Out West Blog

Notes, photos and updates from the Center's student researchers and summer interns working at organizations across the region.

Wild Trout, Turbulent Waters

Image: A young cutthroat trout caught during an electrofishing survey of Packsaddle Creek in Driggs, ID

By Christina Morrisett
B.S. Earth Systems, 2015
Environmental Modeling Intern, The Henry’s Fork Foundation

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

Having grown up in rural Alaska and having just graduated, I was ready to leave the Silicon Valley suburbs behind and return to a place that felt a little more like home. Almost immediately, southeastern Idaho gave me that feeling. With a little over 1,000 residents, Ashton, Idaho is cozy. Agricultural fields stretching across rolling hills to the base of the Grand Tetons provide open space that is plentiful and welcoming. And then, of course, there is the Henry’s Fork – a river many claim as home to the best fly-fishing in the nation (if not the world).

The Henry’s Fork Foundation is the only organization whose sole purpose is to conserve, protect, and restore the unique fisheries, wildlife, and aesthetic qualities of the Henry’s Fork and its watershed. Founded in 1984, HFF serves as “The Voice of the River,” conducting research to provide a scientific basis for management and decision-making in the Henry’s Fork watershed. Projects that monitor fish populations, study habitat-use, and reduce sediment load all contribute to the Foundation’s efforts to improve wild trout habitat and maintain angler satisfaction.

Already familiar with commercial fisheries and interested in pursuing a career in fisheries management, I sought out the opportunity to work with the Henry’s Fork Foundation to gain experience with sport fisheries. I wanted to learn about the research, management, and general atmosphere associated with sports fisheries - especially given that HFF works closely with different stakeholders like water users, hydroelectric power companies, government agencies, and other nonprofit groups. I am learning about all of these things and much more through two major projects:

1. Hydrologic modeling: Like the rest of the American West, Idaho is in a drought and as water needs become strained, politics become turbulent. In events like this, the importance of HFF’s role in communicating with a variety of stakeholders is heavily underlined. My primary role this summer is to graph how current river flows compare to past flows, incorporating diversion data from Idaho Dept. of Water Resources and reservoir discharge data from USGS. It’s a bit of statistics, a bit of math, and a whole lot of programming in R. It was challenging at first, but I’m enjoying it the more I learn.

2. Cutthroat trout population survey with Friends of the Teton River: Yellowstone cutthroat trout are native to the basin, but their populations are changing due to the range expansion of nonnative species like brook and rainbow trout (species that are prized in the sports fishery). The project uses fly-fishing and electrofishing (stunning fish with a weak electric field) strategies to capture trout for tagging and enumeration. Understanding how the cutthroat trout population is changing will inform future species recovery efforts. Electrofishing requires a lot of hiking and teamwork – it’s definitely a skill I’m happy to have learned!

When I’m not working, the other HFF interns and I can be found hiking in Grand Teton National Park, swimming around Jackson Hole, or, of course, fly-fishing on the Henry’s Fork. For more stories about everyday life here in Ashton, please check out HFF’s Intern Blog!

Yes, I Do Work Here

Image: My sister and I at the Lower Yosemite Falls. I've been told we're lucky to have seen it before the water dries up.

By Savannah Pham
Prospective B.A. Psychology, Class of 2018
Intern, Archives & Records Management, Yosemite National Park

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

“Good evening, miss. Are you looking for the Falls?” a friendly voice calls out after me.

I turn to face a ranger and smile, “No, thank you. I’m actually heading back to my house.” He looks surprised but only tells me to, “Have a good night.”

I smile in return before walking away, sighing a little. In the few weeks I have been here, similar incidents have occurred. The area I reside in is close to the Lower Yosemite Falls, so tourists sometimes get lost on their way there. As one of the few Asian-Americans working at Yosemite I am, unfortunately, more often than not mistaken for a tourist. If I take the time to clarify that I do in fact work here I am met with a bit of surprise and then questions about my job.

As the Archives and Records Management Intern, I split my time between the Land Resources Office in Yosemite Valley and the Archives in El Portal. The Land Resources Office is in charge of maintaining records concerning the land in Yosemite. Doesn’t sound like much, right? Well, you’d probably be surprised (I definitely was) at just how much information goes into documenting all aspects associated with the land, such as how certain plots of land were obtained (and how much controversy is involved!). In the office I’m currently working on organizing a gargantuan amount of files associated with the Wawona community. The Archives is in charge of maintaining all of the records that are associated with the park. So it makes sense that the eventual idea is to move the files I’m working on at Land Resources to the Archives. In the Archives, I work with two other interns from Colorado. We work to process collections as well as data entry, since the eventual idea is to put the Yosemite Archives onto the Online Archive of California, which is an online database for all archives in the state. It may seem boring to some, but love organizing files and it’s such a great way to learn more about the park.

To be quite honest, before coming here, I knew very little about Yosemite. The last time I visited was when I was five years old, so the only memory I had of the park was what I had seen in pictures. I’m also not the most outdoorsy or sociable person, so some goals for this summer are to do a few hikes and really meet people. I’ve already hiked to Lower Yosemite Falls, which is absolutely breathtaking. The other people I’ve met here have also been very friendly. I met a guy at the gift shop and he became my personal tour guide once he heard that I had yet to explore the Valley. It seems to be the atmosphere of the park that makes everyone working here just so friendly and relaxed.

Overall, my experience thus far has been pretty great (aside from the getting mistaken for a tourist part). I’m learning a lot about the behind-the-scenes action that goes into running the park as well as learning to enjoy the park itself. I look forward to the weeks and experiences to come!

Diving into the Summer

Image: My new workplace for the Summer

By Michael Gioia
Intern, the National Conference of State Legislatures

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

I’ve hit the ground running here in Denver for my internship with the National Conference of State Legislature (NCSL). While I’ve only been working here for a few weeks, I have already learned a great deal about the purpose of this organization, and started work on a number of projects.

NCSL aims to support state governments through both policy research and advocacy in Washington. The issues we study range widely – my coworkers and I analyze everything from education policy to industrial regulation to the history of American legislatures. Given the applicability of our work, a portion of NCSL’s funding comes from think tanks and other research institutions; we also receive membership dues from the states themselves.

A cool aspect of NCSL is our commitment to bipartisanship. We provide research to both Democrats and Republicans, and are governed by a president and committee from both parties. Often, it can be a challenge to keep one’s own views in check when researching policy issues, but my colleagues here succeed admirably! I also have found the organization to have an overall warm and welcoming culture, which is another plus for interns.

I’ve worked on a host of different issues already, but I’m currently preparing for this summer’s primary project, where I’ll study the current demographic breakdown of the 50 state legislatures, and track both their change over time and how they compare to the U.S. Congress. We’ll provide data on all sorts of fields, including education, gender, occupation, race/ethnicity, and religion. Each of these categories has remained highly dynamic in the last few decades, so it will be interesting to provide the latest set of data points and look at the long term trends.

I’ve also had plenty of time get out and explore the greater Denver area. Denver boasts a terrific landscape, but also all of the fixtures of a modern metropolis. I particularly enjoy being able to see the Rocky Mountains whenever I’m driving or walking around the city, which lends the city a really unique sense of place.

I’m also quite the foodie, and Denver has offered plenty of destinations for the taste buds. I’ve had a number of killer sandwiches, found a quick serve pizzeria that acts as the Chipotle of Neopolitan Pizza (you move down the assembly line, telling the cook what ingredients you want added, before it’s tossed into an incredibly hot oven), and discovered many fun, independent coffee shops and markets.

I’m not entirely sure what adventures and challenges the next month and a half will hold, but I’m excited! I’ve already learned a great deal about state politics as well as the history and culture of Colorado, and I’m looking forward to continuing this experience!

Grasping Yellowstone’s Rich Cultural History

By Sam Klotz
Summer Intern at Yellowstone National Park Heritage and Research Center

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

I’ve been visiting Yellowstone National Park every summer with my family since I was ten years old. Over the years, I’ve witnessed some truly incredible wildlife sightings – I’ve seen an elk give birth to her calf, two black bears mating, and a pack of wolves hunt an elk. All that time though, I never really grasped the extent of Yellowstone’s rich cultural history. Until I started working at the Heritage and Research Center (HRC for short), that is.

The HRC is a museum storage collection in Gardiner, Montana, just outside of Yellowstone’s northwestern entrance. The HRC basically houses the entire park’s historical and archival collection, which includes just about anything ever created or having anything to do with the park. You name it, the HRC’s got it. From old postcard, to sand sculptures, to grizzly bear skulls, to old rangers’ guns, to photographs of early park visitors, there’s even a separate building that houses the first stagecoaches and automobiles used in the park. It’s a particularly cool privilege to see these cars in 2015, as this year marks the centennial anniversary of automobiles being allowed into Yellowstone. There really are so many amazing things here. Even though I’ve already been here four weeks. I feel like I’m just starting to scratch the surface of the collections.

At the HRC, I work in the curatorial office with Colleen, the curator, Brandon, the museum specialist, Deb, the museum technician, and three other interns, Chase, an undergrad from MSU Bozeman, and Cassandra and Rachel, two graduate students from CSU Fort Collins. I spend most of my time working with Chase. So far, we’ve been involved with a number of projects including cataloging museum objects like postcards and guns, conducting annual inventories of the collection, and giving weekly tours to visitor groups. This week, we also started our big project for the summer. Over the next four weeks, Chase and I will each create our own mini-exhibition case about a Yellowstone-related topic. I chose the wolf restoration project that reintroduced the gray wolf into Yellowstone’s ecosystem in 1995-1996. I’ve spent most of this week looking through our collections and the archives upstairs to find objects and news articles related to the wolf restoration. It turns out we have the skulls of the alpha male and female of Yellowstone’s first pack!

Outside of work, I’m living in a dorm up in the park with around twenty other people also employed by the Park Service. My roommate Patrick, for example, is working for the exotic plant management team. It’s cool to get new perspectives by living with people who are doing such different things around the park. People in the dorm usually get together for organized activities a few times a week, like post-work Frisbee on Tuesdays and weekend hikes. Two weeks ago, I climbed Electric Peak, the highest peak in the Gallatin Range at 10,900 feet, with another one of my dorm friends, Bryan. This weekend, we’re going to do Emigrant Peak, which is also 10,900 feet. It’s been a great summer so far in Yellowstone and I can’t wait to keep exploring!

Meet the Summer 2015 Interns

Back row: Sam Klotz, Michael Gioia, Peter Salazar, Monica Masiello, Maya Lorey.
Front row: Savannah Pham, Isabella Robbins, Christina Morrisett, Katie Petway.

We are pleased to welcome 10 undergraduate students to the Bill Lane Center's 2015 summer internship program. This year, the Center is resuming collaborations with seven of our public and private partners, including two new internships with Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Our interns will explore the west through multidisciplinary lenses, including museum science, legislative research, historical ecology, statistical modeling, and more.

Stay tuned to our Out West blog for students' stories as they begin their adventures in June. Reports will start trickling in during July.

Summer 2015 Interns

Location Topic Intern
Henry's Fork Foundation Environmental Modeling Internship Christina Morrisett
Heyday Books Sales and Marketing Internship Monica Masiello
San Francisco Estuary Institute Resilient Landscapes Program Internship Tyler McIntosh
Yellowstone National Park Archaeology Internship Peter Salazar
Yellowstone National Park Curatorial Internship Sam Klotz
Yosemite National Park Archives & Records Management Internship Savannah Pham
Yosemite National Park Museum Internship Isabella Robbins
National Conference of State Legislatures Legislative Studies Internship Michael Gioia
Golden Gate National Recreation Area Historic Preservation Intern, Alcatraz Maya Lorey
Golden Gate National Recreation Area Historic Preservation Intern, Fort Mason Katie Petway