This week has been a scramble to get started on the field portion of my project, with the coming of the Klamath Network Inventory and Monitoring Program (KLMN) to teach me their standard operating procedures (SOPs) when sampling plots. As the season gets later and later we are able to get further up the mountains, where our plots were once (and some still are) covered in snow. This year, Lassen Volcanic NP had the latest road opening on record due to snowfall, which has created some challenges when monitoring at high elevations. Thankfully, we were able to make it to some plots so I could get hands-on experience with data sampling, monitoring, and storing– rather than just reading a how-to guide.
Learning KLMN’s procedures is crucial to this study because it makes our data comparable and replicable with theirs. Some things I learned were how to set up plots and subplots in the field, what signs to look for when diagnosing a blister rust infection, and how to prepare for going out in the field. It is such a unique experience working with trees; though they are living, their time-scale transcends that of humans. In the field, I am able to see trees that are hundreds of years old (Whitebark Pine can live up to 1,000 years!), many which probably withstood the eruptions from Mount Lassen. I am able to be a sort of ‘doctor’ to these trees, diagnosing infections and attempting to identify methods to restore the populations of a keystone species. This work is so fulfilling to me. Perhaps one day I will become a real doctor to these trees once I pursue a PhD in Forest Ecology.
My focus project here at Manassas National Battlefield park is assisting with and creating a management plan for the Northern Bobwhite Quail. We started our Quail habitat vegetation surveys this week and I am very excited to collect more information and data to create a management plan! We also went to a training on trapping this week and did some planting but I want to share all the exciting things I learned about Quail habitat first!
Our habitat surveys are done mid-July to early August in order to ensure the warm season grasses are mature and mowing has not occurred yet. Mowing in grassland habitat is limited in the park and must be done mid-August or after in order to ensure Quail nests are not destroyed. We have 19 survey sites around the park and we need to go to each and obtain data in the North, South, East, and West directions. When we are obtaining data we use a tape measure and walk 20 meters out from our starting point. Then at 2 meter intervals we use a densiometer and record what we see such as grasses, forbs, bare ground, etc. A fun fact is that our densiometer is just an empty toilet roll holder to narrow your sight to a specific circle! We have been working on our grass and plant identification skills and have been using field guides that we created and books to help us out. You can see how we perform the surveys, record the data, and all the supplies we take out with us in the pictures below. It has been really fun getting started on the surveys and I’m hoping my identification skills keep improving as we get through all 19 sites.
The Department of the Interior also held a training called Trapping Matters at Monocacy National Battlefield Park which we all attended. I have assisted with trapping of mammals in the past but I only learned about two different types of traps so this was really interesting to learn how to trap other types of animals with different methods. Trapping can be used for a variety of reasons including scientific research, nuisance control, recreation, and wildlife management to conserve another species. We saw different types of traps including cage, foot holds, snares, and more. I did not know how much there was behind trapping as it is very strategic and labor intensive. The strategy behind trapping is so important to being able to trap an animal because you have to estimate the path the animals are taking along with the right attractant in order to be successful. It is very labor intensive as the best site to trap at may be hard to get to and besides setting the trap you have to come back every single day to check the trap. I did not know how difficult trapping was and how hard it is to estimate the patterns of various species.
Overall, I learned a lot this week and I really enjoy having the opportunity to participate in these training’s because there is so much to learn about natural resource management. Looking forward to learning more about Quail habitat management next week!
Often, even when surrounded the immense beauty on display in our national parks, the highlight of your day will be the people you meet. The people visiting the parks are friendly, always have a story of their own to share, and their curiosity and enthusiasm for nature is refreshing.
Three volunteers posing with two NOCA interns.
The highlight of the past week with the cascades butterfly project has been our volunteer training event, where many of these interesting, enthusiastic, and curious visitors had their first chances to come and spend a day surveying our butterfly populations. Our training even was aimed at familiarizing volunteers with our sampling methods so that they can successfully participate in future surveys, and the turnout was great. A diverse group of volunteers came from all over Washington came to learn, and some came from as far as New York. The things that linked these people; a love for nature, a great attitude, and a will to help conserve natural things
After a long vacation, I came back revitalized and ready to dive into my project: monitoring and restoring whitebark pine populations. This week consisted of preparing for field sampling by learning standard protocols and creating GIS maps from pre-existing data and regional information to guide me when I am out conducting surveys. Being someone who needs to be outside the majority of my waking hours, I learned that you can’t have field work without administrative (and sadly, indoor) work. Some days I spent in the office reading countless technical documents, analyzing and organizing data in ArcGIS, and familiarizing myself with local flora and fauna. Other days allowed me to go in the field, to actualize that knowledge, and “learn by doing” (side-note: go CalPoly Mustangs!). I refreshed my memory with measuring diameters and heights of trees, identified various plant and tree species, and practiced locating and setting up plots for sampling. All of this went into preparing me for when I start monitoring for the effects of white pine blister rust next week.
So far, though I have barely explored the park, I am already amazed by its diversity. I am thrilled to get started on my sampling now that the snow has melted off the majority of high elevation areas and see the effects Cronartium ribicola on a unique keystone species. This eagerness fuels me on days when I am stuck in the office, longing to be outdoors, like I know most can relate to. Most of all, I am excited for my ‘real’ learning to begin. Now that I have completed my bachelor’s degree and am acclimating to the professional realm, I find myself swimming in the specialized knowledge of my colleagues, trying to take in every bit of information I can. Sometimes in this barrage of knowledge I find myself feeling inferior, wishing I was as smart as my fellow workers. During these times I remind myself that what I know is not nearly as important as what I am capable of learning, and once I stop pursuing that knowledge is when I have lost. Everybody starts somewhere, but it is grit, the motivation to keep reaching towards a long-term goal, that separates successful versus “unsuccessful” people. In other words, don’t give up!
You need to try some new things once in a while and it may turn out fun. There is a lot fun involved with seeing smiling kids. We were all at the Porter County fair working a shift at the National Park Service booth. We were making making buttons for kids. We had different logos of animals for kids to color. We put it through the button making machine and they got it to wear. Many adults wanted to get on the fun and they made buttons as well. Other visitors talked to us about their experiences at the dunes. Most of them were more intrigued by the buttons. It was a good change change of pace to get a chance to interact with visitors on off-site events.
Trying to accomplish everything can be also a daunting task. Helping other interns with their project as important because it benefit both of them. I helped one of the other intern collect data on her vernal pool project. My role was taking canopy converge in areas and taking photos of plant species around the wetland for her botanist friend to identify. I also observed how to take GPS coordinates with different GPS units, and learned more about how to classify soil. The characteristics of soil were different depending where the sample was taken. For each vernal pool, which is a type of seasonal wetland, soil cores were taking on the inner and outer boundaries of the area. These characteristics further contribute to classifying vernal pools from other wetlands. With the last week of this experience in full spring, how can this end so soon.
Never have I ever seen a bat up close. At least until last week! I attended a workshop that was held right here at Lava Beds National Monument on field survey techniques to study bats. One of the survey techniques discussed during the workshop was mist-netting. Mist-netting relies on the element of surprise to capture bats in a wall of thin netting. Although I didn’t have my rabies vaccine and was unable to handle bats, I held the honor of being the data scribe. We noted the sex, age, and reproductive status of each captured bat. In addition, we measured the bat’s forearm length and body weight. Based on qualitative characteristics such as tail structure or fur, we were able to identify the species which each bat belonged. However, some bat species look so similar that the only way to decisively pinpoint their species is through acoustic identification. After releasing the captured bat, we recorded its echolocation calls and used software called SonoBatLIVE to automatically classify the bat based on the call characteristics. SonoBatLIVE is the same program I use during my Bat Walk interpretative programs so I was excited to see it in a different context.
I had heard the sharp chatters of over fifty bats tucked into a tight crevice. I had seen thousands of bats emerge out of a cave. But I was able to really get up close and personal with a bat even if I couldn’t physically touch it. By doing so, I busted the most widely held myth about bat: the belief that they aren’t cute. I call them ugly-cute. Like a pug or bulldog. Here’s to hoping that these photos can convince you!
The bear hair snares that are set up around Yellowstone National Park have to be checked and re-baited periodically. When the snare sights are revisited, the barbs on the wire are checked for hair left behind by bears curious to see what is in the middle of the snare. At the end of the season the hair snares have to be taken down for the fall, winter, and spring. The focus of this week’s work was to do a final check for bear hair, and take down these sights. The barbed wire was taken off the four trees, and wrapped around one tree until samples are to be collected again next season.
I am officially back in the United States after taking a trip to Costa Rica to celebrate completing my undergrad! While there, I was able to completely immerse myself in the local culture and see what a country leading in sustainable practices (ecotourism, renewable energy, waste reduction, etc.) looks like. Costa Rica produces over 90% of its electricity from renewable resources and conserves around 30% of the natural land. The province I stayed in, Guanacaste, is in the northwest region of the country and it was evident there how much people cared about preserving their land.
For starters, every home is strategically built to go with nature instead of opposing it, like most Western structures. No one had grass lawns, pools, or slabs of cement sealing off the natural earth– instead, their ‘yards’ were just the already existing land, for the most part untouched, overgrown with native fruiting species. Another thing I noticed was how self-sufficient the people were. The majority of homes had at least one of the following: chickens, cows, goats, some sort of fruit tree, and vegetables. Next, I noticed how sustainable the businesses were there. One restaurant I went to (and loved so much we ended up going several times) stood out as being one of the most environmentally-friendly businesses I’ve seen. Lola’s restaurant along Playa Negra has amazing food and inspiring practices. Here is their mission statement:
Lola’s uses organic produce and free range organic chicken and eggs. We recycle, compost (or feed Lolita!) and convert fryer oil to biodiesel. We support the local communities, police, schools, children’s advocacy groups, lifeguards, beach cleanups, animal clinics & various social and environmental projects. Our wastewater treatment facility supplies water for our reforestation projects and gardens. Lola’s is climate neutral and has been since we opened in 1998. We hire locally and think of our loyal and conscientious employees as family.
Most other business followed a similar protocol by using local, organic produce, and promoting waste reduction such as recycling materials for other purposes.
Coming to Costa Rica left me feeling inspired to do my part to protect the environment and furthermore gave me hope that moving towards sustainability is not only achievable, but a real possibility that starts on a personal level. Seeing how other countries treat the environment can be very insightful, and in this case it was clear how proud everyone was of their country and its beauty, which was a driving force in the steps they took to maintain it. Now I am back and ready to get to work at Lassen!
It’s hard to believe that my time at Rocky is coming to an end. Today I got my last schedule here and it finally began to sink in. After just 9 weeks this place has already felt like I’ve been here forever. (It almost seems appropriate now to stick in a sappy John Denver lyric, fittingly enough about the Rocky Mountains; “Coming home to a place he’d never been before.”)
I wanted to dedicate one of my last blog posts to processing what it will be like to have to leave this place and return to NYC and two more years of undergrad. This summer has felt right for lots of different reasons, but perhaps mostly so because I finally feel like I am an affirming and supportive workplace, doing what I enjoy. I truly love New York, but between having grown up there and attending college there, I feel like I’d forgotten to imagine that there were, and are, different ways of relating to work, schooling and relaxation — it was nice to be reminded of an alternative that I think ultimately is better for me.
Beyond differences in workplace culture, I can find differences within myself and how I operate that stand in marked contrast to who I was at the beginning of the summer. I feel more confident that this is something I want to do with my life — outdoor interpretation and education — than ever, but beyond that I feel bold enough to be open about that in the rigid, pre-professional environment I’m currently finding myself in at my school. I’ve met so many people here who I find to be brave — chiefly because they’ve been so ready time and time again to admit, and then give those things up, that the way their life was working wasn’t right for them and decided to follow their passions. It’s a story I’m not unfamiliar with back home but to be in a place where it felt like everyone had made bold sacrifices in some form or another — whether it be money, a home or a previously settled career (or just the know) — for this position is amazing.
I’m simply in awe of where I am and know I have so many lessons to bring back to New York with me.