Resilience in the Pacific Northwest
by Imani Elston
The eight weeks of my internship have been full of some of the most breathtaking, exciting, and eye-opening experiences and memories I have had in my life. I was pushed outside of my comfort zone and introduced to a world and landscape that I’d only ever seen before in pictures or documentaries. The word “resilience” definitely played a major role in my summer experience and helped me to expand my worldview. I am extremely grateful and appreciative of the guidance and support from the amazing mentors this summer, Dr. Wendy Palen and Dr. Amanda Kissel, as well as the members of the Palen Lab and Earth to Ocean Research group at Simon Fraser University. Without them, my experience and memories of the summer would not be as fond and near to my heart as they are.
“Resilience” is defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties”. This summer was difficult for me in a mostly physical sense. Much of the data that we needed to collect required traveling across international borders, from British Columbia to Washington, and then backpacking nearly 10 miles into remote alpine locations. As a novice to both the conservation field and the backpacking community, I struggled with the sheer physicality of walking uphill with about 40 pounds of gear. I’m proud to say that by the time of our last trip, though I still felt like my legs and back were going to quit on me at any point, I completed the hike in record time! By persevering through the aches and practicing hiking whilst not in the field, I am now able to say that I successfully backpacked in Olympic National Park (on multiple occasions).
My personal self also dealt with resilience in the fact that I had to live independently in a foreign country. This was my first time travelling abroad without my family and my first time living in an apartment by myself. I had to learn how to effectively manage my budget and how to take public transportation in a new place. I also learned how to work in a lab amongst Master’s, PhD, and postdoctoral students and how to combat the ever-present feeling of being homesick. I definitely think that I grew and developed professionally because I was constantly interacting and collaborating with Canadian students and scientists and there were some cultural differences that I had to adjust and familiarize myself with.
The research for the summer was primarily focused on amphibians, particularly Cascade frog populations, in Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park. I assisted in population monitoring, habitat characterization, and rehydration experiments for these particular frog populations. My capstone project compared the various elements of Cascade frog microhabitats, the places where the frogs tend to sit or be when not in the pond water, in an attempt to gain more information about the types of conditions the Cascade frogs encounter on a daily basis.
The animals we studied are a perfect example of resilience. The alpine environment that we were working in is extremely sensitive to a variety of components ranging from snowpack to annual precipitation to season length. Amphibians in general are very sensitive to changes in their environment and I learned how adaptable and resilient Cascade frogs have had to be in the last few years as their environment continues to change as a result of climate change.
On our first trip in the field (early July), there was still multiple feet of snow covering the regions we work in and the ponds we worked in were more than 90% snow covered. During our second trip, a week later, the ponds had melted out enough that the frogs had spawned and though there was still some snow on the mountainsides, there was significantly less than there had been the week before. The brevity of the region’s “spring” season was astonishing as just 3.5 weeks after our first trip, the ponds we worked in were dried up or nearly dried up.
Because this study has been taking place for the past 17 years, there are trends showing how the weather and other factors affect the frog population size in Olympic National Park. Despite particularly dry summers in the past, the population is still present and some of the frogs captured have demonstrated individual resiliency in that they are still alive years after their initial capture and marking.
With this being said, however, climate projections for the coming years indicate that the Cascade frog populations will not be able to survive increasing averagel temperatures and shorter breeding seasons. The frogs’ resilience has enabled their survival over the last twenty years of gradual climate change, but cannot continue to do so as the environment changes more rapidly and drastically.
This means that as human beings, we must do our part to stop climate change. Conservationists and those who are already aware of the planet’s path to environmental destruction must remain resilient in the face of politics and economics and continue to share their findings with the public. This summer taught me the importance of educating people of all backgrounds, ages, genders, and race that the health of our environment affects everyone and everything, starting with the animals.
“Resilience” will play a monumental role in solving the global environmental challenges today and in the near future. It will take individuals from every career field (i.e. biologists, scientists, engineers, educators, lawyers, artists, writers, politicians, athletes, etc.) to collaborate and appeal to the public’s rational and emotional sides and prove why every single person regardless of background should care about the environment and climate change. As we have already seen and experienced in the present-day, there will be many roadblocks in the form of many different things that try and keep us from taking action. But by remaining resilient, focused, and united, we can as Mahatma Ghandi said “…be the change [we] wish to see in the world” and solve the environmental challenges we face as citizens of planet Earth.