As I began my second season as a Biological Science Technician at Lava Beds National Monument (LABE), specifically the Youth Conservations Corps (YCC) Crew Leader, I had set some new goals to improve upon last year’s accomplishments. The Youth Conservation Corps is an 8-week program for high-school-aged students hosted at many National Park Service and other federal agency units throughout the country. The crew works on a range of tasks, depending on the needs of that unit. Originally established at LABE in 1989, the crew, comprised of 8 teenagers from neighboring towns, focuses on the primary tasks of weed removal, brushwork, trail work, and cave cleaning. The program educates new YCC crew members about the natural and cultural resources of the monument while accomplishing work that positively impacts visitor experiences throughout the year. I set out to improve the program and benefit the park, using skills gained as a PROMISE intern at Oregon Sea Grant, within the context of the monument’s natural history and experience that I gained from the 2014 YCC season.
A Biological Science Technician is a broad term used by multiple federal agencies to describe a job position that assists with laboratory or field research. As exemplified in my position, not every task is research, but the tasks are research-based and in a very real world setting, they can vary substantially based on the situation. My work at Oregon Sea Grant as a PROMISE intern and student employee specifically shaped my interest of working towards the eradication of invasive species at Lava Beds. Learning about their effect on the environment guides my decisions and impacts my ability to educate others about the importance of controlling invasive species within the monument. The four primary invasive plant species within Lava Beds are cheat grass (Bromus tectorum), tumble mustard (Sisymbrium altissimum), flix weed (Descurainia sophia), and mullein (Verbascum thapsus). Cheat grass is a dry grass that covers any unclaimed ground and drastically increases the spread of fires in the high desert climate. Even though cheat grass is the most populous invasive species at LABE, there is no way to effectively eradicate it. Tumble mustard and flix weed, on the other hand, are silica-based plants with short root systems that can be easily pulled. When targeting these plants, we focus mainly on visitor use areas because they take much longer than most plants to decompose due to their tough silica-based stems. The final invasive plant species, mullein, can be found in the lower elevations of the park. Unfortunately mullein grows outside of the monument and it is inevitable that it will make its way back into the park through its many vectors, or methods of dispersal. All of the invasive plant species most likely traveled into the park as seeds attached to car tires, clothing, animal fur, etc. The tumble mustard may also have “tumbled” into the park as it does after it is dried and ready to disperse seeds.
There are many connections that I can make between my role as a PROMISE intern and a YCC crew leader. My goals were similar in both programs: to educate and engage the youth in an appreciation of the natural wonders of their own environment and their roles within that environment. Through the PROMISE internship, I focused on the development of educational materials to be added to the AIS toolkit, a curriculum for teachers to integrate invasive species topics into their classrooms, and distributed to teachers across the west coast with the intention of integrating invasive species into classroom education. One of the most fun applications of this goal was when I led a group of students in a summer camp on an invasive plant species scavenger hunt through Peavy Arboretum. I created a scavenger hunt list of invasive plant species easily found at the arboretum and led the group of about 12 students along a trail to identify and discuss those plants. Little did I know that at that point, I was developing the skills necessary to lead the YCC group on educational tasks throughout Lava Beds National Monument. This year, one of our main focuses as a crew was the creation of a list of plants and animals that we sighted within the monument. At the end of the eight week program, we went through a presentation of these species and discussed details, including whether each was invasive or native.
Considering that the landscape of Lava Beds is very similar to that of the YCC crew’s backyards, another important topic that we focused on is maintenance of the quality of natural and cultural landscapes. There can be a sense of boredom among the crew regarding the landscape, and it was the job of the crew leaders to reclaim that wonder and desire to work towards preservation that many visitors get when coming to LABE for the first time. This task can be challenging, but it was also rewarding to watch the attitudes of the crew transform into a sense of awe and respect within the caves or among the petroglyphs at Petroglyph Point, for example. These constant opportunities to include education about invasive species, the lava tube caves, the Modoc people, the natural landscapes, and the wildlife are also a wonderful experience for me to learn about these elements of the monument. I am fortunate to be able to work in two unique settings that support individual growth while performing the required job tasks. Both Oregon Sea Grant and Lava Beds National Monument have provided settings for me to grow as an educator and develop skills to help me engage students in the natural wonders of the local environment. I plan to continue to utilize these skills to aid in the accomplishment of my career and life goals.
Danielle started at Oregon Sea Grant as a PROMISE Intern in the summer of 2013 and then became a student employee during her senior year at Oregon State University. Throughout her time working at Sea Grant, Danielle has been involved in the creation and editing process of invasive species primers and lesson plans under the guidance of Sam Chan, Tania Siemens and Jennifer Lam. Danielle has had the opportunity to assist with student activities, Oregon Invasive Species Council meetings, specimen collection, WISE blog posts, and more. Since graduating in June 2014, Danielle has continued to help with the AIS toolkit materials and has spent two summer seasons working for the National Park Service.