wrapped around one tree until samples are to be collected again next season.
Bears are often viewed as an iconic symbol of wildness. Though there a people who can say they have actually seen a bear in the wild, there are people who cannot say they have. Bears located in National Parks attract a lot of attention. Bear sightings cause traffic jams, and in some cases, cause people to get into accidents because of senseless and reckless behavior to see wildlife. Bears also attract the attention of wildlife researchers who have careers studying this iconic animal.
Bears have been observed rubbing their backs against trees. It looks like they are scratching to get that unbearable itch, but they often rub their backs on trees to communicate with one another. Rubbing their backs on trees leaves their scent so other bears can know they’re in their area. Scientists suggest that they also rub trees to get a good scratch or to cover them with sap, which is used as a bug repellent. When rubbing against these trees, they often leave a significant amount of hair on the bark. Researchers find and collect these hairs because they contain a variety of information such as: species, gender, individual identity, as well genetic relatedness/diversity within and between populations. This information can then be used to study distribution, abundance, movement patterns as well as evolutionary history.
Finding the trees that bears rub against can be a bit difficult due to the plethora of trees in their habitat, so bear biologists create hair snares. They tie barbed wire around four trees to make an area of about 5×5 meters. The wire is about 2- 2 1/2 ft off the ground so the bear can get to the middle of the square which is baited with something to attract the bears. I helped the researchers re-bait these hair snares using a fish blood concoction. The scent draws the bears in, but they have to get past the wire, so they often get hair snagged while passing through to the middle to investigate the scent.
An invasive species is any plant, insect, fungi, bacteria or animal that is not native to a specific ecosystem. It can even include an organism’s seeds or eggs that doesn’t naturally occur in a specific area. Invasive species are usually spread by humans, often unintentionally. Since humans have the ability to travel to and from different places, we often bring along hitchhikers. Invasive species can stowaway in or on boat, wood, plants, and even our clothing and vehicles. Some invasive species are accidentally or intentionally released which is most commonly seen in the pet trade. Pets sometimes get lost, or some people realize that they can no longer care for that particular pet, and release it into the wild, disregarding the potential conflicts. Invasive species can wreak havoc on an ecosystem as they can out-compete native species for food and other resources.
Some species can be invasive in one area, but native in another. In parts of Montana, the brown trout is the invasive species and are out competing native cutthroat trout. I worked with a fish crew from the USGS to study the effects of this problem. We installed under water antennae that will scan and read trout that have been pit-tagged. Each pit-tag has a unique I.D. number which will be associated with a particular fish. Some of the data collected will include the time of day that fish swam over the antennae, and what direction they were traveling, whether it was upstream or downstream. This data is useful because it can show us how native species are being affected by the invasive species. The overall goal is to be able to come up with sound ecological solutions to help alleviate the problem.
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!
Along with every field researchers, there are people in the office who receive the data collected in the field and put the data to use. Data is interpreted and organized in graphs, tables, and even maps. ArcGIS is commonly used to visually represent data that is collected in the field. This is important for several reasons: One reason is that once data is put onto maps, you can get a visual representation of the area that was surveyed and develop hypotheses as to how it may affect the data that was collected. Another reason is the area that was surveyed can be re-visited in the future. The maps can assure the accuracy of your location once in the field.
Interpretation of data is a very important step of developing proper solutions to environmental issues that are being studied. I took part in ArcGIS training to learn how data is manipulated to be displayed on maps. Along with this training, I also enrolled in classes that taught the importance of the National Park Service and its employees.
After a nearly 70 year absence, 41 wolves from Canada and northwest Montana were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park between 1995 and 1997. Predation is a fundamental ecological process, therefore research is most often conducted using large carnivores. Wolf predation has been amongst the best-studied predator-prey relationships of all. Doug Smith, a senior wildlife biologist manages wolf programs along with several other programs. Him and his crew catch and collar wolves of various wolf packs located in the park to effectively track their movement. I am pleased to say that I was able to meet Doug Smith along with some other wolf project crew members, and assist them in studying wolf clusters in Northern Yellowstone.
Wolf clusters are areas where wolves are observed (via GPS collars) to spend a significant amount of time. pack locations are updated roughly every 30 minutes, therefore if the wolves have, for example made a kill, or are bedding down, there will be a cluster of GPS points. Once the clusters are found, crew members hike out to these clusters and look for hair, scat, signs of bedding, and bone shards to name a few. I was able to tag along with the crew and look for these signs at several wolf clusters. While surveying these clusters, we found various bone shards and other remnants of wolf kills. We also found hair, scat and bed sites, but the kills were must more interesting to see! If bones were found, samples were taken from the carcass to determine overall health and age of the prey. The data collected from GPS clusters along with things found at cluster sites are used to determine, on average, territory, how frequent a pack is making a kill, and how much they are consuming. I was very fortunate to get to see an adult wolf, two cubs playing outside of a den site, and even the alpha female of one of the packs! While observing wolves, we saw grizzly bears, black bears, bison, elk, and big horn sheep.
I am very lucky to have been able to meet, and work with such dedicated people. “Spread the good word about wolves to all your friends and family”‘ says Doug Smith. Wolves play a very important role in the ecosystem, and are very rewarding to see in the wild. Wolf populations should be protected to be maintain an ecological balance, as well as to be observed by future generations.
This week I was fortunate enough to be able to go to Glacier National Park. We stayed in an amazing house in the research community in West Glacier, just outside the park entrance. We took part of the National Park service’s citizen science program, which included phenology training, high country training, and a mushroom bio-blitz. During the phenology training we were taught how to identify huckleberry bushes, and their varying stages. We went hiking and surveyed huckleberry plants of the park and input the data into a newly developed app for the citizen science program. For the high country training, we learned about animals that live in alpine habitats such as pika, mountain goats, and big horn sheep. We traveled to East Glacier to monitor and collect data on these species. We had a day to do what we wanted, so we decided to take part in a re-vegetation program that involved planting whitebark pine seedlings in an area that was burned two years ago. The whitebark pines grow at high altitudes, so it was a very long and steep hike to the burn area. Despite the daunting hike, we were able to get some amazing views. During our final day in Glacier National Park, we took part in a mushroom bio-blitz, in which we searched for fungi with mycologists from Canada, in East Glacier. If you haven’t been to Glacier National Park, I strongly encourage you to plan a trip there because it is absolutely spectacular!
This week, we traveled to Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in Big Horn County Montana to do vegetation monitoring. The purpose of vegetation monitoring is to determine whether vegetation composition, structure and condition are changing over time due to climate and/or in response to a management intervention. I learned how to I.D. several grasses, trees and shrubs, along with how to determine cover class percentage. We camped at the Ewing Snell Historic Ranch Site. Big Horn Canyon was absolutely breathtaking. Everything from the wildlife to the landscape was mesmerizing. It was an honor and a privilege to have been able to work in such a beautiful place. I had a very close encounter with a black bear and her two cubs. After a long day of monitoring, we returned to our campsite, and these three bears walked right behind our tents! We also encountered wild horses, scorpions, antelope, and a rattlesnake which I nearly stepped on while surveying one of our plots! I have learned so much in such a small amount of time and I owe it all to the supportive, passionate and knowledgeable staff with whom I work. There hasn’t been a dull moment since I began this internship and I look forward the adventures and experiences yet to come.
Greetings everyone, my name is Marquise White and I am from Waldorf Maryland. I am currently a Senior at Frostburg State University where I am pursuing a degree in Wildlife & Fisheries, and minoring in Biology and French. As a child, I was always outside exploring my surroundings, and appreciating the outdoors. My adventures outdoors along with watching channels such as Animal Planet, National Geographic, and the Discovery Channel sparked my interest in wildlife and natural resources.
I am currently interning at the Greater Yellowstone Inventory and Monitoring Network where I will be taking part in several research projects such as Pika and vegetation monitoring, and water quality sampling to name a few. I am staying at Montana State University in Bozeman Montana. It is absolutely breathtaking here in Bozeman. There are vast amounts of wildlife and mountains. The first week mainly consisted of in-office training to prepare us for the things I will be doing throughout my internship. In my short time here, I have already been on several hikes in the surroundings areas, and it is very beautiful. I find myself constantly amazed at how beautiful the landscape is. I am very excited to see what this summer has in-store for me. I am very fortunate to have received this internship and I am looking forward to new experiences and meeting new people. I fully intend on using this internship to learn new things as well as network with the people I meet to hopefully gain insight on potential career paths for me.