To switch things up this week, I thought I would interview someone working for the National Park Service I think is a great person for who they are and what they do for Yosemite National Park. Though I do not directly report to her, she is someone I feel like I can easily talk to about anything regarding my internship or work at the park this summer! Rachel is considered the black bear expert of the park, though I could argue she’s the expert for the entire state!
Dr. Rachel Mazur, Branch Chief of Wildlife, Visitor Use, and Social Science
B.S. (Penn State), M.S. (SUNY College of Forestry), M.P.A. (Syracuse University), Ph.D. (U.C. Davis)
How long have you been working for the National Park Service?
I started with the National Park Service as an SCA intern in 1989.
What brought you to the Park Service and Yosemite in particular?
The former division chief of Resources Management and Science recruited to come to Yosemite for a detail. I enjoyed it and ended up applying for the job.
What is the coolest part about your work/research?
The coolest part of my work is getting to dabble in a broad range of wildlife restoration and research projects since the Yosemite wildlife program is very large and diverse.
Share a defining moment in your career.
A defining moment in my career came when I sat in a giant sequoia grove and watched two bear cubs nurse. It was absolutely stunning and reminded me to slow down and observe.
If you could begin a research project on any species, problem, or topic, what would it be?
I actually am working on a pet project outside of work. My friend Olotumi Laizer, a Maasai warrior from Tanzania, now lives and works at Yosemite. How and why did he move and what can we learn from each culture? That is the subject of a book we are writing.
Growing up, did you see yourself becoming a scientist?
When I was a kid, I wanted to work at the local five-and-dime variety store. Later, I wanted to be a landscape architect. Then I wanted to be a wildlife biologist. When my kids were little, I wanted to be a stay-at-home-mom. Now, I want to be a writer.
What do you like to do on your off time?
On my off time, I play with my kids. They are the center of my universe. Often, that means camping, swimming, or taking them to participate in wildlife projects.
(Mosaics in Science is an internship program that provides youth that are under-represented in the natural resource science career fields with science work experience with the National Park Service. 2014 data revealed that the National Park Service workforce is 18% racially diverse (African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians, Pacific Islanders, others). In STEM fields, this number drops down to 3%, compared to the national average of 6%). Why is it important to have programs like Mosaics in Science that promote inclusion, diversity, and equity in the science field?
Mosaics in Science is designed to let people know about jobs with the National Park Service. Bringing in a diversity of people is critical to our success because with a diversity of people comes a diversity of ideas, experiences, skills, and ways of doing things that continually improve the way we achieve our mission. I love interns, partly because I spent my first two years as an intern.
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.
Two weeks done and it’s going by so fast.
This past week was Memorial Day weekend so Yosemite was packed to the brim with people. We opted to stay out of Yosemite Valley and instead, do some hiking on the edge of the park. Even though the area we were in was considered relatively low elevation for Yosemite, 5,000 ft is pretty high up for me! We hiked to Cascade Falls and were able to see it from a vantage point pretty different than what you typically see. We finished off our hiking by heading to Tuolumne Grove to check out one of the giant sequoia groves in the area. In all, a day of hiking around 11 miles!
The rest of the week was spent doing park-wide orientation for all employees, interns, and volunteers for the season. Right from the beginning, I could tell that I was going to be a part of a big family that would look out for each other and include everyone’s interests. Throughout orientation, we learned about the different divisions, attractions, wilderness safety, and expectations. To end the park-wide orientation, we got to take the Green Dragon around the park, which is an open-air tram that allows you to see the gorgeous rock faces of the valley in clear view.
Following park-wide orientation was my crew’s orientation for Aquatics team for the summer season. Once again, I felt included and welcomed immediately. This is essential for success this summer and I’m already off to a good start. We learned about the natural history and biology of the species we will be focusing on, wilderness ethics, conduct, and intern expectations. Friday, we went into the park to watch a demonstration on collecting eDNA samples and ended it with a training hike up Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, and coming back down the John Muir Trail. An intense shorter hike with lots of mist, stairs, and great views.
With two weeks under my belt, I have already learned so much and am excited to learn even more this summer. I still can’t believe I’m working at Yosemite National Park! This is a dream that I’ve always had, and everyday, I wake up excited for what’s to come.
Hello everyone! My name is Sidney Woodruff, and I just started my internship with Greening Youth Foundation and the National Park Service this summer through the Mosaics in Science Diversity Internship Program. I’ll be completing my program in herpetological conservation at Yosemite National Park in California. I never thought I would be able to one day actually say those words!
I’m currently a senior at the University of Georgia pursuing a dual degree program in Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. I will be graduating in December 2017, so this is a nice way to finish off my degree! I’ve always had a passion for the outdoors and working in the conservation field. This internship will allow me to work alongside NPS biologists and biological science technicians to restore high elevation lakes for the endangered Sierra Nevada Yellow-legged frog, control invasive Bullfrog populations, and track and monitor Western Pond turtle sites.
With the first week already done, including a four-day tour in frontcountry Yosemite tracking and surveying turtles, I’m more than excited to see what else this summer has to offer!