Wyoming Researcher Joins Western National Parks Association Board

Tucson, Ariz.—John Lad Koprowski, dean and Wyoming Excellence Chair of the Haub School of Environmental and Natural Resources, University of Wyoming, has been appointed to the Western National Parks Association (WNPA) Board of Directors.

The board governs the nonprofit organization and serves as a WNPA ambassador articulating its message, mission and accomplishments to the public.

As a professor and researcher, Koprowski’s methods on conservation and management of biodiversity that embraces community involvement has been applied in the US, Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Nepal, China, Mongolia and South Africa, among other locations worldwide.

John Koprowski

The native Ohioan has authored more than 200 peer-reviewed articles and five books, most recently International Wildlife Management. He’s a fellow with the American Association of the Advancement of Science, The Wildlife Society and the Linnean Society of London.

He came to the University of Wyoming from the University of Arizona, where he was Director of the School of Natural Resources & the Environment since 2018 and a Professor of Wildlife Conservation & Management since 2000. At UA, he directed the Desert Southwest Cooperative Ecosystems Studies Unit and the Mt. Graham Biology Programs and held affiliations with the Institute of the Environment and the Genetics Interdisciplinary Degree Program.

“We at WNPA have long admired John’s accomplishments,” said WNPA Chief Executive Officer James E. Cook, who noted that WNPA recognized Koprowski by granting him the Emil W. Haury Award for Outstanding Achievement in Science in National Parks in 1999. “His deep knowledge of wildlife conservation and management, and his skills at involving community in those efforts will help our organization continue to grow and reach our goals.” Dr. Kowprowski was granted his very first science research grant from WNPA, then known as Southwest Parks and Monuments Association.

Learn more about the Western National Parks Association Board of Directors.

 Dr. Alfred Runte

Tucson, Arizona, (November 22, 2021)—An internationally recognized national park historian and two college students who want to teach their communities about the benefits of national parks have earned annual awards presented by Western National Parks Association.

“The last couple of years have reminded us that our national parks are sanctuaries where we can renew ourselves,” said James E. Cook, WNPA’s executive director. “This year’s award winners allow us to recognize those who continue the spirit of appreciating and protection these American cultural and natural treasures.”

Dr. Alfred Runte, noted Seattle-based historian and author who made major contributions to the Ken Burns America’s Best Idea series on PBS, received the Western National Parks Association’s Stewart L. Udall Award for his lifelong and continuing dedication to sharing his lifelong passion for protecting national parks and other American wildlands.

One of the first books he received from his mother was Stewart Udall’s The Quiet Crisis. Today the copy still sits on his desk. A childhood family camping trip to national parks from coast to coast inspired Runte to become an interpretive ranger at Yosemite National Park for four seasons.

He earned a doctorate in American environmental history at University of California, Santa Barbara, where he subsequently helped build the environmental studies program. He taught at five institutions of higher learning.

Runte speaks and writes regularly about saving America’s national parks and wild places. His 1979 book National Parks—The American Experience is in its fourth edition. He’s also written books about Yosemite, trains, and the need for preserving public lands. He’s written extensively on the subject of nature preservation for magazines and journals, and spoke on national television shows. He appeared on all six episodes of Burns’ documentary on national parks, as well as provide consultation and research.

Anna Flores

“Without the cooperating associations like WNPA, we would not have the fine programs we have today in the national parks,” Runte says. “If there’s any award in the country I would like to have, it’s this one because this one goes back to my childhood.”

Learn more about WNPA’s awards and scholarship program.

Anna Flores and Eva Vieyra, both participants of the SAMO (Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area) Youth program, aim to use the WNPA’s Ernest Quintana and Marty Sterkel Education Program Scholarship they have earned to bring the message of national parks’ healing powers and cultural heritages to their Latino communities.

Flores thought of outdoor educational leaders as heroes ever since she attended a fifth graders’ camping trip. At SAMO Youth she worked as a Spanish communications assistant and an interpreter. She created programs that brought to light rarely told stories of the park, as well as about its features Paramount Ranch and Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing.

She is studying environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara and hopes to work in positions that allow her to continue teaching about nature, especially to communities that are underrepresented as park visitors. “I hope with this scholarship, I can continue my education,” Flores said, “to reconnect my people with nature in a healing and therapeutic way.”

Vieyra also wants her community to discover the joys and benefits of national parks just as she did when she improved trails and planted oak trees in the national recreation area that she did not know existed until she joined SAMO Youth.

Eva Vieyra

As a student of environmental and occupational health at California State University Northridge, Vieyra hopes to gain the skills and knowledge to become a National Park Service employee. She wants to focus on bringing diversity to youth educational programs. “It would … help my Latinx community reestablish a spiritual and personal connection with the earth around them that has been diminished and stolen from them for so long,” she said. “This … would open the doors to those who have not had the opportunity to connect with the lands of the earth ….”

Learn more about WNPA’s awards and scholarship program.

View of Boulder Basin, Lake Mead from Fortification Hill
Looking down at Lake Mead National Recreation Area from Fortification Hill (courtesy  of NPS). (Additional photos courtesy of the research team unless otherwise noted.)

In the Mojave Desert, the driest and smallest desert in the United States, permanent sources of water are few and far between. Where water does exist, it is an essential resource for flora and fauna of all shapes and sizes.

“Really nothing in the desert can survive without water,” said Chenoa Wilcox, an ecologist and educator at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV). “So, preserving what water sources we have is just absolutely critical.”

Land managers and scientists work to maintain desert water sources using a variety of strategies, but they are up against a growing number of anthropogenic threats. In the waters of the West, the dumping of exotic fish has proven to be a particularly devastating problem.

An Ancient Oasis

A few years ago, associate professor Dr. Jef Jaeger from UNLV and representatives from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the Nevada Department of Wildlife began discussing a plan to remove exotic fish from Blue Point Spring, a naturally occurring, groundwater-dependent spring located on National Park Service lands within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Records show the spring has been a part of the landscape since the Pleistocene—and it still flows today. Over the years, however, people have dumped exotic fish into the water. At one point in the 1950s, Blue Point Spring was even used by traders to raise tropical aquarium fish. Some of these nonnative fish have proven to be a problem for the spring’s native species, whether through competition or predation.

As the managers and scientists discussed the pros and cons of removing the invaders from the spring, conversation shifted to a tiny species the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen: Pyrgulopsis coloradensis.

The Blue Point Spring springsnails (Pyrgulopsis coloradensis), similar to the springsnails above, are only about the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen. (Courtesy of USFWS.)

Pyrgulopsis coloradensis is an aquatic springsnail found only at Blue Point Spring. Although it is small, researchers think it might play an important role in the ecosystem because of its typically large population size.

The group was concerned about the impact that management decisions might have on the snail, and there was uncertainty surrounding even the size of the springsnail population. In several previous surveys, scientists had been unable to detect the springsnails, whereas in other surveys the snails were abundant. This led to talk of a new study—one that might provide conclusive evidence concerning the abundance of the springsnail.

The Springsnail Study

In 2018, Western National Parks Association provided Jaegar funding to do a baseline study on the springsnail species, which Wilcox took on as her master’s project. Jaegar and Wilcox collaboratively designed methods to evaluate the springsnail’s seasonal distribution, relative abundance, and habitat associations.

Over the course of a year, Wilcox and a team of undergraduates implemented the methods, both in the field at Blue Point Spring and in the lab. The researchers included another endemic springsnail species in their work—Tryonia infernalis—given the overlapping prevalence of the two snail species.

At Blue Point Spring, Wilcox used several sampling strategies to evaluate the springsnail populations over eight-week intervals from August 2018 to September 2019. The study site, which was about 20 meters long, was separated into two separate pools by a weir—a structure that acts as both a dam and a gauging station to monitor the spring’s flow rate.

Above the weir, in the source pool, there are typically no fish present, because of efforts to eradicate nonnative fish. Below the weir, exotic fish including convict cichlids, short-finned mollies, and mosquitofish have established viable populations. Near the end of the study, the researchers evaluated how fish predation in the lower pool had affected springsnails.

Researchers at Lake Mead National Recreation Area studying the impact of nonnative fish on the native springsnail population
Researchers at Lake Mead National Recreation Area studying the impact of nonnative fish on the native springsnail population, a species that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world.

The Findings

After a year of research, Wilcox and her team found that, above the weir, populations of both P. coloradensis and T. infernalis were genetically diverse and reasonably robust, with thousands of the springsnails present. Below the weir, however, very few individuals of either species were found.

The researchers also found that convict cichlids have a detrimental impact on the springsnails. During a 10-minute feeding alone, one convict cichlid fish consumed more than 200 springsnails. Based on this information, the researchers determined that maintaining the integrity of the weir would be extremely important for maintaining the springsnail populations in the years to come.

“When you’re releasing into these riparian areas, this new organism can have completely unknown consequences on the native species that are there,” Wilcox said. “Releasing your fish into this nice, cozy thermal spring habitat—it probably is a good life for some fish, but it’s not going to be a good life for numerous native organisms.”

An Uncertain Future

Wilcox’s findings will help inform land managers about best practices in managing the spring and protecting the springsnails in the future. Although the research found that both P. coloradensis and T. infernalis were abundant in the system above the weir, both Wilcox and Jaeger pointed out that these tiny creatures are still of conservation concern.

“It gets more complicated once you consider the fact that these snails don’t exist anywhere else in the world,” Wilcox said. “My research doesn’t take into account the possibility of someone or something coming along and destroying any part of their habitat. By manipulating a single site, you could wipe out this entire species.”

Ironically, shortly after Wilcox wrapped up her research, someone used lumber and pipes to construct a structure that caused the lower pool to flood. This connected the source pool with the lower pool, and nonnative fish were able to enter the source pool. Because of Wilcox’s findings, biologists were keenly aware of the negative impact exotic fish can have on the springsnails. They quickly disassembled the harmful construction and eradicated fish from the source pool.

Wilcox and Jaeger concluded that more research should be done on the springsnails to gain an even better understanding of their population dynamics and function in the tiny ecosystem. It will be critical for the springsnails—and for Blue Point Spring itself—to keep the weir in place and invasive fish at bay.

“The people of the United States, through their representatives back during Nixon time . . . argued that maintaining species and maintaining ecosystems is important, and we have stringent laws about that,” Jaeger said. “Pyrgulopsis is not an endangered species, but they all could be. And so, if they become an endangered species, then the legislation is pretty heavy-handed. I think being good stewards requires us to manage things before they get to that point—before they’re at a point of becoming extinct.”

By Madison Beal, journalism graduate student at the University of Arizona

Since 1938 WNPA has funded scientific research to help advance the management, preservation, and interpretation of our national parks. WNPA has partnered with the University of Arizona School of Journalism to provide engaging stories about the research projects completed with the aid of WNPA funding. Your American West will feature one of these stories in each of the next few issues. Discover more of the historical, social, and environmental research projects WNPA has funded in recent years on our website.

Tucson, AZ—Western National Parks Association (WNPA), a Tucson-based nonprofit partner of the National Park Service (NPS), announced the appointment of five new members to its Board of Directors. The board is the governing body of the organization, and members serve as ambassadors for WNPA, articulating its message, mission, and accomplishments to the public.

“All of us at WNPA are delighted to bring on these five new board members,” said WNPA Chief Executive Officer James E. Cook. “Each new member brings a diverse set of skills, backgrounds, expertise, and experiences to help the organization move through these challenging times while staying true to its mission. The board has an important role, especially now given the challenges we and many organizations have faced during the COVID-19 global pandemic. Our outstanding volunteer board members all contribute in so many ways, including their valuable time, energy, wisdom, and financial resources to ensure the organization remains vital and thrives even in times like these. I have confidence that this new class of board members along with our existing board members, will help guide the organization forward in key areas and I, along with our management team, look forward to working with them!”

Dan B. Kimball is a native of Michigan. He received a Bachelor of Arts in earth sciences from Denison University and a Master of Science in water resources administration from the University of Arizona. Kimball held positions with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of Surface Mining, and environmental consulting firms and served as the superintendent of Everglades National Park and Dry Tortugas National Park for 10 years. Kimball serves on numerous community boards, including the Sonoran Institute, Archaeology Southwest, Friends of Saguaro National Park, and Western Art Patrons of the Tucson Museum of Art. 

Stacy Lambatos was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, and graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a Bachelor of Business Administration with an emphasis in entrepreneurship. She spent eight years in multiple leadership positions within events, B2B marketing, creative, and corporate branding for AOL Inc./Verizon Media. She is also the founder of CAYA, a culmination of her passions and professional experiences aimed at inspiring those in business environments to become more present and creative in their leadership roles. 

Kindley Walsh Lawlor graduated cum laude from the Fashion Institute of Technology with a degree in fashion design and held numerous management positions at Banana Republic and Gap. She was vice president for Gap’s Global Sustainability and the Gap Inc. Foundation and now serves as president and CEO of Parks California. Lawlor previously served on different boards and committees, including the International Labor Organization Advisory Committee, and the Advisory Board for the Center for Responsible Business at Berkeley Haas. 

Howard Levitt attended the University of California, Berkeley and graduated with a bachelor’s in political science. Throughout his career he held many different positions within the NPS, including chief of communications, superintendent, chief of interpretation and education, and director of communications and partnerships for Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Levitt also serves on different boards and volunteers for multiple organizations, including Environmental Traveling Companions, We Players theater company, and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. 

Rachel Ligtenberg studied biology at Humboldt State University and went on to hold many different leadership positions within REI, including director of visual merchandising, regional vice president, and vice president of retail operations. Within these roles she earned many awards and accolades, including the Outdoor Industry Women’s Coalition (now Camber Outdoors) Pioneer Award and the REI Leadership Award. Ligtenberg has also served on several nonprofit boards and committees, including Camber Outdoors, Lake Washington Girls Middle School, and Passages Northwest.