by Lauren Freedman, SCA Staff
As a relatively new SCA staff member, I was thrilled to go on my first site visit. I’ve spent the last six months learning about what SCA members do in the field (answer: everything!), writing stories about their adventures, and appreciating from afar just how much hard work is done in the name of SCA. So when I planned my vacation to California this summer, I made sure to include a visit to Sequoia National Forest so that I could finally see it all for myself.
I decided to bring Kayte, my childhood best friend, on the adventure with me, so that she could get a clearer picture of what SCA does and why I’m so passionate about the work that I do here. At the age of 24, she has already performed in Carnegie Hall, finished a marathon and bungee jumped in South Africa from the highest bungee jumping point in the world. I just hoped that my escapades in the forest would be up to her speed.
We arrived in Prather, California, a tiny blip of a town that doesn’t even show up on most maps, to meet up with my host, Jessica Bolis. Jessica, a two-time SCA alumna, supervises six wildlife interns in Sequoia National Forest. The interns use track plate boxes with hair snares to collect information about the wildlife population within the forest. They are particularly interested in two varieties of weasels -- fishers and martens -- but also detect a variety of other animals including gray fox, skunks, and ringtails. The interns identify tracks, and send hair from the snares for DNA analysis.
We drove over an hour into the forest with Jessica. She radioed Ben Eggersdorfer, the first of several interns we were to visit. I strapped on my backpack, replete with my SLR camera, Flip video camera, back up batteries, notepad, pens, and water and snacks too. We headed straight up the side of the mountain. No trails for us -- just Jessica leading the way with her radio and GPS unit. We made our way through the forest, over fallen trees, and across huge boulders as we climbed our way to the top. At a starting altitude of 8200 feet, it was a challenging hike for this New Englander, but worth it for the spectacular view near the top where we met Ben.
Ben spends his days hiking from one monitoring station to the next, collecting data and refreshing the stations with fresh bait. He taught me about the track plate boxes that the interns use to monitor the assorted mammals in the forest. About halfway through our conversation, he pulled a bag of bloody chicken breasts out of his pack and placed one within the box to lure the animals in. He carefully removed and stored the contact paper used to capture the prints, and replaced it with a new sheet before returning the binder of data and bag of bloody chicken to his pack.
A two-hour roundtrip drive and an hour of hiking -- just to visit one intern! I was impressed by what it takes to be out “in the field.” As we hiked back down the mountain to the truck, I thought about my desk back at SCA headquarters in New Hampshire and just how far removed I was from my daily routine in the world of Communications and Advancement. I was worn out, but happy to be there, and excited that I still had another day with the interns ahead of me.
The following day provided more hands-on experience with the interns -- hiking through thorny brush and near-vertical descents, accidentally coating my hands with the skunk-scented “gusto” smeared on the trees to attract the animals, and driving many more hours on the one-lane roads through the forest. I got an insider’s view of the forest and learned to identify the flags on the trees that mark the way to the interns’ track-plate boxes.
We made our way out of Prather that afternoon exhausted, bug-bitten, and smelling a bit like skunk. I’d even managed to wear out Kayte. And after six months of vicariously enjoying the experiences of the SCA interns, I can finally say I’ve seen it for myself.
Photos, from top: Kayte and Lauren (on right); a track plate box; the view; SCA intern Ben Eggersdorfer