06/03/2013 Monday-NPS

    Today I was with the National Park Service collecting samples for a non invasive study to determine the dietary content of coyotes in the greater Washington DC area including Virginia and Maryland. DNA extracted from the scat samples will be used to determine the diets of related coyote families and the genetic variation of coyotes in the DMV. Research shows that populations of coyotes in this area are increasing, congruent with the increasing population, comes the increasing numbers of nuisance coyotes being trapped and reported. 
    The mid Atlantic region is the last place in the US that coyotes have populated
according to published research done for the study. The objectives of this study
include estimating population size and discerning the patterns of movement of
coyotes. The use of genetic analysis will help to identify individual coyotes and familial relationships. In the field today, we collected scat samples to supply the study with sufficient samples for which to conduct the study. Testing was done in random transects along the trails already being used in the National Battlefield Park. This use of stratified random sampling is important because it limits the potential for spatial bias and will increase the probability of finding samples within each transect with explore. We collect the scat samples biweekly and each sample we find is mark with the date, time, and location of the sample. When we get back to headquarters from the field each sample is then frozen to preserve it and prevent further breakdown of DNA. Courtney, Ally, and I walked along a trail, Thornberry, located in the northern most section of the park. Before we started our hike, Courtney briefed me on how to identify coyote scat and what I was to look for. I needed to find feces in proximity of a certain diameter and be able to identify products within the sample such as hair, bird and mammal remains, insect remains (cicada year) and various plant material such as berries. We hiked along the Thornberry trail and collected a total for 4 samples. Ally found most of the samples and was adept at identifying and locating coyote scat. I did however locate one sample towards the end of our hike. Ally and I took turns putting the samples into plastic bags with our rubber gloves on and Courtney tagged the collected samples accordingly. When we got back to headquarters we put the samples in the freezer. It will be interesting to see the results of this study when completed as to what the coyotes are really ingesting, i.e. house pets or are they sourcing their food mainly from non domestic sources. This is the first study of its kind done in the DMV and if successful will set the foundation and standard for future studies in the mid Atlantic region. Once the study is finished, the NPS can use the data and results to educate the general public about the ecological role of coyotes in the surrounding ecosystems. 
    It was rewarding to know that even though I was in reality collecting poop on a warm summer day, my efforts were a part of this study and my finding mattered. I
can now say once the study is published, that I took part in collecting samples for the research. In such a huge world sometimes it is difficult to feel like what I do on a daily basis matters.

06/04/2013 Tuesday-NPS

    Invasive plant management day! Today’s site was Deep Cut Pond along the west side of the park. Our goal today was to cut down the cattails that had grown throughout the pond. This pond is used for fishing but since the cattails have spread, the water levels are too low for sufficient fishing and the volume of water available to the fish was diminishing. Our job today was to cut down the cattails and rake them away and out of the water to increase the water levels for this pond and maintain the local fish population. To ensure that the cattails will not encroach on the volume of pond available for the fish, we will go back and spray herbicide to the treated area. The idea here is that the cattails will be exhausted from pushing up after being cut down and when they attempt to pull in nutrients, they will absorb the herbicide and eventually die due to stress, preventing further growth. First we set off to get supplies for our mechanical treatment. Rubber waders were of upmost importance as we stood in several feet of water. By wearing these we attempted to keep our pants and feet dry while they were submerged in pond water. Courtney suggested that we have a “tailgate safety session” where Ally led us in some stretches and we applied sunscreen generously to our faces and necks. This was an extremely physically demanding day and I although I was sore that night after work, I was thankful we took the time to prepare. We used a modified version of a blade and machete system. The device is shaped like a large “Y” and has sharp blades on the outside prongs of the upper end. The blade is then attached to a rope so that when we throw the blade out into the pond. By pulling on the rope, the blades cut through the base of the cattails and from there we would rake them out of the pond. Because the tasks of cutting and raking were so labor intensive, we took turns on each task. Courtney implemented a 15 minute circuit of one person cutting, one person raking, and the other resting. This ensured maximum productivity for removing the cattails. I found myself enjoying the entire process. Each time it was my turn to cut, I would throw the blade as far and as hard as I could. It was almost therapeutic as each time I pulled back and yanked the rope, cattails fell and I felt a sense of accomplishment with each one that fell. Sometimes the blade would get stuck and I would take a deep breath, plant my feet, and pull with everything I had. The same thing happened to Courtney and Ally a few times but we just cheered each other on yelling “Pull!” and “Come on, you can do it! Think of it as anger management” and we did produce some incredible result that day. After 15 minutes of using the blade, I would rake for 15 minutes. I found myself feeling like it had been hours instead of minutes until it was my turn to rest. The rake was by far the most difficult as more cattails came down; they would fall into the water and become heavy and difficult to rake. We had lunch in the back of the truck and after rehydrating and eating we went back to work. The time flew by after lunch and it was so gratifying to see the progress we had made. I was standing in the middle of this pond that 4 hours ago had been overrun with cattails taller than each of us girls, and did I mention Courtney is 5’10”? Much to our surprise, we finished cutting all of the cattails and raked away the trimmings from the center of the pond. Before and after pictures were impressive. 
    Our last task of the day involved going out to a site to check if it was ready for a contractor to start planting. This area is near a stream that often floods and causes erosion. In an effort to control the erosion, implemented planting will take place in the surrounding area. After this we returned our waders and supplies to the shed in which they are stored and it was time to go home. All three of us could feel the pain and gain from today’s labor. It was gratifying to know I had worked hard today even if I can barely type this right now. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. My first ever invasive plant management day was a hit. Game. Set. Match.

06/05/2013 Wednesday -NPS

    Cue world’s smallest violin. Before I even talk about today, I’d like to start off by saying, “WOW I am STILL sore from kicking cattail butt yesterday”. This must be what an honest day’s work feels like the day after. Enough whining, I don’t have any cheese. 
    Today was just as amazing as yesterday! Today we did more invasive plant management but instead of using a mechanical form of treatment we used a chemical in the form of herbicide. Portici is where we worked today in the southeast corner of the park, running parallel to 66. First we took the coordinates of where Courtney and Ally had previously cut the grass the week prior. They went out and drove huge tractors around to cut the grass that had grown in this area. Kind of sad that I missed getting to see Courtney and Ally drive these huge machines, but I did get to see pictures and I must say I am impressed that these girls drove around those monster tractors. Mowing on...
    We started by using the GPS Trimble and I learned how to use the GPS to map a
treated site. Ally showed me how to use the system to set it up to identify points as we drove along the border of the area they had mowed. The GPS would pick up point every so often and the computer would show a resulting quadrant map of the treated area. This GPS was extremely accurate within centimeters. Ally held the device sensor out the window of the truck and we drove along as the GPS mapped the area mowed. 
    The land owner of Portici had reported seeing Musk Thistle, an invasive plant, in the fields we had just finished mapping. Musk Thistle displaces native plants and decreases biodiversity, and most of the time must be treated with an herbicide. We then went to Rosefield to gather supplies for chemically treating the Musk Thistle. Here Courtney educated me on the best practices of working with pesticides and how to do so safely. As with any dangerous job comes the safety equipment, including gloves, goggles, long pants, and long sleeves. From the shed we retrieved 3 five gallon backpack sprayers. Basically just a huge tank that you carry on your back with a small hose attached to an adjustable sprayer. Next came the mixing of herbicide. Today we were working with Garlon 4 which is a systemic herbicide. Systemic basically means that the herbicide is absorbed through the leaves via foliar application and then moves through the plant. Garlon 4 has an active ingredient of Tricolpyr. Garlon 4 also has dye and surfactants that make it possible to see where we have sprayed and the surfactants help it stick to the leaves and breakthrough the waxy coating on the leaves. We mixed the solutions with water, filled our backpack sprayers, and headed back to Portici to spray. 
     With all of our safety gear in place we got to work on spraying the Musk Thistle. The Musk Thistle looks like a regular ugly weed that is long and stout. It has purple flowers and long green stems. It is a perennial broad leaf weed and thrives in dry to moist open habitats, thus why this meadow in Portici had more than a few patches of this stuff. We walked around with our backpack sprayers on and coated the entire plant and its leaves with the blue Garlon 4. The dye helps to see what areas had already been treated. Walking around with these 5 gallon tanks was not an easy task. It was hot out today and it was bright, sunny and humid. Drinking plenty of water was a must today. Towards the end of our day and spraying for the thistle, I hear Courtney scream, “SNAKE!” and of course I yelped too and looked down at her feet. This long black snake was less than 2 feet from her boots and it was trying to move quickly away from us. It looked almost like a cable from a car or something. The snake was long, black and thick and after looking it up I guessed it was either a rat snake or a king snake. Both of which are not poisonous but they do bite and many reptiles carry a fair amount of bacteria. In the rare case of someone getting bit by a snake, it is recommended to seek medical attention even if the bite was not from a poisonous snake just because of the potential for infection. Today was the first time I have ever seen a snake in the wild. I think I prefer the snakes in
the glass tanks or no snakes at all. I’m glad Courtney was there and kept her composure because if it had been me almost stepping on a snake, I would have
freaked out. I am very aware of where I step now and I always look where I am walking. I finished spraying the musk thistle, while watching my steps very carefully and eventually we had sprayed all the random patches in the field. By the time we had finished spraying it was time to go home. We dropped all of our equipment off again at Rosefield and headed back to headquarters.

06/06/2013 Thursday -NPS

    Today involved a little road trip to the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia. The National Park Service hosted an Exotic Plant Management Training course for those in attendance. I met up with Courtney and Ally at NPS headquarters and from there we drove to West Virginia. The venue was beautiful. It reminded me of a private school or college. The buildings were stoic and majestic. The large classroom we sat in for the entire group lessons was stadium style seating with long desks all the way across the rows. It was a beautiful place to go for training. 
    We were split up into 3 smaller groups and each group went to a certain session. There were sessions on best management practices and prevention, mapping and data collection, mechanical and cultural methods, and identifying the worst weeds. After lunch we did a similar session break off and did chemical methods, chemical safety: cleanup and spills, PPE and truck organization, and finally early detection. After all the sessions were complete, we came back to the classroom and learned about pesticide laws and regulations and well as chemical safety: label and MSDS.
    It was great to learn all the things I had just put into practice yesterday. I learned how to identify some plants I didn’t know before today and I learned about all the things that come with using herbicides. The whole exotic plant management has many underlying layers. Some safety, some are ecology, and some are just how to spray and map where you are spraying. It was an informative training and it will be valuable to apply what I have learned the next time I get to work with herbicides.

06/07/2013 Friday -NPS

    Today was going to be an office day because it was pouring rain outside but we actually only ended up being the office for a total of 2 hours today. A tropical storm had formed and a good portion of the east coast received record setting rainfall. Courtney comes into the office and informs us that we are actually going to do some field work today. Good thing I had my rain jacket. We piled into the truck and arrived at stone bridge at the far east end of the park. Today’s goal was to mount a camera on a tree facing stone bridge to record the water levels rising as the rainfall increased. I had all my rain gear on and we set off to find a good location to mount the camera to a tree with a good view of stone bridge. Courtney finally found a tree with a good view that was not covered in poison ivy and she mounted the camera and we headed to maintenance to get some equipment. The camera is set to take a picture every 15 minutes so we will be able to watch the water level rise and maybe even catch a few pictures of some wildlife. When we reached maintenance, we grabbed a few shovels and a rake. Our next assignment: unclog a beaver dam was causing Cundiff Pond to overflow. Once again I put on my rubber waders and got knee deep into the pond, only this time I wasn’t armed with a blade, only a shovel. I still felt just as powerful though. I am sure if anyone had seen us walking to the pond with our shovels they would have thought we were a murderous mob. Cloaked in our rain gear and dragging shovels into what appears to be the middle of nowhere, is the precursor of any classic horror film. Cundiff Pond has a drain from which the overflow of water should be able to escape through to the other side where a stream forms. Since it rained so much today, our mission was to unclog the dam that a beaver had built in order to prevent the pond from flooding. Shoveling the sediment and rocks out of the drain area was hard work because every time we would pull the shovel from the water all the sediments would fall back into the water. Courtney got in the water and used the rake to clear away some of the foliage the beaver had used to stop up the dam. Finally we made some progress when we all saw that a small funnel had formed and the water was now freely flowing to the other side. At this point my waders had a leak and were slowly filling with pond water. We finished up quickly and tried to clear the drain as best we could. 
    Even though the beaver will probably rebuild the dam, at least it was able to drain for the majority of the time it rained, preventing the pond from overflowing into the field next to it. It was interesting to see a real beaver dam, this was my first. I didn’t know that beavers do not like the sound of rushing water and this is why they make dams. It amazed me to see how an animal could construct something so effective enough as to almost completely block the pond from draining. Beavers are considered to be a keystone species. This means that even though many people might consider beavers a pest, they actually play a valuable role in the biodiversity of their ecosystems. Keystone species, such as beavers, have a relatively huge impact on local ecosystems, so much that their biomass is disproportionate to their impact. Even if there is a relative abundance of beavers within a community, the ecological role they play outweighs the population. I was happy to apply my knowledge about keystone species and ecosystems in the field. Linking textbook knowledge and hands on experience is truly the ultimate education.

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