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Podcast

Good Rangers, Bad Lands

Badlands National Park

Join us as we highlight the people who have chosen Badlands National Park as the place to enact the NPS mission to protect and preserve our nation's greatest treasures for future generations.

Episodes

Cultural Resources Manager Albert LeBeau

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Transcript

Albert LeBeau Podcast Transcript

Interviewer: Alright, so this is Kellen, here again, with good rangers, badlands. We’re going to be going outside the Badlands to get a fresh perspective. Who am I speaking with today?

Albert: You’re speaking with Albert LeBeau, I’m the Cultural Resources Program manager at Effigy Mounds National Monument in Harper’s Ferry, Iowa.

Interviewer: Awesome! And how would you describe that job using only hard to describe Park Service acronyms?

Albert: I’m a 0193 stationed at EFMO. Interviewer: Alright, let’s try it the other way now. How would you describe your job to someone outside the NPS, how would you describe your job to someone with no background who knows nothing about the park?

Albert: I’m the... so, Effigy Mounds National Monument, obviously, it’s an archaeological park, and we have mounds that are built by indigenous people about 2000 years ago. The 0193 is actually a archaeology series, so I’m actually an archaeologist by trade. And what I do here, is, I make sure no damage – no more damage – comes to the mounds and to the other archaeological resources within the park. And I’m also in charge of our museum collections and our park archives. That’s basically my job in a nutshell.

Interviewer: Sure. And so you are in the series, and just for folks that are listening and folks that don’t know, that is the point of emphasis or line for the job. So it’s classified under that larger umbrella of archaeology. What was your path to this position like? How did you get your start in the NPS or get your start in archaeology and how did it take you here?

Albert: It’s actually kind of an interesting story. When I was a kid, when I was younger, we took a family trip to see my grandparents who lived in Roswell, New Mexico. At the time we were living in Montana and so we drove down – a family of five in the early eighties in a big brown station wagon with wood panels and we drove down through New Mexico. And one of the places we stopped at was Mesa Verde. And, you know, I’ve always been kinda interested in history, but that’s when it really piqued my interest. And I had to have been five or six years old, but I still remember that trip, and I still remember the ranger, the interpretive ranger that was there. I don’t remember his name, but I remember the flat hat. And I remember making fun of the flat hat when I was younger, and low and behold, you know, forty some years later, I get to wear the flat hat now. Ultimately, it was that trip, and then going through school and learning about history from a perspective that wasn’t quite mine. One of the things that I am as well is an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe and so the stories that I heard growing up were different than the stories I was learning in school. So, trying to mesh the two was always a big thing for me. Trying to comprehend it. And so, as I got older, and things started to become clear, that I was only getting a partial telling of the American story, I started looking into what anthropologists do and what archaeologists do. And eventually, I chose the path of archaeology. And I’ve worked as a contractor, what we call a shovel bum, for quite a few years, doing cultural resource management surveys for oil pads and gas pads and timber sales and things like that. And in 2003, I was called home, called back to my reservation, by my tribe. And they offered me a position as a historic archaeologist. But that term has a different meaning at home because our history starts at the beginning of time. Not when written history was started, so I was in charge of our historic archaeologic aspects. And then later on, about 2004-2005, I was promoted to the tribal historic preservation officer, and I did that until about 2009. In 2007, I decided to go back to school to get my master’s degree. That’s where I actually walked up to the Midwest Archaeological center and said I want to be a SCEP. Can you help me out? And fortunately they had some money and were able to put me as a SCEP (which is now called Pathways – it's a different program) but I was one of the last people on the SCEP program and I retired from my position with the tribe in 2009. In 2007 I was working with the Park Service as a student trainee, and then in 2009-2010 I was finishing out my SCEP program. If you remember 2010, that’s when the big oil spill happened down in the gulf --

Interviewer: Yeah.

Albert: Because of my unique skill set, I was called down there to assist with their section 106 of the national historic preservation act issues they were having down there. So I was able to go down there and work as a representative for the historic preservation office for the entire incident. And I did that for four tours – and six months tours, I worked 21 days on and 3 days off... no... 21 days on and 2 days off. I wouldn’t recommend it! But the pay is pretty good. And then, during that time, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do in the Park Service. Did I want to stay at the Midwest Archaeological Center? Did I want to go to a park? Did I want to do something else? Did I want to leave the park service? I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I remember some rumblings happening at Effigy Mounds and I worked there in the fall of 2010 and the rumblings were still there. And I was trying to figure out, well, when I got back in 2011/2012 I called the new superintendent and said “I heard you’re looking for an archaeologist” and he said “I’m thinking about it.” I said “if you hire me I can fix your problems” and I gave him my information, and that’s how I got here. And it hasn’t been all rainbows and unicorns, there’s been some hard work done here, there’s been a lot of atrocities that happened here in the last 30 years, and the relationships that were built with our tribal partners were destroyed. And for good reason. And so, the other part of my job was to reestablish at least a working relationship with our tribal partners, and it’s taken us about – we're still working on it. We’re not done yet.

Interviewer: Yeah, that’s gonna be an ongoing process I would imagine. So I know exactly what you’re talking about, but I’d like to rewind and clarify for our listeners a few terms they might not be familiar with. You mentioned that you did section 106 work down in the Gulf. Can you describe that for people that might not be familiar with it?

Albert: Sure. Section 106 is obviously a section within a law of the national historic preservation act of 1966 that’s been amended numerous times. I think the last amendment was in 2005 and basically what it does is, we have to ensure that our actions, what we’re doing as a federal government, isn’t hurting or impacting or destroying a historic site. And that could be a historic site, or a historic fort, or an archaeologic site like an artifact scatter or a mound site. We have to take it into account and to show that we’re either going to protect or we’re going to mitigate the impact to that site. We’re just making sure that our actions aren’t destroying our nation’s history.

Interviewer: Sure, sure. I definitely have read up on it and am familiar with it but I know some listeners to the podcast – they might start to hear section 106 and their eyes start to glaze over but it’s really protecting what we should be protecting and respecting what’s already there. Not just, oh I don’t know, building a boardwalk over the top of it.

Albert: Exactly.

Interviewer: So, in terms of another acronym that you used – was SCEP. Could you explain that a little bit? It sound like when you were finishing up with school?

Albert: Yeah, so the SCEP program was the student career employment program and it was geared towards masters’ students. And what is was for, it allowed for assistantship through college or through your program. So basically, the park service paid for my master’s degree plus they gave me a job during the summer and during the school year as well to earn some cash to live on. Interviewer: They must have identified you as someone that they really wanted and it sounds like made the program work within that.

Albert: You know, I think they did, and I think I had some really good supervisors there and I learned a lot when I was at the Midwest Archaeological Center.

Interviewer: So, we’ve spoken from folks in a few different departments on this podcast. But we haven’t yet had someone from cultural resource management. So, could you both describe the larger umbrella, that larger community of cultural resource management in the NPS and then also hone in – and you’ve already talked about this a little – but hone in more specifically to those cultural resource management techniques you use at Effigy Mounds?

Albert: Sure. The bigger umbrella of it is we’re policy driven. So we have to know the preservation law that we’re responsible for. We’re responsible for NHPA, which is the national historic preservation act, we’re responsible for the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, we’re responsible for the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and a whole slew of others. And so we have to know the law and ensure that what we’re doing is within the law. I used to tease people and say “I’m part paralegal,” you know, I have to know the laws to do my job well and to ensure that I’m providing enough information for my superintendent to make an informed decision on how they’re going to proceed with whatever they’re going to do. And so, the tools we use (as you start whittling it down) -- we use, consultation, obviously, and we do that with our tribal partners. And currently at Effigy Mounds we’re working with 19 sovereign nations and we also work with the state of Iowa just to make sure that we’re not missing something, because we don’t know everything. And that’s something that’s really hard for an archaeologist to say – that I don’t know everything about this place. And it’s true. I don’t, and I won’t. I know the archaeology, but what’s the actual living culture behind that? I know the material culture, not so much the actual living culture. And so that I need help with. And I use, I ask for help with our tribal partners, and our state partners as well.

So that’s one of our tools. The other tool is using archaeology. And at Effigy Mounds, because we’re in basically a cemetery, we don’t want to dig into the mounds. And we’re kind of scared to dig anywhere around the mounds! Prior to me being here, back in the 1970s, the last full time archaeologist here put a moratorium on digging in the park – to dig for scientific study’s sake. Obviously, if there’s a project going on, and we need to test the area to make sure there is no archaeology that’s going to be impacted we’re able to do that, but these large excavations of mounds and mound groups he put a stop to. It was great foresight by that individual. And so, what we do now is we do a lot of remote sensing. I’ve been doing this for 20 some years now and I’ve always said I’m a dirt archaeologist, you know, I like being dirty! I like being dirty and stinky and digging square holes, but, with the new technology, we’re able to pinpoint and it’s not this needle in a haystack type of deal. We’re able to do large areas and pinpoint areas of concern that we can either mitigate or plain out avoid.

Interviewer: Sure. That sounds like that lets you fulfill both parts, right? You get to continue to monitor and also do a lot less physical damage to the area that you’re taking a look at to consider. That seems like a really effective use of technology. So you mentioned that there’s a huge – I think you said 19 sovereign nations – 19 tribes that you’re in consultation with? What do those kind of meetings look like? I have trouble getting two of my coworkers to agree with me on something, how does that aspect of cultural resource management work, when you have those consultations and when you touch base with local tribes?

Albert: One of the things that I do – and this is something I learned when I was on the other side of the table – is that my tribe, the particular tribe that I represented, never went to a consultation meeting, because I as the THPO (the tribal historic preservation officer), the person that they would – the contact for the federal agencies to contact about cultural resources for the tribe – I didn’t have the authority to speak on behalf of the tribe, nor did I want that. Interviewer: That’s a big responsibility!

Albert: A huge responsibility. When you’re speaking on behalf of 120,000 people that’s a big responsibility, and I’m not an elected official, so I shouldn’t have that responsibility! What happened was, we have biannual meetings, and what they look like is, basically, we give them information. They’re information meetings, we don’t put consultation anywhere on our meeting page. And the reason is because we, as the federal government, do not get to dictate on our tribal partners what they are going to consult on. They are a sovereign nation, they will choose what they consult on. Now, how does one do their job when you have something like that? Well, it’s tricky. Ultimately, it’s keeping a line of communication open with 19 different nations. We’re getting ready to do this project, do you have any concerns? And we just keep the conversation going. One thing about consulting with Indian tribes is that it never ends. It literally never ends, until the project is done. They can come in and, because of their sovereignty, say “hey, we have an issue with this. We want to take a step back” and as the government we have to, because that’s what the law says. But, it’s all about building that working relationship which we lost so many years ago. We’re finally to that point now, seven years later, that we can start having those discussions and move forward. We were stagnant for about three years when I first got here. Our partners wouldn’t let us do anything. Interviewer: For those that might not have the background, what was this event that ruptured their trust? I know it, everybody I work with knows it, but could you in your own words kind of describe it.

Albert: There were two major incidences that happened here at Effigy Mounds. The first one was a superintendent and a maintenance supervisor and an admin assistant basically ran the park. And they did whatever they wanted to do, however they wanted to do it, whenever they wanted to do it. The maintenance supervisor had this huge staff that would be building and doing all sorts of things that they never consulted on. They got called out on it by one of our tribal partners, and that spurred an investigation into what was going on. During that investigation, it was found out that there was something else that was happening. And that was the theft of 42 humans – the remains of 42 people – from the collections. And we had no clue where they were at. We got our internal park service police – investigative service – to investigate because it had to be an inside job. And what they ended up doing with a very dogged detective, he was able to track it down to a former superintendent, and he basically found the remains in his garage, which had been sitting there for about 20 years. And so, that was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back with our tribal partners, because we were hiding it. The National Park Service. Through a series of co-conspirators, the superintendent was able to keep it hidden. And when I got here, in 2013, the week before I got here, the other co-conspirator was fired. It was ongoing for 20 some years, because the other co-conspirator was working here at the park, throwing red herrings at us, or at the park, and trying to protect this former superintendent.

Interviewer: Almost impossible to imagine the difficulty of the job when you started. Obviously, it’s not you, it’s nothing you’ve done, but as you’ve said, the NPS was responsible. The NPS was the ones perpetrating these pretty heinous crimes, I see what you mean about it being more of a conversation.

Albert: And they really wouldn’t have believed us anyway. And I don’t blame them. One good thing about this whole investigation process is that, when we started looking into the remains – and actually the entire investigation process – is that our superintendent, the new superintendent that came in, who replaced the old one. Not the one who stole the remains, but the one after that, came in and said “everything’s gonna be open and transparent. We’re gonna be open and transparent for everybody.” And so what happened was that we were the first in the nation to have basically an ad hoc tribal committee look at everything. Every scrap of evidence. They had access to everything, nothing was held back from them, our proverbial slip was showing on how bad we handled both of these incidences. And ultimately, that was one of the first steps in trying to regain that working relationship. The other thing was having the US attorney for Iowa, his representative say “we have to convict him.”

Interviewer: That’s a big deal.

Albert: And long story short is, Thomas Munson, who was the former superintendent who stole the remains, he pled guilty to theft of government property. And that’s a whole 'nother webcast if you want to get into that. He was found guilty of the theft of government property. He had to pay 120,000 in fines and he also had to spend 10 consecutive weekends incarcerated and he also had to spend one full year – 365 days – in house arrest. It’s not what our tribal partners were hoping for but it was better than the slap on the wrist that the tribal partners expected. So, he had to pay and he had to serve time and he was a felon. And so that is what happened during the end of the investigation, that was the outcome of it.

Interviewer: And it really sounds like one of the places that really Effigy Mounds got turned around in this process was not having a dedicated cultural resource management person on site, or at least one that wasn’t taken out by a corrupt upper beauracracy. It sounds like that’s exactly the work you do in the present, is to prevent things like this, is to be in consultation and in communication and making sure the proper procedures are followed. Albert: Exactly. You know, what was happening at that time and the reason the co-conspirator was able to maintain the conspiracy was that it was – the cultural resource program was a collateral duty. She was in charge of the collections. So of course, you know they were gone, you helped the man take them out to his car, and yet, you’re sitting there lying for 20 years, saying “I don’t know what happened to them.”

Interviewer: Truly, an amazing, preposterous story. A lot of the answers don’t hold up under scrutiny.

Albert: And that’s one thing, we had the dogged investigator, who’s now our lead law enforcement officer. He took a demotion to come work for us, he left the investigative service bureau to come work for us at this park, to be a park supervisory ranger.

Interviewer: David Barland-Liles.

Albert: Right, David Barland-Liles. And that’s how much this park affected him and affected the assistant US attorney and the US attorney, actually, and this place does have an effect on people. Interviewer: Moving beyond that a little into a new topic, how has Covid-19 changed the work you’re asked to do in the park? Albert: Well, you know, it really hasn’t. We’re a small program. There’s myself, who’s the program manager, and then I have one employee who’s a museum technician. And basically, her main goal is the collections. She’s able to really keep a handle on everything, especially as we were doing the repatriation of those remains that were recovered. With Covid, the issue that we’re running into is consulation. How do we consult during a pandemic? Some of our tribal partners have been hit extremely hard, some of our tribal partners are still operating as normal, and so, to maintain an even keel, and to maintain fairness, we can’t just rely on the group of tribal partners who are active. So we’re basically on hold again, unless it’s emergency or a mission critical project.

On the day-to-day park aspects of it, the only real change is that I sit in front of this computer with a camera looking at me, and talking to people like yourself. I just got off a call with 44 other people... the interpersonal stuff, there’s no personal contact anymore, there’s no face-to-face meetings. At our park, right now, we’re at phase 2, which means our park is open but we have no visitor services. . And as for the work, the outside work – there's only two of us, so we can maintain a safe distance and we usually do about 4 meters apart from each other. The things we’re doing are remote sensing, so basically the museum tech – we have a ground-based laser scanner is the best way to put it – and it measures down to, I think, 10 micrometers; when you look at this stuff, you can see blades of grass. You can actually see veins in blades of grass. It’s amazing technology, but it only takes one person to actually operate it. And so, she can usually go and set it up and move it around and get all the data, and then from a safe distance she’ll give me the data card and then I’ll put it in my computer and start crunching data, which will take – we're talking, forty gigs, fifty gigabytes at a time to crunch data, and it’s actually pretty cool stuff.

Interviewer: And that’s all doable easily from a remote distance, so it sounds like that’s working out pretty well for you guys.

Albert: Again, the change is face-to-face meetings and consultations and things like that, and just trying to figure out – we're gonna do repatriation-type things in the future, and just try to get a grasp on things.

Interviewer: You and the rest of the world both! It’s a tough situation. So, a question I’ve been trying to make sure I ask everybody during these interviews, and I think based on your experience at Mesa Verde, you may have some really useful stuff to contribute here, is asking about this idea of, did you have the capital P capital R park ranger when you came to work at the NPS. And did that image, the one I’m talking about is kind of that classic interpretive ranger, the do-it-all, know-it-all kind of face of the park, did you have that image in mind when you got into the NPS, and how does it mesh with the work that you do now?

Albert: Yeah. I did, have that stereotypical, the stereotypical ranger picture in my head, and how that ranger whether male or female can do everything! The reality of it was, they can! We were half-staffed at my park. We had six full-time employees, since about 2013 really, and we had to do it all. I ran a snowplow in the wintertime, I’d jump on a lawnmower, I’d grab a chainsaw, whatever needed to be done we would do it. Clean bathrooms, scrub toilets, give tours. So we had to do it. Being a cultural resource manager, I knew a lot about the history of the park already, I had an in there, but I remember having our maintenance people down there giving tours. I remember our superintendent giving tours, or at least working the front desk. It was an all-hands-on-deck, we had to do it! Because if we didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done. How that evolved, now that we’re fully staffed? It took some adjustment and now I can really focus in on my job, which I wasn’t able to do when I was doing five other jobs, or six other jobs, depending on the day. Being with our visitors, we made sure that we portrayed that iconic ranger, and continued the stereotype.

Interviewer: They’re not all bad, right? The fact that you were able to step up and fill those different roles, it fits with that old do-it-all image of a park ranger, but it still happens today, especially like you were saying in smaller parks where there are these major responsibilities that need to be covered if you’re not completely staffed.

Albert: Especially in the off-season. When we have our seasonal rangers, we can relax a little bit – but we still had to be out there when we could. The off-season was when we were really pushed to our limits, which I always like because that’s something I like doing. I like learning new things.

Interviewer: Exactly! That’s how you keep growing, keep learning new stuff, taking on new roles. Sounds like your journey to the park and through the park let you do that. I’m sorry, go ahead. Albert: Although, I don’t think they’re gonna let me drive the plow anymore...

Interviewer: How come? What happened?

Albert: There might have been a curb that I hit...

Interviewer: Is there anything else you want to make sure that we get on record or anything, anything you’d like to share before we say our goodbyes and let you go?

Albert: Yeah, there’s just a couple things. One is that, you know, we’re a diverse agency. We try to be a diverse agency, and there are employee resource groups out there, and for the indigenous workers, we have the CIRCLE group, which I’m on the management team on that. So I always bring that up, but for just about every group of employees, there’s other employees that may be going through the same things that you’re going through, and there’s probably a group, and they’re probably talking about it, so don’t feel that you’re alone.

And the second thing is, learn to laugh at yourself! A lot! I do, all the time. It’s healthy, and if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, find a reason to enjoy it. You work for the National Park Service, you work at a park, if you work at a park, you work at a park! Go enjoy it.

Interviewer: Awesome, well Albert I want to thank you so much for your time, I’ve really learned some interesting stuff not just about your park but also about the NPS and some of the cultural resource management that goes on, seems absolutely critical to fulfilling our legal responsibility and doing what is ethically the right thing as an agency. So, thank you so much, and I’ll let you get back to your important work.

Albert: Thank you very much, I enjoyed it.

Interviewer: And with that, we conclude good rangers, badlands. I want to thank all of our guests for taking time out of their busy schedules as park rangers to join us here on this podcast, and I especially want to thank the team that worked together to develop this program and implement it, that’s Phil Molnar, Earl Perez-Foust, and Alex Ennes. I hope this podcast has given a window into the incredibly diverse and rich collection of employees that help make the Badlands, and in Albert’s case, Effigy Mounds, great, and how incredibly complex and varied the roles and responsibilities are of a ranger in the modern day. This is Kellen Shaver. Be good, even in the Badlands. Buh-bye.

On this final episode of the podcast, we host a guest from Effigy Mounds National Monument. Albert LeBeau serves as the Cultural Resources Program Manager for the park and shares with us his experience working in the field and the role he plays in protecting the cultural resources of the park.

Museum Curator Alex Carrier

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Transcript

Interviewer- ‘Hello, and welcome to Good Rangers, Badlands. Today we are going to be talking with another ranger that makes Badlands such a spectacular park, somebody that fills a different role, one that you might not associate with traditional rangers. Who am I speaking to today?’

Alex- ‘Hi Kellen, this is Alexandria Carrier, you can call me Alex.’ Interviewer- ‘Fantastic. Alex what’s your job title?’

Alex- ‘I am the museum curator for Badlands National Park and Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.’

Interviewer- ‘Oh wow so you’re the first ranger on this podcast whose work isn’t specifically focused only on the Badlands. Why do you serve that role as a curator for both Badlands and Minuteman Missile?’

Alex ‘Two fold -- part of it is because the two parks are so close to each other. It makes sustainable sense that the facilities here at Badlands are large enough to hold the collections for Minuteman Missile, which is much closer than, you know, Rapid City, uh here and it gives them an opportunity to have access to the collection for exhibit purposes, response purposes in case something happens, and general oversight. So, and that’s not atypical, there’s lot of other places that hold multiple park collections.’

Interviewer- ‘Interesting, it’s efficient in terms of time and space?’

Alex- ‘Time, space, cost of employment. So I am the only staff person who is permanently employed here at Badlands to manage the collection. And we typically, when there are other multi park facilities, is what they are called, although we aren’t technically a multi park facility because there are only two parks here. They both, they’ll basically consolidate the staff needs so that you can hire more specialized people to manage a collection as opposed to having the burden of employment cross multiple small parks that can’t necessarily get the funding for those positions, permanently.’

Interviewer- ‘Interesting. I knew that you worked for both, that explanation helps make a lot more sense. You have this specialized skill set and training and you can use that to assist both Badlands and Minuteman Missile with the technical work of curation.’

Alex- ‘Yep.’

Interviewer- ‘Awesome. Alright now say that you have to describe the job that you do, using as many difficult to understand specific park acronyms as possible? How would you do that?’

Alex- ‘OOh. Can jargon count as well?’

Interviewer- ‘Oh please.’

Alex- ‘Perfect. Jargon, jargon, jargon.’

Interviewer- ‘(laughter) No pressure.’

Alex- ‘Well particularly, In the NPS the, I mean how do you abbreviate museum collections management into abbreviations, it’s not... Um, battle and me-me NPS collections manager of paleo-bio-geo-archeo-historicity, that’s a terrible statement. (laughter)

Interviewer- ‘No, hey I like it. You are answering the question in total. It’s a great, that’s a great lump of jargon. Let’s try swinging it over to the other side. So say you were at a bar or out to dinner, and you were talking to someone that had no experience with the NPS, with the curation work that you do, how would you describe your job in the simplest of terms to someone without that background?’

Alex- ‘I manage and care for the protection of historic and scientific artifacts that tell the story of Badlands National Park and Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, and I make sure that they don’t get lost or burn up in a fiery ball of flame. I make sure that there is a place for everything and everything in its place.’

Interviewer- ‘Wow.’

Alex- ‘And if a person asks to see Badlands 86213, which is the catalog number, I could go to my catalog records and say ok its right here.’

Interviewer- ‘So you’ve talked about, in some ways by describing these different parks that you worked at, you have kind of compared Badlands to them, but what are some really critical distinctions between Badlands and say your work down in Florida or your work in Desoto, or Pullman, what are some critical points of comparisons to you, what makes this work at the Badlands different than you work you’ve done previously?’

Alex- ‘probably the most obvious aspect of it what be what the park collects as a whole, we have paleontology here, which I don’t believe any other parks that I worked at have any paleontology in the collections? So that was, that still is a real, a significant portion of the learning curve that I am in right now. I am not a paleontologist, I am not a biologist, a number of the things I have learned about, taxonomy, scientific specimens as a whole, I have learned on the job but that is part of probably being, working in museum collections for the National Park Services. No matter what job you take, every new job you have to learn something new because each park is so unique in its mission that the collections you manage and care for are just as unique. I think in terms of responsibilities of my job that is different here than compared to my previous positions are is the amount of administrative work that I have to do here. I also am starting the work of section 106, I review the section 106 requirement for compliance for projects at Minuteman Missile National Historic Site and I am starting to do that work here at Badlands as well.

Which means that the work that’s done on historic structures, like delta 1 or delta 9, have to go through a review process to make sure that we are not damaging or altering the historic features of a historic structure. Or that we are doing anything in the natural environment that would endanger natural or cultural sites of significance.

Interviewer- ‘One other question I had for you, it kind of ties in but maybe takes it in a different direction too, I have been asking folks, when people think of a park ranger they often have a specific image in mind. This capital P capital R, heroic, law enforcement slash EMT slash helicopter pilots slash biologists you know these almost impossible image of a park ranger. Did you get into the NPS with that image of a park ranger in mind and how does that idea mesh with the specific work that you do now?’

Alex- ‘Well, I mean as a kid we camped through and visited a lot of National Parks so obviously that image of the National Park ranger or the interp park ranger has this very iconic image like you said. So there is always that kind of thought process in my head but I think because the way I started, working with people in volunteer who weren't even in uniform, my concept of a park ranger was a more dynamic image. And one that I think has still continued through. I am a, my job title is museum curator. But my responsibilities is still being a park ranger. Part of that element is being a resource for both my fellow staff members, visitors when I on the odd chance that I do interact with them. When I am let out of my cave but I think for me the idea of the capital P capital R park ranger wasn’t so much a job title as a mission? And that is still very much what I do today. Part of a park rangers job is to protect and serve. And to also be a resource. I do all of those things I just do them in a different capacity. I protect the resources and the scientific integrity of the specimens once they come into my -- as people start to look into the park for collecting for resource purposes, I make sure they collect responsibly, if collecting is allowed, that responsible collecting is happening. That stewardship of those specimens and the research that goes into them, is being done well and that we receive a product from that research.”

Interviewer- ‘Shifting away from that a little bit, what are two of the coolest things that are in your collections that you are allowed to tell me about? What are, for visitors or for folks listening to the podcast what are two things that would just blow their mind that you have stored down there, I think as you described it, as your cave?’

Alex- ‘Yes, ooh. This is. So initially I was going with ‘Oh it’s our historic photograph collection’ but that’s not like one thing that is a lot of things. I would still kind of stick with that because what I love about the historic photograph collection we have is that those images were taken when Badlands was a National Monument, prior to when it was a National Monument, as it was starting to be you know, still wonderland, still moving towards this designation and you can go back and look at those photos and have an immediate, if you know where that photo was taken you can look at that picture and look at it was it is now and have an immediate this is what changed. And things have definitely changed in the Badlands, not just because of the geology it erodes really quickly, that’s definitely an aspect of it, but you know we have far more development. We have a road now that goes through the park and it didn’t always exist. We have photographs of that being constructed. We have the upkeep of the potholes. I mean just road maintenance alone is just this huge collection of images from the historic photo collection from when Badlands was a National Monument. And so in terms of that I think for me that’s a really cool element of the collection. I mean, I bet you were expecting me to be like ‘there’s extinct animals’ which is also very cool..’

Interviewer- ‘I try not to come to these interviews with prejudging or expectations, if its, cool to you its cool to me. Doesn’t have to be dead, old dead things that don’t smell.’

Alex- ‘Yeah -- the photograph collection for Badlands is probably one of the coolest things we have in the collection. From Minuteman Missile, the we have, we have a missile for one. That’s a pretty obvious one. There’s a missile in our collection.’

Interviewer- ‘But it can’t be active right?’

Alex- ‘Negative, it is not active.’

Interviewer- ‘Whoo yeah good.’

Alex- ‘Talk about an unexploded ordinance. But no it is not active. (laughter) the but in addition to the missile we got (pause) really at this point its trying to narrow down what isn’t blow your mind cool. But..’

Interviewer- ‘Yeah historical photos and missiles that works for me. Those are two pretty sweet things. So one question that I have been asking folks and from interviewing you there is a ton of different things that will fall under this umbrella for you, but what is something that really excites you about your work? When you get up in the morning or when you’re getting ready to start your day, what do you look forward to? What gets you going as a museum curator at Badlands and Minuteman Missile park and site?’

Alex- ‘What really excites me about my job is, it kind of goes back to when I was volunteering at Kirstenstead National Historic Site, I was working on this archives project and kind of had that epiphany, you must know that you love what you’re doing when you even enjoy the paperwork. And as boring and nerdy as that sounds, I love working with the paperwork of the museum collection because it’s a thankless task that most people don’t think about, but it’s integral to good collections management. Not everything that is collected inside the park is stored here at the park. We have limited resources and limited facilities so we rely heavily on other universities and other museums and other educational, basically other educational facilities, museums, collections that have more facilities or use and benefit from having collections, like a large portion of our paleontology collection is housed at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology at the museum of geology and that is a fairly common practice throughout the National Park Service and the Department of Interior to have these objects that would be in the collection stored elsewhere where they can be managed, used by researchers there and have some conservation work done by specialists in those fields. My responsibility is making sure that those facilities report to me. Every year during our inventory that I know we have active loan agreements with facilities across the nation and across the world. We have collections that are currently housed in England, for example.’

Interviewer- ‘Wow.’

Alex- ‘Yeah so it’s not just here in the Badlands the research is, the science that goes on in the badlands has really vast impacts to the sciences across the world. So part of my responsibility is making sure the paperwork is in place to track those artifacts. And to keep track of them so that they don’t you know get lost, wherever that may be. Or misplaced and that we have contact information. It’s a lot of paperwork. A lot. There’s a lot of paperwork. I wouldn’t say that’s new though, paperwork is just a reality of museum collections that people don’t think about. It is a large portion of my job.’ Interviewer- ‘You're having to monitor, basically if it’s not even physically in our collections, if it is associated with our collections or if it is housed overseas, you're having to make sure that’s its being dealt with properly and its accounted for.’

Alex- ‘Yes.’

Interviewer- ‘That’s a critical... What good is the work that the park does to excavate these fossils and to preserve these historic artifacts if they’re not gonna be watched over? It sounds like your job is critical in terms of that aspect of it.”

Interviewer- ‘So Alex I want to thank you so much for giving us some of your time today. We are gonna let you loose on the data, on the puzzles and on the back to the really critical work that you do in the park. Is there anything else that you want to make sure that we get on the record, or that we get to share before we let you off to bigger and better things?’

Alex- ‘No, just thanks for having me Kellen and it was great talking with you.’

Interviewer- ‘Yeah. Thank you so much. If you enjoyed that conversation with Alex, don’t hesitate to join us next week, when we dive into cultural resource management, collections, and crime as we expand our reach beyond the Badlands and sit down with Albert LeBeau of Effigy Mounds’

Join us as we talk to Alex Carrier, Museum Curator for both Badlands National Park and Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.

Interpretive Ranger Ed Welsh

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Intro: Hello, and welcome to Good Rangers, Bad Lands. Today, we’ll sit down with a park scientist who has made the transition to education. Kellen: Today I am going to be speaking with a friend and someone I worked with in a close capacity for 3 years. Ed Welsh: This is Ed Welsh. Kellen: The Ed Welsh. And Ed, what s your job title? Ed Welsh: My official title is Park Ranger. But I do several other things. I’m the volunteer coordinator, I kind of help manage the Geologist In Park internship program, I am an interpreter ranger. I am also a Paleontologist, so I do some work with the resource management crowd. So I kind of wear a few hats. Say, I didn’t know what interpretation was or I didn’t know you know, or I didn’t know paleontology. How would you describe your job to someone at a bar? Or someone without a background in the National Park Service? Ed Welsh: well I am a scientist working in interpretation and education and outreach and I get to tell people who are new to the park about all the cool things we experience in the park. Kellen: what was the path to this position like for you? Today you are a ranger in interpretation and oversight duties and a host of responsibilities, how did you get here? What led you to this position? Ed Welsh: It was very random and serendipitous. For a while I was finishing my master’s degree I was field consultant for an environmental consulting firm doing pipeline projects. Other construction projects that span anywhere from the Canadian border down to the Nevada area along the Rocky Mountain region. And work in the energy industry started to slow down and I saw an opening for Badlands National Park. I knew some of the people that worked here. I applied for resource management job doing essentially what I was doing with environmental consulting which is monitoring and mitigation of paleo resources. So, when I applied for that job somebody, I know was pretty excited to see me on the certification. Got me hired. I worked here for a summer. And we had a fossil dig going on. The saber site. A little girl found a saber cat right next to the visitor center and they turned that into a quarry. So, while that was going on and while I was coming in and out of the field, we had our first year of the paleontology lab. So, all the fossils coming in, would go through the lab then people could experience that. The park rangers here in the interpretation division, or resource education division, really enjoyed how I engaged with visitors, and they decided they wanted me for the next season. In the summer. So, they kind of stole me away from resource management. And then as I am going off season, I’m going back to monitoring for this consulting firm then I’m spending my summers here at Badlands. Then that job eventually turned into an education tech term. And then eventually a permanent job, once this job was open, the job I am in now. So, it was interesting having to learn an entirely new skill set on top of my heavy science background. Kellen: yeah it sounds like you came in with the understanding of the geology and the fossils and in the park developed those education and interpretation skills that you use today. Is that kind of a fair description of that path? Ed Welsh: Yeah that s pretty much it. That is the short short version. Kellen: Nice I like it. I like it. And so, badlands national park is the only NPS site that you worked at in an official capacity, is that true? Ed Welsh: as a paid employee for the park service, yes. I have done work in other parks but not as a park employee. Ed Welsh: I was a permanent researcher at Big Bend National Park working with Julie Sanky who is now at status loss university in California. Working on late Cretaceous dinosaurs and other vertebrates. My focus was on baby remains, eggshell, looking at dinosaur reproduction and who’s nesting and who is being born in this particular site in the chihuahuan desert which used to be part of the Gulf of Mexico. And then as I was working here, we have gone out and done field work for agate fossil beds. Kellen: you work at the Badlands but you have connections to paleontologic resources at a number of parks both near and far. Ed Welsh: Yeah. Kellen: Yeah one of the things we are really trying to look at is these interconnections between not just, park employees and rangers at one park but how they relate to and connect to other parks in a larger system. So, it sounds like that area of expertise that you have allows you to do research at other parks and to help them understand some of the things they come across in the fossil record? Ed Welsh: Right and what you just said kind of sums up my favorite philosophy, by John Muir, he is famous for saying “Whenever we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. Ed Welsh: and that is really what we do. The crux of everything we do. This kind of park ranger community. Kellen: So, when people think of a park ranger they often have an image in their mind capital P capital R answers every question and cleans the bathrooms. But the reality of a park ranger in the national park service today is, that is kind of an outdated image. People have specific focuses and specific talents that they bring to bear on their position did you get into the NPS with kind of that type of archetypal park ranger image in mind? Ed Welsh: I mean kind of. When you are a kid you always think of park rangers as police and they wrestle bears and all this cool and adventurous stuff. And even with the history its kind of conveys that because your first park rangers were, soldiers. They were rangers in almost every sense of the military term. They were outdoorsmen, law enforcement, they were game wardens. That’s kind of a general outlook people have towards park rangers. Once I started working with parks, in and out of the employment circle, you realize it’s a much more multi-faceted group of people and what we consider park rangers, yes, they are law enforcement, they are game wardens, but there is also scientist s. There’s Mechanics. There’s Teachers. There’s Historians. All these different jobs that park rangers do. And we get this common question from the public that is enthusiastic about working for a park, what type of background do I need to work at national park site? And it’s really anything. Whatever you’re interested in there is probably a park somewhere that wants somebody with your skill set. Kellen: Sure. you’re looking for skilled, motivated and engaged people and if you got a skill set the NPS probably has a place for you. Ed Welsh: right. Kellen: So, focusing in a little bit on your specific department, what does the interpretation division or department do at Badlands National Park if you are not familiar with the kind of the structure? What is an interpreter? Ed Welsh: Well, an interpreter is really somebody who connects people to resources. they facilitate or lead that connection in I guess any type of media, or strategy or skill to get people to understand and appreciate that resource, whatever it may be. That’s really the generalization of what interpretation does. Specifically, we, have a lot of methods to our employment. Because we have our active and our passive ways of communicating with the public. Active being things like ranger led programs, tours, hikes, we do classroom activities, we lead field trips for schools, so we do operate during the school year to accommodate the school curriculum. Mostly local schools, but we also have the online component, so we do online skype sessions, other sessions, if we are invited on zoom where we can interact with classes from all over the country, if not from all over the world. Then we have our passive ways with interacting with the public and getting them educated on the park and its resources. And that s things like the website, social media, just the typical park signage you see out in the park. So, we are not there all the time, but people are getting that interpretation message. anytime they interact with an exhibit or a website or even face to face with a ranger. Kellen: if they are walking around the fossil exhibit trail and learning about fossils from some of the signs and replicas we have out there, that is still something interpretation helps with and helps develop? Ed Welsh: Right. So, say like fossil exhibit trail the ranger that designed that actually won an award for it. Because fossil exhibit trail does an excellent example of being a not just a wayside sign exhibit but a very tactile touch exhibit. So, you can feel and touch the shape of these animals. You can go out and see which fossils people touch the most because you’ll see the tips of the canines on the saber tooth Nimravid they’re polished shiny bronze versus the rest of the cast. But they are also in braille its really our only way side that does that, a lot of our other waysides are old. And are probably in need of updating. Kellen: yeah it’s definitely an interesting piece I haven t thought about, that active and passive split where you can have these different ways of educating, sharing resources, getting folks interested and engaged with everything Badlands has to offer. Ed Welsh: Yep so we have to try to find creative ways to accommodate people when we are not there. Kellen: Right. Ed Welsh: And todays day and age you know we all realize that is a must. Kellen: So what are some challenges you have come across, in the interpretation division, what are some things that force you to use your skills or some things that challenge you, within your work at Badlands National Park as an interpreter? Ed Welsh: I mean moving into this world was challenging enough. It was learning a whole new skill set that I was never educated or trained on before. You know I’ve had some experience teaching, but interpretation is not just being a teacher, it’s actually a lot more than that. you know finding the deeper meaning of things and building and facilitating those connections. then the further the deeper you get into the park service, the more integrated you become with the machine. So now you have to learn all the bureaucracy and the red tape and the proper paperwork and keeping track of certain employees. Making sure all their information is going where it needs to go. So, you can keep them hired and employed and hopefully keep them coming back because I think we tend to hire pretty good people and we like to keep them. but...then with interpretation itself, you know we are not, I guess reinventing the wheel, but we are always taking deeper looks into all the components that make interpretation effective. So, we create new ways of thinking and training people on how to I guess, enhance the repertoire of the interpretative rangers. Which is challenging but also kind of exciting. Kellen: You mentioned that one challenge you had was learning a new skill set. Transitioning from that paleontology background into the specific skills of interpretations, I’m sorry, interpretation. Let’s spin that around how does your paleontology background help you in your day-to-day job as an interpreter? Ed Welsh: having this kind of insider knowledge into the resource, I guess better facilitates keeping the public updated and informed on what we are doing currently. Not what has just been done before, I mean I’m allowed to do research. I am a scientist. I do research on my free time, I focus on the White River Badlands which are the Badlands you find here, and all those vertebrates we find in it and so a lot of the new discoveries I am making some of those. Which is kind of you know, I’m trying to find the right word for it, it’s not quite shocking or surprising, it’s kind of energizing, I guess. But I get to share those discoveries with the public and all the new discoveries of this place while we are learning about it. Which I think probably separates us from most park units that have this resource. getting back to the challenges, it’s the science I am involved in didn’t t involve a lot of public interaction. I mean most of the stuff I work on is dead. we don t have to communicate too much. The dead do tell tales but it’s not exactly an interpersonal conversation. Kellen: is it fair to say that part of your work is broadening up that access? Is taking a technical understanding that you are developing from this resource and sharing it more broadly with the public? Ed Welsh: Right. Absolutely. So I don t have to tell people that oh leptomrix is moving from smooth enamel to complex enamel with the paleomtrix fold when we transition from the Eocene and Oligocene, I just get to say, well as things are getting cooler, drier, and grassier as we transition from one age to the next this little animal starts to develop complex enamel for processing tougher vegetation in a drier climate and environment. you are able to take that detailed technical information that we get from research and put it in terms that people are familiar with and understand. And getting those tangible objects into these intangible concepts. To help people understand life as it transitions as their world changes. Which is something we do all the time. Kellen: Sure, that’s essential, how else are you going to get folks invested in resource except but to speak their language. To make your scientific discoveries and the work that’s happening in your field, tangible and relevant to them. Ed Welsh: Yeah and well, that’s the thing. We are trying to get it to terms that relate to them. So, it’s not just fossil record is cool, and we find all these cool things, they’re all telling us a story and as things change what’s your response to that change? And that’s something we all have to deal with in our own lives. I mean we are doing it right now. as things change, in this current atmosphere of a pandemic, what changes are you going to make in your life to keep going, to keep being successful to keep the species going....so the fossil record gives us those valuable lessons and we get to apply those anytime in our own lives. Kellen: Now, in five minutes can you give me the paleontologic story of the Badlands? Ed Welsh: Essentially what is going on here is we are in the middle of the age of mammals. And we are making a transition from a tropical North America to a cooler and drier and more open and grassy North America. And we are going to watch the animals change with that. So, we are going to see some browsers develop, making a gradual transition into grazing type ecologies. Animals that were more common in that tropical North America a lot of them are pretty strange to us. They are either going to disappear at this time or they are making an evolutionary transition where they’re starting to appear more like their modern version of those animals. So, like if we see horses, and we looked at Eocene horses, they wouldn’t look like the horses we know today. By the time we get to Badlands they are really starting to look like modern horses, with their longer legs and bigger middle toe and then they’ll continue on from there. We get, we watch entire regimes change. We have a meat-eating group of carnivores, the creodonts, that no one should be familiar with because they are all dead and this is where they die. But in their place, we get the first group of mammals we call the carnovora. Things like cats, dogs and bears. Things that people are familiar with today but at the time the Badlands were developing, and we are seeing them for the first time. So, we are getting into a transition from an old North America to a more modern eco system in North America. while the Badlands are happening, we jump all the way back to Mesozoic when we were below sea level we don t find any dinosaurs here but we do find everything that was living in the ocean. We find various types of cephalopods squid, relatives of squid and octopus. We find clams we find marine reptiles, things that had flippers instead of hands and feet like were used to seeing, so we watch North America develop from a tropical inland ocean to a kind of sub-tropical marshy swamp to the first grasslands that we are used to seeing today. Kellen: WOW. Ed Welsh: was that under 5 minutes? Kellen: Yeah you came in under, that was 3 ½. That’s pretty impressive. That s a lot of action to squeeze into a short period of time. Ed Welsh: Yeah, we jumped from 37 to 28 million years then we jump back to about 68 to 72, with what we find here in the park and the story that that tells us. Pretty dynamic planet we live on that is changing all the time. Kellen: I got a little bit of a background and you and I talked about these topics in depth in our work together in interpretation, but it’s just your research delves into these things that talk about millions of years and thousands of miles and changes that are hard to visualize but the park tells us happened. Pretty incredible to think. Ed Welsh: Yeah, it’s easier with that hindsight perspective. Cause, I mean we get the cliff notes version, we don t get to watch this in real time. Kellen: So what is one thing, if you had to pick out a single thing that excites you about your work, when you wake up in the morning and you re like man I’m looking forward to this, I’m ready to do this as an interpreter? Ed Welsh: I think the thing that I enjoy the most is when we make new discoveries with the resource. Or when we are going out to explore a site expecting stuff to come back. I am anxious to see this new material and be able to talk to everyone about it and what makes it special. Because I’m learning it for the first time, I am discovering it for the first time and so is everyone else around me. And I think that is the coolest part of this job. Kellen: And as your colleague, I can testify that I have seen that in action, and it is pretty inspiring to see how this stuff excites you. Ed Welsh: Well, that’s always contagious. So, Kellen: Yeah people can tell when you are into it. You know. You can’t fake excitement and you know, I can tell it excites you and that is a pretty cool thing to be a part of. So, on a slightly less exciting note but one that I think is worth touching on before we go, you already mentioned a little bit about kind of how that evolutionary adaptation or that record of change helps inform our response to challenges we face in our day to day lives how has the challenge of covid-19 changed the work that you are asked to do in the park? What effect has it had on your life and your day to day work? Ed Welsh: Well, it’s kind of a blessing and a curse at times. it takes us away from a lot of our normal duties. I really do enjoy interacting with the public, interacting with the school groups, hosting field trips but that can’t happen in this current situation. there are some things we have already been doing that help us continue to do that job, like online programs with schools and things like that. But it also gives us the opportunity to sit back and work on engaging with the public a little bit more passively. I have been able to focus on some projects I have been meaning to work on for awhile, just public interaction takes away from that, not that that is a bad thing. We are able to work with other people and say like working with you guys and helping you update and upgrade the website; we get people that able to focus on social media. I helped develop a google earth field trip so people could do kind of a ranger led field trip through the park via park website. We wouldn’t have time to focus on things like that if this wasn’t happening. So, we get to be inventive. We get to engineer our job in new and creative ways so the public can still have that park ranger experience even though they aren’t interacting with park rangers. Kellen: Sure, so it sounds like it’s got its positives and its negatives. We are getting to be more creative; I don t know if I would be able to have this opportunity to interview you if not for... Ed Welsh: Right. Like this podcast thing is totally new for us. Hopefully we get to keep it going. But it also shows us, you know when we have people that are doing so much good work on digital media how much we need those jobs to complement and enhance this park service experience for everyone, makes the parks look good. Kellen: Right. That s one of our secret goals. We want to look good Perfect. I guess then in closing Ed I want to ask you how does the work you do fit in with the National Park Service mission? Ed Welsh: So, you know touching up on I guess I’m going to paraphrase the Park Service mission, you know we are here to preserve and protect these resources, cultural, historic etc. For the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. And the work we are doing now is in-depth learning on the resources here at Badlands. Making new discoveries of these resources in the Badlands. And then engaging in that public. We are able to get them to appreciate that resource and be part of the mission. It’s not just they’re outsiders. Some of them are actively participating in that stewardship to help us preserve and protect these resources. Because when they learn what we learn that appreciation spreads. And that, I think that s probably, I guess the best fit that interpretation and education in park resources has is it facilitates the public into acting like park rangers themselves. If these people stop caring about these places, then we probably wouldn’t exist, we wouldn’t have these jobs. But they are here helping us. They are part of this too. So, we do what we can to keep them on the team. So, to speak. Kellen: Fantastic. I couldn’t agree with you more, it’s that extending that ethos of preserving and protecting for future generations, out into the public and into the future as well. Ed Welsh: Yep because we want everyone to have these experiences forever. Kellen: Even those poor critters in the Badlands who we only know from their bones. Ed Welsh: Yep. Well they have their stories we just got to figure out what they are trying to tell us. Kellen: And they may not have had the same quality of park ranger. That may be one thing... Ed Welsh: No, I don t think they planned on us being here. Kellen: Well Ed, I want to thank you so much for giving me a little bit of your time today. I know you re off leading new employees into the field to explore some discoveries that are happening even today, so I won’t hold you up much longer. But thanks again for your time and your insight into your role within the park, Ed Welsh: Nothing that I could think of, but yeah thanks for doing this Kellen, this has been pretty fun. Outro: That was Ed Welsh, one of the rangers that makes the badlands good. Join us next week as we sit down with Alex Carrier as we learn about the fascinating objects buried away in the Badlands museum collection.

We interview Ed Welsh, Interpretive Park Ranger of Badlands National Park, about the challenges of sharing the complex histories of the park with visitors of all backgrounds.

Wildlife Biologist Eddie Childers

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Transcript

Intro: Welcome to Good Rangers, Badlands. Today we’ll sit down with someone who keeps the beasts of the Badlands safe. Interviewer: To begin, what's your name? Eddie: Yep, my name is Eddie Childers, wildlife biologist here at Badlands National Park. Interviewer: Now, say that you were communicating that to someone that worked inside the NPS, how would you describe your job and your responsibilities using as many difficult to understand acronyms as possible. Eddie: Well, I would say my job is mainly the NPS mission to preserve and protect resources for future generations. And for me personally that includes all wildlife resources within Badlands National Park, and sometimes outside of badlands national park because as you know wildlife has… they have legs. Interviewer: That's right they don't respond to borders quite well. Eddie: That's right and sometimes our fence, our fence situation doesn't work and that's a good thing most of the time, except for bison. Interviewer: if you were talking to someone outside of the NPS right if you we're at a bar or out to dinner and they asked you: 'Hey what do you do?' And in the simplest of terms, how would you describe your job to them?' Eddie- I would tell them that I am the caretaker of wildlife and wildlife populations within the park. I manage and monitor inventory and try to do the best I can to make sure those wildlife species are healthy, vibrant, producing and will be that way not only now but in the future. Interviewer: That's better than my description if someone asked me what I was doing. That's great. That's awesome. So how did you get here? What was your path to having this position of biologist, what did it look like, where did you start? Eddie: Well, I knew from an early age that I wanted to get into natural resources and so I pointed my education in that direction. I grew up in north eastern Ohio, and I started my education at Kenn State University I was in a pre-forestry program there and after two years I transferred to Virginia Tech, and they had a wildlife program, a forestry and wildlife program, so I ended up enrolling in that program and was able to obtain a Bachelor’s of Science and forestry and wildlife resources and I also was accepted into grad school so I continued on in a wildlife sciences program. So I continued at Virginia Tech and earned my Masters there and worked for the university for a while in the forestry and wildlife resources laboratory and took some other courses while I was there beyond my masters and in wildlife and soils and veg and kind of rounded out my portfolio if you will and from there after I worked for the University for a while I was the research supervisor there for five years, I worked for the Natural Resource Conservation Service. It was called the SCS, (Soil Conservation Service) back then. I worked there for a while, and then I transferred over to the US Fish and Wildlife Service up in rural Maryland as an Endangered Species Research biologist there and worked at the Endangered Species research branch there in Maryland. Interviewer: Oh wow! Eddie: And it was a pretty nice job working with a lot of researchers. At the beginning of the wolf reintroduction at Yellowstone and Puerto Rican Parrot and Whooping Crane, captive propregation. So, I did that and transferred to the National Park Service from that position, I was there for a couple years. Then a position opened up. I had started doing some GIS work and I was getting a little bit proficient at that and so they needed a GIS biologist type person at Indiana Dunes so I went there for five years and served in that position then I went to Redwood National Park. For another 6 years after that as a wildlife biologist. Then in 1999 I came here as a wildlife biologist and yeah that's what I've been, that's kind of my career path through the NPS. Kind of convoluted but here I am. Interviewer: And it sounds like a lot of interesting stops along the way. I mean you have been working in some capacity with endangered species since you started undergrad so you have a ton of experience. That's awesome that's really cool. Eddie: Really fortunate. Very fortunate, I consider myself very blessed. Interviewer: When you got into the NPS did you have kind of that capital P capital R park ranger in mind, or was it more” hey this is an opportunity for me to do the biology that I am so interested in, in a government capacity,” what was your… how did you think about that?' Eddie: Yeah I definitely had that in my mind, you know, it was a uniform position and you know when I got the badge and my friends and neighbors and wife they saw me come home with the park ranger badge I definitely, I knew all my life my calling was to be a wildlife biologist and to be able to do that within the context of the National Park Service, just a dream come true. A dream job. Interviewer: You and I have had a little bit of conversation through email about some of the more specific work you do, in the Badlands. If someone was on the outside looking in, how would you describe what the resource management department focuses on here at Badlands? Eddie: Well, to begin with, we preserve and protect all resources for future generations and you know not only wildlife resources which include some of the most iconic species of animals in the world including the American Bison, the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, and not to mention the Black Footed Ferret, the most endangered land mammal in North America. Whereas, Badlands has the largest remaining population in the world. On the planet right now. We also, resource management, focuses on all aspects of natural resources including Paleontology, you know this was, this park was centered in the birth place of American Paleontology and we have historic resources, archeological resources, we have the largest short grass prairie ecosystem in the region. We also focus on keeping that healthy. Spray for noxious invasive plants, and weeds. We cover the ground for natural resource issues. Our division is really really takes the forefront for what the Park Service is all about, you know? Interviewer: the iconic animals that are alive today and also the iconic animals from 35 million years ago. That's what I'm hearing. And so, if someone maybe hasn't visited the Badlands how would you describe that mixed grass prairie environment from your perspective as a biologist? What's the ecosystem look like? How does it run? What are some flora and fauna that are critical to making it a healthy successful diverse ecosystem?' Eddie: Yeah, I think the environment of Badlands is really incredible. It's truly a world class park. You know I mentioned the largest mixed grass prairie ecosystem in the Midwest region and we are 240,000 acres strong. You know, I'll never forget my first day when I came to Badlands in November of '99. I went out with our retired park paleontologist, Rachel Benton, we went down to the South Unit and we went out and looked at a Titanothere site that had been poached. It was a long drive out in the middle of nowhere and it looked like a moonscape and the gravel felt really incredibly kind of weird under my feet. And I asked Rachel what kind of gravel, why was this so strange. And she said well look closely, those are all remnants, fossil remnants of different animals and I got down on my knees and looked and I couldn't believe the number of fossils we were just walking over there in that Titanothere site and we were mapping it out to protect it from future poaching. But I remember thinking, well this is a moonscape how can any wildlife live here. Then we drove to other places and I saw, you know, large expanses of short grass prairie, the western wheat grass, the, you know, the incredible amount of grazing available to park ungulates and you know bison and sheep and, you know, prairie dogs. We have large population of prairie dogs which is the obligate food for the black footed ferret. Just you know all these things just come together. And I just come from Redwood National Park and where we had easily 50 inches of rainfall a year or more and the largest trees in the world, and you know banana slugs it was like a swamp, like a jungle. Then I came here to this new ecosystem and it totally just opened my eyes. But yeah, it's truly a world class park. And this is incredible. Interviewer: Yeah that's a great contrast. I think you knew, somehow you knew what my next question was going to be, I was going to ask how it compared to other parks you worked at in the past. It sounds like slight differences between Redwood and Badlands. Eddie: Yeah probably, probably the biggest change I've ever had ecosystem wise, you know so it's beautiful at Redwood you know but I just love Badlands. That's why I just kind of augured in here for the last 20 plus years. Interviewer: Sure if it isn’t broke don't fix it. Eddie: That's right. I love it here. Don't want to go anywhere else. Interviewer: Why is the environment here so different than at Redwood. What makes this so dry? what makes those open plains of Titanothere bones, why are they here? Eddie: Well when you compare it to Redwood, Redwood was very close to the coast. Under the influence of those maritime currents of the Pacific and you had that high amount of rainfall versus Badlands where you have usually low amounts of rainfall where we are seeing some changes now with climate change and what not. But you know here we are in the middle of the continent and we have hot dry summers, and most of the time when the climate change doesn't kick in we have these intense storms like we did last night. Interviewer: That was crazy. Yeah wow. Eddie: Yeah, yeah that was a really wild, wild, wild West I tell you. But yeah, that whole thing with the amount of rainfall and, and, so we have you know. We are on the prairie; we have a lot of grasslands. We have a few woody trees in the draws, and you know cottonwoods but all in all were, were, mainly west of the Missouri river you know, prairie ecosystem just perfect for grazing. Perfect for the once American Bison which roamed here in the millions. You know to be able to stroll across the prairie and just go different places. You know we have these little pockets of wet areas, springs, that come of the side of the different geology in the Badlands, and little tucked in little jewels of habitat for you know amphibians and for wildlife to water in. And it is just an incredible park. Interviewer: That that gives me a lot of insight into that and ways I haven't thought of. All of these little micro-climates, these niches where you don't think of frogs and salamanders in the Badlands. But they are tucked into some of those wetter environments. Eddie: Yeah, it is amazing. Really is. Interviewer: Before I came onto interview you this morning, I got an email there with a tiny little lightning started wildfire up by Gene Williams place, isn't that right? Eddie: Yes. About a nine acre. I saw that. I saw those pictures from I saw them from Casey and then I had a text here from Mike Carlbaum he said get packing we've already started this year. I have been a collateral duty firefighter for since 1978 so, getting a little old for this though. Interviewer: I'm sitting here in sweat pants and telework interviewing you and you're out there fighting fire. Eddie: Well, not this year. Interviewer: That's awesome. So just from talking to you, it sounds like a lot of your work excites you here in the park. Just from hearing you describe your path here and what you get to do and how passionate you are about it, but if you had to choose, I don't know, three things that really get you going, you know when you're on your way in to work and thinking, “alright, what am I going to do today, what am I excited about?” Interviewer: What are a few things in particular that excite you about your work as a Badlands National Park ranger? Eddie: Well, you know, like I said before it's really exciting and it's a privilege to be part of managing these iconic species. You know first of all, the Black Footed Ferret which is the most Endangered land mammal in North America. And you know we have the largest existent population here at Badlands. To be able to work with that species, and work with our USGS partners and Prairie Wildlife Incorporated and the Forest Service. We developed a partnership where we treat not only Badlands but the entire Conata basin. We call them one ecosystem, which they are, and we are able to cross boundaries and you know. I do a lot of coordination with the Forest Service and USGS. I write a lot of proposals, which sometimes isn't fun but, you know I have been able to do that successfully for the last, 6 years and we have been able to generate four research proposals, totaling over you know a million dollars for the Black Footed Ferret alone so we are able to pump that money into the research that is needed to, you know, apply different research methods to managing our prairie dog population, and uh vaccinate our ferrets against plague. And you know another disease besides Covid-19. It's yeah, the one that came from Europe and San Francisco and we have been dealing with it ever since. As it progressed eastward from the San Francisco Bay, but yeah that really excites me to be part of a team. Like that and to cross those agency boundaries. It excites me to be able to work with our NPS team. Everybody is really committed in the resource management division and throughout the park. And you know for me it's really a positive force to be able to work with a good team of committed, natural resource professionals, who always want to do the best thing. There is always something new. You know right now we are going to be taking over some bat monitoring stations for our inventory and monitoring program. They're not going to be able to get out in the field much this year so be setting up bat listening stations with them and we have a lot going on so. It's always something new within the Park. Interviewer: Who was the original partner on the bat listening stations, was that Forest Service or was that NPS to begin with or…? Eddie: Yeah that's inventory and monitoring program. They are based in Rapid City. Kara Paitner is the, she is the leader of that whole program and that's from the Midwest Region. You know, they serve many parks not only Badlands but Dan Licht, he just retired. He was the regional wildlife biologist who started that. And we worked with him and he set up the bat listening stations in the past. We have had that work going on for years. And you know it's really, really a great thing. We know what kind of bats are around and flying around and you know the different species from the different echo locator songs that they put out at night. You can hear them chirping and you put it through the software and oh that's a northern long eared, and you know what kind of bat you have that's hanging around Badlands. So we are going to continue that work. Interviewer: That's a pretty cool use of modern technology for documenting, documenting ancient species. Eddie: Yes, yes it is. Interviewer: It's funny I talked to, I spent the last two years telling visitors about some of the stuff I knew you guys were doing in the park and that one is new for me. I didn't know this monitoring program that's just a testament to all the, all the many different programs and surveys that you guys have going on every year in the park. So, that's pretty, pretty amazing. Eddie: Yeah, we, we definitely have a lot going on. Interviewer: So on that note, kind of on that note, I know that COVID-19, we talked about it a little bit in context of the plague but it's changed the work we have been asked to do in interpretation to a large degree, how has it changed the work you are asked to do? Obviously you are talking about taking over some of the responsibilities of this bat monitoring program. On both a personal level and within your department, how, how has COVID affected you guys? Eddie: Yeah, it's also affected the way we do our field work and the way we interact with one another and of course now we have the specifications of one person per truck. You know, social distance out in the field and wear a mask when we are in the office there and try to stay away from one another and with our, with some of my research I was planning on having like twelve volunteers from the USGS out of Ft. Collins this year, which we usually have every year. But then we had to, or USGS came down and they had, you know we usually house those students, those workers in trailers so we were under the same, you know social distancing guidelines and one person per truck, one person per trailer. So, we went from 12 VIPs down to total of 5 in the crew this year. So that's kind of you know. That's kind of slowed our productivity and the number of goals that we wanted to do out in the, out in the field with our research been kind of put on hold. I have a call right after this one to talk to some of our partners. USGS, Forest Service, Prairie Wildlife to see how we can make it work. But again, we will probably just try to provide help as we can from our permanent and seasonal staff. And you know just do the best we can and you know work through this until we get a vaccine. Interviewer: Sounds like you're doing your best and you guys know, you guys know, a little something about vaccines over there. You got one administered to down to one of the most endangered land mammal in North America so hopefully we can find one for the most populous land mammal in North America. Eddie: That's right. That's right. Interviewer: Cool. So, I guess in closing and you touched on this a little bit how does the work you do fit in with the larger NPS mission? Eddie: Yeah, you know not to repeat myself, but to preserve and protect for future generations. I think what we do as a division and what my program does for wildlife just dove tails perfectly into the NPS mission. That’s what the Park Service in my opinion is all about. You know we are about these beautiful landscapes; you know wildlife. You know human interactions that are able to see these things and you know I think that's what we are all about and we just fit right into that. Interviewer: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. I think you guys are absolutely critical to the NPS and what we try and do. Eddie, I want to thank you so much for giving me some of your time today to ask you these questions. I know I learned a lot and I'm sure our listeners will learn a lot too and I think yeah, it's a great opportunity to hear about a different role in the park. Wildlife biology is as critical as it gets. You don't have National Parks without the charismatic megafauna that make them home. So, thanks again. And is there anything, anything that you want to make sure we get on the record before I let you go do more useful stuff? Eddie: No, I just appreciate the opportunity to chat with you. Interviewer: Thank you, you too bye bye. Eddie: Bye bye. Outro: That was Eddie Childers, one of the rangers that makes the badlands good. Next week, don’t miss our interview with interpretive ranger Ed Welsh as he dives into the stories of the rocks and the fossils they hold.

We interview Eddie Childers, Wildlife Biologist of Badlands National Park, about all aspects of his role at the park and his career trajectory that brought him into the National Park Service.