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.
EcoLogik has begun! Ecologik is a 2.5 week full immersion program that fuses nature and technology. This program seeks to connect young women to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic) opportunities. We invited 25 students, ages 9 to 15, to join us this summer to learn how to collect data, make biomodels, 3D print, computer program and much more.
In one week’s time, these young scientists became acquainted with the National Park Service and developed their own opinion of what it truly means to be a “scientist.” Through the power of science communication, these students teamed up to create 13 different 1-3 minute videos on the rocky intertidal using the video editing software, iMovie. After getting familiar with the term ocean acidification as a byproduct of climate change, these young scientists realized the importance of long-term monitoring through hands-on data collection. These young scientists then brought the rocky intertidal indoors by creating 3D printed octopus biomodels. To finish off the week, these students got up close and personal with the natural world at Cabrillo National Monument. They learned personally from a nature photographer that with each beautiful form in nature comes an evolutionary function. It is hard to believe how much they have absorbed in only a week. Now let’s see what we can accomplish in two weeks!
There’s something about the National Park Service emblem and logo that just immediately allows people to trust whoever is wearing it. That’s what I think I’ve gathered most so far during this internship.
The Division of Resource Management and Science provides the expertise and sustainable management of Yosemite’s natural resources using science-based decision-making. Working as an intern for the Wildlife Management branch under this division, I get to act as eyes and ears for the park’s wildlife. Because of this, we rarely encounter or plan to interact with the public. However, that does not mean we don’t come across people while tracking turtles in the Valley of Yosemite, or pass people while hiking to a site.
I am fortunate and glad I have not experienced an emergency situation with a park visitor, as most of my interactions have been highly positive and educational! Every day has been different and my past front-country tour proved it! Here are some stories of experiences with the public (and actual animals) from my most recent tour and previous tours.
- An Aquatics crew employee and I were on private residence near Sierra National Forest land, placing traps in a pond to assist a phD study on Western pond turtles. As we were leaving the site, four hunting dogs came walking up to us, each wearing a GPS collar. They all looked thin and tired, though were very nice with us. Their owner was nowhere in site, as we waited for some sign of someone being out in the area. After calling the numbers on the dogs’ collars and receiving no answers, we decided to call the local sheriff’s office to have a deputy come take the dogs to animal control so their owner could be notified that their dogs were found. When speaking with the deputy, he thanked us for taking responsibility of the dogs and helping out.
- During off time, we took a break at the local fairgrounds where we would be camping for the duration of a tour. As we parked the park vehicle at our site, people immediately non-stop approached us to ask questions about the park, the fairgrounds, service, closest gas station, anything! At one point, someone wanted us to help them with the transmission of their RV! Even though we could not answer many of the questions as we were in an area we were not acquainted with, we helped out as much as we could.
- While walking through Yosemite Valley wearing headphones, carrying a receiver and antenna, people often come up and ask what we’re tracking. Once we’ve assured them that we are tracking turtles and not bears, their muscles relax and are at ease again knowing that a bear is not in the vicinity. On multiple occasions, people actually know about the reintroduction of the Western pond turtle to the park, which is exciting!
When people think about the National Park Service, they think of park rangers with the wide-brimmed hat in full uniform. I originally thought that too! Now, I think of all the important people and groups that work to create great experiences with our National Parks. This includes the park rangers, biologists, operators, retailers, bus drivers, scientists, interpreters, custodial, managers, receptionists, trail keepers, everyone! Though we all don’t have the park ranger uniform, we still all carry that same arrowhead emblem. We’re doing just as much work for people as we are for the actual job descriptions. I never would have thought that I would be helping return lost dogs, teaching people about the history of the herpetofauna in Yosemite, or showing someone on a map the closest gas station. Every day is different and that’s what makes this internship and working with the National Park Service so amazing. People really love the Park Service.
Weather in the desert is wild, so wild that you can see snow in June! A few days ago, I woke up to snowfall outside my window and all across the entire park. I couldn’t believe that only a week ago I was complaining about the dry desert heat. Some of you might be unimpressed by snow no matter the season but to put my excitement in context, both Virginia (where I go to school) and Guam (where I grew up) have very little to absolutely no snow. So this surprise snowfall was especially impressive for me!
Its the most wonderful time of the year – June! . . . Photo Credit: Ranger Jillian at the Big Nasty Trail today . . . ⛄⛄⛄ . . . #lavabedsnationalmonument #findyourpark #ilovelavabeds #nature #summersnow
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Inspired by the wild weather, a couple of other interns and I decided to go venture out and explore some caves. After crawling to the end of Valentine Cave, we turned off our lights and lied down on the cave floor in absolute darkness. At first, the dark and confined space is creepy but somehow in the quiet shadows I found myself feeling calm and almost on the brink of sleep. Even though I had already been inside a cave during my first week here at Lava Beds, I never paused to appreciate the solitude you can find within caves, solitude that is simultaneously eerie and relaxing.
After Valentine Cave, we set our sights on Golden Dome Cave, which is named after the glittering bacterial colonies that resemble golden dust and line the cave’s vast walls and ceilings. The bacteria are hydrophobic so water gathers as beads on top of them and the bacteria appear shiny. Before arriving at Lava Beds, I assumed caves were only colored in shades of gray and brown. Golden hues were the last thing on my mind but as I’ve learned, Lava Beds is full of surprises!
This week of my Mosaics in Science internship consisted of continued training and learning about the purpose of the aquatic herpetological restoration projects going on throughout Yosemite National Park. There are particular reptile and amphibian focal species of concern in the park including the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog, California red-legged frog, Yosemite toad, and Western pond turtle.
Historically, the lakes and streams above 4,000 feet in Yosemite National Park were fish-less due to the natural barriers seen in Yosemite Valley like steep waterfalls that prevented them from moving upstream, reaching those high elevation lakes. From the early 1900s to even the 1990s, non-native fish were stocked in some of those lakes and streams to promote fishing opportunities in Yosemite’s backcountry wilderness. As a result, the existing aquatic organisms that had existed there for hundreds of years, now had a new competitor and predator that was never there before. The Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog, Rana sierrae, declined by over 95% of its historic range because of the pressures and predation from the non-native fish. Frogs were not the only species affected by the introduction. The trout in the lakes and streams disrupted the food web impacting insects, snakes, bats, and even some bird species.
To add insult to injury, the discovery of a new fungal disease, chytridiomycosis, has devastated populations of the endangered frog, resulting in local extinctions of the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog. The species needs help more than ever to restore those sites to native species only and protect from the spread of Chytrid.
Other amphibian species are seeing declines in populations due to the fungal disease and also the spread of the invasive bullfrog species (Lithobates catesbeianus). American bullfrogs, native to the east coast, is now seen in all 50 states. This species is the largest frog in North America, exhibits voracious feeding, and is said to be a carrier of the chytrid fungus. This makes them excellent competitors to Yosemite’s lower elevation native species, like the federally threatened California red-legged frog, Rana draytonii, which hasn’t been seen in the park for half a century. Habitat restoration and conservation for native amphibian species is needed to combat the invasive bullfrog species.
Similar trends have been seen in the Western pond turtle, Actinemys marmorata. High populations of raccoons and the removal of large woody debris (used for basking) throughout the park have severely impacted populations. Groups like the Yosemite Conservancy and NatureBridge have assisted the park in the education and reintroduction of the native red-legged frog and Western pond turtle species.
Being a part of monumental and important projects like these is an amazing experience. I am learning from such qualified and well-rounded biologists and technicians that I am in constant awe of their experience. This internship has allowed me to have a voice in the matter and provide support when I can.
This semester a group of Fourth grade students from High Tech Explorer Elementary embarked on a journey to learn about some of San Diego’s tidepool critters. These students demonstrated their knowledge base of the creatures through the fusion of art and technology.
Students joined our ranger-led Intertidal Exploration program to get familiar with the tidepool ecosystem and the organisms that live here. They were then assigned a species to investigate as they ventured along into the 3D Cabrillo curriculum. Students used the park’s classroom set of ipods to capture 25-30 pictures of an object to create a 3D file online. During a hands-on workshop in their classroom, these young scientists learned how to edit a 3D file and save it in a way that is available for print on any 3D printer. Back at Cabrillo National Monument, we utilized our 3D printer to print dozens of tidepool creatures. During our last visit into the classroom, students put their artistic abilities to the test using acrylic paint to fully cultivate a 3D biomodel. After the exhibition, students agreed to donate these 3D biomodels to Cabrillo’s tidepool volunteers as educational tools.
Beyond our direct partnership with these students, these young scientists went above and beyond using a multitude of art and research in regards to their species. Each student created a watercolor piece replicating their 3D biomodel, species signs illustrating the animal and its demographics, a haiku about the species defense mechanisms, a “choose your adventure” story, and a scientific journal with an associated food web and illustrations.
I have now completed my first week and a half of the internship (I started in the middle of last week), and I’ve got to say I’m pretty hooked on this place. The Pacific Ocean, the wildlife and the people here have welcomed me with open arms.
For the month of June, I will be working on several different projects. To name a few, I will be in the field conducting intertidal zone surveying to assess biodiversity, Elephant and Harbor seal surveys, invertebrate diversity monitoring in Drake’s Estero, Eelgrass mapping, and a marine science education program. (More details on each of these projects, to come)
So far, I have participated in an array of really awesome projects. This week, I have started my training in the statistical program “R”. In July, I will be analyzing an extensive dataset on Harbor seal population variations and will be using R to do so. The park is interested in understanding the variation in their population size across six different sites over the past several decades. Please enjoy this lovely photo of our field station housing’s resident Harbor seal to get a better idea on how absolutely adorable these guys and gals are (if you’ve never seen one before). Typically, Harbor seals are very skittish, but this guy just plops himself on the dock on a daily basis and doesn’t mind us kayaking by or birds joining him for his sunbath. (Disclaimer: Marine mammals are federally protected and can be dangerous when agitated, so keep your distance!)
(Photo credit: Till Groth)
I am also on the Social Media team here at Point Reyes. For World Oceans Day, which was on June 8, I created a post to celebrate the Earth’s oceans. I had the help of a couple of my lovely housemates. The picture I took is below. You see interns Till (Lupine Restoration Intern) and Michelle (Archeology Intern) showing their love and appreciation for the world’s oceans. Their love is so strong they couldn’t help but form a heart with their bodies as soon as they stepped onto the sand. 🙂
Since its emergence in 2006, white nose syndrome (WNS) has killed over 5 million bats across the Northeast region. The disease is caused by a fungus that destroys the bats’ skin and wings, leading to dehydration or starvation. WNS has spread rapidly throughout the eastern U.S. and some occurrences have recently been documented in the West. National parks and monuments throughout the West are closely monitoring bat populations for any signs of WNS. Lava Beds National Monument is no different; the Bat and Cave Team here monitors bat populations to estimate their numbers and watch out for irregular behavior.
One of the methods to estimate bat populations is mobile acoustic monitoring along a transect. This week, I accompanied the Lava Beds Bat and Cave Team on a mobile transect for the first time! We attached a microphone to a large post on a car and then recorded over 50 bat echolocation calls as we drove along the park. Afterwards, we processed the data to identify the bat species we encountered and plotted them on a map. If you’d like to see the results we found on Google Earth, click here to download the KMZ file!
Although acoustic monitoring is an integral part of protecting the bats at Lava Beds, many of the visitors to the park aren’t aware of it or how it works. That’s where my interpretative program comes in! By incorporating real-time acoustic monitoring into an evening program, visitors can experience echolocation firsthand and connect with bats as well as science and nature as a whole. So far, I’ve done three of these “bat walks” and I’m amazed at the level of enthusiasm visitors of all ages have for bats. They’re curious about topics like species differences, migration, and hibernation. Throughout the summer, I hope that I can keep improving my program to further facilitate this curiosity!
At the International Urban Wildlife Conference, you may have spotted National Park Service biologists and their representatives amongst some of the world’s most renowned wildlife scientists.
Held at San Diego State University, the conference provided an opportunity for scientists to present a wide array of research to their peers on topics such as bioacoustics, balancing the scientific and educational goals of urban biodiversity, management and monitoring strategies of conservation, human-wildlife interactions, citizen science on a global level, facing both invasive and endangered species from a biological point of view and so much more. Proceeding the scheduled speakers, four scientists from Cabrillo National Monument presented individual posters on various research that is being done at the park. Austin Parker, Wildlife Biologist, discussed monitoring the urban interface utilization by feral cats for endangered species conversation. Reyna Zavala, Videographer and Animator, displayed her animated short film on hybridization amongst native King Snakes titled Cabrillo Field Notes: Snakes Encounters Of The Third Kind
Wildlife Biologist, Stephanie Root elaborated on recent findings of bats on the urban island known as the Point Loma Peninsula (Click here for background information). Finally, I, Nicole Ornelas, presented Cabrillo National Monument’s most recent educational program at the park called 3D Cabrillo. 3D Cabrillo brings biomodels into the 21st century by using free 3D software in collaboration with our hands-on curriculum to teach the public how to create 3D printed creatures.
With this research and more to come, the National Park Service will remain relevant with the coming age of convergence between technology and conservation. The International Urban Wildlife Conference provided an academic platform for our research to be presented and networking opportunities to be established, but it is in our hands to further scientific endeavors, like these, to best manage our public lands.
Click here to find out more about 3D Cabrillo or watch a step by step demonstration of how a 3D printed biomodel is made.
For more information about the International Urban Wildlife Conference visit: http://www.urban-wildlife.org/