VetsWork: A Fork In The Trail

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As I sit here writing my final blog five days before Christmas, I can’t help but be amazed at how fast this year as a VetsWork AmeriCorps member has passed.  With only a month and some change left in my term, it seems like yesterday I was in Las Vegas receiving the phone call with great news.  What started as a job with little or no experience and only a degree has blossomed into an invaluable learning experience that I am so fortunate to have had.

Not only have I gained more experience in the natural resources field, I have undergone the learning experience that is the federal application and hiring process. Positions have come up here and there that I have applied to through USAJobs.  A quote comes to mind from a forestry graduate student of my school (Southern Illinois University) when I was volunteering to plant native trees in a city park. He said, “It seems like every time I apply to a federal job, it’s always that 100th application that gets through”.  As a student with the dream of work someday, this was rather discouraging. However, as I have learned here, there are people who can vouch for you based on your work ethic, dedication, and integrity; who can make that process less cumbersome and more successful. Although I haven’t yet been picked up for a position, I really get the feeling they care when the Forest Supervisor tells me to add him as a reference, and the Deputy District Ranger asks me if I would share my resume and transcripts.   My point is: they really do look out for you here, and that is a good feeling.

One other bit of good news, and a relief cushion, is my forest has found the funds to keep me on as a VetsWork member for another year—in the event I don’t receive a permanent position.  This is really good news to me because I can continue to build my resume and gain experience without being pinned down with a single, dedicated title.

Since my last blog, I have continued some of the projects I have been working on throughout my internship.  Trail rating has been put on hold at the moment because we bought a tablet to take trail surveys, and they are in the process of putting a program called eTRACS on it.  eTRACS is basically a software tool used to collect trail survey data that can then be uploaded into Natural Resources Manager (NRM or INFRA). This will be used by me on the trail, and my rating spreadsheet will be on the tablet as opposed to a paper version. Although trail rating is on hiatus, that hasn’t kept me out of the woods.  I continue to go out and conduct wilderness monitoring.

Wilderness Monitoring in the Panther's Den Wilderness

Wilderness Monitoring in the Panther’s Den Wilderness

I finished the recreation site analysis project I had been working on during the summer.  Now our INFRA database can be updated with the proper data from each recreation site on the forest.  I also became wildland fire chainsaw certified since my last blog.  This consisted of two days in the class and one in the field to be graded on ability to fell, buck, and limb trees. Although it was really cold that day, I had a great time.  One of the biggest additions to my experience list is working with our Lands Department.  Here I have gained experience in special use permits and easements, inspecting permit sites, and even attended a walk-around on a property that the Forest Service is in the process of purchasing.  It’s really interesting looking through some of the old land documents and microfiche.  Some date back to the late 1800’s when times were simpler and people had a different, yet cordial way of speaking.

In disbelief that this year is almost over, I reflect back on everything I’ve learned and the people I have met. This has been nothing but a good, wholesome experience. Now that I am at the end, I have the chance to do it again, pursue a permanent position, or anything else; that is the fork in my trail.  The sky’s the limit really. I would like to thank everyone here on the Shawnee National Forest for taking me in and being so welcoming, as well as the staff at Mt. Adams Institute for structuring such a great program for us military veterans. Sure some complain about the pay, but the experience both professional and personal make up for a limited budget in so many ways.
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VetsWork: Reflecting On This Year

Mike BishopThe last time I had written one of these blogs I was preparing for my transfer to the Crescent Ranger District in July. Now as I write my final blog of the year, I have less than a month left in the program. It’s gone by fast to say the least. Someone who does not have a passion for natural resource management cannot last in a program as demanding as this one. But, if you do have that passion and can somehow make it to the end, there are ample opportunities for you afterwards.

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Many have already left this program with job offers, some have been made offers afterwards, and others are looking forward to continuing their education in the New Year. If someone were to tell you this program offers nothing but a monthly paycheck below minimum wage, they’d be lying to you. Putting job offers and prospects to the side, this program allowed me to gain invaluable on the job training with the Forest Service. I have acquired new qualifications that only seasoned employees can gain, and yet I have never technically been employed by the federal government. I have been to the majority of all our recreation sites on the forest, while many seasonal employees are usually restricted to working on their designated districts. I have had the opportunity of meeting new people I am happy to call co-workers and friends. I have gained the vast knowledge of the outdoors surrounding my community in Central Oregon. All in all, I come out of this with a better understanding of where I am currently and where I want to go in the future.

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Confidence is the feeling you have before walking into a situation without fully understanding it. When I started this program in February, I knew very little, if anything at all, about what was in store for me and where I was going. As General George Patton said, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week”, and with that aphorism, I went for it. I jumped on an opportunity that looked promising, and I had nothing to rely on but my gut feeling. As I look back at this year, on both professional and personal aspects, this has been a very good year for me. I have surpassed my own self-expectations and come out of this program as a better person.

For future interns of this program, I pass on the same advice I was given when I started that I did not always follow. Take the initiative. Don’t wait for anyone to set goals for you, only you can do that. Don’t be afraid to reach across the hall and befriend a co-worker not in your department, you’ll need them someday. Be very outspoken. General Patton also said “If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking”; you’ll encounter this on a daily basis when working in bureaucracy. Walk in to every situation with confidence, and yet don’t be afraid to ask questions. When given a task to complete, show with proper certainty that you will complete it, look to others for guidance; but the course on how you will achieve it is ultimately yours to form and follow.

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On a closing note, the greatest reward this program has brought me was the reestablished faith in the men and women who served, and who continue to serve this country. After serving in Afghanistan and the years that followed it, I became disenfranchised with the state of our country. I sunk into the same depression that has become an epidemic with our military veterans. We carry a great burden that the rest of society does not. We have been faced with many truths that some will never see in their lifetimes. We are bound to a binding and resilient moral code others are not. The future of this country lies within our veterans. We all have made sacrifices most civilians will choose to never make. Some veterans have left this Earth and can no longer tell their stories. We have an unwritten oath to continue their legacy so they may never be forgotten. It is our responsibility to carry on the fight and make this country a better one for them and for all of us.

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VetsWork: 1000 Hours In and a Month to Go. Finishing Strong.

Verna Gonzales

Over 1000 hours in and we are a little more than one month away from the end of the internship. The summer has been somewhat of a blur, but I am happy to announce that the job search has commenced and a few of those positions have been referred to the hiring manager. Just waiting on the phone call (s)… In the meantime, Tony has in store TONS of back country overnight trips which will test my physical strength, endurance, and definitely the knees.

img_20160707_113647Hells Canyon in early summer with a thunderstorm rolling in.

The views have been amazing and the people I’ve connected with are becoming bittersweet because I know I’ll have to leave soon to pursue my career and education. Let the good times roll, as the song says. I’m working hard, but hardly feel its effects as it is work that I am genuinely enjoying. The training experiences have been phenomenal. One included learning how to restore and repair historic windows.

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The number one most treasured thing about the internship is being able to get a first-hand glimpse at the work involved in this Archeology position with the Forest Service. I can pick and choose the sides I like and the sides I do not like, and am able to make a clearer decision on the next steps I’ll be taking. Today I will be taking steps to help my strength and stamina for next week’s back-country trip (I’m just going on a 2 hour hike after work). Next month I will be taking tons of GIS classes to help grow my knowledge base in the technology needed for this position. Next year I hope to enroll at Adams State University for their Master’s program in Cultural Resource Management.

img_20160824_170505Mormon Flat Cabin Circa estimated early 1900s

My supervisor, Tony, has been an awesome mentor and I cannot thank him enough for putting up with all my questions. Which reminds me, for those future interns: Ask as many questions as you can possibly think of! I’m getting quite comfortable with mapping, the pace and compass method, using GPS technology, and my overall map reading skills have definitely seen some improvement. On the personal side, I was able to receive guests this summer which helped boost my mood ten-fold. Seeing familiar faces and introducing them to a little slice of heaven was definitely needed!

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VetsWork: “The Trail” – Knowing the Forest, Inside & Out

jesse-part

            Last time I wrote, I had mentioned that I was moving on to a more permanent assignment with the U.S. Forest Service that would surely last throughout my AmeriCorps service period. I was to take on a trail difficulty rating project that rated the trails in the Shawnee National Forest for difficulty based on various terrain features. After getting my feet wet at the always busy and popular Garden of the Gods Observation Trail, I moved on to other less-known trails in the 400 mile spider web network of trails in the forest.

            Basically what came next was me pumping these trails out one by one. It got me out of the office and into nature—I love my job. At the beginning of each day I plan what trails I will walk. Some tools I use are: Recreation Opportunity Guides (ROG’s) available to the public, our trails database in Natural Resources Manager (NRM) and Geographic Information System (GIS). With these guides and programs I can see where the trails are, the topography of the area, how long the trails are and other features I may encounter like streams and scenic overlooks. I always like to make maps of each trail I walk in GIS to take with me to the field. These maps have accurate contour lines that I can compare to my handheld GPS. This has proven to be very useful because some of these trails aren’t well-blazed and you can get turned around relatively easy, especially in the middle of summer when the vegetation is thick.

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A map I made in ArcGIS of Garden of the Gods Recreation Area. As you can see, the roads are black, the trails are red, and there are waypoints marked via my handheld GPS on the observation trail. This was my first trail mapped and rated. It received an “easy” difficulty rating.


Some Extra Duties

             My trail rating project continued to go strong and still is. I was walking trails basically every day through the late spring and into summer. However, I was about to be given a change of scenery. Aside from the difficulty rating I was performing on these trails, there was another optional portion that had not yet been talked about. This other portion was to conduct wilderness monitoring. We finally began talking about it and a meeting was scheduled with the forest’s wilderness technician to go over what had to be done and the procedures involved. We have seven Federal designated wilderness areas in the Shawnee that make up roughly 10% of the forest. I was given some sheets that I would bring with me into the wilderness to record data. Some of this data includes solitude monitoring like how many hikers or equestrians are encountered in what period of time. Overall condition of campsites and equestrian high line areas are recorded. Any mark left by man is noted. I also monitor exotic plant species in these areas. This area is very prone to species such as, autumn olive, Japanese honeysuckle, garlic mustard, Japanese stiltgrass, and microstegium. The presence of these plants are recorded, and in cases where there are small patches, I pull them up in an attempt to eradicate. I tagged along with the wilderness tech to monitor Bald Knob Wilderness. We went in on the Lyerle trail, cut across to what is known locally as the VW trail (because of the old VW in the middle of the woods) and finally to the Godwin Trail. She showed me the ropes and how to fill out the data sheets then turned me loose on my own to monitor any wilderness areas I came in contact with during my normal trail rating work. Since then I’ve monitored Garden of the Gods, Lusk Creek, Panther Den and Bay Creek Wilderness areas.

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            As summer peaked the temps were getting up there. It seems like we went through several heat waves where the heat indices would top 105 degrees. Basically it was miserable and sometimes dangerous being on the trail. The humidity is atrocious in Southern Illinois and there is a spider web about every ten feet. Spider webs don’t come out of beards very easily. Conveniently, another job came up. Our recreation department had been short-handed, and they were approaching their end of August deadline to have their rec site analysis completed. I gladly took the job because it got me out of the heat for the most part. I drove around Southern Illinois to all 78 rec sites in the Shawnee and inventoried everything from signs to wheel stops and noted their condition. Not only was this an escape from the heat, it was a great learning experience. I now know my way around this forest like a champ!

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A view from the Mississippi River bottom towards Inspiration Point atop LaRue Pine Hills.

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A view from Inspiration Point overlooking the Mississippi River bottoms

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I couldn’t pass up this photo op of an old barn sitting in a soybean field at the base of LaRue Pine Hills.


Some Heritage Activities

            In June the Shawnee National Forest welcomed a group of middle school-aged kids and their chaperones for the “More Native Kids in the Woods” program. These children and adults are actual descendants of the Shawnee Native Americans that once inhabited this area. They were here for a week and we showed them places like Garden of the Gods, Rim Rock, Hutchins Creek for a fish shocking and collecting exercise and the Cache River on a canoe float trip where we got to witness the state champion bald cypress.

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The Illinois state champion baldcypress (Taxodium distichum var. distichum). At 100 feet tall and 43 feet in circumference, this giant was here for the birth of our country and is estimated to be over 1200 years old. Located in the Cache River wetlands. Southern Illinois is the northern-most range of native cypress/tupelo swamps.


            This has certainly been an action-packed summer full of learning opportunities and new experiences. I look forward to more opportunities to learn new skills and get as much experience under my belt as I can. I have come to learn that the people I work with don’t view me as another body to get work done. Instead, they realize the purpose of this internship as the skill and experience-building tool that it is meant to be and they all work hard to offer as many learning opportunities to me as they can. For that I am grateful. Now as summer slowly draws to an end and the days start getting cooler and the spiders cease to spin their webs, the trail, in all its solitude and natural beauty, once again calls my name. Where will it lead me next? That is what I am excited to find out.

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Public Lands Stewards: “To Adventure Is To Find Yourself Whole”

 

Erica Bingham

Let me just come right out and say it—my time as a member of Mt. Adams Institute’s (MAI) Public Lands Stewards (PLS) program, hands down, has been the best experience of my life. There are still eight weeks left and every expectation I had has already been surpassed. I came here looking to discover a career path and ended up discovering things about myself I had never known. I have let go of my anxiety, stepped out of my comfort zone and allowed myself to become fully immersed in every aspect of this AmeriCorps program. I am finally living the life I have always wanted for myself. My time here has been such an incredible adventure, it is hard for me to put into words all of the different things I’ve experienced and learned. I am hoping that these pictures will allow you to get a glimpse of the extraordinary journey I have had the privilege of being on over the past four months.

This summer, I have been lucky to call the beautiful shrub-steppe of the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge (CNWR) my home.

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This is the first time positions as Refuge Technicians have been offered at CNWR, through the Public Lands Stewards program. Therefore, my fellow coworker Jack and I like to think of ourselves not as refuge technicians, but rather, refuge pioneers.


FYKE NETTING

The Northern Leopard Frog is a threatened species in the West and will potentially be reintroduced to CNWR. In order to determine possible threats to the Northern Leopard Frog, a huge part of our time has been spent setting fyke nets in various ponds to establish which species are already living in the water systems on the refuge.

Deciding the locations for the nets allows us to explore and get to the know ins and outs of the refuge.

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Each evening we set two nets in four locations.

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In the morning we empty each net into a bucket and count and record every individual species that was caught. This is an example of what one of our net catches looks like.

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Carp, pumpkinseed sunfish, yellow perch and bullfrogs are the most common non-native or invasive species that we catch. Just the other day, we caught over 5,000 pumpkinseed sunfish at one location! Tree frogs, painted turtles, sculpin, and tiger salamanders are among the native species that we often come across in our nets.

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“Sculpin”

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“Tiger Salamander”

Occasionally we get to travel down to Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge to work with two other PLS members, whose mission is to protect the endangered Oregon Spotted frog (like the one I am holding below) by using fyke nets to remove invasive species.

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ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS

Several times throughout the summer, I had the opportunity to assist with environmental education programs. One week, the Hey Kids summer program came to CNWR and I was able to help children and young adults establish a connection with nature. I taught them how to properly use binoculars, bird watching techniques, how to identify native plants, and introduced them to some local species.

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INVASIVE PLANT MAPPING AND INVASIVE WEED ABATEMENT

It’s funny, but spending time this summer mapping and terminating invasive plants and weeds, has actually sparked within me a newfound interest for plants. Since these experiences, I have developed a new hobby as I became fascinated with identifying and learning about various wildflowers, shrubs, and trees.

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“Invasive plant mapping on Saddle Mountain using GIS systems”

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“Invasive weed abatement along the White Salmon River”

Here, I am holding a species of Indigo Bush. This is considered invasive because native species are outcompeted by it as it forms dense thickets in prairies and along rivers.

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FENCE REMOVAL

This was one of our first assignments. The physical labor not only built character, it built muscles I would end up needing for future projects!

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INJURED WILDLIFE RESCUES

Often times people report an injured animal and either the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will be called out to rescue the animal and transport it to a wildlife rehabilitation center. I had the opportunity to assist with the rescue of this Swainson’s Hawk pictured below.

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SANDHILL CRANE BANDING

This was definitely one of my favorite projects. Working that closely with such a majestic species gives you a very gratify feeling and I am just so thankful to have been included in such an amazing event.

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Other opportunities I participated in, that I unfortunately have no pictures of to share with you, included: Washington ground squirrel monitoring, nighttime bullfrog hunts, a boat tour of the White Bluffs Scenic Area and Hanford Reach National Monument, and a ride-along with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service federal wildlife officer. I told you I have experienced A LOT!! And that isn’t even including all of the things I did during my free time on the weekends! Let’s see I’ve also: explored two major cities, Seattle and Portland; hiked to 5 different waterfalls throughout Washington and Oregon; cliff jumped into Punchbowl Falls; saw a concert at the Gorge Amphitheatre which overlooks the beautiful Columbia River; camped in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and along the Klickitat River; and, one of my greatest accomplishments, climbed Mt. Adams to about 10,200 ft. in elevation.

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None of this could have been possible, however, without the encouragement and support from the MAI staff and my fellow PLS members, who I now am honored to call great friends. In just four short months, I have formed friendships and bonds that I know I will carry with me the rest of my life.

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I’m not quite sure what the next chapter of my life will look like. I may land a job in a conservation related field. I may apply to a federal law enforcement academy to become a park ranger. I may even go back to school to pursue a Master’s degree. Whatever it is though, I am certain I will succeed. Mt. Adams Institute and AmeriCorps have given me all the experiences, tools, and confidence I need to achieve anything I set my mind to. They are an extraordinary organization that I am so incredibly grateful I got to be a part of. Thank you MAI!

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VetsWork: “A Year of Reflection, Clarity and growth”

 

Brian Cummings

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Maxwell Lake trail, beautiful country

This year so far has been amazing. I have had the opportunity to go on adventures I have always dreamed of doing. Thankfully, I am literally living the dream.

One of the most exciting highlights so far, I had the opportunity to reside in a Guard Station in the Lostine River Corridor on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest for a couple months. It was a great time and setting for reflection and also close to trails.

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Guard station in Lostline River Cooridor

Over the duration of this internship I’ve had a great learning experience. The last two months or so I am actually applying the skills I have learned and it’s coming together like a jigsaw puzzle. It is exciting and I can’t wait to hopefully do this permanently.

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Marking boundary for Cold Canal timber sale

Over the course of the internship I have learned and have become qualified in a number of skills; wildland firefighting (Red Carded) marking trees and setting/marking boundary for timber sales in accordance of a prescription. I have even got into taking technical Pre-Cruise plots for stands for inventory purposes. Hope to keep learning and soak it up like a sponge. It is amazing how much I have learned and applied since I started this journey.

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Picture of Fire school at Mt. Emily

The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest is so diverse and vast. It is mind boggling how one side of the Forest is Hells Canyon and the other corner you have an Alpine forest. I find myself extremely lucky for this opportunity.

In conclusion, I am looking forward to the rest of my adventure. Hope to gain more experience and skills to help pursue my career in Forestry. I really feel this internship has helped me with skills and finding connections that will help me achieve my goal of a career in Forest or Recreation Management. I am excited for the future and what it holds.

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VetsWork: Stewardship Planning for Forested Land Owners & Hügelkultur Gardens in King County!

Jarret Griesemer

Since my last blog, a lot of great things have been happening at the King Conservation District (better known as KCD or ‘the District’). Within the last few weeks my co-worker Michael and I have gotten the go-ahead to officially start providing rural forest health management services to private forest landowners in King County. This means that for any private landowners with 1 to up to 5 acres of forest on their property, we will help them develop a forest stewardship plan in addition to helping to provide services to promote good stewardship, whether that be cost-share through the District or technical assistance. This is important work as these individual stewardship plans benefit our communities as a whole similar to how individual wildfire protection plans can reduce the threat of large fires that can potentially destroy communities.

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Well over a year of planning work has gone into our program since conception so that we can provide a high quality product to our customers. Michael and I have gone on several site visits so far and we are in the process of developing our first forest stewardship plan.

Our urban forest health management program is well into the 2016 implementation phase with the cities of Shoreline, Snoqualmie and Bothell. Shoreline is having several public forested open spaces assessed for forest health, resulting in a health assessment report for each. Snoqualmie and Bothell have both already received similar assessments and associated reports. All cities will be provided a stewardship plan to help manage the forest stands assessed. I am working hand-in-hand with my colleague, Elizabeth, to complete these plans so that each city has a high quality guide for forest stewardship well into the future. Over the coming months we will be helping each city set up on-the-ground stewardship events with volunteers and restoration crews.

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Picture: American Forest Management crew, urban forester for Snoqualmie, KCD forestry team
before first forest health assessments in Snoqualmie.

The Friends of North Creek Forest (Friends) recently received an award for a partnership for 4 weeks’ worth of Puget Sound Corps commitment for ecological restoration in North Creek Forest in Bothell. Sound Corps is a Washington Conservation Corps restoration crew with Washington Department of Natural Resources (WA DNR). North Creek Forest is a 64 acre forested stand owned by the city of Bothell and stewarded by Friends in partnership with KCD. Friends, with technical assistance from KCD, completed the application for this partnership with WA DNR and submitted earlier in June. The work done by this crew will provide much need invasive species eradication within the forest.

In addition to all the great progress we are making with our new forestry team at KCD, I am also coordinating an urban agriculture project as part of my community action project for my Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork AmeriCorps program. With the help of volunteers and permaculture enthusiasts we will be building a hügelkultur raised garden bed at a community garden site called City Soil here in Renton. Hügelkultur is basically the use of decaying wood and other organic material to build raised mounds that provides more surface area for growing crops than a traditional garden bed. This design significantly reduces the amount of irrigation needed over time and provides an abundance of nutrients for healthy soil and productive crop growth. To date, we have acquired the wood through donation and are in the process of organizing volunteer dates to build the garden bed. Success of this project will help us advocate for hügelkultur garden beds as a viable option for installation on challenging urban sites. All produce from the project will be donated to local food banks.

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I’m excited for the latter half of the internship to turn into a lot of results on-the-ground, making all of the in-office planning and coordination a huge success all-around.

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VetsWork: Seize the Opportunity

Shannin Purtell Header

Being a part of AmeriCorps and Mt. Adams Institute’s VetsWork Program is something that is hard to explain. There is just so much that you learn from being a part of it that you could write for hours and not give the reader a full grasp of what you are trying to communicate to them. Just like the military, the VetsWork Program puts you into a vast and complex organization with many different specialists in multiple fields.

I have written six different articles, all trying to explain my experience with my service site, the Ouachita National Forest through the VetsWork program. With every one of them, I found myself trailing off into the history and the work that has been put into our National Forests. I realized for me to try and describe my experience with VetsWork I would have to write a book about it just to get close. I’m not an author.

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I’ve always enjoyed being outdoors and learning about different subjects. Local history, why the land formed like it did, and how they estimate the volume of trees in the forest are some of the questions that I would find myself asking. With the VetsWork Program, I fell into a vast wealth of knowledgeable resources, which are the employees of the Forest Service.

Every employee that I have encountered enjoys the profession they are in. I wouldn’t be stretching the truth by saying that they have a passion for their job in one way or another. Firefighters, archeologists, recreation technicians, timber markers, and the administration all have a desire to protect and maintain our national forests.  They always place the forest first and they take pride in seeing their handiwork.

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Through my internship, I get to accompany the many different employees. They all have different stories to tell, and information to pass along. So much in fact, I’m lucky to remember a quarter of what they instruct me on.   I only wish I could retain all the material they have passed along to me. The many years that they have spent working in the Forest Service have made them into subject matter experts in their unique roles. If you have a question for someone that doesn’t know the answer, they know someone who should be able to answer it for you. The range of knowledge possessed within the Forest Service is like a devoted library for practically everything outdoors. From wildlife management to prehistoric site preservation, they oversee and protect it. So that the landowners of the National Forests, the citizens of the United States, may enjoy the forests for generations to come.

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If you have any interest in the outdoors, or if you think that you would like to be part of the Forest Service, I implore you to participate in the VetsWork Program. The knowledge at your fingertips is unequaled. The people you will meet are unparalleled. The experience is one that you will remember for a lifetime.

Here is a short video of some of the former VetsWork Program participants talking about their experiences and the program. I hope you seize the opportunity to join the VetsWork family.

[youtube height=”HEIGHT” width=”WIDTH”]PLACE_LINK_HERE[/youtube]

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VetsWork: Battle for Bats!

Matthew Carrell Header

We caught bats today! Well, tonight.

I’ve always enjoyed watching the bats in the evening as the day turns to dusk and their silhouette flashes between the trees. Their agility to catch a flying insect belittles the most advanced fighter pilot in a dog fight.

I’ve had two unfortunate encounters with the flying fur balls. The first I’ll speak of was when I was in maybe 7th or 8th grade. It was the middle of the night at my parents’ Victorian style home in Indiana. My mother wakes up in her bedroom to the cat’s head swiveling in a circle, around and around. She looks up and sees a bat circling the bed. She yelled and before my father knew what happened, he woke up, they both left the room and slammed the door, leaving the cat to fend for itself. Mother had the window open for fresh air while sleeping, and when father peeked back in the room he did not see the cat. Assuming that the cat must have went out the window and onto the porch roof, he throws on the first thing he finds which happens to be a suit coat, grabs the ladder, and heads to the front of the house. By now I’m wondering what all the commotion is and find my sister is awake and crying about the cat, mother is yelling at father to find some pants to put on because boxers and a suit coat is not appropriate for climbing on the roof at midnight to save a cat. Once sister explained the situation to me, I went back to my room, grabbed my BB gun and returned to the bedroom door. As soon as I propped open the door and pulled the BB gun up to sight level, my father (on the roof) looks through the window and yells at me to not shoot the BB gun in the house. I was already pulling back on the trigger and fired a single shot dead center of the bat. Casually, I walked back to my bedroom and went back to sleep, leaving my family silent in their moment.

My second run in with mythical creature was in the same house but down the hall in the bathroom. Thankfully I looked before I sat. Somehow a bat had trapped itself in the toilet. It must have been going in for a drink and the porcelain was too smooth for the bat to grip. Without much thought, I put the seat down and asked dad for his opinion on what to do with this flying devil mouse. We both pondered the situation for a minute or two. We were both afraid to lift the seat and risk the attack of the creature. I slowly reached for the toilet lever. I half expected Dad to verbally arrest my advance. He did not. And the poor thing went down to the underworld forever.

Fortunately, my most recent encounter was not as tragic and much more informative. Mist netting allows us to safely catch many different species of bat in a large flat net, like a bunch of volleyball nets lining the poles from top to bottom. The nets allow most bugs to fly through it but the bat is too big. Once caught we would measure and take statistical data on them and release them back into the night. Before my internship at the Hoosier National Forest, I did not have much knowledge of bats. I knew of a few different species and their echolocation abilities, and that if you see one that looks sick, not to touch it. I did not know of the white nose infection of the Indiana bat, or how many different types of bat there are in just Indiana, or the mystery of their evolution. In just one netting session, I have found a new appreciation for the frightening little mammals. They are the only sustained flight mammals, which give me hope that one day humans will grow wings and fly.

One of the focuses for this survey was the Indiana bat and White Nose Syndrome. In North America, there are 7 species of bat affected by White Nose Syndrome, of which, the Grey Bat and the Indiana Bat are endangered. White Nose is a fungus that lives in the cool dark caves, the same that hibernating bats like. The syndrome disorients the bats and they come out of hibernation too early and it’s believed that this uses their fat stores at a rapid rate and they essentially starve. The fungus is presumed to be spread from bat to bat and by humans traveling and visiting the caves.

It was hard to capture many good pictures as most of the work was done at night and the little buggers don’t like to sit still. Here’s a video made for the Forest Service explaining White Nose Syndrome.

Battle For Bats: Surviving White Nose Syndrome from Ravenswood Media on Vimeo.

VetsWork: “A Mix of Work and Play. It is All Adventure.”

David Blair

The middle section of my service term has been a nice little ride. Getting out in the field more to do trails and recreation projects has been a lot of fun. As the snow melted I got to see and help work on some of the higher elevation sites like getting the Cascade Peaks Info Station ready for opening.

One of the great opportunities has been getting my hands dirty with the trail crew. I’ve gotten to see some beautiful areas on Mt. St. Helens and then also had the chance to take volunteers out on several projects to do trail work.

The latest recreation project I had a hand in was helping to mix and pour concrete along with setting posts for the installation of boot brush stations at Ape Cave. They will play an important role in helping to keep White Nose Syndrome out of the cave by decontaminating visitor footwear before they enter and after they exit the cave. Hopefully this action will prevent White Nose Syndrome from contaminating Ape Cave and will keep any bats in the cave healthy.

Some other highlights include:

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Artwork: In July I helped lead 12 elementary students for an overnight Volcano Camp. It was a really great experience. I got to lead the kids on hikes, a GPS scavenger hunt and assist with many other great activities. As part of the camp the kids had Arts and Crafts time. In the first project each child was given a piece of a picture relating to Mt. St. Helens and asked to paint it. The painted fragments from each child’s artwork will now be pieced together like a puzzle and displayed for all to see. The second project had the kids painting picture frames to display their group picture from camp. These they got to take home for the memories.

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Trashcano: As a parting experience from the Volcano Camp our campers got to experience Trashcano. I simulated a volcanic explosion using a trashcan, liquid nitrogen and water balloons. This was the highlight of the weekend and all the kids enjoyed throwing around any water balloons that didn’t break.

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Mountain Goat: Saw this mountain goat on a hike up the Sleeping Beauty trail. A great example of the wildlife that exists in our forests. Mountain Goats returned to Mt. St. Helens seven years after the eruption. Since then they have grown to a sizeable number as the regrowth on Mt. St. Helens continues.

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Rafting: One of the highlights of mine was whitewater rafting during our July Quarterly Training. Never having rafted before I was really excited. With such a big raft it was a team effort to paddle in the right direction and navigate the rapids. I plan to do more rafting in the future and maybe even purchase a kayak.

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VetsWork: “It’s the people’s forest, we just manage it”

Mike Bishop

As I departed Sisters this past Monday to start working in Crescent, I thought about all the people I’ve encountered and the experiences I’ve gathered since I first started this internship in February. I have gained more invaluable lessons in the first five months than I had gained in one season working for the Maryland State Parks. Splitting up my time between the Sisters and Crescent Ranger Districts has allowed me to gain twice the amount of knowledge and experience.

Three Creek Lake

The agency’s Special Uses program authorizes uses on National Forest System (NFS) land providing a benefit to the general public and protecting public and natural resources values. Currently, there are over 74,000 authorizations on the NFS lands for over 180 types of uses.

Sisters Stampede, over 500 mountain biker race under special use permit

When I started the internship in February I was handed the task of reissuing multiple land use permits on the District. The expired permits included multiple uses such as access roads to private property, signs, water spring systems, research studies, waste transfer stations, clubs, a church and a cabin encroachment. The land use feature of Special Uses has been by far the most enjoyable aspect of my work. My motto has always been it’s the people’s forest, we (the Forest Service) just manage it. It is possible to have a multitude of various user experiences on the forest through due diligence and plenty of NEPA (the National Environment Policy Act).

Spring near Canyon Creek

During my time on the Sisters Ranger District, I was able to successfully reissue over twenty expired permits. Along with the expired land use permits reissuance, I was also given the opportunity to process and monitor recurring recreation event permits along with a brand new outfitter and guide permit and still photography permit. It is very rewarding to be able to help individuals or businesses develop their ideas into fruition.

Metolius River

As a Special Uses administrator, through constant contact with your permit holders and by sorting through correspondence paperwork and documents in files that sometimes date back over 75 years or more, you gain a significant awareness of the historical nature and importance of the position. It is a unique and vital puzzle piece of the entire agency. I have been very humbled and privileged to have been part of the Special Uses program on the Deschutes National Forest.

Welcome Sign near D Wight Observatory

Smokey Bear

Odell Lake, outside of Crescent

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VetsWork: “Welcome to the Wild Side!”

Kyle Davies

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Elk are nature’s version of loiterers. Always hanging around.

I’ve seen a lot of things in my life. The sun getting blotted out by a sandstorm, a river swallowing a tank and a whole line of cars sliding downhill on a sheet of ice to name a few. I’ve learned to keep a careful eye on nature. The truly troubling thing about nature is that it keeps track of us as well. I’m going to show you some of nature’s watchers.

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Just because you can’t see him doesn’t mean he doesn’t see you.

First up is the sneaky lizard. He is rather subtle in his observation habits. I was able to obtain this photo while doing fence inventory in the Upper Imnaha area. It was a day of dodging rattlesnakes and climbing steep hills to make this photo happen. You probably can’t see it, but he had a clear glint of amusement in his eyes as he watched me. Next is the combined air and water watcher.

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Air or water there is no cover from the watchful eyes of these ducks.

These can be found patrolling the local water developments in the Chesnimnus Allotment. While some people in city parks try bribing them with food I would not recommend trying it out in their native habitats. I knew a man that lost a whole arm to a hungry duck out in the wild. They also like to use ducklings as bait to lure in the unwary. I would say approach with caution, but it’s far safer not to approach at all. The one good thing about ducks is that they make a lot of noise when moving fast so you at least have some warning to hightail it. The next one doesn’t share that reassuring trait.

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Chipmunks, nature’s stealth missiles.

They are among the smallest of nature’s observers, but should not be underestimated. When necessary they are able to move with a speed that must be seen to be believed. A chipmunk could be 50 feet away and then you blink and its only 25 feet away. They put horror movie monsters to shame in terms of unnatural speed. If you ever find yourself pursued by one make sure that you have someone with you that runs slower than you do. Also a light dusting of nuts to enhance your decoy is a good idea.

When out in nature make sure to keep an eye out. It is beautiful, but it is also perilous out there in the wild. You can be sure that there is always something out there keeping an eye on you.

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VetsWork: “The Right Stuff”

Michael McGraw

Tbe Right Stuff. Yes, I have borrowed this title from Tom Wolfe’s recounting of NASA’s first astronauts in the U.S. space program. While I may not have the qualities and characteristics described by Wolfe as needed to be a NASA astronaut, I have found another government agency where I might have The Right Stuff required for success.

1In a flight suit and getting ready to go up in the air, but not to space

Working in the VetsWork Environment program with the Forest Service has afforded me the opportunity to pursue my passions and apply my abilities in a fruitful manner towards objectives I consider more than worthwhile. While working on projects to manage our public lands I’ve been able to research, analyze, and write in varying ways to help complete Forest Service projects. There have been opportunities for me to interact with the public by receiving their input and feedback so we could design projects in the best possible way.

3The view from atop Eagle Cap summit

But one of the biggest positives in this experience so far has been the people I’ve had a chance to work with and for in the Forest Service. They have allowed me to take on these responsibilities and roles without hesitation, which have contributed to me developing a knowledge base in the natural resource field. This has absolutely been one of the key aspects contributing to having such a positive and beneficial experience in this program. It is this trust and mentorship I’ve received that now positions me to use my skills and newly acquired knowledge to move forward with a career in the natural resource field.

2Being part of a team

I am most grateful for this present opportunity and try to take advantage of everything it provides. I am excited for what the future holds, and I will always remember where this path started. I have no doubt that this path I have chosen is the right way forward. It is full of The Right Stuff.

4Taking a break while running through the Eagle Cap

 

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