Tuesday, March 24, 2015

From Creek to Website: Interning with the Watershed Education Network By Cory Hoffman

Hard at work.
I love Data! Those three words would play a large part in how I would be spending much of my time working with the Watershed Education Network. The Watershed Education Network, or WEN, is a nonprofit organization that provides education and outreach to the local community to raise awareness about local water related issues. For my experience with WEN, I have had the privilege of getting the hard work and countless hours of data collecting available to the public. 
As it turns out, there has been more enthusiasm by previous interns and volunteers in collecting stream monitoring data in the field, than there has been working with that data on a computer. This is understandable, because spending time wading around in Montana's streams while netting bugs is very appealing. So for a while, this information has been tucked away in binders, awaiting for someone with the time and patience to sit down make it available to the world. 

This is where I came into the picture. What a great responsibility and chance to enhance my skills. While I certainly love being in the outdoors, I felt grateful for the opportunity.

Fortunately I have been on both ends, in the field and in the office. This has allowed me as an aspiring scientist, to get an appreciation for the entire process. From standing in a creek netting macro-invertebrates (bugs), counting them,writing the information in the field, and putting that information into spreadsheets and onto a website where anyone can see it. It is also important as someone interpreting data to understand where biases and errors can occur, when collecting data for research or for conservation management decisions.

An empty data sheet I created on CitSci.org for a Lolo creek tributary.
I have been using a website called citsci.org as a way of bringing WEN's information to the public. It is a site allowing anyone to create projects where you can share data and observations to the public at large. You can also potentially allow others to join your project and contribute their own observations. I had to start from scratch, learning all the details of the website, and whether it would be a good fit for WEN or not, as well as determining the best layout for data sheets and finding a way to appropriately organize the data. Not to mention a great deal of other details that have given me experiences I hadn't had before. 

Collecting data in the field photo courtesy of montanawatershed.org
I also recently got to be a part of the training for the Stream Team, which is a program of WEN's that is involved collecting data on the local watersheds. WEN has a very thorough sampling method that it uses to gauge the local water quality. Biological, chemical and physical variables are all used to assess the overall health of the streams. I learned that mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies and dragonflies are good biological indicators of pollution levels in a stream, as they are very sensitive. They require cold water, relatively high levels of dissolved oxygen, clear water and a fairly neutral pH, therefore when you find them in a stream, you know the stream is doing pretty well. 
Other stream monitoring protocols involved pebble counts, which was a  random sampling of 100 pebbles to exam the average size of rock on the stream bed. Also there is the grid toss, another sampling of substrate involving a random sampling of a stream bed for fine sediment. Other features sampled were stream velocity, temperature, and the level of browsing on riparian vegetation from ungulates. Possibly one of the most interesting aspects of monitoring though, was using chemicals to check the pH and  dissolved oxygen levels. All this information was filed away in my brain to hopefully be used when I am working as a fisheries biologist. 

Hard copy data ready for where it is not very easily accessible
Being in the wilderness and civilization program has strengthened my desire to be an active part of the community I am in. Most of my life I have felt the need to be a conservationist in one way or another, and my time spent interning with WEN has allowed me to do that. Not to mention all the people I work with are some of the nicest people I have ever met, including Becca with her adorable dog George. There is also Deb, who is so positive you can't help but feel good about the world when she's around, not to mention she has a reputation of keeping those in the office well fed with all kinds of good treats. My time with WEN has not only allowed me to gain valuable skills, meet some great people, and have a great time, all while giving back to the community, and the environment.

The Clark Fork river, seen from the Kim Williams trail, is a symbol in many ways to the importance of 
monitoring stream health for me, as well as the fact that science can be used to restore ecosystems that 
have been previously degraded.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Adventures with the MORE Program by Kaitlyn Kriz

Flagship group reflecting after we hiked to the “L”
A Flagship group I had introduced to
Trail Names contemplating their
new names pictured: Trailmix, Blueberry,
Leopard Shark, Heels, Chickadee.
Not pictured: MudBud, The Sprinkler,
Wizard, Gorp, Ladybug Wrangler,
Mountain Lion, Robert.
My adventures this semester have consisted of much time spent interning with the Missoula Outdoor Recreation and Education (MORE) Program.  In my time working with the MORE Program I have done everything from program planning, assisting, and advertising, and even photographing events. I have worked with multitudes of people and programs ranging from our homeschooler after school program to working programs with a recovery center in town.

I have been learning a lot about a job that I hope to have one day and have had some great experiences. One thing I have definitely learned is that unpredictable things happen all the time and your ability to be flexible is a direct determinant of the success or failure of a program. For instance, planning a winter carnival and Nordic ski race when there actually isn’t any snow to be found, or calling your Flagship program “Winter Sports” when actually you won’t end up doing any winter sports because Winter is no longer with us; so when the kids ask when you will be going skiing you better be able to break their little hearts into a million pieces and then pick up all those pieces and glue them together with even more exciting things, or things that aren’t so exciting but seem exciting because you are acting really excited in hopes that the kids won’t call your bluff. I have learned more about flexibility this semester than I have ever experienced before. I have learned to ALWAYS have a back-up plan. 

I have learned how to better handle and work with groups of various ages, abilities and even experiences. For instance, when you unexpectedly get bitten by a kid pretending to be a zombie it is actually a good thing, it means they like you. I have also learned to NEVER stop trying to get kids to participate be themselves; and when there is a preteen who refuses to participate because they are at the age where everything is suddenly “lame” you just have to show them that it is okay to be a kid and be silly and like things by showing them that even college students like to play and are silly. Who knows, they might end up surprising you and melting your heart by telling you that they are going to be like you when they grow up.

One of those teachable moments: Flagship
group  learning about erosion and the importance of staying on the trail.
I think one of the most important things that I learned through these programs, though, was when we just simply went on a hike with the patients from the recovery center. Working with recovery center showed me further the importance of just being able to get outside and breathe the sweet air and absorb the sun rays while you can. They showed me that just getting out on a hike can be something that can ultimately save you. That day definitely inspired me to look further into wilderness therapy programs to get involved with back home.

Above: One of our Flagship after school 
programs on  our visit to the Fire Science Center 
learning about  the workings of fire tornados.
This internship directly relates to things that I have learned during my time in the Wilderness & Civilization Program. The most prominent thing being that I get so many opportunities a week to have teachable moments with children about topics discussed in Wilderness & Civilization program; everything from leave no trace ethics, to animal signs and tracking, to plant identification and botany, to just  the importance of knowing your surroundings. Even now, I can’t help but hear Professor Clow in the back of my mind and pounding tables with every new thing I do and experience. This internship has provided me with the opportunity to bring the past to the present for the future generations by giving me an outlet to renew my experiences to these future generations.   
Above: Flagship Group on a Hike. Sorry my pictures aren’t so exciting,
I don’t like using cell phones when I’m interacting with the little ones.
Lower Right: Another Flagship Group skipping rocks and just being kids at Tower Street Park.