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!
A crucial part of successful educational initiatives and interpretation is the incorporation of feedback. Underscoring all we do in the Division of Interpretation here at Rocky is the role of our supervisors in monitoring, auditing and helping each of our programs grow. One of my goals for the summer was not simply to write my own interpretive programs and have them live up to my own standards, but also to take and successfully incorporate supervisory feedback.
This week was the first round of my program audits, in which my supervisor attended each of my programs as a visitor in plainclothes in order to take notes and lead me in a subsequent coaching session. I was nervous at first, even though this is an entirely normal part of this process – and something I am familiar with studying education. This position has felt so right and logical these past few weeks, it was hard to imagine that there was a potential for my performance to be evaluated in terms besides my own.
Scrutiny is never easy to learn to deal with and somehow I’ve never been terribly good at watching it happen, even if I’ve learned to take constructive feedback well. It was difficult at first to try to deliver children’s programming – and foster a welcoming, warm and relaxed demeanor – while keeping my eyes wandering toward my supervisor’s notepad. At some point, something in me clicked and I remembered a few key things – a) I like my job, b) I’m good at what I do, c) If I was going to do anything at all, it was to prove to my supervisor that all the weeks of me poring over paper and books and writing and re-writing my programs had indeed produced something worthwhile.
Breathing worked. I relaxed and my programs flowed smoothly and logically. Even a series of temper tantrums on my discovery hike for families on Saturday couldn’t damper my mood. My subsequent coaching sessions went well – they were validating and affirming to all the hard work that had gone into producing them. The suggestions from my supervisor were minor, but I am excited – in pursuit of my summer goals – to incorporate them and deliver even better programs this week.
Every summer, the Preserve America Youth Summit takes place in many states across the country. The Preserve America Youth Summit is a prestigious 4-day summer program creating opportunities for middle and high school students to learn about historical preservation out in the field. Students are given the opportunity to interact with community partners and present their ideas and suggestions for historical preservation in a culminating town hall with local leaders. This year, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument was the host for Colorado’s Preserve America Youth Summit. As a host, much planning was needed and Whitney Masten, our Education Coordinator, along with other local leaders, did an incredible job putting the event together. Our job at the monument was to host opening day and closing day. The other two days, students took multiple trips along the Gold Belt Scenic Byway in central Colorado. I was lucky enough to have been asked to join Whitney in acting as liaisons for the National Park Service (NPS) the entire week.
On the opening day of the youth summit, Dr. Meyer (paleontologist at Florissant Fossil Beds) and I gave an introductory talk on the discovery of Florissant Fossil Beds and it’s geologic and paleontological significance. Later in the day, I gave the three rotating groups of students a virtual tour of the paleontology lab so that they could get a behind-the-scenes look into fossil preparation, research and museum collection techniques. The day ended with dinner and a concert put on by Jeff Wolin (Lead Interpreter at Florissant Fossil Beds) and I. We were shocked to see the students enjoying themselves so much, considering the songs are more elementary based. We even had a group of students personally ask us to do an encore!
The second day of the youth summit took place in Fremont County. As liaisons for NPS, Whitney and I were able to join in on tours of many historic buildings in the cities of Cañon City and Florence. The highlight of the second day, however, was riding on the Royal Gorge Route Railroad. The sights were just incredible! Dinner that night was quite spectacular as well. The youth summit was invited to eat at Colon Farms in the city of Florence. All the ingredients used in making of dinner came from the farm itself or other nearby farms.
The towns of Cripple Creek and Victor were the main focus on the third day of the youth summit. Here we joined in on a tour of the Newmont mine, where gold is the major mineral mined. Being able to witness the immensity of the Newmont mine was an unforgettable experience. After the mine, we received tours of many of the museums and historic buildings in the towns. Despite the persistent rain we received that day, we enjoyed learning about the history of the towns and their struggle in restoring many of the historic sites to attract more visitors to the area.
Finally, on closing day, Florissant Fossil Beds was again responsible for hosting and I was put in charge of setting up the PA system. It had been years since I last worked with a PA system. Regardless, I enjoyed the set up as it took me back to my rock’n’roll days when I was playing gigs with bands just about every weekend. More importantly, the students did a great job expressing their concerns regarding historical preservation along the Gold Belt Scenic Byway. The local community leaders that served on the panel at the town hall were obviously impressed with the students’ knowledge and commitment to historical preservation of Colorado’s history. I am very grateful I was given the opportunity to participate in the entire youth summit as I became much more knowledgeable in the history of the area I am living in. I believe the group of students of this year’s youth summit will go on to become aspiring leaders in our community in the near future.
It is amphibian monitoring time. Amphibian monitoring is one of the high priority vital signs selected the Gulf Coast Network GULN. These animals are known for their broadly sensitive to environmental change, which makes them a great biological indicator for park health. Amphibians have permeable skin, and some species have an aquatic life stage, making them susceptible to water and air pollution. By monitoring the abundance and diversity of the amphibian species, we can detect signs of a collapsing environment and propose changes before it is too late.
The Antonio Missions National Historical Park (SAAN) is located in the westernmost part of the GULN rage. You can find more information about the park at “https://www.nps.gov/saan/index.htm.” Here is a picture of one site where amphibian monitoring is done.
The tan and gray squares are coverboards, made of plywood and zinc respectively, that are used as artificial refuges. They provide shelter for amphibian, reptiles, invertebrates, small mammals, and rodents’ species. Some sites, there are also PVC pipes attached to trees, and those provide shelter for tree frogs, lizards, skinks, and unfortunately for me, roaches (I not a fan of roaches). You can find more detail information about the amphibian monitoring of the Gulf Coast Network at “https://science.nature.nps.gov/im/units/guln/monitor/amphibian_reptile.cfm.”
The sampling occurs every month, during that, the coverboards are flipped, any amphibians and/or reptiles species presents are counted and identified. You can see on the pictures below an example of how that is done. William Finney, the field biologist of the Gulf Coast Network was the crew leader (green shirt). I participates as data recorder and flipper (the person who “flips” the coverboard). Dr. Marvin Lutnesky, Chair of the Department of Science and Mathematics of the Texas A&M University – San Antonio, also participated in this sampling event and can be seen flipping a coverboard in the third picture. Accompanying Dr. Lutnesky was Dr. Kenwyn Cradock from Eastern New Mexico University, whom I will be forever grateful for taking those great pictures below.
There are nine known amphibian species at the park. The two most common are the Coastal Plain Toad (Incilius nebulifer) and a non-native species. Rio Grande Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus cystignathoides). During this event, we saw an Eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius) crossing the sidewalk in one of the park trails. These are venomous snakes endemic to the southeastern United States. They are known for the color pattern consisting of red and black rings separated by narrow yellow rings. A good way to remember the color pattern to know if it is poison or not is by a simple rhyme: “Red next to black, safe from attack, red next to yellow, you’re a dead fellow”.
Eastern coral snake – Micrurus fulvius
We did see red next to yellow, but we kept our distance and we did not end up as dead fellow. For that I’m very grateful.
The Cascades Butterfly team is is responsible for monitoring butterflies and wildflowers along transects in ten subalpine meadow locations across two national parks. In order to obtain sufficient data to track trends in both North Cascades (NOCA) and Mount Rainier (MORA), the Cascades Butterfly crew is divided into two smaller teams, one at each park.
Our first week as the Mount Rainier Butterfly crew began with a trip to North Cascades National Park to meet and train with the our colleagues spending the summer there. I had the chance to meet my counterpart in NOCA, Alex Brito, an intern with the Latino Heritage Internship Program.
The Cascades butterfly project is a citizen science project, and one of its key missions is to involve volunteers in collecting data. After some training for Alex and I, the butterfly crew spent a day at Sauk Mountain in the North Cascades to train enthusiastic volunteers on the protocol for the transects. Some volunteers were new to the project, while others have been working with CBP for years.
“We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future”, Franklin D. Roosevelt. I think this is a great quote because it reflects the difficulty our society and world has as a whole for building a promising future for the upcoming generations. There are a lot of areas in which we aren’t leaving much for them, but if we can build them, then they’ll be ready for what’s ahead and whatever we do, or fail to leave them. Recently I was given the opportunity to work with a high school youth group who came to the park as ACE interns for a couple weeks. My ranger and I did a variety of different things with them. We did a lot of work with pollinators in an attempt to really show their importance.
We took them to a beautiful area that’s commonly used for sledding during the winter months, but is great during spring and summer seasons for pollinators! This is where we did our bee survey. During this survey the students were taught two different methods of safely catching bees in order for them to be identified. They had a super great time with this and were netting bees left and right. Although we didn’t find any rare bees, it was great to see how quickly they learned the more common species, and could tell it’s sex. We did find a beautiful female monarch though! Don’t worry, we let it go within 15 seconds, just long enough to determine its sex and snap a photo.
Along with bees, we also taught them about butterflies. We went over the most common species around here and took them out to Indigo Lake where we have a transect and did a survey. Just like with the bees they caught on super quickly and were able to identify a lot of them on the spot. On this survey we caught a beautiful Red Spotted Purple, which I hadn’t seen yet this summer!
Water quality was next on the agenda. We took them to the bridge where we sample from and had them take two samples. We then had them read and record the gauge data, and headed back to the office to run the tests. They all got to test for turbidity, total coliforms and E. Coli. Because we have a huge river running through the park water quality is very important to this area, and it has come a long way! The science of water was something they got to learn and can add to a resume! To finish out their time here they were able to jump onto the junior ranger paddling program, which I was fortunate to be able to assist with. This gave them a fun send off, as well as a new perspective of the environment, since views from the water are a lot different than views from land. During these events there was a videographer from Colorado State University here filming for a web series with the NPS about youth in the environment! Hearing his stories about programs in other parks was super cool, and I can’t wait to see our episode! Working with these kids for even the short time I did was great and enjoyable. These younger kids truly are the future, and getting them involved in the environment, taking them outdoors, and showing them some of the science behind it is always an incredible opportunity. Educating the youth for the future is one of the best things we can do!
Yosemite National Park had an amazing snowfall for the winter of 2016-2017. By April, there was still over 100 inches of snow in areas like Tenaya Lake and Tuolumne Meadows. This major snowfall and the resulting flooding conditions rendered the high country unaccessible for park visitors and park employees. Because of this, the Aquatics crew’s high country aquatic restoration sites were still frozen over and unsafe to hike to. Tioga Road, which connects the west of the Sierra Nevadas to the east of the range, remained closed up until late June because of damage from flooding and snowpack. I was pretty bummed at the beginning of this summer to not be able to experience some of the high country since I had never been above about 7,000 feet in elevation before. Where I’m from, Georgia’s highest point in elevation is only about 4,700 feet, and here at Yosemite, some of the high country sites reach 11,000 and 12,000 feet! I was still pumped for the other projects I would be able to join in on like turtle crew and bullfrog crew, but knowing I wouldn’t be able to experience the high country was much of a bummer.
A couple weeks ago during our 6 days off rotation, I had planned to just spend the time hanging out in the front country and doing random day hikes in the Valley that I could access and taking a breather. I got a message from someone on the crew saying, “Change of plans. Some people on the crew are heading to the East side tonight and want to go to Mammoth mountain tomorrow for skiing/snowboarding. If you want to go.” How could I pass up this opportunity to take a trip towards the high country? I said yes, instantly because I knew this might be my only shot to see it.
And boy, am I glad I did it. I felt like a kid in a candy shop! Every turn on Tioga Road yielded breathtaking views of valleys thousands of feet below or white-capped mountain peaks or acres of precious meadows. A major highlight was the newly cold temperatures I was experiencing from the elevation, as the front country site where I live for the summer has been experiencing heat wave temperatures of 110 on some days! Our first full day on the East side, we hit up food trucks, June Lake to swim and paddleboard, and even managed to squeeze in watching Moana with all of us crowded around a couple laptops. The next day we headed over to Mammoth Mountain to do a half-day of skiing/snowboarding. I’ve only ever skied before in slushy, fake snow in North Carolina, but this was the real deal! The temperatures on top of the mountain were even in the lower 70s, as people were skiing down in tank-tops and shorts. One of the employees on the Aquatics crew used to even be a ski instructor, and he gave me the courage and confidence boost to join them at the top to ski my first real Black Diamond slope down. Would I do that slope again? Probably not. Do I regret it? Absolutely not! Another bucket list item checked off. We ended our trip with some live music that was going on at THE Mobil, which is a gas station/restaurant destination spot that has become famous for its great view of Mono Lake and amazing atmosphere. I could finally see what everyone was talking about, and why this place was amazing.
I never would have thought I could see places so beautiful and jaw-dropping, as I did while experiencing the high country. Our trip to the east side was filled with June Lake swimming, Mammoth Mountain skiing, live music at the famous Mobil stop in Lee Vinings, and a great time with great people from the Aquatics crew. I’m so lucky to know these people that come from different parts of the country (and even world), but all have such a large passion for wildlife and habitat restoration at Yosemite. This internship has awarded me new skills, friends, experiences, and memories that I won’t ever forget.