Taking care of local parks and wildlife even during the coronavirus shelter in place period
What you don’t see is how hard the rangers are working to keep the park clean and safe for everyone. During my conversation with the lead Ranger of the Palo Alto Parks, Lisa Myers, I discovered that the parks are busier than they have ever been. But she also sees more problems than ever like vandalism, habitat destruction, and rudeness.
Imagine a day where you get up and spend the day outside. First clearing brush from a trail and picking up garbage and then getting help for injured wildlife, and finally coordinating some research about wildlife.
This is the job of a Park Ranger.
The many jobs of a Ranger
In Palo Alto, Lisa and her team are generalist Rangers. They respond to a diverse number of issues, including grass fires, wildlife rescues, park maintenance and improvements, managing ecosystem research, taking care of misdemeanors, and being medical responders. When you have so many hats to wear, you need a decision matrix to decide what to focus on that day, that hour, that moment even. For Lisa and her team, the priority matrix is
- Life & Limb: Besides making sure visitors are kept safe and get medical care if they need it, Rangers also manage the treatment of injured wildlife. They figure out what is wrong with the animal, call the appropriate wildlife rescue agency if that is necessary, plan for the recovery of the animal, and support the animal as it is healing.
- Property: Rangers protect the park from vandalism and misdemeanors such as theft. They repair the trails and infrastructure of the park.
- Visitor complaints: Most of the visitor complaints are reports of graffiti and vandalism, or overgrown trails, but also that dogs in Bixbee park are running off-leash and that there is dog poop that was not picked up.
- Routine Maintenance & Aesthetics: The rangers take care of miles of trails that need to be kept clear, the berms mowed, invasive species and weeds kept under control, and trash picked up. The most common invasive plants that need to be taken care of are fennel and thistles, which are challenging to remove. Community services and volunteers for Environmental Volunteers and Save the Bay help with keeping these invasive species under control as well as picking up trash.
Managing the park has changed during shelter-in-place order due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Even though the state and county are slowly opening up, the capacity of the park for visitors still needs to be taken into consideration. And when the parking lots are full, that means the park is full.
Lisa Myers knew she wanted to become a Ranger when she grew up.
While staying in the tent cabins in Yosemite with her family, Lisa’s mom asked her to put her dinner waste in the trash. She threw the garbage in the trash can inside the tent cabin, not realizing as a small child that she needed to use the bear-proof trash container for it.
In the middle of the night, they were visited by a bear who came to investigate the smell in the tent. Even though Lisa slept through the whole visit, the rest of her family did not. Having a visit from a bear freaked them out and Lisa’s mom was determined to leave the following morning. A Park Ranger who came by at the time calmed Lisa’s mom down and convinced the family to stay.
They ended up having a fantastic time in Yosemite, and this is where Lisa decided she wanted to become a park Ranger herself.
How Rangers coordinate Research about Wildlife and Ecosystem Health
The wildlife numbers are tracked by other organizations, such as Point Blue, SFBBO, and SJSU, that are involved in researching plants, birds, and wildlife in the area. Twice a year, the Audubon society does a species count while Point Blue and SFBBO do quantitative counts and include information about the ages and sexes of birds.
Lisa and her team are still involved in the health of the Ecosystems in the parks they manage. This includes taking care of sick and injured wildlife. They need to find out what is wrong with ill and injured wildlife and manage the recovery of wildlife as well.
Most Memorable Day as a Ranger
As Lisa was coming up with a plan to get the tractor out of the mud, she was also coordinating efforts to keep the sealion safe until the Marine Mammal Center could help rescue the animal. At the end of the day, the excavator was back on solid ground, and the sea lion was back in the water. It was a hectic day but also very satisfying to have everything turn out well in the end.
Being a Ranger is a varied and vital job.
Rangers are essential front line workers in the health and wellbeing of the people and the environment in the Bay Area during the COVID-19 pandemic.
By Jacqueline Steenhuis, EV Communications Manager
All photos by Lisa Meyers