Thursday, December 5, 2019

A day in the life of Knauss Fellow Kathryn Frens

Hi everybody!

Like Jillian did a couple of months ago, I’d like to give you all a walk-through of a random day in my life as a Knauss Fellow in the National Marine Fisheries Service Office of Sustainable Fisheries. I decided to do this blog when I got into work this morning, so I’ll be writing about my day as it happens. I have two meetings and a webinar scheduled, which is a bit more than usual, and I have several long-term projects going.

8:30 am: Get to work, read emails, go over schedule for the day and prioritize.

9:00 am: Meet with co-workers to update each other on the status of three pieces of guidance working their way through the release process. These documents all have to do with National Standard 1 (in the Magnuson-Stevens Act) and are meant to help managers decide how best to calculate how much fish should be caught in a given year. This is more complicated than it sounds, and we’re coordinating three groups of high-level scientists and managers scattered all over the country.

10:00 am: Sit down to edit the white paper on scenario planning methods that I’ve been working on for a while. This document will eventually be published by NOAA so that managers who are interested in scenario planning can get a beginner-friendly rundown of the process.

10:45 am: Phone rings. It’s Ryan from one of the regional fisheries offices, calling to talk about some data he has on the outcomes of NMFS’s Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program grants. I’m trying to find out how often the research funded by these grants actually affects management, but I have to rely on people like Ryan, who are on the ground in the regions, to get the data for me.

11:00 am: Team meeting. We get updates on some external meetings that happened recently and talk about how to get or create good graphics for our presentations.

12:00 pm: Lunch at my desk while getting application materials together for a federal job.

12:30 pm: Go through more comments on the scenario planning white paper.

1:00 pm: Tune in to a webinar about navigating climate-driven ecological transformations.

2:00 pm: Livestream a House Water, Oceans, and Wildlife subcommittee hearing.

3:30 pm: Back to the scenario planning white paper.

4:45 pm: Write down what I did today and my priorities for tomorrow.

5:00 pm: Writing group with friends! (Don’t know who needs to hear this, but finish your dissertation before you start your Knauss.)

And that’s a day in my life! I hope this was helpful. Instead of posting pictures of me at my desk, I’ve included some fish I like. Three of them are tangentially related to my next post, and the other is a cowcod.




Thursday, October 24, 2019

Worms, watersheds, and the Anthropocene: Remarks from Jillian Mayer

These remarks were given to volunteers of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History by 2020 Knauss Fellow Jillian Mayer. Jillian took the photos at the youth-led Global Climate Strike March to the U.S. Capitol on September 20, 2019.

Photo: Jillian Mayer
Thank you, Meaghan and the Museum, for having me today. All opinions are my own. 

Everyone: look down at your feet. Wiggle your toes in your shoes, and feel the ground beneath them. Recall the path you took to get here tonight. That path, this ground, is first and foremost stolen indigenous land. The community that once called this land home is the Piscataway (and related tribes) and is, by the way, still around. Before we talk about the ocean, we have to understand the land. Part of that means addressing that we have stolen it from others, and are borrowing it from future generations. Let’s take one moment to thank the people that stewarded this land before we were here, and those that will care for it long after we’re worm food.

Speaking of worms: Consider the physical characteristics of the ground. What does it smell like? How many rodents are burrowing beneath us? How many thousands of seeds lie dormant, waiting for a crack in the concrete? Go further down and you’d hit rock, then water, then rock, and eventually magma and a molten iron core. (I think that’s true, though thankfully none of us are geologists up here).

Every step you took tonight happened in a watershed. Every drop of liquid that falls on the surface of that watershed ends up in a stream, which runs to a river, which runs to the sea. The oceans are the headwaters of the skies, and the skies return that water to us as precipitation. The hydrologic cycle!
Photo: Jillian Mayer
There are literally countless ways that humans are impacting our seas in the Anthropocene — or as I call it, the Anthroposeas. Can I have some examples of the ways we’ve impacted water? (Call them out)...

Here are some facts about the Laurentian Great Lakes, because I’m an “expert”: 
  • Largest source of surface freshwater on earth; coastline is longer than Atlantic and Pacific coasts; water flows from Superior to Ontario; shallow.
  • During the Paleozoic Era, which ended about 250 million years ago, the Great Lakes region was a shallow sea.
  • The Great Lakes formed 10,000 years ago with the retreat of the Laurentide Ice Sheet. 
  • Before European settlement, the land held the Anishinaabe civilization, consisting of the “three fires:” Potowatomi, Ojibwe/Chippewa, and Odawa – healthy forests, clean lakes.
  • European settlement began in the mid-1850s: mostly trading (furs).
  • Intensive logging and polluting factories shaped the region in the late 1800s – early 1900s: clear-cut old-growth forests, hammered rivers, intense runoff and flooding.
  • First problematic invasive species: sea lamprey come in ballast water, decimate lake trout
  • 1950s: alewife 
  • 1960s: stocked Pacific salmon 
  • St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959 — invasives galore 
  • 1990s: zebra mussels 
  • 2000s: quagga mussels 
  • 2000s: Asian carp 
  • Today: upper lakes are oligotrophic, lower lakes are eutrophic; invasive predators and prey; highly managed lake levels – A MESS
Photo: Jillian Mayer
Here’s where I neatly pivot to telling you to VOTE. I’m now a NOAA-Sea Grant Knauss Legislative Fellow in a senior senator’s office. Here are some observations I’ve made: 
  1. Wearing business attire every day is miserable.
  2. Honoring treaties with Native American tribes and generally throwing our movement’s whole weight behind the unique goal of indigenous sovereignty would solve most of our problems.
  3. Surprisingly, it turns out that Congress can’t make people do anything. It appears that the goal of policy in our governance structure is to open better paths to better futures. It’s not hand-holding, it’s not hand-dragging. (This is a cheer-ocracy). 
  4. We can and should explain environmental, climate, and oceans issues in language that our audience understands, including the language of economics, patriotism, religion, autonomy, and other values we may not hold. Our own subjective motivation for saving the planet is just that: subjective. Earth is far past the point at which we can sit atop our high moral horses. As scientists, activists, and educators, we must challenge ourselves to find new ways of explaining, showing, understanding, knowing, and solving the complex (primordial) soup of crises we face. 
  5. Go vote. Help register people to vote. Volunteer to drive people to the polls. Do this regardless of party affiliation. Less than 50% of the eligible US population votes. For communities of color especially, exercising this constitutional right has become harder since the repeal of the Voting Rights Act — and everyone suffers when some of us aren’t free. To quote poet Staceyann Chin, “All oppression is connected.” Voting is one tool of many in our toolbox. We need and have a thriving ecosystem of strategies to build a better future. But don’t forget to vote. 
  6. Finally, to quote journalist Mary Schmich and musician Baz Luhrmann, “wear sunscreen.”
    Photo: Jillian Mayer

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Women Who Fish Have Stories To Tell: Part 2

By Erin Burkett, Michigan Sea Grant Graduate Research Fellow

In my previous blog, I described the process of facilitating a community-engaged research project about Michigan women who fish for recreation. I used a method called photovoice that combines individual photography with group discussion and storytelling to highlight 15 participants’ unique perspectives. The project culminated in two major events: a photography exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of the Keweenaw and a public presentation at a meeting of the Metro-West Steelheaders Association.
April Tang presenting to the Metro-West Steelheaders Association in Livonia, Michigan, on June 4, 2019. Photo: Erin Burkett
Now that the major events are wrapped and the project is coming to a close, I am writing up my findings for publication in a scientific journal. There are a lot of options for analyzing qualitative social science data, and I’m using a process called grounded theory. A lot of research applies a pre-existing scientific or theory-based idea to data, but grounded theory is useful when you want to remain true to participants’ own words, ideas, and personal expertise. The major steps of grounded theory include data coding (assigning labels to sections of text that represent what each section is about), memoing (writing down analytical ideas as you go through your data), and developing a case-specific theory or theories. Combining photovoice with grounded theory is a feminist participatory approach to social research because women’s fishing experiences aren’t often shared or highlighted in academic studies.

One of my findings is that, for these women, fishing isn’t about the fish. Well, almost. Catching a beautiful brook trout or their first northern pike was certainly memorable for these women, but fishing provides them with many other benefits and satisfying experiences. For some, connecting to water and nature and “getting away from it all” was important, and for others it is the empowerment and sense of accomplishment that fishing brings that drives them to fish. 
"Sleepy rivers soothe the soul" Photo: Cori Fitzpatrick
Many of the women expressed being the “token woman” in their circle of fishing buddies, and this certainly created social obstacles to fishing that we discussed quite a bit. But this wasn’t always the case. A few learned all they know about fishing from a strong female role model like a grandmother or mother, and by participating in the project the participants made new, fishing-related connections with each other and other women in their social circles. Finding other women to fish with was particularly important to April Tang, project participant and member of the Flygirls of Michigan: "I joined the Flygirls of Michigan group and the women there have helped me build my skills and opened up more fishing opportunities. On this guided trip, I caught my biggest steelhead so far. It was a brutally cold day, like most days when steelhead run the rivers. My boatmate and I persisted, and she ended up catching an even bigger beast! The Flygirls have really been a wonderful, supportive community for me.”
April Tang with her steelhead on a freezing day on the river. Photo: April Tang
Uncovering and highlighting stories of women fishing is important because this doesn’t often happen in the public eye. It can also help us to overcome what are sometimes very deeply-rooted beliefs about women in the context of outdoor recreation. It also reminds us that women cannot all be lumped into a single group because they are each individuals with varying identities and personal reasons for fishing.

Monday, July 8, 2019

A day in the life of a Knauss Fellow (celebrity sightings not guaranteed)

By Jillian Mayer

Jillian snapped a photo with activist/"Queer Eye" star Karamo Brown and actor/comedian Alec Mapa at a staff briefing on LGBTQ+ adoption. Photo: Jillian Mayer
As a current NOAA-Sea Grant Knauss fellow working in a Democrat Senator’s office, I am often asked what I do all day. To help answer that question, I tracked my schedule on a random Thursday at work. I hope this is a helpful snapshot for potential applicants and future fellows:

9am: Workday started

9am-10am: Sorted emails received overnight into folders by subject and priority

10am-11am: Drafted – and later edited and finalized – a press release on toxic PFAS chemicals found in firefighting foam in anticipation of the Senator’s press event on the topic the following day

11am-11:30am: Wrote my mid-year report for Michigan Sea Grant

11:30am-12:30pm: Finished editing and sent a letter I wrote on behalf of the Senator to the Government Accountability Office requesting an investigation into non-competitive oil and gas leasing on public lands

12:30pm-3pm: Conducted online research for a new letter I was tasked with on the safety and efficacy of over-the-counter sunscreens

3pm-4pm: Drafted said letter on behalf of the Senator to the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration

4pm-5pm: Checked in with supervisors and colleagues about priorities for the next week

5pm-6pm: Caught up on a webinar by the Environmental Law Institute on the basics of the Clean Water Act

6pm: Workday ended

I’ve gotten into the bad habit of eating lunch at my desk while completing other tasks, but we are encouraged to take an hour-long lunchbreak. This schedule did not include other common activities like meeting with constituents, preparing the Senator for committee hearings or floor action, collaborating with other legislative offices, and attending staff briefings on any topic.

Additionally, almost everything on the above schedule was – or could be – done in collaboration with colleagues in my office. I find my office to be very collaborative, which I deeply appreciate and know is not the case with all Knauss fellows’ placements.

I hope this helps!

Jillian and colleagues with Senator Elizabeth Warren in the U.S. Capitol. Photo: Jillian Mayer
Jillian with presidential hopeful "Mayor Pete" Buttigieg at a pro-choice rally on the Supreme Court steps. Photo: Jillian Mayer

Easing into life at NOAA

By Kathryn Frens

Hello, blog readers. I’m a 2019 Executive Knauss Fellow, currently placed in NOAA’s Office of Sustainable Fisheries. In this post, I want to give you an idea of what it’s been like to walk in my (flat, but professional) shoes for the first two months of my fellowship. I’m not going to cover Placement Week: Lisa did a very good job of that last year, and I bet a smart reader like you can find her post. Instead, I’m going to talk about starting my fellowship and a few things I’ve learned already. You ready for this? Let’s go.

The longest government shutdown in history ended less than a week before I was supposed to start work at NOAA. Because my supervisor was furloughed, she couldn’t come into the office and had no way to plan for my arrival. Nobody was processing security clearances or access cards or finances, initially. So I started a week late, and everyone was still recovering from the furlough when I got into the office. And because everybody asks, that’s the only way that national politics has affected my fellowship. I thought working in DC would involve more politics, but it turns out that my office is very apolitical. NOAA’s leadership is appointed by the president, but my office mostly works with laws and regulations that change more slowly than administrations. Some days, it doesn’t feel like we’re inside the Beltway at all.

My first month of work was slow. I scheduled one-on-one meetings with everyone in my office to learn about what they do (they do a wide variety of things and have a ton of expertise about those things), and I did a lot of background reading. While I knew what areas of fisheries management interested me, I did not know how to translate those areas of interest into actual concrete projects. In addition, my supervisor was in her position temporarily, and my permanent boss came back about a month after I started. Things didn’t really start to pick up until about six weeks in.

I’m telling you this because some of you reading might be future fellows, and it’s important to know that every fellow’s experience is different. My slow start stressed me out, especially when I was hearing from other fellows about how busy they were and what groups they were already leading. It was only in talking with past fellows that I found out how common my experience is, especially in an office (like mine) that didn’t have a fellow last year. Here are some other important things to know:
  • NOAA loves it some Knauss fellows. Lots of people here were fellows previously and they’re happy to help you out or give you advice. Just ask!
  • You will never find shoes that are both comfortable enough to commute in and professional enough to wear in the office. Keep your nice shoes at work and walk to the Metro in your hiking sandals; you won’t regret it. 
  • This fellowship feels like a weird combination of work and learning. I tend to be very focused on how I can contribute and what I can accomplish. This fellowship involves contributing and accomplishing, but my office expects me to also spend time on my own education, which is not always comfortable when everybody else is working so hard! I attended the Mid-Atlantic Marine Fisheries Commission meeting just to see how the management process works, and I’m going on a shark survey cruise this summer—both things I don’t think I would have been able to do if I wasn’t a fellow. 
  • The best things about DC are the museums and the food. And the museums are free, which helps you afford the food. 
I’d love to hear from whoever is reading this blog about what you want to know. I’m happy to answer questions or expound further on what you’re curious about. I don’t have any cool travel pictures yet, but here’s one of me in my new office space. I took this picture for an elementary school career day presentation about what scientists do—another really fun experience!
Kathryn is hard at work in the NOAA office. Photo: Kathryn Frens

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.