Gopher hunting, the Grand Canyon and seeing scientific collaboration up close all made for a good start to the summer for two Bethel College students.
Wes Goodrich, senior from Independence, and Emily Simpson, junior from Smyrna, Tenn., with their biology professor, Francisca Méndez-Harclerode, and her husband, Jerry Harclerode, worked for a week on an environmental impact study at the proposed site of a uranium mine near the Grand Canyon June 7-14.
When Méndez-Harclerode presented the opportunity last spring at a STEM (collective term for the sciences) seminar, the students jumped at it -- Goodrich almost literally. “I raised my hand and stood up before she even finished describing it,” he says.
Méndez-Harclerode’s masters-level research at the University of Central Missouri involved extensive studies with gopher populations in the Black Hills. One of the undergraduate students she worked with was Jo Ellen Hinck, now a toxicologist who leads environmental impact study teams for the U.S. Geological Survey, based in Columbia, Mo.
Hinck has been working with the Canyon Mine study team at a site in the Kaibab National Forest near Tusayan, Ariz., about 10 miles from the Grand Canyon’s south rim. Hinck needed a scientist with experience trapping gophers, and Méndez-Harclerode was looking for a way to give her students a chance to get out of the classroom and do some fieldwork.
The Bethel group joined with others from, in addition to the U.S.G.S., the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Department of Energy, the Arizona Game and Fish Department and Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff.
While Bethel’s responsibility was gophers, other individuals or groups were studying other small mammals, snakes, bats, soil, arthropods (scorpions, spiders, insects) or reptiles.
The objectives of the environmental impact study, says Méndez-Harclerode, are to establish pre-mining conditions at Canyon Mine; to determine contaminants of potential concern and critical contaminant exposure pathways; and to survey the plants, invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, birds and small mammals to understand the local food web and refine the list of target species for contaminant analysis.