This week is my final week interning with Lassen Volcanic. It feels like it’s gone by at lightning speed, yet, at the same time I feel like I’ve been here for a year- experiencing bits of spring, summer, fall, and now winter. I am thankful to have been placed at such a beautiful park with diverse scenery and amazing, intelligent coworkers who teach me something new and make me laugh everyday. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to do research and complete a project on something that I am passionate about, and for a supervisor who gave me the freedom to exercise my creativity throughout the process.
I hiked to Mount Harkness where the fire lookout is this past weekend. From the top of this shield volcano you can see the entire park, making it perfect for fire monitoring. I looked out into the park and was amazed at how lucky I am to be here. I reflected on all the memories I’ve made here, all the miles hiked, diameters of trees taken, amount of trail mix eaten. This has been a growing experience, illuminating me to what I want to do in the future and how to get there. So for now I’ll say goodbye to Lassen as I start the next chapter of my life, and thanks for all the memories.
Yup, that’s right. Best. Business trip. Ever. If you need any other reason to get involved in conservation, restoration, or other related natural resources fields, look no further. You get to backpack while you work. For the past week, I went out into the backcountry to do some surveying in areas that are hard to reach when you have a daily commute. Although it didn’t snow like it did last week, the temperatures reached 27°! Myself and one other went out into the 74% of the park that is designated wilderness and were able to cover a lot of previously unsurveyed ground. Opportunities such as this one serve as a constant reminder of how grateful I am to be working in this field.
On Tuesday, the 19th of September, it snowed. I remember waking up and feeling a difference in the air- a crispness that only comes with snow. And, lo and behold, the snow came. Less than two months after the park road had officially opened it was closed once more. It has been so fascinating seeing how quickly things change here in Lassen. When I first arrived, there was too much snow for me to reach my survey plots. With haste the snow melted to reveal corn lily’s, mule’s ears, lupines, and innumerable ponds and lakes. Too quickly, it seems, the plants senesced, and a few days before the first day of Fall, came Winter.
This week I took a new approach to my sampling. Instead of following a protocol devised by an I&M network which sampled 50x50m plots, I decided I would get a better grasp on Whitebark Pine growing conditions and White Pine Blister Rust by walking along transects where they populate. In doing this, I collected a lot of quantitative data that I did not have before, and was able to hike along the ridgelines of several mountains in Lassen Park- double win!
Having the freedom to choose how to go about my project has led me to some ideas that allow me to use my creativity, which is how I best thrive! In three days, I traversed three peaks/ ridgelines, and gathered extremely useful information- no case of the Monday Blues here!
This week consisted of sampling my plots, as per usual. As I increase my sampling size, there are several realizations that I’ve come to have about the decline of Whitebark Pine. Whereas before I knew that they were being impacted by climate change, drought, mountain pine beetle, and blister rust, I stumbled upon another presumable factor that I noticed in the field. As global temperature increases, the areas where plants best grow and animals reside shift. As a result, Whitebark Pine trees, which grow in very high elevations and rocky soils that do not usually exhibit a lot of diversity, start to receive competition by other tree species moving to higher elevations– notably Mountain Hemlock.
Mountain Hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana) is tolerant of most forms of competition by other species. It grows in areas similar to that of Whitebark Pine, however, it grows in dense, tall stands that exceed the growth rates of Whitebark Pine. Subsequently, the Whitebark Pines are being pushed out or having trouble succeeding in areas where dense hemlock stands are present.
Noticing this reminded me that it’s always good to keep an open mind. When you become too focused on what you think the outcome should be, you ignore the truth.
This week I had the pleasure of working with the Klamath Inventory and Monitoring Network again. Aiding them with their plots helps me make sure that I am following the protocol correctly when working on my own plots. When travelling to our sites we see some of the most breathtaking views of Lassen– most of which many visitors do not have the opportunity to see. It’s a constant reminder of how grateful I am to work here and do what I do.
Not everyday is sight-seeing and tree-hugging, however. The advantage the Klamath Network has is that all of their sites have been visited before, monumented, and are known to be safe and viable sampling areas. With my sites, I determined points of interest based off information on where Whitebark Pine grows best and hoped they would be viable when I sought them out in the field. This isn’t always the case, I’ve come to realize. After we hiked for nearly 4 miles, we reached as close to our site as possible and decided that the terrain would be too risky to to be able to set up a sampling plot. Heartbroken, we took a break on a plateau and I looked around me. I saw several volcanic peaks, beautiful topography, and Mt. Shasta in the distance. Taking in the view I realized that it’s okay for situations like this to happen, and that there’s a positive side to everything if you just take a moment to look.
This past week I had the opportunity to go out into the field and sample my Whitebark Pine plots. The sites were ones I identified using ArcMap as having a high probability of Whitebark Pine populations. I used different slope, soil, elevation, and vegetation information to derive areas of interest, then randomly designated 50×50 meter plots within those areas. Whitebark Pine is found in subalpine and alpine elevations, mostly in rockier soil types, which meant that the majority of my plots were surrounding Lassen Peak. When I went out to my first plot I was excited to see that there was indeed Whitebark Pine populations growing! They were also present at the second and third sites I visited—score!
It was a relief to see that I correctly identified populous areas. I was mainly excited, however, to be applying skills learned during my time in college to real-world issues. Through the first few plots that I sampled I was able to gather information about white pine blister rust and its distribution throughout the park. I can only wait to see what I else I will discover by the end of the season.
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!