This week is my final week interning with Lassen Volcanic. It feels like it’s gone by at lightning speed, yet, at the same time I feel like I’ve been here for a year- experiencing bits of spring, summer, fall, and now winter. I am thankful to have been placed at such a beautiful park with diverse scenery and amazing, intelligent coworkers who teach me something new and make me laugh everyday. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to do research and complete a project on something that I am passionate about, and for a supervisor who gave me the freedom to exercise my creativity throughout the process.
I hiked to Mount Harkness where the fire lookout is this past weekend. From the top of this shield volcano you can see the entire park, making it perfect for fire monitoring. I looked out into the park and was amazed at how lucky I am to be here. I reflected on all the memories I’ve made here, all the miles hiked, diameters of trees taken, amount of trail mix eaten. This has been a growing experience, illuminating me to what I want to do in the future and how to get there. So for now I’ll say goodbye to Lassen as I start the next chapter of my life, and thanks for all the memories.
Yup, that’s right. Best. Business trip. Ever. If you need any other reason to get involved in conservation, restoration, or other related natural resources fields, look no further. You get to backpack while you work. For the past week, I went out into the backcountry to do some surveying in areas that are hard to reach when you have a daily commute. Although it didn’t snow like it did last week, the temperatures reached 27°! Myself and one other went out into the 74% of the park that is designated wilderness and were able to cover a lot of previously unsurveyed ground. Opportunities such as this one serve as a constant reminder of how grateful I am to be working in this field.
On Tuesday, the 19th of September, it snowed. I remember waking up and feeling a difference in the air- a crispness that only comes with snow. And, lo and behold, the snow came. Less than two months after the park road had officially opened it was closed once more. It has been so fascinating seeing how quickly things change here in Lassen. When I first arrived, there was too much snow for me to reach my survey plots. With haste the snow melted to reveal corn lily’s, mule’s ears, lupines, and innumerable ponds and lakes. Too quickly, it seems, the plants senesced, and a few days before the first day of Fall, came Winter.
This week I took a new approach to my sampling. Instead of following a protocol devised by an I&M network which sampled 50x50m plots, I decided I would get a better grasp on Whitebark Pine growing conditions and White Pine Blister Rust by walking along transects where they populate. In doing this, I collected a lot of quantitative data that I did not have before, and was able to hike along the ridgelines of several mountains in Lassen Park- double win!
Having the freedom to choose how to go about my project has led me to some ideas that allow me to use my creativity, which is how I best thrive! In three days, I traversed three peaks/ ridgelines, and gathered extremely useful information- no case of the Monday Blues here!
This week consisted of sampling my plots, as per usual. As I increase my sampling size, there are several realizations that I’ve come to have about the decline of Whitebark Pine. Whereas before I knew that they were being impacted by climate change, drought, mountain pine beetle, and blister rust, I stumbled upon another presumable factor that I noticed in the field. As global temperature increases, the areas where plants best grow and animals reside shift. As a result, Whitebark Pine trees, which grow in very high elevations and rocky soils that do not usually exhibit a lot of diversity, start to receive competition by other tree species moving to higher elevations– notably Mountain Hemlock.
Mountain Hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana) is tolerant of most forms of competition by other species. It grows in areas similar to that of Whitebark Pine, however, it grows in dense, tall stands that exceed the growth rates of Whitebark Pine. Subsequently, the Whitebark Pines are being pushed out or having trouble succeeding in areas where dense hemlock stands are present.
Noticing this reminded me that it’s always good to keep an open mind. When you become too focused on what you think the outcome should be, you ignore the truth.
This week I had the pleasure of working with the Klamath Inventory and Monitoring Network again. Aiding them with their plots helps me make sure that I am following the protocol correctly when working on my own plots. When travelling to our sites we see some of the most breathtaking views of Lassen– most of which many visitors do not have the opportunity to see. It’s a constant reminder of how grateful I am to work here and do what I do.
Not everyday is sight-seeing and tree-hugging, however. The advantage the Klamath Network has is that all of their sites have been visited before, monumented, and are known to be safe and viable sampling areas. With my sites, I determined points of interest based off information on where Whitebark Pine grows best and hoped they would be viable when I sought them out in the field. This isn’t always the case, I’ve come to realize. After we hiked for nearly 4 miles, we reached as close to our site as possible and decided that the terrain would be too risky to to be able to set up a sampling plot. Heartbroken, we took a break on a plateau and I looked around me. I saw several volcanic peaks, beautiful topography, and Mt. Shasta in the distance. Taking in the view I realized that it’s okay for situations like this to happen, and that there’s a positive side to everything if you just take a moment to look.
This past week I had the opportunity to go out into the field and sample my Whitebark Pine plots. The sites were ones I identified using ArcMap as having a high probability of Whitebark Pine populations. I used different slope, soil, elevation, and vegetation information to derive areas of interest, then randomly designated 50×50 meter plots within those areas. Whitebark Pine is found in subalpine and alpine elevations, mostly in rockier soil types, which meant that the majority of my plots were surrounding Lassen Peak. When I went out to my first plot I was excited to see that there was indeed Whitebark Pine populations growing! They were also present at the second and third sites I visited—score!
It was a relief to see that I correctly identified populous areas. I was mainly excited, however, to be applying skills learned during my time in college to real-world issues. Through the first few plots that I sampled I was able to gather information about white pine blister rust and its distribution throughout the park. I can only wait to see what I else I will discover by the end of the season.
This is what my kind of field work looked like in Denali. It was a lot of hiking for four days to our transects where we would locate our sites using our GPS. We would then dump the contents of the cup (soapy water, coolant/antifreeze, and the arthropod bodies) into a strainer, reuse the liquid by dumping it back into the cup(add more coolant if needed for preservation purposes) and place the strained contents into a whirl-pak as pictured. At times we would fill one entire large whirl-pak and sometimes more in each site (most of what fell in our traps though were non-target species such as black flies and forest gnats).
Once we were finished with our four days of field work that next week we would spend hours under the microscope looking through the whirl-pak contents and working to separate the arthropods (bees, flies, beetles, spiders, butterflies, moths, etc.). After sorting through all of the baggies, if time permitted we got to wash the bumble bees in a mason jar using dish soap and then blow dry them with a hair dryer to get their fur fluffy and nice for pinning and identification.
It was definitely a messy task, getting coolant on our clothes and hands, having bug parts accidentally on our hands and arms and getting ethanol on the desk and on us, but that, I’ve learned is how field work goes and that’s how it went.
My favorite net collecting day in Denali was when we hiked all the way to the tippety top of Sable Mountain. We are particularly interested in collecting syrphids (bee mimics) since they like hanging out in the rocky outcrops of the landscape. Initially our ascent began with hiking along Tattler creek which is very well known for high bear activity and is also the location of where the park discovered its first dinosaur footprint tracks embedded on the rock walls. It was a nice hike up the creek and we reached the gully where we then entered the tundra. In the tundra we collected a number of bees that were pollinating the variety of flower patches. We didn’t see bears, we didn’t see the dino footprints.
This isn’t the point. What was moving about this hike, was the name of the mountain. Sable mountain, the name of my elementary school, Sable elementary. That’s the age in which I realized I loved hanging out with insects. Those elementary years were the years where I owned my first ant farm, fed, watched them grow, that’s when I learned and became comfortable with catching grasshoppers with my bare hands, and catch lady bugs to count their dots. And here I was standing on Sable mountain, doing just what I learned to love when I was little, except a decade or so later, as a grown adult, with a paid job doing what i’d always been fascinated with and enjoyed so much.
There was also great views!