Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Living in DC as a sort-of furloughed worker during the longest government shutdown in US history

By Jillian Mayer

Note: This blog post was written February 14, 2019, on the eve of the end of the 2019 partial government shutdown.

Waiting, waiting, waiting. Photo: Jillian Mayer

The first thing you need to know when beginning a job in federal government is that everything revolves around appropriations. The second thing you need to know is that “budgets” and “appropriations” are different. You can thank me later.

Budgets are issued by the President, federal agencies, and Congress, and have no binding power; budgets merely request how much money parties would like to see spent on various programs within the US government. Appropriations decisions, on the other hand, have teeth: appropriations bills allow various programs to receive designated amounts of funding. Budgets and appropriations don’t necessarily have any relationship to each other. There’s no law that dictates that the appropriations bills passed by Congress and signed into law by Presidents need to reflect the President’s or Congress’s budgets. Budgets are, in legal terms, bullsh*t. Appropriations are what matters, because money flows through appropriations and appropriations only.

Normally, the federal budget and appropriation processes happen in a certain order each year and in time to continue funding our federal government without lapse. Fiscal years (FY) run from October 1 – September 30. The President releases his budget request in February or March the year preceding the fiscal year to which it refers. President Trump released his FY 2019 budget request on Monday, February 12, 2018. Shortly thereafter, individual federal agencies released their budget requests that corresponded to the President’s budget request, but in more detail. Congress responded by passing their own budget resolutions. Although President Trump’s FY 2019 looked scary with severe cuts to social welfare programs, environmental regulatory agencies, and other important government services, it had little bearing on what Congress suggested in their budget resolutions, nor did it dictate appropriations.

Once budgets are established, the process moves to drafting, amending, and passing appropriations bills. In 2018, Congress began appropriations work in April and had over 5 months to pass appropriations for FY 2019. Congress is tasked with passing 12 appropriations bills each year, categorized by general subject matter. For example, the “defense” appropriations bill decides yearly funding levels for all matters within the Department of Defense. The “transportation, housing and urban development, and related agencies” appropriations bill funds the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Within each legislative chamber (the House and Senate), an appropriation bill originates in its corresponding subcommittee within the Appropriations Committee, passes the full Appropriations Committee, and passes the whole chamber. The two chambers’ appropriations bills on the same subject may be millions or billions of dollars apart. Congress must wrestle back and forth before ultimately passing the exact same language (bill) through each chamber. Only then is an appropriations bill delivered to the President’s desk to be signed into law. Often, many appropriations bills are combined into one or more omnibus packages that contain several of the 12 bills, to avoid going through this process 12 distinct times before time runs out on September 30th.

Many steps must be completed to avoid a government shutdown. Image: NationalJournal Presentation Center

By the end of 2018, after FY 2019 had started, neither Democrats nor Republicans nor the House nor Senate could agree on 7 of the 12 appropriations bills. 5 had been passed via omnibus before the October deadline, and the remaining 7 continued to be temporarily funded through continuing resolutions. However, the continuing resolutions ran out at midnight on December 21. President Trump insisted that he would not sign any further appropriations without ~$5.7 billion in border-wall funding. The House agreed, the Senate did not. The longest (partial) government shutdown in US history began in the early minutes of December 22, 2018.

With a few exceptions for “essential” federal workers and pre-funded continuing programs, most federal employees working in the fields of agriculture, commerce, justice, science, interior, environment, homeland security, financial services, government services, foreign operations, transportation, housing, and urban development were furloughed. Approximately 800,000 people were not paid for 35 days, and the ripple effects of their leave were massive. The shutdown disrupted ongoing scientific studies, disaster relief, regulation and rule-making, litigation, transportation, public housing, and almost everything else funded in whole or part with discretionary federal dollars (i.e. not mandatory social security, Medicare, and Medicare spending). The cruelty of holding 800,000 Americans’ pay and the human right to immigration for thousands of DACA recipients and refugees as bargaining chips is almost unfathomable, but is upon further reflection par for the course in a country built on slavery, genocide, the exploitation of workers, and other systemic ills. But that’s another essay.

I moved to DC on January 6, two weeks into the five-week shutdown. I had already signed up and started paying for healthcare, rent in my first solo studio apartment, internet, a gym, and student loans. I had budgeted carefully for this year in DC, and was excited for my first “grown up” job with a steady and ample paycheck and regular hours. Our Knauss coordinators at NOAA were already furloughed, and could not readily communicate with us about the fate of our fellowship year. I reached out to contemporary fellows for information. They reported that many Executive fellows were locked out of their offices in federal buildings and their colleagues would have to mail them personal items, like jackets and shoes, left in their offices after the shutdown ended and the Fellowship concluded. The 2019 fellows (my year) were left wondering if they would have jobs come February 1st, our proposed start date. Some fellows postponed moving to DC and stayed in their home states, but the majority of us had already found housing and were moving. 

Moving to DC opens up exciting new travel opportunities. Photo: Jillian Mayer

With nothing to do and no end to the shutdown in sight, I filled my time with getting to know DC. It. Was. Awesome. I volunteered with two food banks: Capital Area Food Bank and DC Central Kitchen. Both are fabulous organizations that I recommend future Knauss fellows check out. Some of the people receiving assistance and almost all of the volunteers were furloughed government employees. We chatted about stalled Department of Justice cases, the inability of US Fish and Wildlife to communicate with state natural resource departments, and the difficulty of affording daycare without a paycheck. There, I got to ask a lot of my “how does government work?!” questions in a judgment-free environment because my fellow volunteers knew the system but weren’t my supervisors. 

I also started volunteering with City Dogs Rescue, another great organization to visit in DC, and fell in love with a pit-bull mix named Barney after taking him home for a weekend “vacation” from the shelter. Hundreds of restaurants, gyms, and clothing stores throughout DC were offering free or low-cost products and services to furloughed workers. My DC utilities company offered to postpone my bills until three months after the shutdown ended. Even my Michigan-based credit union was giving interest-free loans to people affected by the shutdown. I was very lucky, and my myriad privileges (white collar job, able body, health insurance, US passport, lack of dependents, savings account, etc) helped make my temporary furlough fun instead of devastating. Still, I was heartened by the compassionate responses that individuals and private companies extended to government employees. I wish the same generosity were always extended to all people living through crises, but alas. 

Knauss fellows get to be DC tourists, too. Photo: Jillian Mayer 

On January 25, 2019, Trump and Congress agreed to a temporary short-term spending bill that would reopen the government through February 15, 2019, giving Congress time to agree on a new appropriations omnibus bill to end the shutdown. As I write this, it is 8pm on February 14, and the White House has reported that the President will sign the final appropriations without sufficient border-wall funding and declare a national emergency at the border tonight. I’ll find out what happened on my news app in bed, when I wake up tomorrow morning. Most current Knauss fellows were able to start work in early February, though some fellows are still not even in DC and others have had their onboarding delayed still. I have been in my Senator’s office since February 6th, and am already working (more like stumbling, crawling, tripping, gagging, shrugging, huffing, and puffing) on six bills, including one to address harassment in STEM, another to update failing coastal infrastructure, and the Green New Deal. I greatly look forward to the rest of my year on the Hill, despite (or because?) of its interesting start.

After a tenuous beginning, the year is off to a great start. Photo: Jillian Mayer

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Women Who Fish Have Stories to Tell: Part 1

By Erin Burkett, Michigan Sea Grant Graduate Research Fellow

"My brookie" Photo: Shawn Rathbun
As a Michigan Sea Grant graduate research fellow, I use a community-driven, social science research method called photovoice to better understand women’s fishing experiences. Photovoice combines individual photography with group storytelling to highlight a group that hasn’t previously been given sufficient attention. Only about one of every five Michigan anglers are women, and, in the past, women have been largely absent from studies asking who fishes and why.

Photovoice projects typically follow these general steps: recruitment, documentation, photowalks, and exhibit or action phase. First, you have to recruit participants. I started by contacting fishing clubs and their members through email, Facebook, and club meetings. I visited bait and tackle shops and stores that sell fishing licenses to explain my project and distribute informational flyers. And finally, I posted flyers in public spaces and contacted women-specific natural resource organizations. I went through this process in two distinct Michigan regions: the Keweenaw Peninsula in the Upper Peninsula and metro-Detroit. The following steps were conducted separately within each region.

Anyone interested in joining the project was invited to an informational meeting where I explained what participating in the project might entail. With a little prompting using open-ended questions, the women started sharing their fishing stories and what topics they might want to highlight in their pictures. Something that makes this type of community-engaged research unique is that participants have autonomy and control over the project’s goals and outcomes throughout the entire project. The role of the researcher is to facilitate and observe the process and collect data in the form of transcribed audio recordings of meetings and the photographs and stories shared by the research participants.

"Cooler colors" Photo: Amber Voght.
The next phase of the project was the documentation stage. Over the next few months, each group member was asked to take photographs that represented their fishing experiences. For the most part, everyone used a cell phone camera, and everyone incorporated pictures from their past that still had significant meaning to them.

Keweenaw area project members sharing their photographs and fishing stories during a "photowalk." Photo: Erin Burkett
The next series of 2-3 group meetings, called “photowalks,” is a key component of any photovoice project. Photowalks give each participant ample time to share their photographs and the stories behind them. What happens when you get a group of women anglers together in a room and put their photographs on display? Engaging storytelling, a lot of knowing nods of agreement, and plenty of laughter. Each group discussed their favorite fish to catch and eat, what gear they use, where they fish, who they fish with, how they feel being women in a sport dominated by men, and everything in between.

What’s next?
The exhibit or action stage varies for each unique project. The Keweenaw group created a gallery-style exhibit that is currently on display at the Carnegie Museum of the Keweenaw. The exhibit’s title, Connections: Stories From Women Who Fish, refers to the members’ decision to present their experiences as a group, rather than as individuals. As group member Emila Downes explains, “Everyone has an idea about what fishing means to them, but as a community or group, what does fishing mean? It facilitates the connection to everything around us from people to nature. For some it is a break from the world and for others it's a connection to the world. Whatever fishing means to you, it is a way to connect everyone across generations, nationalities, lifestyles, and occupations. It's what brings us together!” Project members have stressed the importance of bringing their stories to multiple audiences, and plan to move the exhibit to multiple venues in the future.

The metro-Detroit project group will share their experiences in a group presentation at the June meeting of the Metro-West Steelheaders. Their main goal is to invite women who want to try fishing or get more active in local fishing clubs, but who might not have had the confidence or experience to try the sport.

Emilia Downes setting up the photography exhibit Connections: Stories from Women Who Fish at the Carnegie Museum of the Keweenaw in Houghton, MI. Photo: Erin Burkett
Introducing the project and group members at the Carnegie Museum's public exhibit opening on February 14, 2019. From left: Amber Voght, Emilia Downes, Cori Fitzpatrick, Denise Vandeville, and Erin Burkett. Photo: Hugh Gorman

Project Highlights
My favorite thing about facilitating this project thus far has been seeing the relationship-building among the participants. They aren’t just swapping fishing stories. They are inviting each other to go fishing, thinking about each other between meetings, and even considering starting an outdoor recreation club for women. Seeing these connections build has made the project really fun and rewarding. These outcomes wouldn’t be possible if I had chosen another research method like a social survey that is completed by individuals in isolation. The next step in this project is to summarize my findings and prepare them for publication. I will also share my findings with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, which is interested in learning more about this unique group of stakeholders.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

An invader's wishlist: Corey Krabbenhoft on her dissertation research

Hello again!

For those of you who missed my last blog posts, my name is Corey Krabbenhoft. I have been conducting research in Donna Kashian’s lab at Wayne State University for the last several years. I am excited to report I just successfully defended my dissertation for the degree of Ph.D.!

Since it has been a while since I posted here, I thought I’d provide an update on my research on round goby invasion in the Great Lakes. For more background on this project, you can view my previous blog post here.

One of the goals of this research was to identify site conditions which are common to areas where round goby has invaded tributaries to the Great Lakes. The idea here is that if we can identify site characteristics which are common to areas of invasion, we may be able to use this information to predict the impacts of invasion, or else predict where invasion might occur in the future. A better overall understanding of the process and outcomes of invasion can help streamline management efforts to make prevention and mitigation strategies more efficient and successful.

One question I had was whether invasion is more commonly found in areas where land has been developed for human use. For example, would an urban area be more likely invaded than a rural area? One way to look at this is to use land cover data. This information is freely available for the entire United States from the Multi-Resolution Land Characteristics Consortium. Here they provide land cover data at a scale of 30 meters. For my own research, I used this information to identify the dominant land cover types for the watersheds in my study (Figure 1). 

Figure 1. Land cover information for seven watersheds in the lower peninsula of Michigan. Clockwise from left: Muskegon, Ocqueoc, Au Sable, Rifle, Clinton, Rouge, and Stony Creek.

The watersheds in my study represent a wide variety of land use types. In the southeastern part of the state, most of the land cover is urban development because of the metro Detroit area. In the northern part of the state, there is a larger proportion of forested land cover. Land cover can be important in the structure and function of streams because it reflects many different mechanisms by which human activity can impact water quality (Figure 2). For example, agricultural development of a watershed can be associated with increased nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) in streams from the runoff of fertilizers. Similarly, urban development is often associated with habitat loss in streams due to the need to stabilize banks and reroute stream channels.

Figure 2. Two sites which demonstrate the gradient in quality in this study. Above: The Au Sable River, one of the large, northern watersheds dominated by forested land cover. Below: Stony Creek, the southernmost watershed which is dominated by agricultural land use.

For my research, I investigated the association of these land use types with invasion success of round goby. In addition to land use types, I measured other variables which I hypothesized to be influential for invasion. For example, I looked at logistic constraints associated with invasion (how difficult it is for gobies to move into new areas), characteristics of native species at the site, the basic physical structure of the stream (depth, width, etc.), and the levels of pollutants.

My analysis resulted in six site characteristics that are associated with large round goby populations (Figure 3). Invasion year and distance to river mouth are logistic constraints to invasion which highlight the importance of geographical barriers and the time required to adequately invade a new area. The other four factors help identify what types of sites are most likely to host invasive populations of round goby. For example, round goby are less likely to inhabit a site with high native fish diversity, with mostly natural land cover, in a moderately sized stream, with low pollution levels. This finding is important as it demonstrates that areas impacted by human alteration of the landscape are more likely to host large populations of round goby. This suggests investment in restoration of streams and riparian areas may benefit ecosystem resistance to invasion in the future.

Figure 3. The site characteristics identified as important in round goby invasion and their relative contribution to round goby abundance.

While I continue to work on fine tuning this research, I am excited about these preliminary findings. I hope to identify site characteristics which can help predict potential invasions to increase management and prevention efficiency. This is a goal important to all residents of the Great Lakes region and something we should be invested in as stewards for ecosystem conservation. For more on what you can do to help prevention of aquatic invasive species, Michigan Sea Grant has some other great resources.

Thanks again to Michigan Sea Grant for supporting this study. If you have any questions or comments about this as I move forward with my research, feel free to contact me at ckrab@wayne.edu or on my Twitter page: @ckrabb.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Life on a boat: An Arctic update from Knauss Fellow Janet Hsiao

Greetings from the Chukchi Sea! It’s mostly light out north of the Arctic Circle this time of year; the sun grazes just below the horizon each night then rises shortly after. As a part of my Knauss Fellowship through NOAA’s Ocean Observing and Monitoring Division, I was given the unique opportunity to sail on the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Cutter Healy. My primary duties include trying to be useful to the various Arctic research operations on board, and working with the NOAA Communications team to write about their findings – which you can follow using #ArcticDispatches18. The series will continue to be updated while we are underway. You can also read about this mission through the blog of our resident NOAA Teacher at Sea, Roy Moffitt – and expect another article from our journalist on board in a major newspaper (link to follow in the near future). There is definitely no shortage of outreach highlighting our scientific endeavors! I thought I would use this opportunity instead to share the experience through the lens of my first time at sea.
The USCGC Healy is Janet's "home" while at sea. Photo: Meredith LaValley
It has been ten days since we set sail from Alaska’s Port of Nome. We are slowly approaching wavy and icy territories, but I am now comfortable with the constant swaying of my surroundings (and occasional thud when we hit a piece of ice). I became more cognizant of what items are compostable and burnable to minimize waste. I can identify background engine noises that signal whether the ship will be moving or halting. I also learned to embrace the regularity that comes with working 12-hour shifts and eating meals at set times to support the 24-hour science operation.
Naps boost morale. Photo: Janet Hsiao
Since internet and phone services are harder to come by in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, members of the science party and USCG crew communicate using pagers while on board. Photo: Janet Hsiao
The interdisciplinary science team studies various aspects of the Arctic ecosystem, including genomics, algae, marine mammals, aerosols, and physical oceanography. Researchers have an opportunity to learn about each other’s findings during meal times on the mess deck. Photo: Janet Hsiao
Traveling to the Arctic is no easy feat. Even on the first day of sailing, I came to appreciate the collaborative nature of oceanography as a discipline. Our science crew consists of multiple academic institutions (e.g., the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the University of Washington, the University of Maryland) and government agencies (e.g., NOAA, USGS, USFWS). This experience is especially valuable for providing context to what I have been learning from my host office in budget and program management. Research in the Arctic highlights the value of maintaining sustained observations, which requires dedicated leadership and resources. Changes in this vulnerable ecosystem have been documented by scientists who consistently return to the study region year after year. Through a dedicated community effort, there now exist ongoing time-series of various aspects of the Arctic, enabled by those with vested interest in understanding how this complex system is changing. This research cruise, as well as the many before and many to come, is truly a multi-faceted undertaking made possible by partnership and collaboration.
Did you know that there are corals in the Arctic? Photo: Stephanie Grassia
Scientists take turns to collect seawater samples from the “conductivity-temperature-depth” (CTD) Rosette, which is an instrument package lowered over the side of the ship. Bottles are attached to a frame that collect seawater at different depths on the way up. Our research crew is composed of various teams that study biological, physical, and chemical oceanography – and share the CTD samples. Photo: Meredith LaValley
Sea-ice sighting with fellow Knauss Fellow Sammi Dowdell. Photo: Christina Goethel
Some of my favorite moments include seeing a puffin in flight, power-washing barnacles off moorings that were underwater for a year, and trying to play ping-pong on a moving vessel. Prior to setting foot on Healy, I knew only one other person on board. The shipboard environment quickly acquainted us with each other. Every person on the science team and USCG crew have their designated roles, whether it is to observe seabirds, navigate, process seawater samples, cook meals, etc. We operate with the common goal of successfully completing our science mission (keeping everyone safe while gathering the data). I particularly appreciate working in the collaborative environment where people are patient in teaching each other and help out where needed. Living in close quarters also means that I have opportunities to ask questions and learn from people from all walks of life. I am grateful for everyone’s kindness and generosity in sharing their stories and the fortuitous paths that allow us to convene here in the Arctic. We are on track to complete our journey in time, to then return to our respective lives and make sense of this experience (and the data collected). I look forward to sharing the day-to-day with my new colleagues and friends during our remaining time together. Until we meet again!

Monday, July 30, 2018

An Upper Peninsula field trip with Corey Krabbenhoft

Hello again!

I hope everyone’s summer is off to a fantastic start. I thought I’d take this opportunity to branch out a bit and highlight some fantastic research that I’ve been involved in over the past few years. While I spend most of my time these days thinking about round goby invasion in the Great Lakes (see my last blog post here), I have been involved in a few side projects throughout my time at Wayne State. One of the main questions I am addressing in my research with Michigan Sea Grant is how watershed quality (as influenced by human activities) affects the ability of invasive species to establish populations. To do this, I have looked at watersheds across the state, which reflect a gradient of overall quality. This means that I’ve spent a fair amount of time sampling in very urban and agricultural rivers that are highly impacted by human activities.

In contrast to the urban streams I am used to, I spent some time this month working on a long-term project in some streams that are about as remote as you can get in Michigan. My advisor, Donna Kashian, has had research support and sponsorship from the Huron Mountain Wildlife Foundation (HMWF) in the Upper Peninsula (Figure 1) for about 11 years. The HMWF has been a fantastic group to work with and is truly a hidden gem in Michigan’s environmental research (if you’re interested, keep an eye out for their next call for proposals). I was fortunate enough to be invited on these trips and have now been going for five years. The project was designed to develop a long-term monitoring program for ecosystem integrity in streams in the Huron Mountains (just west of Marquette in the UP). This area is quite remote and serves as a good "reference" location for tracking the impacts of human-mediated environmental changes like climate change, a newly constructed mine in the area, and general construction and development activities.
Figure 1. General location of our sampling efforts in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (location indicated by red marker). Image: Google Maps
Our project uses aquatic macroinvertebrates (Figure 2) to keep track of water quality in the area. Every July, we sample 30 streams in the area that are associated with varying levels of perturbations associated with human activities. In addition to macroinvertebrates, we take a suite of water quality samples: basic things like dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, as well as samples we take back to the lab to process, like nutrients, metals, and organic carbon. The combination of these measures gives us an idea about if and how human activities might be affecting water quality in the surrounding area, and where there is the most impact. Collecting these types of data over a long timeframe (eleven years and counting!) provides a valuable resource in assessing how ecosystem integrity changes over time. It also provides clues as to the mechanisms for change based on the type of response observed in the data.
Figure 2. My lab mate and fellow PhD student Darrin Hunt joined us this year. Here he is using a Hess stream bottom sampler to collect macroinvertebrates from one of our stream sites. At the end of the day, we sieve and preserve all our samples in ethanol to take back to our lab to process further. Pictured (bottom right) is a dragonfly nymph, a nice example of the invertebrates we collect. Photos: Corey Krabbenhoft
Many of the streams we sample are much different than those you might be familiar with in the Lower Peninsula. Many are very small (less than one meter wide in some cases), only a handful of them regularly have fish, and they often have high levels of tannins due to leaf litter from the surrounding forest (Figure 3). Importantly, these streams are also free from the impacts of several invasive species which are common in the Lower Peninsula like dreissenid mussels (quagga and zebra mussels), and the round goby, the species I work on in my research with Michigan Sea Grant. These streams are largely part of the Salmon Trout and Yellow Dog watersheds, both of which are important recreational trout fisheries in the area.
Figure 3. Some of the more spectacular sites we sample every year. Photos: Corey Krabbenhoft
So far, the majority of the impacts we have seen have been related to surface construction associated with development of the new mine in the area (Figure 4). In 2013, a year before mining operations commenced, we witnessed a dramatic restructuring of the road system through the area. What used to be single-lane dirt roads had been transformed into large two- to four-lane highways. Simultaneously, the bridges at stream crossings were redone to support the increased weight and frequency of logging trucks associated with the construction activities (and then ultimately the mining trucks themselves). This rapid and dramatic change to the riparian areas and bank stability was reflected in our invertebrate data by an increase in relatively tolerant invertebrate taxa (i.e., invertebrates that are sensitive to things like increased sedimentation were less abundant, while those that are relatively tolerant became more abundant) (Figure 5). The good news is that we saw a relatively quick recovery of the invertebrate communities the following year.
Figure 4. Impacts observed due to construction activities. Left -- sediment barrier designed to keep excess silt from running into streams, which is almost completely buried. Middle -- a new culvert installed at one road crossing (my adviser, Donna Kashian, is pictured). Right -- unstable fill has resulted in wash-outs near some of the roads. Photos: Corey Krabbenhoft
Figure 5. Principal components analysis of the invertebrate communities for four of our most impacted sites over the course of the study. Each point represents the invertebrate community at a single site during a single year. All four sites are quite different in 2012 (yellow), largely due to a larger proportion of chironomids (midges), a particularly tolerant taxon. Image: Corey Krabbenhoft
This project is ongoing, and we hope to continue our monitoring efforts to develop a long-term data set for the area that can be used to detail the environmental consequences of discrete human activities, as well as general, long-term change (and how the degree of change in this remote area compares to that which we observe in more urban systems). As we continue processing samples, we will have a better understanding of any lasting consequences for the water quality in the area.

In the meantime, I’ll get back to daydreaming about round gobies and focus on my dissertation work. If you are interested to hear more about this project or want to chat about research in general, I’m more than happy to hear from you! You can find me at ckrab@wayne.edu or on my Twitter page @ckrabb.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Pre- (well, mid-) Travel Blog: The first third of my fellowship year

By Lisa Peterson

To be honest, blog readers, the plan had been to post a blog before the month of May. Because May has been my busy travel month and I liked the idea of a pre- and post-travel blog. But as I am quickly learning during my Knauss fellowship year, time flies by extremely fast. You blink and suddenly you have been working at NOAA for almost four complete months, a third of your year over. And what a third it has been. I am in the midst of travel currently (attending the National Stock Assessment Workshop this week in California as part of my professional development plan), so I will think of this as a mid-travel blog and follow up in a month or so (after the bulk of my travel for the year is complete) to talk about these meetings I have been attending. 
Fellow MISG Knauss Fellow Janet Hsiao and I took some time to check out the cherry blossoms on the Mall. Photo: Lisa Peterson
I want to go a little bit more into what I am working on during my Knauss year, as now I have a much clearer picture of my specific projects. As I mentioned in my first blog post, I am working in the Office of Science and Technology with the Electronic Technologies Coordinator, Brett Alger. I’m working on a variety of projects, but I see myself as having two big ones. Both are related to electronic monitoring (EM — check out EM Explained here). The first is national standards. Throughout the year, I will be working with EM coordinators to think about standards, whether these be minimum requirements, policies, or just best practices, for the various components of EM systems (e.g. hardware, software, data files). My first task is to make recommendations for prioritization and timing and clarify the desired outcomes of creating these standards. Then the plan is to create a subgroup of the national Electronic Technologies Working Group to start working through the potential national standards components.

The other project I am working on combines my background in stock assessments with the EM work I am doing at NOAA. As electronic monitoring expands, special consideration needs to be taken with regards to how this new data is incorporated into the stock assessments that inform management. Some regions, like Alaska, are already incorporating EM into their stock assessments, while others, like the North East, are investing into research on how best to go about integrating their EM data. My goal for the year is to put together a document that synthesizes the current work that has been done on this topic, the progress being made by some of the researchers, and what some roadblocks may be, and potential paths forward. I’m hoping this will be useful to all the regions, no matter where they are in their EM programs.

This is shaping up to be a great year. I am learning a lot and am excited to continue my projects. In addition to the projects described above I am also helping with EM communications — check out this spotlight on the women of EM! I also do find time to explore D.C; see the pictures below!
I am still trying to hit all the main buildings and museums in D.C., but I am always impressed by the Capitol Building. Photo: Lisa Peterson
The beautiful cherry blossoms made for some cool pictures at the Washington Monument. Photo: Lisa Peterson

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The case for cooperation: Two countries, one vision

By Michael Mezzacapo

The Ambassador Bridge connecting Michigan and Ontario is more than a transportation link; it's a symbol of the two countries' commitment to cooperating. Photo: Adobe Stock
The final weeks of my Michigan Sea Grant International Joint Commission (IJC) fellowship provide an opportunity to reflect on the uniqueness of the organization, its mission, and the complexity of Great Lakes water quality issues between the US and Canada.

In today’s world of rapid-fire news cycles, sound bites, and tweets, it’s easy to feel that nothing lasts long. It can be refreshing to see commitment, longevity, and perseverance, especially on a single issue. I see all these characteristics in the relationship between the US and Canada, the IJC, and the staff who serve both countries.

Since the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty, the IJC has helped the US and Canada resolve complex issues related to water management and quality across the entire US and Canadian border. That’s over 100 years of cooperation spanning 5,525 miles (8,891km) of international border. This type of long-term commitment, diplomacy, and strategic planning has resulted in a stable and productive relationship between the two countries, sharing immense natural resources.
President Nixon and Prime Minister Trudeau signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 1972. Photo: IJC
The IJC has shepherded the two countries through conflicts and accomplishments. And the continued success of the IJC is evident in its numerous science-based reports which keep governments and citizens informed, all while helping shape important policy decisions on both sides of the border.

Over the last year I have had the opportunity to witness the commitment to cooperation by the Commissioners and the IJC staff at the Great Lakes Regional Office. They share a relentless dedication and passion to providing the governments and citizens with important information needed to protect the Great Lakes.

The IJC isn’t alone in this effort and cannot operate without the input and perseverance of Great Lakes residents, countless businesses, and non-profits who surround this unique and precious resource. Everyday citizens volunteer their time to clean up beaches, write editorial letters, and attend public meetings to voice their opinion and concerns over important issues, ranging from toxic pollution to recreation and invasive species.

I can confidently say the voices of the Great Lakes residents are being heard and governments are responding. Change sometimes takes longer than we like. But the foundation and the stability of the relationship between the US and Canada and its commitment to protecting the Great Lakes, that hasn’t.
We can act today to ensure a healthy future for the Great Lakes. Photo: Michael Mezzacapo
Building and maintaining long-term relationships is critical in today’s changing world. The US and Canada share a unique bond and are positioned to lead by example. The 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty, the IJC, and the Great Lakes Water Quality agreement are testaments to the importance of a shared mission and cooperation. If we all stay committed to the goal of protecting the treasured resource we call the Great Lakes, they will remain great for future generations to come.

Settling in: An update from Knauss fellow Janet Hsiao

Squid dissection at NOAA Kids Day! 
It's hard to believe we’re a quarter of the way through the Knauss Fellowship! Since February, I've experienced a government shutdown, snow day, and wind day — the past three months have been eventful to say the least. Now that I’m more settled in DC, I'd like to share snippets of what I've been up to with the faithful Michigan Sea Grant blog readers.
Knauss fellows volunteered as judges at the 2018 Rock Ridge High School Science Symposium.
Being a part of NOAA's Ocean Observing and Monitoring Division (OOMD) has been a fascinating introduction to physical oceanography. OOMD maintains 50 percent of the global ocean observing system, which includes various technologies (e.g., Argo floats, surface drifters, buoys) that measure temperature, surface currents, salinity, and other essential variables that characterize the ocean. The data feed into models for weather, climate, ocean, and marine forecasts. The long-term records also help us understand how the ocean modulates climate patterns.
Sensors such as buoys, offshore platforms, and ship-based weather stations contribute to the Global Ocean Observing System. Image: JCOMMOPS
Under the guidance of Dr. David Legler, my main responsibility is to facilitate the Tropical Pacific Observing System (TPOS 2020) Working Group within NOAA. This working group aims to improve sustained observations of the tropical Pacific to better understand the El NiƱo-Southern Oscillation. It has been eye-opening to witness different groups (e.g., oceanographers, modelers, program managers) come together to work towards a shared vision. I was empowered by the opportunity to practice prompting collaborative meetings, despite not being a content expert. Knowing who to talk to when is half the battle, as well as setting clear meeting objectives and operationally minimizing technical difficulties. 

Through supporting OOMD communication efforts to multiple audiences, I also gain insights on aspects of how the federal government operates. I help draft messages to our partners and leadership through different stages of the federal budget process. I follow NOAA vessel Ronald H. Brown's journey around the world, and contribute to the blog that chronicles its quest to gather ocean data. There are also opportunities to participate in many public outreach events, such as NOAA Open House and the USA Science and Engineering Festival. I am incredibly honored to work alongside knowledgeable and passionate colleagues, and look forward to what the rest of the year holds. Stay tuned for more updates!
NOAA Science on a Sphere at the 2018 USA Science and Engineering Festival.
Knauss fellows hang out at the Ocean Conservancy's screening of Planet Earth: Blue Planet II.

Stream sampling and goby guts: Graduate student research with Corey Krabbenhoft


I'm Corey Krabbenhoft and I am currently a Ph.D. candidate in Donna Kashian’s lab at Wayne State University in Detroit. I am very excited to be contributing to Michigan Sea Grant’s graduate research this year. Let me start by telling you a little bit about me:

I am originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico. I received my B.S. and my M.S. in Biology from the University of New Mexico. My master’s research was on the trophic ecology of young-of-year fishes in arid land rivers.

While the major questions in the Southwest are largely about water demand and species conservation, I found invasion ecology here in the Great Lakes to be concerned with a similar problem — what can we do to protect native species and ecosystems? This is what inspired my dissertation work. I have spent the last few years investigating round goby invasion in Michigan tributaries of the Great Lakes.

If you’re not familiar, round gobies were introduced to the Great Lakes around 1990. They came from the Ponto-Caspian region (Eastern Europe) via ballast water exchange. They have since invaded all five Great Lakes and are actively moving upstream into many Great Lakes tributaries. Every summer since 2015, I have gone to seven tributaries in Michigan to hunt down round goby populations.
Watersheds sampled in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Clockwise from top are the Ocqueoc, Au Sable, Rifle, Clinton, Rouge, Stony Creek, and Muskegon River watersheds. Image: Corey Krabbenhoft
With a lot of help from the fantastic students at Wayne State, I conducted fish surveys on each river every year. We sampled both in areas where round goby occur and in areas where they have not yet invaded. We completed community surveys for fish and macroinvertebrates, some basic habitat assessments, and collected voucher specimens to bring back to the lab for further analysis.
Seining for fish at the Clinton River near Rochester, MI. Photo: A. Wicks
I am now doing a lot of lab work to find out more about how round goby specifically impact native species. I used a native competitor, the Johnny darter, as a representative native species because of the similarity of its niche (small-bodied, benthic) to round goby and its widespread distribution. I am interested in whether the Johnny darter changes its reproductive or feeding habits after round goby invade a stream. To do this I have been doing a lot of dissections. For each voucher specimen, I remove its gonads and weigh them; relative to the total body weight, this measure (called gonadosomatic index or GSI) gives an estimate of the fish’s investment reproduction (since gonads grow rapidly leading up to spawning). I then remove the entire gut tract, open it, and identify the contents. Ultimately, I will compare the contents of the gut to the food available at each site (from our macroinvertebrate samples) to see if Johnny darter food preferences change after round goby invasion. 
A dissected round goby with his gut (left) and gonads (right). Photo: Corey Krabbenhoft
Another goal of this project is to work with local watershed organizations who are regularly monitoring the quality of these rivers. I have been working closely with the Friends of the Rouge, which organizes macroinvertebrate sampling events three times per year. At these events, anyone can volunteer and with a little on-site training, can help sample and track the quality of the river at any one of their 103 sites throughout the watershed (keep an eye out for their next event!).
A volunteer sorts through macroinvertebrates at a bug hunt with the Friends of the Rouge. Photo: Corey Krabbenhoft
These events are a great way for citizens in the watershed to learn about their local river and what they can do to help maintain a healthy ecosystem. The organization is also a great resource for long-term data on river quality. We have coordinated our sampling efforts with Friends of the Rouge over the last few years so that we can compare our data with theirs, and hopefully utilize almost 20 years of data produced by their volunteers. Long-term and widespread data sets like this are so hard to come by, and the folks at Friends of the Rouge have been great to work with! I am hoping that this collaboration will allow a longer time-scale perspective on how the Rouge River has changed over the years, especially following the invasion of the round goby.

I’ll be back again soon to keep you updated, but in the meantime, you can find me at ckrab@wayne.edu or on my Twitter page: @ckrabb.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Great Lakes go to Washington: Great Lakes Day with Margo Davis

In what I have to imagine is a perennial highlight for the Great Lakes Commission-Sea Grant Fellow, I traveled to Washington, D.C. last month for our Semiannual Meeting and Great Lakes Day on Capitol Hill. I have been to Washington numerous times while living on the East Coast, but never had the opportunity to interact with the lively policy scene. So I was excited and a tad intimidated when, on my first day, I was sent to attend a congressional briefing on a newly-released report on equitable water infrastructure in the Great Lakes. Although I certainly consider myself civically active, I was not used to this type of sanctioned, more formal event, and I certainly wasn't used to having a congressman introduce the panel! Rep. Bob Gibbs of Ohio provided opening remarks, but I really became awed when Rep. Gwen Moore — who represents my home district in Wisconsin — arrived and addressed the room. Not only was it a great experience to learn about the report directly from those that prepared it, but exposure to the Capitol Hill setting was great for me (and hopefully made me a little less green for Great Lakes Day later in the week).

After some Commission business the next day and a half, Great Lakes Day arrived. We started with a breakfast in one of the Senate buildings, which featured speeches from elected officials from across the Great Lakes states and on both sides of the aisle. The senators and representatives discussed their constituents’ priorities and the steps they are taking to protect those priorities. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Rob Portman, co-chairs of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, spoke back to back and highlighted bipartisanship as the backbone of the Great Lakes delegation.
Great Lakes stakeholders at the Congressional Breakfast to kick off Great Lakes Day. Photo: Reilly Manz, Great Lakes Commission

Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH), co-chairs of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, greet each other between speeches. Photo: Reilly Manz, Great Lakes Commission
Across the board, the bipartisan significance of the Great Lakes was a common theme and perhaps never more apparent than when closing speakers Reps. Debbie Dingell and Fred Upton, both from Michigan but from opposing parties, spoke together about their understanding of the importance – both to them personally and to their constituents - of protecting the Great Lakes and the frequency with which they work together to do so.

Representatives Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Fred Upton (R-MI) close out the Congressional Breakfast. Photo: Reilly Manz, Great Lakes Commission
After the breakfast ended, GLC staff, Commissioners, and a wide range of Great Lakes stakeholders visited elected officials and their staff to further discuss priorities and encourage the Great Lakes delegation to continue working together to protect the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Commission exists to work with the states and provinces to promote their collective interests and address issues of common concern. So, in addition to providing materials, we also reminded staffers that the GLC can be a resource, both in the tools we develop and as a point of contact for key issues.

One valuable tool that I worked on ahead of Great Lakes Day is our Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) interactive map. Each year, the Sea Grant Fellow works with the GLC’s GIS team to update the GLRI database in preparation for public use. We get data from the EPA on every GLRI project, and then scrub the data for consistency and to link updates to their original project. The GIS team takes it from there to import all of the new information on to the map. This tool is important to show how the GLRI funding is being used in each state, and has congressional district overlays so that elected officials can zoom in to see what projects are occurring closest to home. As Great Lakes funding continues to be at risk, we hope this tool is a helpful way of displaying the value of the GLRI.