This week has been a scramble to get started on the field portion of my project, with the coming of the Klamath Network Inventory and Monitoring Program (KLMN) to teach me their standard operating procedures (SOPs) when sampling plots. As the season gets later and later we are able to get further up the mountains, where our plots were once (and some still are) covered in snow. This year, Lassen Volcanic NP had the latest road opening on record due to snowfall, which has created some challenges when monitoring at high elevations. Thankfully, we were able to make it to some plots so I could get hands-on experience with data sampling, monitoring, and storing– rather than just reading a how-to guide.
Learning KLMN’s procedures is crucial to this study because it makes our data comparable and replicable with theirs. Some things I learned were how to set up plots and subplots in the field, what signs to look for when diagnosing a blister rust infection, and how to prepare for going out in the field. It is such a unique experience working with trees; though they are living, their time-scale transcends that of humans. In the field, I am able to see trees that are hundreds of years old (Whitebark Pine can live up to 1,000 years!), many which probably withstood the eruptions from Mount Lassen. I am able to be a sort of ‘doctor’ to these trees, diagnosing infections and attempting to identify methods to restore the populations of a keystone species. This work is so fulfilling to me. Perhaps one day I will become a real doctor to these trees once I pursue a PhD in Forest Ecology.
After a long vacation, I came back revitalized and ready to dive into my project: monitoring and restoring whitebark pine populations. This week consisted of preparing for field sampling by learning standard protocols and creating GIS maps from pre-existing data and regional information to guide me when I am out conducting surveys. Being someone who needs to be outside the majority of my waking hours, I learned that you can’t have field work without administrative (and sadly, indoor) work. Some days I spent in the office reading countless technical documents, analyzing and organizing data in ArcGIS, and familiarizing myself with local flora and fauna. Other days allowed me to go in the field, to actualize that knowledge, and “learn by doing” (side-note: go CalPoly Mustangs!). I refreshed my memory with measuring diameters and heights of trees, identified various plant and tree species, and practiced locating and setting up plots for sampling. All of this went into preparing me for when I start monitoring for the effects of white pine blister rust next week.
So far, though I have barely explored the park, I am already amazed by its diversity. I am thrilled to get started on my sampling now that the snow has melted off the majority of high elevation areas and see the effects Cronartium ribicola on a unique keystone species. This eagerness fuels me on days when I am stuck in the office, longing to be outdoors, like I know most can relate to. Most of all, I am excited for my ‘real’ learning to begin. Now that I have completed my bachelor’s degree and am acclimating to the professional realm, I find myself swimming in the specialized knowledge of my colleagues, trying to take in every bit of information I can. Sometimes in this barrage of knowledge I find myself feeling inferior, wishing I was as smart as my fellow workers. During these times I remind myself that what I know is not nearly as important as what I am capable of learning, and once I stop pursuing that knowledge is when I have lost. Everybody starts somewhere, but it is grit, the motivation to keep reaching towards a long-term goal, that separates successful versus “unsuccessful” people. In other words, don’t give up!
I am officially back in the United States after taking a trip to Costa Rica to celebrate completing my undergrad! While there, I was able to completely immerse myself in the local culture and see what a country leading in sustainable practices (ecotourism, renewable energy, waste reduction, etc.) looks like. Costa Rica produces over 90% of its electricity from renewable resources and conserves around 30% of the natural land. The province I stayed in, Guanacaste, is in the northwest region of the country and it was evident there how much people cared about preserving their land.
For starters, every home is strategically built to go with nature instead of opposing it, like most Western structures. No one had grass lawns, pools, or slabs of cement sealing off the natural earth– instead, their ‘yards’ were just the already existing land, for the most part untouched, overgrown with native fruiting species. Another thing I noticed was how self-sufficient the people were. The majority of homes had at least one of the following: chickens, cows, goats, some sort of fruit tree, and vegetables. Next, I noticed how sustainable the businesses were there. One restaurant I went to (and loved so much we ended up going several times) stood out as being one of the most environmentally-friendly businesses I’ve seen. Lola’s restaurant along Playa Negra has amazing food and inspiring practices. Here is their mission statement:
Lola’s uses organic produce and free range organic chicken and eggs. We recycle, compost (or feed Lolita!) and convert fryer oil to biodiesel. We support the local communities, police, schools, children’s advocacy groups, lifeguards, beach cleanups, animal clinics & various social and environmental projects. Our wastewater treatment facility supplies water for our reforestation projects and gardens. Lola’s is climate neutral and has been since we opened in 1998. We hire locally and think of our loyal and conscientious employees as family.
Most other business followed a similar protocol by using local, organic produce, and promoting waste reduction such as recycling materials for other purposes.
Coming to Costa Rica left me feeling inspired to do my part to protect the environment and furthermore gave me hope that moving towards sustainability is not only achievable, but a real possibility that starts on a personal level. Seeing how other countries treat the environment can be very insightful, and in this case it was clear how proud everyone was of their country and its beauty, which was a driving force in the steps they took to maintain it. Now I am back and ready to get to work at Lassen!
Today marks the completion of my first week as a Biological Technician with Lassen Volcanic National Park (LAVO), and I can say with certainty that it exceeded all expectations I had. LAVO, which was established as a national park by Congress in 1916, encompasses approximately 200 square miles of magnificent, jaw-dropping scenery. It lies on the southern end of the Cascade Range, and represents four distinct types of volcanoes within its boundaries: dome, shield, cinder, and composite. The park also homes countless unique flora including the Whitebark Pine, which will be my focus as I delve into the field season.
Reflecting on my first week, I am extremely grateful for all the experiences I have had thus far. My first day consisted of a hike to Ridge Lakes where the snowpack was deep, an exciting experience for someone used to the beach. We trekked to the top (~8,700’) and I was immediately overcome by how breathtaking the view was. Nestled in the saddle of two peaks, I looked around and saw an expanse of snow-covered trees, a thawing lake, and Mt. Shasta in the distance.
The next day was filled to the brim with learning native flora. I was able to see countless unique wildflowers happily blooming after a snowy winter. Wednesday and Thursday were field days. I aided a crew in removing invasive species affecting the park. This was a really fun experience for me because we were able to go to areas of the park that were hardly trafficked by humans. I find myself stopping every once in a while to take a deep breath, and take in how lucky I am to be here.
Aside from the beauty of the park, the people who work here are also a huge part of what’s made my first week so enjoyable. Everyone is very friendly and welcoming here. On Tuesday’s they play softball which was a great way to get to know everyone and have some fun after a long work day. As I wrap up my first week, I know I will have my work cut out for me here, but the reward of being able to live in such a beautiful region is more than worth it. I am eager to see what the rest of my time here will consist of.
My name is Noelani Parker and I am recent graduate of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California, with a B.S. in Environmental Management and Protection. Though my journey deviates slightly from the other interns in that I won’t be starting until the end of June, I still wanted to take the time to introduce myself. This summer I will be working closely with the ecologist at Lassen Volcanic National Park in California as a Biological Technician in order to help map the distribution and infection rate of an overseas pathogen (Cronartium ribicola). As a result, most of my work will lead me to the backcountry terrain of Lassen, where both elevation and spirits will be high.
Growing up in a small coastal town in California gave me an early appreciation for nature, and a deep-rooted need to protect it. I was lucky enough to be able to engage myself in some sort of outdoor activity daily, and had an innate love for hiking and camping, making me ecstatic to have been accepted into a MIS program that allows me to do just that!
As the days dwindle down I find myself anxiously excited to see what this summer holds for me. I am mentally prepared to trek new mountains, expand my botanical knowledge, and work hard, but find myself nervous to live in a small town with a population bobbing around 100. For now, I have set my goals and intentions, and all I can do is let the excitement build. I can’t wait to share more of my adventure with everyone once it begins!