There and Back Again, Part Three

It was mid-September. Six weeks left of our internship. Deadlines were set, stress was high. Then our mentors walked into our cubicle, wondering if they could ask us some personal questions. Nervously, Brittany and I listened, preparing ourselves for trouble. Our worrying turned out to be unnecessary – we were getting an extension to our internship!

So here we are, extended until February. We now have time to do all that needs to be done, experience a Colorado winter, and afford to visit our respective family and friends over the holidays.


The bridge from August to September turned out to be the highlight of my year thus far. Brittany and I were sent to the 17th International Conference on Aquatic Invasive Species in San Diego. As newcomers to the scientific conference circuit, we marveled in every detail, every speaker, every experience. We were housed in the posh downtown Westin San Diego, mere blocks from San Diego Harbor, Little Italy, and the Gaslamp District. Our poster presentation was the first night of the conference – and boy were we nervous. It was one of the most nerve racking experiences of my life to date; representing THE National Park Service in a room full of respected biologists and invasive species experts. We came through it alive, thanks to our month of preparation, our mentor Rita’s presence and confidence in us, and the laid-back atmosphere of the room.

Once our poster presentations were over, we were able to breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy our fellow presenters. We became versed in a whole slew of the latest and hottest invasive species topics, including Asian Carp, dreissenids, ballast water policies, molecular techniques, aquatic plants, and crustaceans.  It was such a pleasure to be immersed in the world of biology once again, learning from the best in the business. Although the topic of invasive species is a depressing and sometimes a helpless one, the confluence of passionate people from across the globe to help in this problem was extremely hopeful, and personally inspiring.

By conference’s end, Brittany and I had formed friendships and made connections from San Francisco to Belgium, from Romania to Australia, and everywhere in between.  One of the conference go-ers organized a pelagic whale watching trip, and we obviously jumped at the opportunity. Many a seabird was spotted, as well as sea lions and seals and even a few whale spouts! It was such a thrilling experience, and made me yearn for my future career in marine biology to begin ASAP.

The rest of our time in San Diego was spent with friends in La Jolla. We spent most afternoons playing at Scripps Beach, where I gazed longingly at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography campus. I went surfing for the first time, taken so kindly by Tom Rottler, former T.A. for my father in Minnesota and current Director of Outdoor Recreation for UC San Diego. We were shown the great, local eateries. I tried my first sushi. I saw a real life lionfish at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps, and we got to be tourists at the San Diego Zoo.  Long story short, I fell in love with California (big surprise, right?)

But the time came to drag our spoiled behinds back to the mountains and back to work and the real world. It took a few days for me to stop moping around, longing for the sound of the ocean and the Southern California sun on my face. The minute I got back, I began researching graduate schools (Scripps included!), marine internship opportunities, and signed up to take the GRE (wish me luck!)

Once back in the office, it was time to get down to business. With the additional three months, we could all breathe a bit easier while still working hard. Our current progress finds us with a total of 583 marine invasive species (a plastic number), and beginning to collaborate with the webpage developers in the office. Our first goal is to have the internal website (available and tailored for Department of the Interior staff), then using our extension to create an external website for the public. It has been a lot of hard, not always exciting, but rewarding, work. Things are finally coming to fruition and we are this close to an actual final product.

Keep an eye out for that Marine Invasive Species website!

Chenie Prudhomme
National Park Service
Fort Collins, CO

There and Back Again, Part Two

Training in the Grand Canyon, one of the great wonders of the natural world, was one incredible experience; meeting our wonderful bosses Krissa and Marian as well as ~75 fellow interns, learning to key flora of the West, watching a triple rainbow spread from rim to rim as well as breathtakingly beautiful sunsets every night…the list goes on and on. It was very special to be introduced to this beautiful and sacred place, not as a tourist, but as a biologist. The trip back was a bit nostalgic, but was still gorgeous and aided by waking up on the 4th of July in Canyonlands Ntl. Park. It was also a challenge transitioning back into the office workplace (no windows!), but we were kept busy with projects. I finished managing the Government Policy and Results Act on Invasive Animals spreadsheet, allowing data for FY10 to be entered. From there, I picked out all marine/brackish species in ocean and coastal parks from that list and combined them with the species that I had found in the Watershed Condition Assessment reports. Those lists were then combined with data Brittany had acquired from the Nature Conservancy. Our next hurdle is to tackle NP Species as well as data from the USGS. Once we have our comprehensive list, we will be turning it into a report and a website for our final project.

The week I got to spend doing field work in Rocky Mountain Ntl. Park was literally and figuratively, a breath of fresh air. Technically, I was a volunteer with the Rocky Mountain Inventory and Monitoring Network, spending my days outside (what a dream!) and my nights in the research dorms right outside of Estes Park. I got to assist with montane and alpine wetland sampling; locating existing well plots, as well as installing new ones. We assessed water quality, soil and site characteristics, and vegetation species cover and composition at each plot. Three days were spent in gorgeous Moraine Park and one day was spent at 12,000 in an alpine wet meadow, where I was able to marvel at the rugged beauty of life above the tree line. This consisted of a 20 degree temperature drop, a fabulous array of wildflowers, snow-capped peaks, a herd of over 60 elk, as well as the ever-so-consistent thunderstorms that come through the alpine every afternoon. After that fabulous introduction to the alpine, I cannot get enough, and even brought my mother there when she came to visit.  We got to see another large herd of elk, a small colony of yellow-bellied marmots, multiple pika, and many a songbird.

Now back from fieldwork, Brittany and I have had to strap in and make ourselves experts on our topics that we will be presenting at the International Conference on Aquatic Invasive Species at the end of the month in San Diego. My poster takes the macro approach, titled: “Managing Aquatic Invasive Species in Ocean, Coastal, and Great Lakes Parks”. It’s quite daunting knowing that we will be representing our agency – quite the responsibility and privilege! We will be attending the conference for 4 days of the 9 days that we are there, so we will have a few days to explore and play in the ocean. Brittany and I both have friends in the area, so it will be a real treat to see them and have backstage passes to the city!

Still loving life in Fort Collins! Until next time…

Chenie Prudhomme
National Park Service
Fort Collins, CO

There and Back Again, Part One

Packing up my life in Minnesota into my car, a week and a half post-college graduation, and moving to Fort Collins, Colorado to intern with the National Park Service has been quite the whirlwind experience to say the least. I am beginning my second week at my internship, and it would be all too typical to report the old “I love it so far!” line, so I will refrain from using that particular phrase. I am stationed here, between the Biological Resource Management Division and Water Resources, with another intern, Brittany, with whom I share many commonalities and have made a special bond (Avatar anyone?). Not only are the people here in the office extraordinarily bright, kind, passionate, and humorous, but the city is beautiful and welcoming.  ColoradoBrittany and I have been charged with numerous and exciting responsibilities. My time so far has been spent managing and editing an extensive excel file of invasive animals in the national parks across the country, which will conclude as a national report to Congress. Talk about instant gratification; who knew the hours upon hours of collegiate excel work would be put to such immediate use! Having collaborated on an aquatic invasive species research project with my advisor at Hamline  (, Spiny Water Flea getting to continue my education and expand my knowledge on invasives has been a real treat for me as well.

Great Sand Dunes

 Up next for us is a weekend camping and exploring in Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado, with our eyes peeled for any invasives of course! rock snot(Particularly rock snot , which Brittany is now an expert in!)


Then, at the end of the month, we head southwest for the weeklong CLM training workshop in the Grand Canyon. Grand CanyonNeither of us have ever been, so the experience is going to be that much more amazing. We are planning a mini-road trip, with a night campingDelicate Arch in Arches National Park in Moab, Utah, as well as a short stop at the famed “Four Corners”.


Upon our return from the Grand Canyon, we get to spend a week in July doing field work in Rocky Mountain National Park. One of us will be collecting alpine vegetation and soil data, and the other will focus on stream and wetland ecological integrity ( Although we truly do love the work we are doing in the office, I will speak for myself and say how absolutely ecstatic I am about getting out in the field and collecting raw data. For me, there is nothing better!

Until next time!

Chenie Prudhomme
Fort Collins, CO
National Park Service