I have to admit; writing a post unrelated to work feels odd. But I’ll go with it anyway. Plus, I feel the pictures accompanying this post are worth sharing.
On Sunday morning, despite the ominous clouds looming about, my colleague Dr. Evan Anderson and I decided to finally ascend Raspberry Mountain after putting it off for several weeks. The morning started off quite brisk and just as we started the trail towards Raspberry Mountain I was regretting not having brought along a jacket. However, within a few minutes of hiking uphill, my body began to warm up. There were so many great sights along the trail that I soon forgot about how cold I was. I was thrilled to have stumbled upon the state flower of Colorado, the Blue Columbine.
After about an hour and a half of hiking, we reached the summit of Raspberry Mountain. The views were incredibly spectacular and the clouds began to dissipate while we were up there. Though Tava (Pikes Peak) was initially covered in clouds, by the time we reached the summit, she decided to reveal herself.
Shortly after, a man and his dog, Tyson, joined us at the summit. Instantly, I was reminded of one of my dogs back home in Los Angeles. Tyson shared many of the same features with my dog Canela. After speaking with the man about the breed of his dog, it all made sense; both are a mix between Labrador Retriever and Rhodesian Ridgeback. Not only were their physical features incredibly similar, but also their personalities. There was an instant connection between Tyson and I. So much that he even posed for the camera without me asking him to.
As if taking his own photos weren’t enough, with every shot I had Evan take of me at the summit, Tyson managed to squeeze his way into them. I didn’t mind at all though. In fact, I pretended that it was Canela I had with me and made the most of it.
I realize to many people, a moment like this may not mean much. However, for someone like me, who has always had at least one dog in their life, it was incredibly special. I have always connected real well with dogs and this encounter was just as meaningful as if it were my own dog with me. To end this post, I’ll add a picture of another landscape shot I took. Just to vary things a bit.
In the National Park Service, there are a lot of acronyms and buzz words used to describe entities and procedures. I compiled a list of lingo that are thrown around the office and in the field:
Arrowhead: The National Park Service emblem
Bioswail: area of plants and soil to capture sediment before they reach the water source
Blowdown: a tree or trees that have been blown down by the wind or other factors.
“It is best to avoid blowdown while walking through the forest.”
Cut stump: Using loppers to cut woody stems and apply a herbicide to stunt growth
Dbh: stands for diameter at breast height, is a measuring tape.
Epp: a sound made by a crewmember to locate other members or call for assistance in the forest
1 epp= hey! 2epps= come over here 3epps= emergency or cool mushroom
GAR: Operational risk management assessment procedure that ranks 8 categories green, amber, or red to determine mitigation
Garlon: Herbicide used for cut stump treatments
GIS: geographic information systems capture, store, manipulate, and analyze spatial data
GPS: global positioning system
HAGA: a rangefinder used to measure the height of trees and forest canopy.
Hori-hori: Japanese soil knife that is very sharp and useful for removing blackberry shrubs
Nurse log: a fallen tree that decays and provides nutrients to support other trees
Organic Act of 1916: the federal that established the National Park Service
“…to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
PIV: Personal identity verification card for US Federal employees that takes a long process to obtain
PNW: Pacific Northwest
PPE: Personal protective equipment such as goggles or gloves
Snag: dead tree that has fallen or at a 40 degree angle
SPE: severity, probability, and exposure for assessing risk of injury
Surfactant: a chemical solution mixed with herbicide to stick to the plant it is applied to
Transect: a line in which people walk along that is representative of the larger site usually for invasive work or vegetation monitoring
Tree hugging: literally hugging trees or measuring a tree using a dbh measuring tape (see dbh)
VC: Visitor Center
VIP: Volunteer-in-Parks program for people to get involved in the national parks
WASO: Washington Support Office is the NPS national headquarters which provide services to the regional offices and coordinate with other agencies
YCC: Youth Conservation Corps is a summer youth program
The past few weeks I have been entering data, checking field logs for quality assurance, and searching for shapefiles. As much as I love data, it was a long tedious process that I celebrated when it was completed. On Tuesday, I got to change up my office environment to the East fork of the Lewis River. My supervisor, Carla, and I joined other scientists and professionals at a Science Work Group Trip organized by the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership. We started to canoe at La Center, Washington and continued along the river to a couple of restoration sites to learn about the progress of other projects and network.
The first stop was a brief tour of the La Center restoration site. The site was lush with native plantings and had been under water for a majority of the winter and spring. The willow trees were looking healthy and the reed canary grass growth had been stunted for the long duration of inundation. This site was particularly intriguing because it looked similar to the restoration site I have been analyzing data for. We learned about their management techniques and returned to paddle downriver. The second project was at Plas Newydd farm and Wapato Valley Mitigation Bank, an 876-acre restoration. The plan was impressive; recreating channels for salmonids, reestablishing habitats for Streaked Horned Lark, promoting growth of Oregon White Oak, and securing turtle nesting areas. After the presentation we enjoyed lunch underneath massive sequoia trees. The day on the river was the perfect escape from the confines of my desk, but more importantly, I got to talk to scientists who are dedicated to the work they do inspiring me to continue my career in natural resource management. When you love what you do, it is not work anymore. It is joy.
It is time to go back to Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park (PAAL) again. But before I tell some of the great things that happened during the July trip I want to tell you a little about what happens in between the trips.
The journey between Lafayette, LA and Brownsville, TX takes approximately 9 to 10 hours each way. It is imperative that we make the money and time spent worth it. During the drive back, last time, William Finney, the network field biologist, and I spend a great amount of time talking about this project. You can’t imagine how much inspiration you can have when you are confine to a small space. The intention of this internship project is to implement, test, and evaluate the design of the radio tracking project which will continue beyond the summer. I can’t express how happy I’m to have the opportunity of giving my inputs to a project that will help improve the decisions made to manage the natural resources of one of our beautiful National Parks.
Between trips there is a lot of work to do, however when you know that what you do DOES make a difference and can have REAL impact on the results of science discoveries it is all worth. After processing our field data, pictures, GPS points, writing the trip report, and having project meetings we decided to modify the project design, and tracking procedures. I’m confident that the project changes will greatly improve the quality of this project results. So there you go, now that you know a little more what happens behind the scenes let’s talk about of highlights of this trip.
Contrary to popular belief tortoises do not walk super slowly. Here you can see one of our tracked animals in turbo mode.
Tortoises and snakes have the same hiding spots. This can be very dangerous if you are not extremely careful during you field work.
Tiny tortoises are adorable.
Doesn’t matter if you have a transmitter on you, there will always be a male that is attracted to you.
Contrary to the more common way of fishing ‘hook, line, sinker’, there is electro-fishing! Electro-fishing is a method used for scientific surveys of fish populations. Using direct current electricity you can create an electric field that stuns nearby fish. This makes it incredibly easy to net them. Once they’re netted you store them in the live well while you continue your survey, in which time they usually start to come back to normal.
When you’re finished collecting fish in your survey area then you can start to identify them. You keep track of the different types of species found and how many. Depending on the fish size, they may also be weighed and measured.
Knowing what types of fish are there and in what abundance really helps to inform you on water quality. Fish that are more reliant on clean water and are pollutant sensitive are a good sign. While having a profound amount of pollutant tolerant fish might mean higher pollution in the water.
These waterways are vital to the ecosystem, as are the fish that live in it, so these surveys really help to give us a good idea of the good and bad changes that’re happening in that environment.
After processing the video footage from our first week of stationary camera deployments, we noticed we were not alone. Most people just recognize her as a shark, but that’s an understatement. She’s a tiger shark. Locals have taken to calling her Tony the Tiger. National Park Service biologists and technicians have yet to encounter one in their many years of diving around Buck Island so my team and I are confident we won’t be crossing paths with Tony while scuba diving.
NPS has been working with multiple collaborators to study the movements of sharks within the monument using acoustic telemetry. Given these recent sightings of Tony in our video footage, NPS biologists are eager to see if they can cross reference these sightings with detections from acoustic receivers installed near our camera monitoring site. We hope to find that Tony is one of the individuals that was tagged in previous years.
Tiger sharks are natural predators to sea turtles. Their serrated teeth allow them to tear through the turtle’s carapace (shell). Even though Tony has been feeding on our study subjects, we’re happy that she’s here. The presence of apex predators is one of the signs of a healthy ecosystem. Believe it or not, they play an important role in structuring seagrass ecosystems. They balance the food web as well as prevent lower levels from exhausting resources.
Healthy seagrass ecosystem = Abundant greens turtles = Tiger sharks
It’s important to understand the significance of top-down control in natural ecosystems in order to better establish conservation and management baselines that could predict ecosystem responses to natural and anthropogenic change.
Yes, as the title suggest this post sure promise bears ♥ … I got the great opportunity to shadow the Wildlife Ranger during a Bear release and a procedure known as Bear Check-Up. As I may have mentioned on my previous post, at Great Smoky Mountains there are approximately 1,600 American black bears, Ursus americanus
As an aspiring Wildlife Biologist, this shadowing was a dream come true experience. It all happened when I arrived at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, when there was a rumor among my co-workers about a bear being brought to Headquarters, and that one of the interns went to see it. I asked my supervisor at the Visitor Center about it, and she told me it had happened earlier, before I arrived. I got sad, but continued my day normally. Then. the intern that assisted on the bear returned showing off these amazing pictures, when he mentions that the wildlife ranger returning for anyone who wants to assist to the release. My face expression changed from serious and disappointed to excited and grinning.
It was funny, because my supervisor came outside to ask me if I was interested in attending a bear release, and before she finished the question, I said: “Yes!, of course!” , and she replied: “Oh, ok you are clearly excited. You are definitely going.”
When the wildlife ranger arrived, they had the bear on the “bear cage”. People were gathering up around, causing a “bear jam” on the parking. Another intern and I went on the ride to release the bear in Chimney Tops Picnic Area, where this bear was caught the night before. It was around lunch time so as you can imagine, it was crowded and the cage caught everyone’s attention. This was good though, as the wildlife ranger had a big audience to educate about the importance of making sure that when out in the field, you want to make sure that you leave no trace behind. Leaving “human” food leads to unfortunate consequences to wildlife. On this case, for bears, they can get sick from it and also it can lead to a harming attack.
Bears in general are omnivorous animals, they can eat everything. Although, commonly they eat berries, if given the chance of a burger or a something sweet such as a donut, they’ll choose it over berries (I would!). Black bears are not aggressive but if they get used to humans, they could fight them over the food. That’s the most common cause for human incidents, at least at the Smokies. These results not only bad for the human but for the bear too, for the management action would be relocation which can result very stressful, and on a worse case and last resort, euthanization.
When the bear got release, it was obviously scared but even more with a huge crowd yelling at you. He ran off the hill, hopefully not roaming around the picnic area again.
We went back to the warehouse, where the wildlife ranger station is, and for my surprise, they had another bear trap from a campground. For this one, I got to assist on the whole process of the Bear Check Up:
- Carrying the bear inside
- Taking physical measurements: Paws, the whole arm, head, neck, body
- Hair and Blood samples for DNA data
- Body Temperature
- Tooth, for accurate aging
- Ear Tag
- Tattoo on the inner lip of the mouth for Id.
The main purpose of the bear check up not only is to monitor in the future the “misbehaved” bear but also making a bad human impression so the bear gets scare of us enough to not to get closer.
After that, we returned to the visitor center to continue with our day. For the rest of the day, I couldn’t stop thinking about this experience. It made me appreciate the opportunities that this internship has to offer and how to use these as a motivation to continue on this career path.
“The least I can do is speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves” – Jane Goodall
Water quality is an important vital sign for parks health assessment. I was able to participate in water quality monitoring sampling with the Gulf Coast Network (GULN) at two different parks: Jean Lafitte National Park and Preserve (JELA) and Big Thicket National Preserve (BITH). In this blog, I will tell you about my experience at JELA.
Joe Maine is the network hydrologist responsible for the methodology and analysis of the long-term water quality monitoring. For more information about our reports and analysis, please go to: “https://science.nature.nps.gov/im/units/guln/monitor/water_quality.cfm.”
Whitney Granger, the network data manager, is responsible for the water quality sampling at JELA and BITH. At JELA, we use a boat to navigate through the canals of the Barataria Preserve, The monitoring started in July 2008, and it is measured at five sites: Bayou Bardeaux and Whiskey, Pipeline, Tarpaper and Millaudon Canals.
In the picture below you can see me recording the measurements of the field parameters, air temperature, water temperature, specific conductance (SpC), pH, dissolved oxygen (DO) and turbidity, and flow condition. We also collect water for lab analysis for Escherichia coli (E. coli), nitrate, nitrite and phosphorous.
At the same time as Whitney and I were doing the water quality sampling, Jane Carlson, network ecologist, and William Finney, the field biologist, were doing the amphibian monitoring at JELA. We met for lunch and then we went to the visitor center of JELA to freshen up and do some more work. This was an unusual sample trip, not only we did water quality and amphibian monitoring, but we also investigated new sites to be added on to the amphibian monitoring protocol.
I had a great time being on the boat and enjoying the beautiful views of the Barataria Preserve. I also learn a lot from the assessment we did on the possible new site for the amphibian monitoring. However, the most interesting part of this trip was when Whitney shared an interesting fact with me. In the picture below, you can see a lone cypress tree at the far right, when he was a teenager the marsh went all the way to that tree. If you never heard before, I will tell you now, land loss in Louisiana is a real issue.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey’s most recent analysis in 2011, Louisiana lost an average of 16.6 square miles of land a year from 1985 to 2010. Louisiana’s land loss involves at least three main factors: reduced sediment flow from the Mississippi River and its tributaries, subsidence, and sea-level rise. This is a very hot and complicated topic, I will not get into details. However, to have someone pointing out these changes in such a visual way, made my jaw drop lower than any published paper have ever done.
The Santa Cruz River is rich with history and natural resources. Many people have been attracted to the area because of its landscape and the flowing river. Early archeological evidence suggests that the Santa Cruz River basin has been inhabited for 4,000 years. The Hohokam left behind canals in central Arizona (lower Santa Cruz) indicating advanced agriculture technology. The Hohokam utilized the rivers resources for food and drew water from wells. The later O’odham people did as well and the river continued to flow as the first Spanish explorers arrived in 1540.
The Spanish explorers saw the river’s value for agriculture and raising livestock. They began establishing visitas, and missions along the river where many Native Americans had their villages. The Santa Cruz River would soon support an increase in population, agriculture and livestock adding demand on the river. Yet, the river continued to flow and provide people with needed water. The Spanish settlers and Native Americans shared a common view of the river as central for life.
The river brought people to its floodplains and the history of the area is enriched because of its presence. In Tumacacori an adobe church stands reminding its visitors of history, culture, and a river that nourished many communities over the years.
Managing natural resources in a park is a balancing act. Some days you are adding to the land and others you are removing from the land. I got the opportunity to do a bit of both this week! We started off the week planting everything we bought the week before for the garden outside headquarters. The park has a program called Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) which is a group of 10-15 kids below the age of 18 who work at the park over the summer and they came out to help us plant. It was fun getting to know the kids and learning about what they’re interested in and what brought them to the National Park Service. It was really great to plant everything and see the whole garden come together nicely where before there was nothing but a couple sad looking bushes. Here are few pictures of all of us really in the zone planting!
The next day I had the chance to join the team who monitors the water in the river that runs in part of the park. It was really interesting to learn about how to test water quality and what is ideal for fish species. They showed us how to understand the different things that are monitored such as pH, flow, and more. They even let us handle some of the equipment which was fun to try in different areas of the stream to see how different factors could change across the stream. I would definitely be interested in learning more about stream monitoring and how they interpret the data and degradation of water bodies.
Switching gears from planting, we worked with a lot of herbicide this week! We learned how to mix herbicide and were able to do it ourselves and understand the different substances that are added together to create the herbicide we put in our backpack sprayers. We used Rodeo herbicide which is non-selective and kills every plant it comes in contact with because we were clearing a parking lot of a lot of growth coming up in the cracks. We mixed the Rodeo with a dye and a substance that allows the herbicide to be a little stickier and hold to the leaves of the plants we spray. We measured everything out and mixed them to create a 2 gallon mixture. These were added to our backpack sprayers and we spent the next day spraying the entire area which only gets sprayed once a year. We were spraying for hours and all of our hands starting cramping but it was really fun and good to get it done.
Towards the end of the week, we worked to clear up a patch of wildflowers in front of our office. The patch needed help because all the wildflowers were in heavy competition that they were not looking as beautiful as they could. So we decided to transplant some of the plants into an area that was empty and was not growing grasses. By doing this we created space in the patch for other flowers to flourish and added flowers to an area that was not looking great.
Overall, the week was a good balance of adding and removing from the park. I was reminded that growth is great but it is important to find the balance and make room for new growth. Looking forward to another great week!