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.
Starting something new usually leaves me with a combination of feeling excited and nervous. I am happy to say by the end of my first week I am feeling much more excited than nervous. I started with the natural resource management department at Manassas Battlefield National Park and I have been warmly welcomed by the entire team. My first day was my orientation day so my supervisor and the other two natural resource interns took me all around the park introducing me to different areas so I could get familiar with the park as a whole. I have never been much of a history buff but I have learnt a lot about the Civil War in the past week and I am looking forward to learning more. Two major battles between the Confederacy and the Union were fought on this national park and its amazing to see the way the land and building have been preserved to teach people about those important battles. A fun fact I learned was that General Jackson was given the name Stonewall on this very land. Here is a picture of me with the other two natural resource interns on the stone bridge from my first day!
My second day was a field day and we went out and did some vegetation management. That means I got to wear the full white suit and spray herbicides from our backpack sprayers in large fields. I had never done this before so it was exciting, we were targeting an invasive species in the field that was outcompeting what we wanted to grow in that field. The park has a lot of grassland habitat which is rare since Virginia and the countries grassland have been rapidly declining so it is important to preserve a healthy grasslands for a variety of grassland species. The next day the department of forestry hosted us and gave us a tour on urban forestry in a park where they have used a variety of different management techniques which was really interesting. Afterwards we had a big barbecue with the whole department and some people from the department of forestry which was great to get to know the team!
We also went to the NPS Youth Summit for this region this week which was really fun! The summit was at Anacostia Park in Washington, D.C. and they had a variety of different stations that we rotated through. The stations included an aquatic center, living history, the park police, bird watching, and even roller skating! It was really interesting talking to all the interns at other parks to learn about their experiences. Here are a couple pictures from the event!
I have already learned a lot this week and I can’t wait for some more of those long field days. Although this is just the beginning, I know this is going to be a great summer.
Grand Teton National Park is located in northwest Wyoming. It encompasses the Teton mountain range, the 4,000-meter Grand Teton peak, and the valley known as Jackson Hole. Sagebrush monitoring has been identified as a key component in detecting changes in high elevation parks due to increased rates of climate change. I aided the vegetation monitoring field crew members in hiking to survey points and identifying plant species present. Various data was collected at the sites such as: Bare ground, litter, rocks, shrubs, forbes, and grasses (both native and non-native).
However, the excitement didn’t end there. I was also able to work with crew members who are responsible for monitoring avian productivity and survivorship. We conducted call-back surveys for the endangered Yellow Billed Cuckoo, as well as Osprey, Bald Eagle, and Peregrine Falcon monitoring. During off-work hours, I attended an invasive plant, and Mountain Goat seminar. I am so fortunate have the opportunity to be involved in such a wide array of subject areas as well as meet professionals who a very knowledgeable and dedicated to their work. I look forward the adventures and opportunities that are yet to come!
Ever left something outside and bugs get into it? For my project bowls were left outside for a day, and look what I caught. After a struggling task to figure out coordinates for our transects Desi and I were able to put out bee bowls for one of the sites at the Dunes this week. The coordinates I am talking about are locations that were used in a previous survey study done in 2011. When we first went out into the field to find the pre-set coordinates on our GPS, the accuracy was off by 10 ft. From what data we had, the previous researches that did the study were not accurate as well. For some projects in science, precision is not a key component in some aspects. The area we were in had good diversity and abundance of flowers for bees. The next day we went back to points we set to put out bee bowl traps filled with soapy water. I have mentioned in previous blogs that colored bowls are used imitate flowers to attract bees and soapy water prevents surface tension when bees land. 24 hours passed and the bowls were collected. Shown below is what was collected. These traps can attract any insect besides bees. Collected specimens were placed into a freezer for further processing. The fun part will be sorting what was collected to find bees.
National Parks are incredible areas where we’re able to preserve these beautiful environments and continue them sustainably, with as little impact as possible even with the public and recreational activities going on. While this may sound to some like an easy task of just putting aside some land and not doing anything too damaging, it takes a lot of work and management from devoted people. During my stay here at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park my role in that is taking water samples and testing them. This helps us to see bacteria levels in the water, and convey this to the public who are increasingly interested. I’ve also been helping out with butterfly counts, which is something this park has been doing for the past ten plus years, to help monitor the numbers of butterflies and their species.
Recently I helped one of the environmental protection specialists when she went out in the field to check on some sites here on the park. Most of the time we walked through a creek which got pretty deep at times, to get to the different spots, so it’s a good thing we wore our waders! We went to six different locations where we monitored the ground water and the creek water levels. This was pretty cool to do because I got to see different parts of the park that I wasn’t able to yet, and it was definitely off the beaten path which was fun!
When we were measuring the stream levels we used the gauge (left photo) that was in the water. At this site we can see the stream was measuring roughly one foot and seven inches high. When measuring the ground water levels we used the dipmeter (right photo). This measuring tool has a water sensitive tip, so that when it touches water it emits a high pitch noise, that way we know its reached the ground water and we’re able to measure it’s height. All of this is in an effort to keep track of this area’s water levels and their quality, which is all a part of the Environmental Management System (EMS) plan for the park. Without monitoring our environment and making sure we follow safe practices and act sustainably, there wouldn’t be a good environment for our national parks. So, while its great to go and camp in these areas, kayak, bike, etc…, we’ve got to remember to try and practice the “leave no trace” so that our environment is here for future visitors to enjoy the same way!
Mycology and mycorrhizal networks. Exploring the ways in which fungi interact with and complicate forest networks and growth patterns has been one of the most complex intellectual endeavors I’ve ever attempted.
…And also one of the most fascinating. Expanding and destabilizing my own definitions of sentience, recognition and life as they applied to forest ecology has been one of the most important things I have ever done as someone studying sustainable development and environmental history. Challenging myself as an intellectual at the undergraduate level is something I didn’t initially know how to translate to my work with children. Yet, I knew I still needed to do it.
This weird meditation on how I’ve come to think about and consider forests as sentient, beyond any assertion of their “living” qualities brings us to (somehow) the completion of my very first Junior Ranger program here at our Jr. Ranger Headquarters at Hidden Valley at RMNP.
While I was developing my program outlines, I kept remembering one of the head researchers (with whom I was fortunate enough to have a conversation) tell me that too many interns in Interpretation (my division) are “afraid to let their programs have teeth.” His words stayed with me, even after two weeks of intensive training in which I was inundated with information.
Maybe I like a challenge (if you want to be nice) or I am a bit of a masochist (the truth is somewhere in between the two) but I resolved to imagine programming that was rooted in complex and interesting science, elevated kids rather than lowering them down or our expectations of them, and just somehow proved to be engaging. I worked and worked myself trying to imagine how I could accomplish this.
About a week before my first Junior Ranger programs were slated to begin, I had a bit of a breakthrough – which mostly involved cheering to my roommate and a host of flurried scribbling in my notebook. I wanted to take a huge risk and talk about something that was on the surface incredibly boring and in every other regard (to me at least) wickedly fascinating – mushrooms.
I spent the next week and a half scrambling – how was I going to get six year olds to relate to a complex, and hidden at that, ecological phenomenon that only I seem to care about? Was I going to cave and develop something average but well-attended and well-liked?
This week’s programming at Junior Ranger Headquarters was one of the most pleasant and validating surprises during my time here at Rocky Mountain – my program wasn’t too abstract or a flop! It was the highest attended afternoon program yet. Kids enjoyed it and were curiously asking me questions about mycorrhizae in greater detail. This kind of success is what makes working with children so rewarding – they have an ability and thirst for learning that far exceeds what people would imagine them to be capable of. There are smaller kinks a perfectionist like me will have to iron out in the program as I give it week to week but my most important critics have already spoken – the kids.
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!
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve gotten the opportunity to share the skills I’ve be gaining, with my supervisor and a couple other scientists. Raven Pro, Kaleidoscope, SongMeter are all very different softwares that are unfamiliar to researchers in Everglades, and the South Florida and Caribbean Inventory and Monitoring Network. It is quite rewarding to know that I am helping pave a new path in how data can be collected and analyzed. Acoustic ecology is still a relatively new field and I’m glad that the skills on gained during my internship in Alaska, last summer, are allowing me to make an impact at here at the SFCN.
Science is often valued as a way to understand how the world works and leverage that understanding to better human society. Yet, there is growing mistrust in science among the public. Some people see science as pretentious, elitist, or misleading; this attitude is frankly dangerous.
Interpretation can play a significant role in repairing the relationship to science as I learned during my three days of training at Yosemite National Park. Together with some amazing individuals from the Klamath Inventory and Monitoring Network, I attended two of the Bat Chat programs at Yosemite. The Bat Chats combined scientific data collection with interpretative talks by recording echolocation calls with visitors while sharing information about bats. The data collected from the Bat Chat was then incorporated into a long-term acoustic monitoring program to examine the effects of climate change or habitat disruption on bat species. Visitors were able to actively engage in the scientific process rather than passively observe it. Because both interpreters and visitors were collecting data together, there was less of an us-them hierarchy between citizens and scientists. By intertwining bat biology with personal experience, the interpreters constructed genuine emotional connections to scientific facts. You could see visitors’ faces light up and hear them ooh and ah when we heard bats! This upcoming week I’ll be incorporating the lessons on science communication from Yosemite to improve on my own Bat Walk program.
Certain experiences in your life can create such an impact on who you are and where your passions lie. I was lucky enough to grow up camping, hiking, and travelling with my family and friends often. Through those cherished memories I found my passion for exploring wild places and conserving wildlife. My name is Saba Rahman and I grew up in Maryland where I have had the opportunity to explore and become familiar with the habitats and wildlife seen in this region and am excited to immerse myself in a national park in a neighboring state, Virginia. I graduated from the University of Maryland in 2016 with a degree in environmental science and policy with a concentration in wildlife ecology and management. I was involved in the Wildlife Society at UMD and was also part of a co-ed service fraternity. Through these organizations I had a lot of opportunities to do a variety of service work, which was a big part of why I enjoyed my time at UMD. Overall, I had great experiences at UMD and I hope to use both the knowledge I gained and experience I had to help me excel in my position this summer.
This summer I have the opportunity to work at Manassas National Battlefield Park as a Biological Technician Intern. I will be working with grassland birds and performing habitat management at the park. I am so excited to work with the wildlife biologist at the park and get to learn from her and get hands on experience performing research in a national park. I hope to improve my fieldwork techniques and my ability to display data in a more accessible way through GIS and other programs. I have done fieldwork on Poplar Island on the Chesapeake Bay before and I absolutely loved it and can not wait to head to Virginia. The picture below is of me holding a diamondback terrapin when I was out on Poplar Island and I can not wait to take more pictures in the field and share them with you all. I have always wanted to work with the National Park Service and I am so happy the Mosaics program has now given me the chance to do so. Looking forward to growing and learning as much as I can this summer!