23 Jul science communication saves lives: parashant national monument
Welcome to my three part series: Science Communication Saves Lives. In this blog series, I will be highlighting my field hitches into Grand-Canyon Parashant National Monument, Mojave National Preserve, and Joshua Tree National Park, so you can better understand what inventory and monitoring actually looks like. Ready? Let’s go.
My first field hitch was in the very remote Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument to participate in the bat monitoring protocol. Before I get into the ghost stories, butterscotch scented trees, and cattle stare-offs that made up my Parashant experience, however, let’s talk about bat monitoring at MOJN. For my Parashant hitch, I had the wonderful opportunity to have Kimber Godfrey (pictured above, left) as my first crew lead. As a bat technician, Kimber is half of our bat monitoring program at MOJN; the other half is our program manager–or the Batman–Allen Calvert. Bat monitoring is relatively new at MOJN and is still in its early years of baseline data collection. As a network, MOJN is working to establish a baseline or “starting trend” for bat populations across Death Valley National Park, Great Basin National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Mojave National Preserve, and, of course, Parashant National Monument (PARA). Using this baseline as a reference, park management can determine if the bat populations are thriving, struggling, or maintaining. (The application of baseline data for park management is why the entire NPS Inventory and Monitoring department exists in the first place. Inventory and monitoring is especially important with the onset of climate change, which can have unpredictable impacts on ecosystems.)
Bats are actually the first and only mammals that are formally monitored here at MOJN. Why? Well, besides playing a key role in nutrient cycling and distribution, bats are facing very serious threats to their well-being. Green, renewable wind energy, unfortunately, is one of these threats. To keep this blog post short, you can learn about the threats to bats from my project summary here. If you have specific questions about the impact of WNS or wind energy development, drop a question in the comment section! Also, feel free to check out my favorite bat resources NABat and NPS.
Back to Parashant. In our three day hitch, Kimber and I deployed a total of 6 bat detectors–echolocation devices that will be used to determine the species composition across the park. The locations were established by the Parashant park staff in previous years, so all we had to do was follow the GPS to the locations and set the detectors back up. Sounds like it should be simple right? NOPE! In fact, we spent over 4 hours looking for a single detector site before finding it inside a cattle corral–discovered only after I crawled under a barbed wire fence as our last ditch effort. To set up the bat detector, we suspended a mic ~10 feet off the ground, pointing it towards the bats’ water source. Some of these sources were “imaginary,” as water had dried up in recent years. Since there is a large community of cattle ranchers at Parashant, a plastic covering was also placed around the equipment to protect against curious cows. Finally, we set the parameters for detection, hopped into the Raptor, and headed to camp! (It was a very cushy experience with a three bedroom fire barracks cabin and flat screen SmartTV. Thanks Kimber for bringing The Fifth Element and The Man from U.N.C.L.E..)
Although there wasn’t any data collection per say, I collected a variety of information during my trip. To begin, I learned about the wildlife in the Parashant-Grand Canyon area: the Kaibab squirrel, the Ponderosa (which have butterscotch smelling bark) and Pinyon pines, Utah juniper, the Tarantula Hawk Wasp, and the Pinyon jay. I connected with the science communication department of 1 at Parashant and realized that science communication is not a priority for many parks. Although popular parks, such as Joshua Tree, have a committed sci comm team, less popular parks, like Parashant, have a limited department, often leaving tasks for other staff members to complete as an after-thought. Upon my hours long conversation with Kimber as well, I learned about the politics of land management–especially in the context of the Bundy standoff– and the opportunities afforded to lower level government employees to advance in the National Park Service. I was able to practice my photography skills as well, developing “conscious photography” that will clearly convey stories to the public. Most importantly, however, I learned how to drive the monster that is the Ford F-150 Raptor Truck. Talk about power!
Okay, so the title may have been a bit misleading. No one’s life was in danger, and I have not tangibly saved a life through science communication (yet). However, in these next couple of blog posts, I hope it becomes clear how important science communication is in creating change that can save someone’s life. See you then!