The Fun of Field Work

I always tell people, field work never goes the way you want it to. There are always little hiccups and bumps along the way. It’s all part of the process. Science is messy. To be fair, this was a pilot project and we were still working out the kinks of the study design and feasibility. Making sure we had enough traps, enough people, enough time, enough data. It seemed like there was a lot to work out before we could get the ball rolling and actually start trapping animals. At the time, this all seemed a little overwhelming, like we would never get to the good stuff . Again, all part of the process, but it seemed like there were a hundred little hurtles to get over. Looking back on that now, I realize how small those hurtles were in the scheme of things. I was not prepared for just how BIG of a hiccup I was going to experience.

When I first arrived, our team went over the usual things such as safety measures in the field, always having your radio on you, and the potential that a wildfire could start near us and what we were to do in that case. My supervisor tried very hard not to scare little old me from the East coast who had never experienced a wildfire. We all thought, what are the chances of that happening to us? Its just something we need to think about and be aware of. I mostly brushed it off and focused on the development of my project.

The big hiccup

Smoke in the distance, before the park closed. Photo credit: Joelee Tooley

How’s that saying go? You never think it’ll happen to you, until it does? Well, it did. The Dixie fire was near by, and we knew about it (it was hard to ignore with all the smoke), but we didn’t know how quickly the fire would move, and eventually reach our park. The second it did, the park shut down and we weren’t allowed back in. All of our traps and cameras are still out there somewhere (don’t worry they were closed with no animals in them). Needless to say, my whole project (and many others) were put on hold, or completely thrown out. We tried to wait it out, hoping the fire would slow down and we could resume our work. Unfortunately, it didn’t, and we had to be evacuated from headquarters. I wish I was dealing with those little hiccups now.

A Light Through the Smoke

How I want to remember the park. Green and full of life. Photo credit: Joelee Tooley

Not everything goes the way you want it to, and we have to adapt, just like the little critters I was studying. Through some amazing collaboration, myself and several others were able to relocate to the wildlife crew at Crater Lake National Park. I feel incredibly lucky to work at not one, but TWO National Parks this summer. I may not have gotten to “finish” my project, but I still get to write up what I did find and share that with everyone. This situation provides scientists a unique glimpse into how animals and plants respond after a major fire. It’s not often we get to do “experiments” in the field. People wouldn’t be very happy if we ran around starting fires on purpose just to study their effects. Ironically, this project was studying the interactions of climate change and disease in Pika. The climate change part became a little too real, but only emphasized the need for studies such as this. Perhaps this project in the future will look at the effects of the fire, and help us better understand how it effects already declining species such as the Pika, and be a catalyst for the protection of these beloved little critters.


Me working at Crater Lake. Photo credit: Joelee Tooley