Yosemite National Park had an amazing snowfall for the winter of 2016-2017. By April, there was still over 100 inches of snow in areas like Tenaya Lake and Tuolumne Meadows. This major snowfall and the resulting flooding conditions rendered the high country unaccessible for park visitors and park employees. Because of this, the Aquatics crew’s high country aquatic restoration sites were still frozen over and unsafe to hike to. Tioga Road, which connects the west of the Sierra Nevadas to the east of the range, remained closed up until late June because of damage from flooding and snowpack. I was pretty bummed at the beginning of this summer to not be able to experience some of the high country since I had never been above about 7,000 feet in elevation before. Where I’m from, Georgia’s highest point in elevation is only about 4,700 feet, and here at Yosemite, some of the high country sites reach 11,000 and 12,000 feet! I was still pumped for the other projects I would be able to join in on like turtle crew and bullfrog crew, but knowing I wouldn’t be able to experience the high country was much of a bummer.
A couple weeks ago during our 6 days off rotation, I had planned to just spend the time hanging out in the front country and doing random day hikes in the Valley that I could access and taking a breather. I got a message from someone on the crew saying, “Change of plans. Some people on the crew are heading to the East side tonight and want to go to Mammoth mountain tomorrow for skiing/snowboarding. If you want to go.” How could I pass up this opportunity to take a trip towards the high country? I said yes, instantly because I knew this might be my only shot to see it.
And boy, am I glad I did it. I felt like a kid in a candy shop! Every turn on Tioga Road yielded breathtaking views of valleys thousands of feet below or white-capped mountain peaks or acres of precious meadows. A major highlight was the newly cold temperatures I was experiencing from the elevation, as the front country site where I live for the summer has been experiencing heat wave temperatures of 110 on some days! Our first full day on the East side, we hit up food trucks, June Lake to swim and paddleboard, and even managed to squeeze in watching Moana with all of us crowded around a couple laptops. The next day we headed over to Mammoth Mountain to do a half-day of skiing/snowboarding. I’ve only ever skied before in slushy, fake snow in North Carolina, but this was the real deal! The temperatures on top of the mountain were even in the lower 70s, as people were skiing down in tank-tops and shorts. One of the employees on the Aquatics crew used to even be a ski instructor, and he gave me the courage and confidence boost to join them at the top to ski my first real Black Diamond slope down. Would I do that slope again? Probably not. Do I regret it? Absolutely not! Another bucket list item checked off. We ended our trip with some live music that was going on at THE Mobil, which is a gas station/restaurant destination spot that has become famous for its great view of Mono Lake and amazing atmosphere. I could finally see what everyone was talking about, and why this place was amazing.
I never would have thought I could see places so beautiful and jaw-dropping, as I did while experiencing the high country. Our trip to the east side was filled with June Lake swimming, Mammoth Mountain skiing, live music at the famous Mobil stop in Lee Vinings, and a great time with great people from the Aquatics crew. I’m so lucky to know these people that come from different parts of the country (and even world), but all have such a large passion for wildlife and habitat restoration at Yosemite. This internship has awarded me new skills, friends, experiences, and memories that I won’t ever forget.
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.
“Young people and their phones, ugh!”
“Excuse me, can you take a photo of us?”
“I don’t want to hike all of that.”
“Where is the closest wifi?”
These are some of the things my family and I heard while walking around the more touristy areas of Yosemite National Park. For my internship, I don’t spend too much time in the Valley, where about 95% of visitors to the park hang out. I wanted to see more of the views that you typically see in photos of Yosemite, and it would give us some time to do some shorter day hikes, since my family isn’t a big camping or backpacking family for backcountry trails.
As we passed and interacted with other park visitors, we saw people in flip flops, jeans, single use plastic water bottles, sodas, and everything else in between that you wouldn’t expect to see while hiking. Besides the fact that some of those things are unsafe for certain trails, it reminds me that people experience national parks in different ways. Some visitors see a visit to a national park as a place to shop and walk around the main areas. Others see it as a place to do some backpacking and backcountry camping. Others even see it as a place to exist without actually interacting with it. None of these experiences are better or worse than others. All of these experiences are valid and should be protected and available in our national parks.
There are differences in ways that generations experience national parks as well. There is a stereotype that young people are disconnected from the natural world and don’t stop to appreciate it, which I beg to differ considering the widespread use of hashtags during the park centennial celebration or varying environmental movements. Selfie culture is a thing, but it can spread the word of the awesomeness of our parks! On the other side, there’s a stereotype that older generations don’t have the drive or mobility to get close with nature, and only want to experience it from their RV or bus. From my time in the park, I’ve seen tons of people that live in these stereotypes and also tons that break outside of them. Either way, people are visiting and contributing to the park! As long as the park remains accessible to all of those different experiences, the national park is doing its duty to allow people to see nature at its best. That includes people with handicaps and disabilities, people from other cultures with different languages, people with children, and so on. At Yosemite, I believe they are doing just that!
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.
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!