YOLO Program Gets Students Botanizing & Belly-Laughing

Dense flowers of white
Summer snow dusts the meadow
Leaves of millions
-Becca (YOLO participant)

Photo 1. Yolo participant trying on water sampling apparatus to test for rare and invasive amphibians in mountain meadows.

In July, 12 high school students from the Nevada City and Grass Valley area braved the blazing sun and heat to help SYRCL collect post-restoration vegetation data at Loney Meadow in Tahoe National Forest through our Youth Outdoor Leadership Opportunity (YOLO) program. The YOLO program, funded through the National Forest Foundation, has allowed us to gather critical data for documenting on-going changes to Loney Meadow as a result of the restoration implemented in the summer of 2017.

While getting hands-on experience about meadow ecosystems and field science protocols designed to measure change in these ecosystems, YOLO participants collected plant data in 800 plots and memorized over 50 plant species occurring in the meadow.  Participants also got the opportunity to learn about cutting edge eDNA techniques, which use water samples to look for aquatic wildlife DNA (Photo 1), Nissenan cultural practices in relationship to meadows, and collect ground and surface water hydrological data.

But we couldn’t stay serious the whole time.  Antics, which are recognized by the scientific community as important for maintaining the scientific integrity of data during long, hot days outside, included a scientifically-based Cheez-its vs. Goldfish blind taste test (Photo 2 below, Cheez-its won by a landslide), carpool Karaoke, spontaneous headshots, and trying our hardest to glare at the camera (Photos 3 & 4 below). One of our participants even discovered a previously unknown use for PVC sampling plots (hint: it rhymes with flugelhorn, see video here)!

Photo 2. Blind taste test. First hand experience in experimental design. Cheez-its are the best, goldfish are too dry.

Photo 3. We tried our hardest, but…

Photo 4. …It is hard to be serious after five hours in the sun.

In the afternoon, we often took a half hour break to go off on our own and sit with the meadow. Students were encouraged to listen, journal, and experience the meadow in a way that felt right to them.  Featured throughout are a few haikus that two participants wrote—thank you Becca and Josh for your lovely poems!

Leaves grow on the vines
Bugs crawl over the wet ground
Life dances in all
-Josh (YOLO participant)

Juncus balticus
it towers above the rest
a riveting rush
-Becca (YOLO Participant)

It is difficult to put into words the joy and hope we feel for our future after spending three weeks with such smart, amazing, goofy, passionate and dedicated students from Nevada County.  Every single YOLO participant was a pleasure to work with and SYRCL thanks them for their hard work, positive attitude, and dutifully laughing at all the plant puns we made.

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