Greetings, welcome to the concise memoir of Patrick Ford, an AmeriCorps intern at the Andrew Pickens Ranger District (AP). Continue Reading…
I served in the United States Air Force (Active Duty) for four years and the United States Air Force (Reserves) for two years. I’ve always had aspirations to “pay it forward” by giving back to the country that has given me so much. Continue Reading…
Brandon Mersich here with my 2nd blog update on the Malheur National Forest’s recreation position. Continue Reading…
When I started my journey of finding my way after serving in the Navy at the end of 2016, I had no idea the adventure I embarked on was going to be so developmental in my future career in environmental conservation. Continue Reading…
Some people are good at marketing, landscaping, masonry, finance, etc., and some people are good at communication, organization and all things administrative. Hello, my name is Heather Vaughan. I entered the VetsWork AmeriCorps program in April of 2016 in conjunction with my retirement from the Air Force. The program supported my transition back into the civilian world and was a wonderful catalyst for career transitioning. During the last 15 years of my military career I had been in an office the majority of the time, doing shift work, as required by my jobs. The VetsWork internship sounded like a good opportunity to break away from the desk and return to nature and the outdoor experience I had grown to miss. I underestimated just how outdoorsy it would require me to be though. The daily tick checks and hornet scares definitely put a damper on my desire to go hiking and exploring during my own personal time. And, to my surprise, I missed the office. I missed planning and organizing for events, interacting with people, and generally helping out through the administrative skills I had gained over a lifetime. Luckily my supervisor and Mt. Adams Institute program coordinator recognized that I was much more of an asset manned with a computer and telephone than I was with a Pulaski and radio.
The internship gave me a great perspective about what I’m good at; communicating with the public, planning, and organizing. Of course I could be good at surveying, trail maintenance, fire suppression support and all the recreation technician jobs the forestry has to offer, but I prefer to work at something that comes natural to me. That is why I was very happy to take a job as a customer service representative for the Forest Service. Advocating for the environment while assisting the public is right up my alley and the VetsWork internship really allowed me to explore other career options while still being true to my skill set. Not everyone has to be a fire fighter or recreation tech. I’m very happy with a new career in which I will still be able to enjoy nature at my leisure and engage with the public on behalf of the environment. This last year I learned, and wanted to share with others, that you need to be true to your character, recognize what you enjoy doing, and just go for it.
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.
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.
1. I directly supported forest health assessments on 806 acres.
Forests dominate much of the King County landscape, covering two-thirds of the land area. – King County Rural Forest Commission
Forest health assessment for private forest landowner.
2. I helped to develop stewardship plans that will place approximately 1,020 acres of public land under active stewardship in Snoqualmie, Bothell, and Shoreline.
About 619,000 acres of forestland in King County are in public ownership. – King County Rural Forest Commission
Community volunteer at forest restoration event in Snoqualmie, WA.
3. In a little over 10 months, I helped 3 rural forest landowners to complete comprehensive forest management plans. This will place 5 more acres under active forest management, adding to the over 16,600 acres already participating in King County’s Forestry Program.
There are over 6,000 small forest landowners with holdings of four acres or larger and thousands more who own “backyard forests” on smaller lots. – King County Rural Forest Commission
4. I educated 351 community members and students about environmental topics, including forest health and restoration, for a total of 1,382 hours.
The three greatest threats to native biodiversity in King County (and most places) are development and associated fragmentation and loss of habitat, invasive species, and climate change (not necessarily in that order). – King County
5. I worked with community volunteers to install 2 Hügelkultur garden mounds that will provide 400 square feet of community garden space.
As a growing portion of the urban open space network, community gardens and gardeners are contributing to land preservation, access to open space, and sustainable uses of usually otherwise vacant land. – University of Washington
Picture Quiz – Can you guess if it’s an Urban or Backcountry Forest?
Urban forests in King County are beautiful and often times indistinguishable from backcountry forests. Answers at the bottom.
1. One is from the City of Snoqualmie and one is from the Olympic National Forest. Which is urban forest?
2. One is from the City of Bothell and one is from the Olympic National Forest. Which is urban forest?
3. One is from the City of Redmond and one is from the Olympic National Forest. Which is urban forest?
4. One is from the City of Seattle and one is from the Dome Valley in New Zealand. Which is urban forest?
ANSWERS: (1) A (2) A (3) B (4) B
I recently had the amazing opportunity to spend two weeks in sunny California…for work! My AmeriCorps Public Lands Stewards position at the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery involves Latino outreach and Spanish/English translations, and what better place to research bilingual outreach than southern California? My wonderful supervisor, Julia, worked with a couple of Fish and Wildlife employees and partners in CA to set up my trip. The main goal of the trip was to gain exposure to well-established bilingual programming and apply what I learned to future bilingual programs at the Hatchery. I could write a novel about all of the neat things I learned and cool people I met on my trip, but I’ll just give you the highlights…
My trip began in Monterey, CA. While there, I spent two days shadowing educators at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I got to see programs for a variety of ages, from preschool through high school. I especially enjoyed watching the preschool programs. Preschoolers are great to work with, because everything you tell them absolutely blows their minds. Aquarium staff introduced the preschoolers to different ocean habitats and the creatures that live in those “homes.” The kids got to see (and sometimes touch) different plants and animals that live in coastal habitats, and it was amazing for me to see the wonder in their eyes and their excitement at feeling a slimy kelp leaf or a rough abalone shell. The best part about this preschool program was that it was entirely bilingual. Most of the students were learning Spanish at home and English at school, so the aquarium staff smoothly switched between the two languages to help the kids learn new vocabulary in both English and Spanish. I plan to use this style of interpretation in future tours that I give at the Hatchery!
After enjoying a few days with the otters and beaches of Monterey, it was time for the next leg of my trip–San Diego! I spent a week exploring the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex and learning about the challenges faced by urban wildlife refuges. The Complex consists of three urban refuges, and each refuge faces its own unique set of challenges.
The San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is entirely surrounded by the city of San Diego and the San Diego Bay. The site is an important place for migratory birds, but the refuge’s proximity to a large city can make it challenging to maintain a healthy, natural ecosystem.
Tijuana Slough NWR is close to the border with Mexico along the Tijuana River. This refuge is situated between two large cities–San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico. Both nature and pollutants do not recognize international borders, so the refuge is affected by both. Because Mexico and the United States have different environmental policies, it can be difficult to manage this type of refuge without communication and cooperation on both sides of the border.
The third refuge in the Complex is the San Diego NWR. This is a large, noncontiguous refuge outside of the city. San Diego NWR has many access points, making it difficult for staff to enforce NWR regulations and monitor trail usage.
My trip to San Diego taught me that urban refuge management must focus on managing the people that impact the refuge and not just the plants and animals on the refuge itself. My experience at the San Diego Refuge Complex has inspired me to seek future employment in the urban refuge system.
I feel lucky that I had the chance to experience so many interesting things on my trip. I want to send a HUGE thank-you to my supervisor and all of the other people who helped make this trip happen!
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
The summer field season has been a blur of activity, and although I have periodically checked up on other blogs, composing my next contribution to the Mt. Adams blog has been one of the furthest things from my mind. In consideration of these facts, I present to you a photo blog of heritage work on the Monongahela National Forest.
The final photos are before and after shots of a project I had the opportunity of leading. Although it’s nearly impossible to choose a favorite project of the summer, this vegetation cleanup project was hands down the most fulfilling. Not only did this put to active use the chainsaw training I had received earlier in the summer, it also provided a unique partnership opportunity with a group that has opposed other aspects of forest service work in the region.
In other words, we did not let our difference of opinions preclude us from working together on common goals. Although this is wisdom that can always bear repeating, it seems even timelier given the current political climate in the country, and was definitely heartening to me. Now with just over three months left in my internship, it’s time to see about turning these experiences into a job.
The first advice my supervisor ever gave me was to “Never separate yourself from your food”. While I attributed this partly to her being six months pregnant, I didn’t give it much thought until we made a quick trip to Linville Falls, which turned into a four hour endeavor including a waterfall hike. I probably could have enjoyed the scenic route a lot more if I had taken more than almonds and wasn’t hangry. Needless to say, I quickly developed a habit of always having food on my person for the day-to-day adventures the internship took me on.
Painting land lines with a back pack full of snacks.
Painting landlines, doing trail maintenance, and all the other responsibilities that came along with making the forest people friendly felt like drudgery the first few months. And I will say that I had a major hang-up at the beginning of my internship with the majority of the work being done so that people would have more and easier access to Federal land. But I learned everything we did was to keep people from destroying what they eagerly wanted to see; waterfalls, overlooks, wilderness, etc. All those functions of mowing, brushing, blazing, and weed-eating made for wider trails, foot bridges, and the maintained campsites that helped guide the community into the areas that they would create the least impact on the environment.
Old Catawba Falls crossing
New Catawba Falls footbridge
My fellow forest service members have talked about how, probably because of social media, the amount of people coming into the forest has increased dramatically in the last few years. This is good and bad. People want to connect with nature, share it with their children, but at the same time it’s hard to practice Leave No Trace when you have to step off the trail to let a family of 10 pass you by. It’s all about making a sustainable ecotourism environment, though. If people are not connected with nature then they are not going to support it…which in the long run means bye-bye funding. This has been a very important lesson for me. So I decided not to kick everyone out of the woods and after a long summer of campground maintenance, trash collection and mowing, I am happy to share the notion that everyone should be in the forest. People NEED to experience it for their own well-being and the investment future generations can help make in it.
Hopefully after my internship I can continue to support the interaction between communities and their environments in the most economical and conservative way.
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.
Hells 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.
Historic Window Training
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.
Mormon 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!
Perhaps it’s true that time, akin to Siddhartha’s eponymously patient river, ever flows in some boundless, ineffable cycle. Certainly, we find ourselves at a happy confluence, a coda in a different key, a second meeting made possible by the lambent glow of screens, the busy flurry of electrons, and the abstruse tangles of coding. Hello again, friends near, far, and yet unmet. I write to you as steam curls slowly upwards from a fresh cup of coffee and a steady October rain patters softly over Columbia National Wildlife Refuge outside Othello, Washington.
Here, under clouds of bruised pearl, sagebrush and stone form broad character strokes over a rugged canvas carved by the unfathomable wrath of the ancient Missoula floods. Bold umber buttes rise in sheer columns, looming over the golden grassed landscape yet dwarfed in turn by an unending arc of storm ridden horizon. The sky is its own country, fraught with cumulonimbus titans that billow and clash and swirl like the chaotic pallet of an artist in love with the color grey. The beauty of Columbia Refuge is in the severity of its features, in the stark lines of migrating birds, the lonesome song of coyotes calling through the canyons in the gathering dusk, and the broken bones of bare basalt that thrust forth from the earth.
With the dwindling days of the field season I plant native willows whose boughs will one-day bend to trail in the rippled rills that meander in the refuge low lands. The restoration of native trees and shrubs will improve habitat for the wealth of fauna that resides at Columbia; indeed, the lilting cries of marshland birds urge on excavations and swell in lullabies for roots newly nestled in silty soil. The labor is ongoing, but when completed, more than three thousand plants will have found new homes, each serving as a small benediction to the roughhewn grace of an ecosystem I have grown to cherish.
The native plant propagation program at Columbia is but one of several ecological projects and studies I have had the honor to participate in during my tenure with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Even as I write of it, my term as a Public Lands Steward with the Mt. Adams Institute is rapidly drawing to a close, the hours passing like so many autumn leaves falling from a wet black branch. I began my AmeriCorps position months ago with a simple idea, and should you attend to nothing else amidst my maudlin ramblings, faithful reader, mark this well, for it is important, and as close to the truth of things as I’m likely to come. The idea was a dream; and the dream was of a world made better, at least in some small way, by my service. I am proud to have begun a path towards that dream; proud of the sway of willows in the wind, the splash of Oregon Spotted frogs, and the ruffle of Greater Sandhill Crane feathers on a long flight South. I am also thankful; deeply thankful for my stalwart coworkers, for the support of Mt. Adams Institute, and above all for every single moment on this strange and wonderful earth.
As the season is coming to an end I am reflecting back to the last five months of living and working in the backcountry. Through this summer’s hard work I have grown a lot as a person. It didn’t come easy, but with some trial and error I can safely say there is a lot of life lessons I will be taking away from this Public Lands Stewards AmeriCorps experience.
The first life lesson came to me on a cold, 35 mph windy morning. My co-worker Azrael and I were setting up the ranger base camp at Lyman Lake in early July. There was still lots of snow on the ground, but it was melting fast. Two days prior our boss had hiked up with us showing us around, telling us different projects to work on and where to set up camp. The ranger camp consists of a large cook tent and a small 2 person sleeping tent. They are about 500 feet away from one another and to get from one tent to another we had to walk across a snow field. Our boss informed us there was a creek somewhere under the snow and showed us a long route to get from one tent to the other. Fast forward 2 days, our boss left us to finish setting up camp and acclimating ourselves to the area. It was 7:15 a.m. when I emerged from my tent, still half asleep with no coffee in my system I made the cold trek to the cook tent. It was very windy, and I see Azrael with all his strength trying to keep the large tent from blowing away because we did not stake down the tent properly. Mistake #1. I feel frantic and want to rush over to help him. The snow by now is melted by 50% and a direct trail to the cook tent is SLIGHTLY uncovered. It’s not the route that our boss showed us, but in my mind I should trust the trail, right? Wrong! Little did I know this path was created by previous rangers to get water from the creek. I am now thigh high in freezing cold water, in my boots and work clothes, trying to jump out on the snowy edge. Once I pull myself out, I unhappily walk up to Azrael thinking he saw the whole disaster, but he didn’t. Instead I hear “About time you got up! Its hurricane winds out here and the tent is ripping!” In the calmest voice I could manage I scream back “I just fell in the creek!” But I knew there was no time to waste. The only thing worse than trying to stake down a tent with no feeling in my fingers and toes would be going back to the office and explaining to our boss how we managed to break a tent on the first day of being unsupervised. So with soaking clothes we staked it down, managing only to put a few tears in the rain fly. An hour later I was finally able to put dry clothes on and warm up with some hot coffee. I can honestly say it was the worst morning of the whole summer, but some valuable life lessons were learned.
#1 – Always Listen to your boss when they show you a route to take. Even if you think you know a better way, most likely you don’t.
#2 – Don’t assume social paths have your best interest.
#3 – Don’t take short cuts
#4 – Always bring an extra pair of socks
#5 – Make sure to have coffee before making decisions in the morning.
The second major incident happened a few days later at the Holden Village ranger cabin. The project was too chop large logs into smaller pieces for the wood burning stove. Once everything was chopped you re-stack the logs in an organized pile next to the cabin. Easy enough. A coworker and I started the re-piling task, she would toss me the wood and I would stack it. I decided I didn’t need to wear my hard hat because I have stacked wood at home and never wore one, why would I now? About 30 minutes in we got in a groove, toss, catch, stack, toss, catch, stack. We got it down so well there wasn’t even a pause between each toss, leaving little room for error. Then it happened. A log slipped between my hands and fell on the ground. I should have let it go, picked it up later knowing that in a few short seconds another log would be flying towards me. But being mission driven, I had to pick it up. As I bend over I hear “JESSSSSSY!!” BAM. A small log hit my skull. I look at my co-worker, her face says it all. “What is my head bleeding?” I started to ask… but before I can finish my sentence blood comes rushing down my face. Luckily we were near a well-stocked first aid kit and I had a wilderness first responder tending to my wound. Another co-worker walks up to the situation and shakes his head. “Jessy, Jessy, Jessy. No PPE?” (PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment, A.K.A my bright yellow hard hat.) Thankfully, all I got was a bump, a small cut and another life lesson learned.
#6- Always wear your PPE!
#7 – No matter how monotonous a task is always pay attention.
#8 – Don’t be afraid to tell your co-worker to slow down.
#9- Listen to your gut instinct. If your gut tells you to let the log go and pick it up later… pick it up later.
#10- Always carry a first aid kit.
I could go on and on with more stories from this summer and how I learned a few things, but I will keep it brief. Other major life lessons were, always bring 2 watches when you are rangering alone, especially if one of the watches was only $9 from Walmart. If you don’t, you might get really good at telling the time by the sun. Always bring your rain gear in your day pack, you never know when a storm decides to roll in for a whole work day. If you don’t, you will end up with soaked work clothes for a few days. Always double check you have everything packed in your backpack before you leave for a 9-day hitch in the backcountry. If you don’t you might forget your stove and have to eat uncooked cold oatmeal and coffee for breakfast every morning. Never leave your backpack in a rat infested shelter in the woods. If you do, your pack might smell like sour urine for the rest of the work week. And if you ever happen to find yourself wearing a Smokey Bear costume for a Fourth of July parade, while sitting on a bench in a back of a pick-up truck. Listen to the driver when they tell you not to stand up. If you don’t listen, the driver might slam on the breaks, making you fall behind the bench, on your back, with your feet and hands straight up in the air.
As you can see I have learned a lot this summer and will always remember these experiences. Glacier Peak Wilderness, you will always hold a special place in my heart.
Thanks AmeriCorps. Jessy out.