Public Lands Stewards: “The Greatest Adventure Is What Lies Ahead”

Erica Bingham

The mission of Mt. Adams Institute (MAI) is to strengthen the connection between people and the natural world. It has only been two weeks since I started MAI’s Public Lands Stewards AmeriCorps program and my connection to the natural world is already beginning to grow. In just two short weeks I have experienced so much and have become so much more aware of this beautiful world around me. Upon arrival to MAI headquarters in Trout Lake, WA, I was completely overwhelmed with the stunning mountainous landscape. The east coast Appalachian Mountains I’m used to, pale in comparison to the great Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood. It’s funny how you can live 24 years and not know that something so beautiful exists within your own country.

Mt. Adams

Mt. Hood

At the base of Mt. Adams is where I and seven other AmeriCorps volunteers began our journey. In the past, I have found that orientations can be very intimidating and stressful situations. This was not the case at MAI. Despite the broad spectrum of personalities, within one day, both staff and volunteers seemed to have a natural understanding of one another. Everyone got along as if we had known each other for years. Now whether or not that was the result of an intense kickball bonding experience on the first night, we will never know.

orientationgroup

Following orientation week, I, along with the other three refuge technicians, headed fifteen minutes down the road to Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) to meet our supervisor and get familiarized with the type of projects we would be working on this season. After exploring the refuge on the first day, I was convinced I had stepped into some sort of magical land of wildlife. I had spotted at least five different species I had only ever seen in books or on television. Those species included elk, coyote, sandhill crane, yellow-headed blackbird, and cinnamon teal.

elk

sandhillcrane

Yellowheadedblackbird

The rest of our time at Conboy Lake NWR was spent assembling fyke nets. What are fyke nets you ask? A fyke net is basically a long cylinder-shaped net that is designed to trap fish and other aquatic species. In our case, we will be using the fyke nets to catch bullfrogs and bullhead catfish—invasive species who threaten the endangered Oregon spotted frog.

From Conboy Lake NWR, we traveled four hours northeast through arid, desert terrain to our final destination at Columbia National Wildlife Refuge.

ColumbiaNWR

I am excited to call this landscape of endless sage brush fields, rugged cliffs, and mesmerizing skylines my home base for the next six months.  This past week at Columbia, I had the privilege of completing a week-long wildland firefighting training course with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The fire behavior classes and field exercises opened my eyes to the complexities of wildland fires and deepened my respect for the firefighters who risk their lives to put them out.

Wildlandfire

From what I have gathered thus far, the rest of my time here will be spent setting fyke nets, recording data, removing invasive species, instructing environmental education programs to school groups, and banding Sandhill cranes. My free time will most likely be spent hiking the refuge, kayaking the reservoir, and getting to know the local species—like this bullsnake!

Bullsnake

The amount of knowledge and experiences I have acquired in just TWO weeks is unreal. I am so unbelievably honored to have been given this opportunity and cannot wait to see what the rest of the program has in store for me!

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