Grant Enables Research on Rare Biodiversity in Saguaro National Park

By Dave DeFusco

Botanist Dan Beckman, beside a Cochise adder’s mouth orchid, is co-leading the study. photo courtesy of Tony Palmer, NPS

A team of National Park Service researchers will study the biological diversity of Saguaro National Park’s “sky island” assisted by a $10,000 grant from the Western National Parks Association.

The grant was supported by a $5,000 gift from Wild Tribute, which donates to organizations that support national parks and public lands, and the agencies that oversee their legacy. Ben Kieffner, co-founder of Wild Tribute, said the Saguaro NP research aligns with the company’s goal of donating 4 percent of its proceeds to protect historic and wild places.

“It’s enormously important that researchers have the resources and capacity to protect this nation’s biodiversity, which is threatened by climate change,” said Kieffner. “We feel it’s our responsibility at Wild Tribute to be part of the solution since we all share the same Earth.”

The Saguaro NP research will provide baseline data on the park’s nearly 1,200 species of native plants in the Rincon Mountain District, located in Pima County, Arizona. The park contains 67,000 acres of wilderness spanning desert to forest. 

In this area, species from the Rocky Mountains and the subtropics intermingle, and many of the high-elevation, moisture-loving species are utilizing rare microhabitats in an otherwise dry environment where climate change, drought-induced wildfires, and decreasing snowpack could eventually eradicate them if measures aren’t taken to preserve them.

Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra). photo courtesy of Mary Owen, NPS

The moisture-loving plants considered most vulnerable to climate change include Thurber’s bog orchid (Platanthera limosa), known to be in only one spring-fed, high-elevation drainage; smooth sumac (Rhus glabra), known to exist in only one localized area of shallow groundwater; and giant chain fern (Woodwardia fimbriata), known to inhabit only a single mid-elevation spring. Other species, like white panicle aster (Symphyotrichum lanceolatum var. hesperium), have not been sighted in targeted searches and may have already died out.

“It’s worth underscoring how special the biodiversity of the Rincon Mountains is, as well as how threatened it is by climate change and the associated wildfire risk,” said Dan Beckman, a botanist who is co-leading the yearlong study with park biologist Don Swann. “As a Madrean ‘sky island’ range, the Rincons contain many species that are extremely rare in the US, and also represent a fascinating confluence of disparate floristic influences.”

The team will employ survey methods developed over the past five years in remote areas of the park that will identify unique plant communities and biodiversity hotspots. The hope is that their findings will help the park’s fire management team in targeting specific areas for prescribed burning, which will protect highly valued and rare biodiversity. 

The researchers will log georeferenced occurrence data for locally rare or never-recorded plant species through collections and photo records. Each collection or photo record will include coordinates, habitat description, the presence of other species, and a description of the plant population.

“It’s increasingly clear that climate change represents an existential challenge to the resources that national parks were created to protect,” said Swann. “It’s also becoming clear that we need new tools and an expanded role for the community if we have any hope in protecting these resources for future generations.”

This painting depicts the burning of the Confederate wagon supply train near Apache Canyon. photo courtesy of Roy Andersen, NPS

By Robert Pahre

The Battle of Glorieta Pass, which took place from March 26 to 28, 1862, was the decisive battle of the Civil War in New Mexico. While the battlefield has had historical markers since 1939, the stories you learn on the field have changed since the National Park Service took over in 1993. The landscape of interpretation tells not only the story of a battlefield but the story of how we tell the story of a battlefield.

The battle marked the end of the Confederacy’s New Mexico campaign. Their plan for the campaign was pretty straightforward. Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley and his Texan volunteers would advance up the Rio Grande from El Paso to Albuquerque and Santa Fe. From there, they would move eastward along the Santa Fe Trail, crossing the mountains at Glorieta Pass, and then turn north. After seizing the supply base at Fort Union, Sibley would take the mines of Colorado while disrupting federal communications with California, Nevada, and Oregon.

The key to the campaign was logistics. The Confederates would have a long supply train stretching back to El Paso, and they needed Fort Union’s supplies to make the plan work. The Union commander, Colonel Edward R. S. Canby, lost every battle but won the campaign because he focused on the Confederate supply problem.

They fought various engagements up the Rio Grande before arriving at the Glorieta Pass region in March. On the third and decisive day, Canby split his forces. The larger part fought a delaying action near Pigeon’s Ranch. They gradually gave ground to Sibley’s Texans while remaining in good order astride the Santa Fe Trail.

Canby sent about two-fifths of his troops over Glorieta Mesa to the Confederate rear, where they found and destroyed the rebel supply train. Without supplies, the Confederates had to retreat to El Paso, using a difficult route through the mountains. Fewer than half found their way back.

Confederate Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley

When interpreting the battle, the National Park Service defines it as a tactical Confederate victory. After all, the rebels held the ground at the end of the day. The park also notes that “the Confederate victory was short-lived” because Sibley no longer had his supply train.

That perspective is understandable. It rests on the fight around Pigeon’s Ranch, Glorieta Pass, and the Santa Fe Trail. That fight features two opposing forces trying to take or defend ground. It feels like a battle should feel—and, of course, it was a genuine battle.

Not only do visitors expect a battlefield to involve military units moving around it, but many military historians would also tell the story exactly that way. We see that perspective in a lesson plan the park developed for students: “The Battle of Glorieta Pass represented the high-water mark for a bold Confederate offensive into Union Territory on the western frontier. Here, volunteers from Colorado clashed with tough Texans intent on conquering New Mexico.” Tough soldiers fought bravely on both sides.

The Texas Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy raised the first monument on the battlefield itself in 1939. The thousands of years of rich history have been preserved at Pecos National Historical Park, which has served as scenery for Pueblo and Plains Indians, Spanish conquerors, Santa Fe trail settlers, railroad workers, and even Route 66 travelers. Discover more about this historic location in the book Pecos National Historical Park Ancestral Sites Trail Guide or purchase an official park product from the Western National Parks Association.

A focus on brave soldiers also produced the first interpretation on the site. In 1866, New Mexico recognized its soldiers on one side of an obelisk in downtown Santa Fe, honoring “the heros of the Federal Army who fell at the battles of Cañon del Apache and Pigeon’s Rancho (La Glorieta), fought with the Rebels March 28, 1862.”

Remembering battlefield bravery motivated park advocates. The Glorieta Battlefield Preservation Society, a group of regional Civil War reenactors, worked to preserve the site, which had remained in private hands. The Council of America’s Military Past, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), and other military heritage groups worked with them to convince Congress to establish the Glorieta Battlefield Unit of Pecos National Historical Park.

A marker honors the Texas mounted volunteers. photo courtesy of Robert Pahre

The NPS then began to update this landscape of memorialization it had inherited. In addition to leaving the stone memorials in place, the historical park installed a collection of modern interpretive signs on the Glorieta Battlefield Trail. The trail makes a lovely hike today.

Park advocates helped fund the new interpretive trail and most of the signs. Signs funded by Texan and Confederate groups highlight the bravery of Sibley’s troops, and the ones placed by the State of New Mexico highlight the role of Hispanos, New Mexican Volunteers, and U.S. Regulars. While they also discuss how the Union soldiers burned the Confederate wagons, those signs place greater weight on the fight around Pigeon’s Ranch at Glorieta Pass. Again, the action on a conventional battlefield seems more important.

Taken as a whole, those signs tell a richer version of the story than the stone markers, and a more accurate one. Still, one might go further and turn current interpretation on its head. By dividing his force in the face of the enemy, General Canby had clearly decided to make the wagon train central to his battle plan. The 750 troops near Pigeon’s Ranch needed only to protect Union lines of communication behind them while the other 500 men circled behind Confederate lines. In this alternative perspective, the ground of Glorieta Pass mattered much less than the supply train—making this a decisive Union victory.

A second feature of the campaign also contributed to the Union victory. Well before the battle itself, the Union had won the battle for the hearts and minds of New Mexico’s citizens. The Confederates supposed that the locals, having become involuntary subjects of the United States in 1846, might welcome “liberation.” The rebels hoped they could rely on those locals for some supplies along the way. As it turned out, New Mexicans liked Texans even less than they liked gringos, and were not inclined to help out.

The battle for hearts and minds also brought New Mexican volunteers to Canby’s side at Glorieta. Lt. Colonel Manuel Chavez, who led those volunteers, had the local knowledge to guide the Union forces over the mesa to the Texans’ wagons. The Confederates had no good local sources of supplies once the wagons were gone, dooming their assault.

Robert Pahre is a professor of political science at the University of Illinois, where he teaches and researches the politics of national parks. This article is part of a current book project, titled Telling America’s Stories.

The mesquite tree represented in blue has maintained a steady presence through decades of drought, while Brittlebush represented by the gold areas took advantage of heavy summer rains in 2006 to expand its range. Mesquite and saguaros typically live for many decades. map courtesy of Emily Fule.

By Dave DeFusco

Desert vegetation surrounding the saguaro cactus in Saguaro National Park has been remarkably stable despite the presence of extreme weather over the past 30 years, according to a progress report on an ongoing research project, Three Decades of Ecological Change: the 2020 Saguaro Census, Phases I and II, supported by Western National Parks Association (WNPA).

The research, conducted by University of Arizona master’s candidate Emily Fule and park biologists Don Swann and Adam Springer, is part of the fourth survey associated with the Saguaro Census. They found that, since 1990, the total number of perennial plants has increased in both the Tucson Mountain District (TMD) and Rincon Mountain District (RMD) of Saguaro National Park, which is located in Pima County, Arizona.

Both districts are separated geographically by the city of Tucson. The TMD, often referred to as Saguaro West, encompasses 24,818 acres of land, much of it designated as wilderness, while the RMD, or Saguaro East, contains 67,000 acres of wilderness.

The census, which takes place every 10 years, is a large-scale monitoring effort of the park’s signature plant, the majestic saguaro, whose towering bodies and upraised arms are as much a Southwestern cultural symbol as a staple of the desert landscape.

In 2020, the researchers found that the total number of individual plants, or stems, in the RMD nearly doubled to 5,056 from 2,659 in 1990, and in the TMD, the number of plants swelled to 4,394 from 2,822, or by 44 percent. Total plant cover also expanded significantly during the past three decades. In the RMD, cover extended to 15,500 square feet in 2020 from 11,300 square feet in 1990, and in the TMD, it jumped to 10,300 square feet from 9,000 square feet.

Although researchers observed a slight decline in the number of trees in the park, prickly pear and saguaros, as well as Brittlebush, a smaller perennial plant that favors warmer conditions, have greatly increased in number.

“There is some evidence that the long-term drought of the past 20 years is beginning to impact some species,” said Swann, “but the results also show how slowly desert plant communities change. Many plants that were present on the plots in 1990 are still there today.”

The saguaro surveys are taken on 45 plots, each approximately 10,000 square feet. Twenty plots are randomly located in the TMD, and 25 are located within saguaro habitat in the lower elevations of the RMD. Within these large plots are 1,100-square-foot subplots. During the surveys, the researchers record all plants on each subplot and map their cover area.

The 30 years of data suggest that long-term climate warming, suburban sprawl and random events, such as wildfire and above-normal precipitation, are significantly affecting growth patterns. All of the plants they mapped flourished after cattle grazing ended in the 1970s, and during wetter, cooler conditions throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Since then, the park and desert Southwest have experienced extended long-term drought, punctuated by short wet periods.

Drier, warmer conditions have been favorable for prickly pear and cholla, but less so for shrubs. Researchers in 2010 discovered a surge in small subshrubs that resulted from heavy summer rains in 2006. Some individual plants were killed by a deep freeze in 2011, but the long-term effects, according to the researchers, appear to be relatively small.

“It’s a fascinating park if you’re a biologist,” said Swann. “It goes from low desert elevations, where it’s very hot and dry, to 9,000-foot elevations that are overspread with conifers. Being at the top of the Rincon Mountains is like being in Maine or Oregon.”

NPS biologist Don Swann, holding a wildlife camera, said the Saguaro Census is a “partnership of generations.” photo courtesy of Konner Speth

The research is taking place in the Sky Island region, isolated mountain ranges that are an extension of the Sierra Madre Mountains. The area contains a mix of dry desert and subtropical plants. A lot of these plants grow like saguaros, said Swann, and their reproduction and growth are tied to reliable summer rains.

While the general number of and cover for plants have ballooned in the park since the 1990s, there have been winners and losers among species. Among common trees, velvet mesquite and foothills palo verde have declined, while white-thorn acacia and wolfberry have prospered. Among shrubs, the density and cover for creosote, pelotazo or hoary abutilon, and jojoba have remained stable, while fairy duster and limber bush have bloomed.

Nearly all common subshrubs have expanded in range, except for triangle-leaf bursage, a common species in the TMD that has decreased slightly in cover and density. Brittlebush, which exploded in numbers in 2010 following heavy summer rains in 2006, decreased in number in both districts by 2020 but increased in cover.

“This project highlights the huge plant diversity that we can see in the low-elevation Sonoran Desert,” said Fule, the lead author of the report who did most of the field work, as well as the data management and mapmaking. “In only 1,100 square feet, it was common to find over 20 different species, and on several plots we found as many as 30 species.”

Among cacti and succulents, prickly pear stands out as a dominant plant, more than doubling in cover in the RMD since 1990. Pincushion cacti have doubled in the same period, while the barrel cactus has declined by more than half. From 1990 to 2020, the overall cover of three common cholla species increased mainly because of an eruption of jumping cholla.

Plant communities, however, aren’t shaped by just large-scale, long-term environmental change. Rare events, such as wildfires, freezes, windstorms, and droughts, can spur their growth or hasten their decline. Since 1990, the park’s plants have been met with three very wet winters, a summer of torrential rain in 2006, and a deep freeze in 2011 that defied the prolonged drought and historically high temperatures.

During that wet summer in 2006, subshrubs, such as Brittlebush, multiplied to such an extent that surveyors in 2010 had to modify their sampling methods to accurately map the plants that were by then 3- to 4-years-old. The freeze in 2011 was a sudden reversal of fortune for many of the cold-intolerant Brittlebush, which died off in significant numbers. Overall cover did expand, however, as they continued to mature.

Emily Fule, a master’s candidate at the University of Arizona, did most of the mapmaking and data management for the fourth survey of the Saguaro Census.

Indigenous peoples drew sustenance from saguaros long before the cacti became a celebrated symbol of the Southwest. The Tohono O’odham, or Desert People, have lived in the Sonoran Desert for thousands of years. Their harvesting of the Saguaro fruit is a centuries-old practice that reaffirms their relationship with their traditional environment. They use the flowers, fruit, seeds, thorns, burls or boots, and ribs of the saguaro for food, ceremonies, fiber, manufacture and trade, and they use the fruit and seeds to make a ceremonial wine that is used in the Navai’t, and the Vikita, or harvest ceremony.

Saguaros are a master of survival and they reproduce for more than 100 years, but the species doesn’t produce a fresh crop every year. They like cool, wet conditions, and are especially resilient once they mature, but climate-induced drought over the long-term may affect their numbers in the park.

“Adult plants tend to survive and be much more resilient to drought than young plants,” said Swann. “Saguaros are a good case study of this. Once they reach a certain age when they can store water, it’s incredibly resilient to change and drought, whereas the new ones are decreasing in number. We’re not alarmed by this development, but we’re keeping an eye on it.”

The park’s evolving vegetation has also affected two species of deer in the park—white tail deer and mule deer, which like to eat saguaro flesh that hoards water. White tail deer tend to inhabit higher elevations and like to hide in the forest, while mule deer roam the grasslands and desert. Over the past 30 years, the researchers have seen a shift in behavior.

“In the 1970s, the white tail deer inhabited elevations at 5,000 to 6,000 feet and their presence in the desert was unusual,” said Swann. “Now they’ve moved into the desert where plants provide cover for them. Since mule deer can’t see as far, they’re uncomfortable with the plant cover.”

Swann called the Saguaro Census a “partnership of generations.” He said the team of researchers, which includes 500 volunteers, is “grateful” for the support from WNPA and the Friends of Saguaro National Park that is allowing them to continue the 80-year-old program.

“Saguaro National Park is particularly biologically diverse and has a rich scientific legacy that we feel responsible for continuing,” he said. “A lot of people who started the studies that I’m working on have been dead for a long time. Like them, I hope that I become a conduit for young people to continue these studies long after I’m gone.”

During Women’s History Month, the National Park Service (NPS) celebrates a tradition of service and leadership that continues today in many NPS fields, including natural and cultural resource management, law enforcement, interpretation, administration, and much more. In honor of women’s history, several national park rangers from Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area shared their insights about their roles and responsibilities, and provided advice for future generations of scientists.
KATY DELANEY

KATY DELANEY, wildlife ecologist 

For many years, I have monitored reptile and amphibian population​s in the Santa Monica Mountains. This work has led our park to recognize the need for preserving and restoring stream habitat and biodiversity. I started a project to reintroduce the federally threatened California red-legged frog to these mountains to achieve those goals. The work is ongoing, and despite many challenges, we’ve experienced a measure of real success. My job is important because I’m trying to restore and preserve biodiversity in a highly fragmented city landscape.

A woman sitting in front of two computer
DENISE KAMRADT

DENISE KAMRADT, GIS specialist

A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a computer-based system used to store, manage, analyze, and display geographically referenced information—basically anything you can put on a map. In my job, I use GIS to examine spatial relationships and changes both between data layers and over time. For example, do bobcats favor one type of habitat over others or how has the distribution of coastal sage scrub changed? Another vital part of my position is keeping all of our scientific and park data organized and accessible, and ensuring it gets used. I’ve always loved maps. What could be better than an NPS job working with maps all day?

 

KATIE MCDANIEL

KATIE MCDANIEL, bobcat intern

I research bobcat movement throughout the park using cameras, collars, and radio telemetry. My position helps in answering important questions that we have about bobcat behavior in urban environments. The more information scientists have, the better they can make decisions that aid in the conservation of this species.

My advice to other women and girls in science is to stay authentic in pursuing what you find exciting and important. Don’t worry if your colleagues don’t always look or think the way you do. Science is more robust when all perspectives, experiences, and differences are considered. Also, science—especially natural resources—is fun!

JOANNE MORIARTY

JOANNE MORIARTY, ecologist

I work on one of the longest bobcat studies ever. My research works to identify and understand challenges that urban carnivores face as they navigate and persist in complex, developed, and fragmented habitats. For almost 20 years, I’ve used VHF radio and GPS telemetry to study and track hundreds of bobcats in our region. I capture and sedate the bobcats, affix radio collars, record measurements and take blood and tissue samples for analysis. I also set up remote cameras and do scat surveys to learn more about the local bobcat population. My advice to those pursuing the career of their dreams? Luck comes to those who are prepared. Always be the most prepared one in the room.

ANNIE STEVENS

ANNIE STEVENS, mountain lion technician

I do fieldwork related to our mountain lion research. I help collar, tag and collect blood, tissue and other biological samples from these fascinating animals. Recently, we captured P-95, the 95th mountain lion in our study! I feel lucky to help conduct research that is used to influence mountain lion conservation. My advice to other burgeoning scientists? What you lack in experience, make up with effort.

SARAH WENNER

SARAH WENNER, biological technician

I work on the California red-legged frog reintroduction project, which aims to establish self-sustaining populations in the Santa Monica Mountains where the frogs were once abundant. To accomplish this, I assist with translocations from a nearby source population and perform regular monitoring of the sites to estimate persistence throughout the year. I consider this work important because it promotes conservation of natural resources and biodiversity in our park. My advice to my fellow scientists is to take every step with intention and always seek out new perspectives.

KATY DELANEY

KATY DELANEY, wildlife ecologist 

For many years, I have monitored reptile and amphibian population​s in the Santa Monica Mountains. This work has led our park to recognize the need for preserving and restoring stream habitat and biodiversity. I started a project to reintroduce the federally threatened California red-legged frog to these mountains to achieve those goals. The work is ongoing, and despite many challenges, we’ve experienced a measure of real success. My job is important because I’m trying to restore and preserve biodiversity in a highly fragmented city landscape.

A woman sitting in front of two computer
DENISE KAMRADT

DENISE KAMRADT, GIS specialist

A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a computer-based system used to store, manage, analyze, and display geographically referenced information—basically anything you can put on a map. In my job, I use GIS to examine spatial relationships and changes both between data layers and over time. For example, do bobcats favor one type of habitat over others or how has the distribution of coastal sage scrub changed? Another vital part of my position is keeping all of our scientific and park data organized and accessible, and ensuring it gets used. I’ve always loved maps. What could be better than an NPS job working with maps all day?

 

KATIE MCDANIEL

KATIE MCDANIEL, bobcat intern

I research bobcat movement throughout the park using cameras, collars, and radio telemetry. My position helps in answering important questions that we have about bobcat behavior in urban environments. The more information scientists have, the better they can make decisions that aid in the conservation of this species.

My advice to other women and girls in science is to stay authentic in pursuing what you find exciting and important. Don’t worry if your colleagues don’t always look or think the way you do. Science is more robust when all perspectives, experiences, and differences are considered. Also, science—especially natural resources—is fun!

JOANNE MORIARTY

JOANNE MORIARTY, ecologist

I work on one of the longest bobcat studies ever. My research works to identify and understand challenges that urban carnivores face as they navigate and persist in complex, developed, and fragmented habitats. For almost 20 years, I’ve used VHF radio and GPS telemetry to study and track hundreds of bobcats in our region. I capture and sedate the bobcats, affix radio collars, record measurements and take blood and tissue samples for analysis. I also set up remote cameras and do scat surveys to learn more about the local bobcat population. My advice to those pursuing the career of their dreams? Luck comes to those who are prepared. Always be the most prepared one in the room.

ANNIE STEVENS

ANNIE STEVENS, mountain lion technician

I do fieldwork related to our mountain lion research. I help collar, tag and collect blood, tissue and other biological samples from these fascinating animals. Recently, we captured P-95, the 95th mountain lion in our study! I feel lucky to help conduct research that is used to influence mountain lion conservation. My advice to other burgeoning scientists? What you lack in experience, make up with effort.

SARAH WENNER

SARAH WENNER, biological technician

I work on the California red-legged frog reintroduction project, which aims to establish self-sustaining populations in the Santa Monica Mountains where the frogs were once abundant. To accomplish this, I assist with translocations from a nearby source population and perform regular monitoring of the sites to estimate persistence throughout the year. I consider this work important because it promotes conservation of natural resources and biodiversity in our park. My advice to my fellow scientists is to take every step with intention and always seek out new perspectives.

Native Americans called Black soldiers stationed at Fort Union “Buffalo Soldiers,” a term of respect for their adversaries’ fighting spirit.

Wagons on the Santa Fe Trail were driven primarily by oxen. Unlike the Oregon and California trails, the Santa Fe Trail was primarily a two-way commercial trading route rather than a one-way emigrant trail.

Back on I-25, I soon reach Fort Union National Monument. Built of stout brick and adobe, it became the largest military post in the region, a travel hub and supply center for the Santa Fe Trail and other regional forts.

Several units of Black soldiers were stationed here, having joined the Union Army during the Civil War. Enduring constant racism, they were tasked with subduing hostile Indian forces who threatened the fort or the trail. Native Americans called them “Buffalo Soldiers,” a term of respect for their adversaries’ fighting spirit and physical resemblance to the powerful and much-revered bison. The only Fort Union troops ever awarded the Medal of Honor were six members of the 9th Cavalry—the Buffalo Soldiers—for their actions during intense fighting against Apache warriors. The irony of Black soldiers, fresh from the horrors of slavery, being honored for the subjugation of the Indigenous people who had honored them.

The main unit of the Pecos National Historical Park preserves the ruins of Pecos Pueblo, known historically as Cicuye (sometimes spelled Ciquique), the “village of 500 warriors.” Courtesy of NPS

A tinny recording of a bugle call plays over a pole-mounted speaker out by the flag. It’s hard for me to listen to, but this is part of the fraught history of New Mexico—and the nation. Truth is grist for the mill that feeds us all. Ours is a hard story to reconcile, a difficult climb but necessary, like the final stretch of trail into hills you cannot avoid as you travel toward Santa Fe.

Day 8 | End Of The Trail…And The Beginning

The Pecos River, at last. It flows down Pecos Canyon through the hills above Santa Fe, passing close to Pecos National Historical Park, the site of the ruins of Pecos Pueblo. During the years of the Santa Fe Trail, regular travelers would have witnessed the pueblo’s decline from a busy communal dwelling to a sparsely populated structure, falling into disuse and then ruin as the final few residents left to join distant relatives at the Jemez Pueblo to the southwest.

This pueblo’s time had come and gone, and the people found another way to live. Likewise, the Santa Fe Trail came and went. Created by linking older Native American trade and hunting routes, the Santa Fe Trail’s own end came from a similar new beginning: the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, with a spur that dropped south, first to Raton, and then to Santa Fe.

I follow the trail signs into the city, parking my car on Alameda Avenue under the cottonwood trees where the Santa Fe River trickles quietly beneath their leafy branches. Slowly, I stroll the narrow streets past the old adobe shops, low and thick-walled, and hung with colorful blankets and chile ristras, at last entering the central plaza built in 1610. It’s filled with music and flowers, and the bustling commerce of Santa Fe’s rich and deeply complicated history.

The goal of the Santa Fe Trail was to allow trade between cultures. In many places, our path is divided, split. Maybe, beyond mere goods and money, we can trade stories, gain personal understanding, with appreciation of the difficult journeys we have all undertaken. Maybe we can make a new beginning and learn to find our way, as we walk toward each other from both ends of the trail.

KATY DELANEY

KATY DELANEY, wildlife ecologist 

For many years, I have monitored reptile and amphibian population​s in the Santa Monica Mountains. This work has led our park to recognize the need for preserving and restoring stream habitat and biodiversity. I started a project to reintroduce the federally threatened California red-legged frog to these mountains to achieve those goals. The work is ongoing, and despite many challenges, we’ve experienced a measure of real success. My job is important because I’m trying to restore and preserve biodiversity in a highly fragmented city landscape.

A woman sitting in front of two computer
DENISE KAMRADT

DENISE KAMRADT, GIS specialist

A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a computer-based system used to store, manage, analyze, and display geographically referenced information—basically anything you can put on a map. In my job, I use GIS to examine spatial relationships and changes both between data layers and over time. For example, do bobcats favor one type of habitat over others or how has the distribution of coastal sage scrub changed? Another vital part of my position is keeping all of our scientific and park data organized and accessible, and ensuring it gets used. I’ve always loved maps. What could be better than an NPS job working with maps all day?

 

KATIE MCDANIEL

KATIE MCDANIEL, bobcat intern

I research bobcat movement throughout the park using cameras, collars, and radio telemetry. My position helps in answering important questions that we have about bobcat behavior in urban environments. The more information scientists have, the better they can make decisions that aid in the conservation of this species.

My advice to other women and girls in science is to stay authentic in pursuing what you find exciting and important. Don’t worry if your colleagues don’t always look or think the way you do. Science is more robust when all perspectives, experiences, and differences are considered. Also, science—especially natural resources—is fun!

JOANNE MORIARTY

JOANNE MORIARTY, ecologist

I work on one of the longest bobcat studies ever. My research works to identify and understand challenges that urban carnivores face as they navigate and persist in complex, developed, and fragmented habitats. For almost 20 years, I’ve used VHF radio and GPS telemetry to study and track hundreds of bobcats in our region. I capture and sedate the bobcats, affix radio collars, record measurements and take blood and tissue samples for analysis. I also set up remote cameras and do scat surveys to learn more about the local bobcat population. My advice to those pursuing the career of their dreams? Luck comes to those who are prepared. Always be the most prepared one in the room.

ANNIE STEVENS

ANNIE STEVENS, mountain lion technician

I do fieldwork related to our mountain lion research. I help collar, tag and collect blood, tissue and other biological samples from these fascinating animals. Recently, we captured P-95, the 95th mountain lion in our study! I feel lucky to help conduct research that is used to influence mountain lion conservation. My advice to other burgeoning scientists? What you lack in experience, make up with effort.

SARAH WENNER

SARAH WENNER, biological technician

I work on the California red-legged frog reintroduction project, which aims to establish self-sustaining populations in the Santa Monica Mountains where the frogs were once abundant. To accomplish this, I assist with translocations from a nearby source population and perform regular monitoring of the sites to estimate persistence throughout the year. I consider this work important because it promotes conservation of natural resources and biodiversity in our park. My advice to my fellow scientists is to take every step with intention and always seek out new perspectives.

KATY DELANEY

KATY DELANEY, wildlife ecologist 

For many years, I have monitored reptile and amphibian population​s in the Santa Monica Mountains. This work has led our park to recognize the need for preserving and restoring stream habitat and biodiversity. I started a project to reintroduce the federally threatened California red-legged frog to these mountains to achieve those goals. The work is ongoing, and despite many challenges, we’ve experienced a measure of real success. My job is important because I’m trying to restore and preserve biodiversity in a highly fragmented city landscape.

A woman sitting in front of two computer
DENISE KAMRADT

DENISE KAMRADT, GIS specialist

A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a computer-based system used to store, manage, analyze, and display geographically referenced information—basically anything you can put on a map. In my job, I use GIS to examine spatial relationships and changes both between data layers and over time. For example, do bobcats favor one type of habitat over others or how has the distribution of coastal sage scrub changed? Another vital part of my position is keeping all of our scientific and park data organized and accessible, and ensuring it gets used. I’ve always loved maps. What could be better than an NPS job working with maps all day?

 

KATIE MCDANIEL

KATIE MCDANIEL, bobcat intern

I research bobcat movement throughout the park using cameras, collars, and radio telemetry. My position helps in answering important questions that we have about bobcat behavior in urban environments. The more information scientists have, the better they can make decisions that aid in the conservation of this species.

My advice to other women and girls in science is to stay authentic in pursuing what you find exciting and important. Don’t worry if your colleagues don’t always look or think the way you do. Science is more robust when all perspectives, experiences, and differences are considered. Also, science—especially natural resources—is fun!

JOANNE MORIARTY

JOANNE MORIARTY, ecologist

I work on one of the longest bobcat studies ever. My research works to identify and understand challenges that urban carnivores face as they navigate and persist in complex, developed, and fragmented habitats. For almost 20 years, I’ve used VHF radio and GPS telemetry to study and track hundreds of bobcats in our region. I capture and sedate the bobcats, affix radio collars, record measurements and take blood and tissue samples for analysis. I also set up remote cameras and do scat surveys to learn more about the local bobcat population. My advice to those pursuing the career of their dreams? Luck comes to those who are prepared. Always be the most prepared one in the room.

ANNIE STEVENS

ANNIE STEVENS, mountain lion technician

I do fieldwork related to our mountain lion research. I help collar, tag and collect blood, tissue and other biological samples from these fascinating animals. Recently, we captured P-95, the 95th mountain lion in our study! I feel lucky to help conduct research that is used to influence mountain lion conservation. My advice to other burgeoning scientists? What you lack in experience, make up with effort.