Final Posting from Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska

What a rewarding experience I have had with the National Park Service in Alaska for the past 5 months. I must say that it did not come without personal challenge. My mentor, the Ecologist for the Park always kept a long to do list for us, and with the short growing season in Alaska there is always plenty to do in a short period of time.

My personal career has advanced in so many ways. I found out what I really enjoying doing and what I would like to do less of. Almost every week our Exotic Plant Management team was out in the field camping and inventorying invasive species infestations. While I enjoy being out in the wilderness, I have shifted my interests toward native plant conservation and ecological restoration. Gaining hands-on experience with a government agency has taught me  organizational and time management skills. There was always a ton of paperwork and detailed note taking we were required to do and everything was backed up by an electronic version. Throughout the summer I was assigned work with other divisions of the Park Service, I really enjoyed new learning experiences and getting a sense of how the whole system operates together to provide visitors with the safest experience of wild Alaska.

Working for the Park Service in Alaska is very challenging and physically demanding. I learned about the all the gear that is needed for this type of climate and weather conditions and which brands to stay away from.

With the season at a close, I am in report writing mode.  Each season the Exotic Plant Management Team reflects on the work completed and offers suggestions for the next field season in the form of a Management Report. Details are written in this report about the progress of the worst infestations of invasive species within the Park, new locations of infestations, hours of volunteer and employee work, ecological restoration details, and discussion of what worked and what did not work so well in controlling invasive species. It is interesting reading past reports that interns have written and learning new techniques of writing and reporting from them. The writing does become tedious and long but the best thing about it is that it ends up being a published document with the National Park Service, a great reference for my resume.

While reflecting on my time as a CLM intern, I am faced with the decision of what to do next. I have much interest in attending graduate school but am still unsure exactly what I would want to study. I am hesitant to commit to a program as I still have a lot of student debt from my undergraduate career. The nice thing about working in Alaska all summer is I did not have many expenses, so I saved a good chunk of money I can live on until I find work. There is actually an opening with the National Park Service here in Copper Center, Alaska for a permanent position with the Exotic Plant Management Team and my mentor and other staff have expressed that they would like to see me back next season. As much as job searching gives me anxiety, it is also so exciting to search for new opportunity. After completing this program, I have gained all of the confidence I need to take me onto the next step in my career. Thank you CLM and thank you Miranda (my mentor) for providing me with the training, guidance, and challenge of working and living in Alaska for 5 months. I am truly honored to have had the opportunity and will carry with me everything I learned throughout my career.

Morgan Gantz, EPMT, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Beautiful fall colors in Alaska

Beautiful fall colors in Alaska


Wrapping up my Alaska field season

These last few weeks I’ve been finishing up my field work with season wrap up work. I went to all the Ranger stations within Wrangell-St.Elias National Park and retrieved the moth traps we put up in the beginning of the season to trap invasive moths, collected our pollinator transects and phenology logs. Throughout the season I’ve gotten a chance to go out in the field with several different people in other divisions of the park and broaden my field experience. I went out with the archeologist and did plant and cultural compliance surveys and also with the park planner to do trail monitoring survey work. Many of the trails within the park are primarily used for subsistence hunting and are accessed by 4-wheelers. The ground cover on the trail we were monitoring consists of moss and mud. When 4-wheelers rip up the top layer, permafrost melts and creates huge mud holes and the land subsides. Along this 16 mile trail, 20 transects were set up to monitor the braided diversions off of the main trail people are taking their 4-wheelers. Once we approached a transect, we measured the length of how wide the trail had gotten from the braids and divided that length by 20 intervals. At each interval we recorded the depth of subsidence and weather the pin hits litter, bare ground or vegetation. Wrangell-St. Elias and Alaska Parks in general are different National Parks than those found in the lower 48 because there are several private property parcels within the parks. Legislation provides private property access to owners within the Park boundary and we found that the use of this trail from hunters and visitors staying with the private property owner is creating major damage of the trail. It has been an awesome summer learning from various divisions within the Park, it has given me a new perspective of how the park’s resources are managed. I am truly grateful to expand my resume to include these new field experiences!

Braided diversions off the Tanada Lake Trail

Invasive Weeds & Native Seeds

Working on invasive weeds in Alaska has been really enjoyable as there is still hope in preventing the introduction of many threatning weeds to the state. Last week, I helped organize a public weed smackdown volunteer event. Community members and agency workers came together on a Saturday to pull a large patch of Melilotus alba (White Sweetclover) that is growing at a roadside construction site in Glennallen, Alaska. The entire road is being re-paved and a biking path is also going to be paved there. The purpose of the weed pull is to prevent further spread of the plant by the construction company doing the road work. This event was the first ever collabrative project between the Park service, the Copper Basin Cooperative Weed Management Area, and Wrangell Institute for Science and the Environment. We pulled over 200 lbs of weeds in a little over 5 hours. We are hoping to have this be an annual event in order to reduce the seed bank.

Weed Warriors: Copper Valley Weed Smackdown

Wrangell-St.Elias National Park is also trying to take a proactive approach to invasive weed management in Alaska. Last week I lead the first ever “Need for Seed” native public seed collection event in Kennicott, Alaska. The old copper mining site currently has many buildings under stabilization construction and many ground cover areas have been disturbed by machinery. The overall goal of this program is to create a native seed bank that the Park can use in re-vegetation projects after construction and also a seed bank avaliable for local residents. When re-planting within a National Park, it is required that the seed is collected within a 20 mile radius of where the seed will be planted, so we got to hike the trails in Kennicott and collect seed from the wild. A youth conservation corps group of volunteers came out for the week and I taugh them about plant propogation and general plant ecology. Some of the species of plants we collected seeds from were Lupinus arcticus, Geranium erianthum, Aster sibiricus, Delphinum, Polemonium acutiflorum, and Oxytropis campestris. Overall, I really enjoyed collecting seed and learning the several different stratification techiniques associated with different seeds in order for them to germinate and propogate properly. I am looking forward to more work like this in the future!

Lupinus arcticus seed at natural dispursal



Need for Seed collection volunteers

Morgan Gantz, Exotic Plant Management TeamWrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska

Elodea canadensis

My work out here in Alaska has been unforgettable to say the least! I just returned from a week long pack rafting trip on Tebay Lakes. The 3 lakes are only accessible by floatplane, which we got to fly in on…we were surveying the lake for an aquatic invasive Elodea canadensis (Canadian Waterweed). It is suspected that this weed is transported by float planes, and we were surveying this particular lake because it gets a lot of float plane traffic from Cordova (a place where there is known infestations of Elodea in its lakes). The first documented encounter with this invasive aquatic plant took place in 2010 in Fairbanks and this is the first aquatic freshwater invasive plant species that has been confirmed in Alaska. Here is a section of an article I helped to write that was published in the local newspaper:

” As with most invasive plant species, Elodea was brought over for decoration. Its bright green leaves, hearty stem, and long roots make it an attractive specimen for aquariums. U.S. Forest Service ecologist, Trish Wurtz said, “It’s almost guaranteed,” that someone dumped it into the Chena slough from an aquarium sometime in the past 10 years. Wurtz observed, “A bunch of red clay balls” (commonly found in aquaria) in the silt underneath a bridge in the slough.

Elodea reproduces asexually from plant parts. In the fall, leafy stalks detach from a parent plant, float away, root, and start new plants. The smallest fragment of Elodea can survive the frozen waters of Alaskan winters, wait patiently until it thaws, and float downstream until it finds a suitable place for it to grow.  Elodea prefers slow moving water with thick sediment. Once it has settled into a spot, Elodea grows rapidly where it accumulates into a tangled mass.

What does this mean for Alaskans? Like many invasive species, Elodea knows no boundaries. Once established in an area, it can quickly take over. Elodea can easily cling to rudders and floats, as well as boat propellers, only to be deposited at the next water body. Elodea can reduce water flow and water quality, out-compete native aquatic plants, lower property values, make waters unusable for recreation and degrade fish spawning habitats. On a grander scale, Elodea can make a huge impact on two large Alaskan industries: sport fishing and commercial salmon harvesting.  According to estimates by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Elodea could make a dent of $350,000 loss per year for both these industries combined.”

After surveying the lakes, we found no Elodea but took samples of a few aquatic plants to get identified.  Alaska has really proven itself to be a rugged place, as I got to experience bush-whacking up creeks, cooking fresh trout over the fire and camping all along the way, bringing only what I needed and could fit in my two dry bags that were strapped onto my pack raft… Incredible experience…annnnd THIS is my job!

Until next time,

Morgan, Exotic Plant Management Team, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Yay for Training!

The past two weeks have been packed full of many training sessions to prepare me for the rigorous field season that lies ahead. I have had Alaska regional Exotic Plant Management Team training in Anchorage, First Aid/CPR, bear safety, B3 aviation safety, ATV training and I this week I am at the Chicago Botanic Garden for a week of training as well.

ATV Training!

I am originally from Wisconsin, so it feels good to be close to home in the midwest again, and take a short break from Alaska for a week. I have been learning so many things to help me on the job once I return. My favorite part so far is the botany practice we are doing here at the Gardens, there are SO many interesting plants to observe and key out! I have also been enjoying networking with other CLM interns and staff at the Garden. I have been thinking of graduate school and other options to pursue next in my career and having the opportunity to talk to other people my age in the same field has really helped with some of the decision making process I am going through. Tomorrow is our last day of training here at the Garden and I am looking forward to Krissa and Wes giving us advice for admittance into graduate school and the steps we may take in our career after this internship. I am also looking forward to getting back to Alaska and starting field work!

-Morgan Gantz, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska


It has been about two and a half weeks since I started working here in Copper Center, Alaska with the National Park Service. I am really getting settled in and enjoying the company of my new roommates. By mid-summer, there will be a total of 10 seasonal/intern workers right around my age living in what we call “boxtown”: Employee housing at the Park which consists of little cabins. We have six 10 ft x 12 ft sleeping cabins, a kitchen cabin, a common area/living room cabin, and a bathroom/showering cabin.

Boxtown at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve


Everyone comes from a different region of the country: we have people represented from Wisconsin (ME! Go Packers!), Iowa, North Carolina, Virginia, Montana, Texas, and even Florida! Its been fun getting to know my roommates, hearing their stories, learning their coooking styles and good recipes and also getting advice on living the adventurous seasonal lifestyle we all currently have.This past weekend I traveled down into the Kenai Peninsula to visit a friend who works seasonally in Cooper Landing, Alaska. The drive was a little over 5 hours, but the views were stunning. The stretch of road south of Anchorage that we traveled is called the Seward highway, because it essentially ends in the city of Seward at the end of the peninsula. “Recognized for its scenic, natural, historical and recreational values, the 127-mile Seward Highway holds triple designation: USDA Forest Service Scenic Byway, Alaska Scenic Byway, and All-American Road”!

Traveling down the beautiful Seward Highway!

Cooper Landing is gorgeous!! It lies right on the river banks of the Kenai River, another famous salmon fishing spot in the State. 

View from my friends cabin in Cooper Landing, Alaska

Saturday night we were able to find some live bluegrass music in a town that lies at the end of a little dirt road, called Hope, Alaska. Hope only has about 20 year round residents and the town consisted of two buildings: a small gift shop and a cafe/bar called Seaview. People that work at the Park here, have stated that this spring is unusually late, temperatures are still reaching around 20 degrees at night and the snow has just about all melted. I am excited to experience how fast the seasons really change here and I have already started noticing longer hours of daylight as we get closer to summer! Alaska is truly a beautiful place where nature flows freely. I could not be happier to have this opportunity to spend a summer conducting research here. Next week, I travel to Anchorage for a week long training session at the NPS regional headquarters. Can’t wait to learn more about the local plants I’ll be looking for out in the field!!  



Wrangell-St. Elias NPP, Exotic Plant Management Team

Into the Wild

My CLM internship has brought me into the wild, to the last frontier…Alaska! I am working for the National Park Service at Wrangell-St. Elias near Copper Center, AK. I feel very grateful to have the opportunity to experience such a historic and unique place. Wrangell-St. Elias is the largest National Park in the U.S., covering over 13 million acres! In conjunction with 3 other parks (Glacier Bay in Alaska, Tatshenshini-Alsek British Columbia Canada, and Kluane Yukon Canada) this area is the largest internationally protected ecosystem on the planet covering over 24.3 million continuous acres!! With 25% of the park covered with ice, Wrangell-St.Elias has the greatest concentration of glaciers in North America and contains the largest non-polar ice field in the world! The vastness of this place is so hard to comprehend. The Copper River runs right through this park, which is the spawning corridor for the famous Sockeye and Chinook salmon. This park also contains a National Historic Landmark, Kennecott copper mine. In the 1900s Kennecott Corp. mined copper ore that contained 97% copper and generated over $250,000 worth of copper throughout the time it operated until 1938 when the mine was closed. A railroad had been built specifically to get copper out of the mountainous region, a huge and very difficult undertaking given the harshness of winters here and the challenge of building around glaciers.

My job here at Wrangell-St. Elias is to protect the pristine plant life that exists here. I am on the Exotic Plant Management team and we are responsible for conducting plant surveys, mapping invasive species, collecting native seeds for re-vegetation projects, and also taking volunteer groups out into the park for re-plantings. A large part of my job is also education and outreach to local communities about the threats of invasive species and how they can help in their own backyard. In fact, most invasive plants arrive in new locations from people planting them in their yard, not knowing that they are exotic, or non-native to that habitat.  The implications of invasive species affecting the planet are HUGE, especially with the occurrence of climate change. There is a new aquatic invasive that has reached Alaskan waters, Elodea canadesis (Canadian waterweed) and if untreated could drastically impact salmon populations, a huge industry Alaska depends on. I am very much looking forward to working in a place where invasive species are realistically controllable. Two summers ago I conducted invasive plant surveys in Wisconsin, my home state, and was almost discouraged by the extent of invasive species infestations already there. The cost of removing some of these plants is immense and can take over 15-20 years to be successful. Hopefully here in Alaska, we can prevent invasive plants from invading before it’s too late.

I titled this blog posting “Into the Wild” because moving here has really been a lifestyle change (and I’m currently reading that book by Jack Kerouac). The ground is still frozen here and our housing has no running water yet. Having to haul in water jugs a couple times a week for our water supply really makes me think about and appreciate those who lived off the land by the river and had to use it for their water supply. We have no wi-fi, no cable tv, and my cell phone doesn’t get reception in the remote area I am living in within the park. I am happy though, living a simple life in the woods is exactly what I wanted to experience. I have more time to read, write, do puzzles, and just think about life more with less busyness, distractions, daily advertisements and loud city noises.

The field season has not started here yet, unfortunately. It just snowed the past two days and there is more snow in the forecast for this weekend! So far, I have just been mounting specimens for the park’s herbarium and planning for the coming field season. I am hopeful that spring will come and sunny days are ahead!


Morgan, Wrangell-St. Elias Exotic Plant Management Team, NPS