To switch things up this week, I thought I would interview someone working for the National Park Service I think is a great person for who they are and what they do for Yosemite National Park. Though I do not directly report to her, she is someone I feel like I can easily talk to about anything regarding my internship or work at the park this summer! Rachel is considered the black bear expert of the park, though I could argue she’s the expert for the entire state!
Dr. Rachel Mazur, Branch Chief of Wildlife, Visitor Use, and Social Science
B.S. (Penn State), M.S. (SUNY College of Forestry), M.P.A. (Syracuse University), Ph.D. (U.C. Davis)
How long have you been working for the National Park Service?
I started with the National Park Service as an SCA intern in 1989.
What brought you to the Park Service and Yosemite in particular?
The former division chief of Resources Management and Science recruited to come to Yosemite for a detail. I enjoyed it and ended up applying for the job.
What is the coolest part about your work/research?
The coolest part of my work is getting to dabble in a broad range of wildlife restoration and research projects since the Yosemite wildlife program is very large and diverse.
Share a defining moment in your career.
A defining moment in my career came when I sat in a giant sequoia grove and watched two bear cubs nurse. It was absolutely stunning and reminded me to slow down and observe.
If you could begin a research project on any species, problem, or topic, what would it be?
I actually am working on a pet project outside of work. My friend Olotumi Laizer, a Maasai warrior from Tanzania, now lives and works at Yosemite. How and why did he move and what can we learn from each culture? That is the subject of a book we are writing.
Growing up, did you see yourself becoming a scientist?
When I was a kid, I wanted to work at the local five-and-dime variety store. Later, I wanted to be a landscape architect. Then I wanted to be a wildlife biologist. When my kids were little, I wanted to be a stay-at-home-mom. Now, I want to be a writer.
What do you like to do on your off time?
On my off time, I play with my kids. They are the center of my universe. Often, that means camping, swimming, or taking them to participate in wildlife projects.
(Mosaics in Science is an internship program that provides youth that are under-represented in the natural resource science career fields with science work experience with the National Park Service. 2014 data revealed that the National Park Service workforce is 18% racially diverse (African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians, Pacific Islanders, others). In STEM fields, this number drops down to 3%, compared to the national average of 6%). Why is it important to have programs like Mosaics in Science that promote inclusion, diversity, and equity in the science field?
Mosaics in Science is designed to let people know about jobs with the National Park Service. Bringing in a diversity of people is critical to our success because with a diversity of people comes a diversity of ideas, experiences, skills, and ways of doing things that continually improve the way we achieve our mission. I love interns, partly because I spent my first two years as an intern.
“Throw a stone into the stream and the ripples that propagate themselves are the beautiful type of all influence” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
I had these words in mind as we were wrapping up the Point Reyes Science Adventure on Tuesday. We ended our time together with a concept map exercise. The students were able to chew on their experiences and draw or write about their favorite activities. I noticed a beautiful theme among their work; interconnectivity. They seemed to truly grasp this concept as one that would allow for a sustainable future. Whether or not they first learned this from the Science Adventure, I was overjoyed to hear that this was a major take-away from the week. I hope that the students continue this ripple-effect by passing along the message of interconnectivity outside of our time together.
Above: Groups of students presenting their concept maps.
To back up a bit, the final few days of the Point Reyes Science Adventure were full of just that, adventure! We continued working in Lagunitas Creek to record its bathymetry by monitoring the water depth and variations of the creek bottom. In the days to follow, we surveyed the intertidal zone of the Tomales Bay and went fossil hunting! For the fossil hunting portion of our week, we met with Point Reyes’s former paleontology intern who is now working at the University of California Paleontology Museum at Berkeley. She guided us on a fossil hunt on Drake’s Beach. Drake’s Beach is lined with giant cliffs with exposed rock that are full of the fossils of incredible prehistoric animals. I guess I had eaten plenty of carrots that day because I spotted a fossilized shark’s tooth that had yet to be found.
Left: The rock on Drake’s Beach. Right: The fossilized shark’s tooth.
In order to determine the success of tree thinnings and treatments, forest monitoring is conducted to quantify the changes of the forest health.
The best part about forest monitoring is using all of the different gadgets to measure the growth of the forest. We use a laser rangefinder for distance and angle, forest densiometer, angle correction sheet, CWD decay class sheet, DBH tape, a measuring tape, elevation, stakes, orange and red flagging tape, hammer, nails, compass, clinometer, map, chalk, and tree tags. The plots are preexisting areas within the forest in the park that have last been monitored five years ago. The plots are measured for herbaceous plant cover, forest canopy cover, and decaying logs. Every tree is also measured and recorded for its diameter, height, canopy height, bearing and distance from the boundary of the plot. There is a systematic way to monitor the forest in order to have comparable results. The hardest part of the procedure may be getting to the plots and finding the stakes that outline the boundary. There can be a lot of blowdown that can collapse once stepped on. The forest can become very steep in some areas that may make it hard to find proper footing. My favorite part of forest monitoring is the plant identification. I have learned many new species and variations within species that change my perspective on plants and trees I encounter. The temperate rainforest is vibrant, even on decaying logs there is life.The forest is like a mosaic with different working parts that come together to create a viable habitat for animals. This week, I was blessed with the rare sight of a mountain beaver!
“Today, across our land, the National Park System represents America at its best. Each park contributes to a deeper understanding of the history of the United States and our way of life; of the natural processes which have given form to our land, and to the enrichment of the environment in which we live.” George B. Hartzog, Jr., NPS Director, 1964-1972
The last few weeks here have been busy with field preparations and field work. Because we are working with insects, there are many details that go into preparing transects and in making sure we pack enough of what we need before going out. Aside from work, I went on my first hike in the park the second week I got here and got to do some exploring with a friend who lives in the area. On this first hike I encountered my first grizzly bear on the trail. I didn’t think bear encounters happened frequently, making this encounter feel as if it was just a figment of my imagination. Of course, till it started walking towards us. Luckily we followed procedure raising our arms in the air and backing away slowly and being a curious rather than aggressive bear, it simply continued eating, foraging for food while occasionally making eye contact with us. This bear was 25ft. away in front of us. Rather than taking a photo of the instance (which would have been a pretty terrible idea), I later decided to sketch the encounter from memory. My first drawing of the summer. It’s a little rough looking but I had to put it down on paper to con
vince myself that it truly did happen.
Anyway, my favorite plant here is the cotton grass which is only found in certain small sections of the park. They remind me of the truffula trees from the Lorax and are simply just comforting little plants to touch and admire. Aside from just enjoying the surroundings, I will be honest and admit that field work has been a little rough. Not the actual work and measurements, but simply the hiking that is required. I’m way slower that I thought I was compared to my coworkers and i’m always falling behind not because i’m stopping but because i’m slow and fall short of breath. It’s made me feel pretty weak as a team-mate and because of it I enjoy the microscope work way better.
Listening to the sound of water running through streams or rivers soothes me. I enjoy feeling the fresh current run through my hands. Who knew this is what a day in my internship would be like?!
I had the joy of joining the person who monitor’s Valley Forge and Hopewell Furnace’s water quality. After calibrating the probe, we set out to the various streams we were going to inspect.
In Valley Forge, the stream was a short walk away. During this walk, there was a little section that was muddy and laying there fully displaying its yellow and blue wings was a gorgeous Eastern tiger swallowtail!
In all my excitement, I didn’t get the chance to take a picture but just so you all get the idea of how beautiful this species is here is an image from google:
This is a species of butterfly native to this area. I knew that it has been previously seen at the park however, I had not encountered it while walking the transects for my project so I was so happy to finally see it!
Being in Hopewell Furnace was also amazing. This park has a very peaceful feeling to it and walking through forest under-story to get to the stream was great! This is one of the streams we checked for
quality. To do so, the air temperature barometric pressure were taken. Then the probe would be placed into the water and the sensors would measure the pH, dissolved oxygen available, conductivity, and water temperature. Then the stream width and depth were measured using a transect. This description may sound a little dull but I really enjoyed being out in the field and monitoring the water quality for three streams!
In the broadest sense, nature is our world in the physical, material and natural form. It is everything not made by the human race. For me, nature serves as a place of tranquility, worship, culture and love. At the same time though, it can be frightening, intimidating and humbling. Nature is, hands down, a force to be reckoned with.
Our ancestors were far more in tune with nature than we are today. With so many distractions in the modern world, it has become increasingly more difficult to access nature. The more we become disconnected, the less attentive we will be. Therefore, I believe it is every individuals responsibility to make the effort to break away from mainstream society, at least once in their lifetime, and become one with nature.
I recently was able to reconnect with nature when a group of high school students from Texas stopped by the Florissant Fossil Beds for a visit. Whitney, my education partner, and I led the group of students and their chaperones into the woods on a nature walk with a specific exercise in mind. Upon reaching the most dense part of the forest, Whitney instructed the students to write down what nature is using their five senses. Given that the students were in the age range of 14-17 years old, I was expecting to hear laughter and gossip, and not see much writing going down. However, the students fully participated and even the chaperones were jotting down their thoughts.
At the end of the exercise, Whitney had the students recite their favorite interpretation of what nature is, however, replacing the “Nature is…” with “I am…”. As you can imagine, some were rather humorous, while others were incredibly poetic.
After the nature walk, I had the students and chaperones participate in the paleoclimatic reconstruction activity I put together for the Geo/Paleo Camp. It was incredible to witness the students draw their own conclusions on how the Florissant valley, during the Eocene, exhibited drastically different climatic conditions than today. The biggest take away for me, and I hope for the students and chaperones as well, is that in addition to making connections with nature on a mental and spiritual level, everyone is also capable of making scientific connections. There is no requirement of a masters or PhD to make that scientific connection. The only requirements are patience, curiosity and an open mind.
This past school year I started a bird club at Wade Carpenter Middle School in an effort to get students to participate in citizen science. Citizen science is collaborative networking between scientists and everyday citizens. Through citizen science people can contribute to scientific data. For example, citizens use eBird to share sightings so that scientists get an idea where populations of birds are located. Teaching kids about citizen science not only inspires them to pursue science careers but connects them with nature. When we start as kids we may be more inclined to be citizen scientists for the rest of our lives.
Students had a wonderful time participating in the bird club. We did all kinds of projects including participating in the schools science fair and taking top honors in the Friends of the Santa Cruz river art contest. But one of our biggest contributions was entering our sightings on eBird. Students spent time counting the number of each species of birds and making sure to correctly identify the bird using their field guide. We bird watched twice a week from August until the week before finals in May. My students learned how to identify birds based on shape, size, color pattern, behavior, and habitat. We also feed birds at our school campus and visited Las Lagunas de Anza (a lagoon located near our school) to bird watch. It was an amazing experience to see my students gain an interest in local birds and have them participate in a citizen science project that contributes to scientific research.
My work here at Tumacacori National Historical Park deals with creating a curriculum for the Santa Cruz river. Much of the program is centered in a citizen science project. Through this program I hope to inspire kids to perform citizen science and contribute to scientific research. Using citizen science becomes a hands on way to educate kids about the environment and science, and gives them a personal sense of nature.
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.
The days were already longer to begin with than what I was previously used to in Los Angeles. However, now that summer is here, I’m finding myself outside for longer periods of time as the days go by. Summer days in Colorado have so far proven themselves to be incredibly gorgeous and filled with good vibes. Although summer monsoon season is approaching, the past couple of weeks have been full of sun and blue skies with sprinkled clouds throughout.
This last week saw the first testing of activities for the Florissant Fossils Beds Geo/Paleo camp I am developing. On Friday, we had a group of teachers at the monument culminating their 5-day workshop on climate change. My supervisor and I thought it would be a good idea to experiment the activity I have on paleoclimate. The activity requires students to identify a set of fossil plants from the Florissant formation using a dichotomous key. Once the fossils plants are identified, students are given data of the temperature and precipitation ranges for modern plant species that are related to the plant fossils of Florissant. From there, students can narrow down a range for temperature and precipitation in which all plant species can thrive in. Once the students have calculated those ranges, I tell them the average annual temperature and precipitation of Florissant today. They are then able to make their own conclusions that during the Eocene, the climate of Florissant valley was much hotter and wetter. Even though the age range for the activity is intended for 3rd-5th grade, the teachers had a blast and were even requesting the activity be made available online so that teachers across the nation can access it.
As if the teachers’ enthusiasm and support for my camp development wasn’t enough excitement for one week, I also had visitors come through. On Thursday, I hosted Cristina Ramírez and Jennifer Orellana from the NPS regional offices in Lakewood, CO. Cristina and Jennifer are interns with the Latino Heritage Internship Program (LHIP), which is a partnership with the National Park Service, Environment for the Americas and Hispanic Access Foundation. It was great to show them around the Fossil Beds and introduce them to the Geo/Paleo camp I have been working on. Then on Friday afternoon, Lily Calderón and Chu-Yu of Environment for the Americas also stopped by for a visit. It was incredible meeting both of them and hearing Lily’s experience as a Mosaics In Science intern in 2016 served as inspiration and motivation. Needless to say, I feel incredibly
blessed to have met such beautiful and inspiring people this past week!
On a non-work related note, I finally was able to go rock climbing with some of the other interns at Florissant Fossil Beds. Shelf Road off the Gold Belt Byway in Central Colorado is notorious for world class sport climbing. My first time rock climbing in Colorado was a success!