Public Lands Stewards: Not Your Average Business Trip

ellie-demarseI 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…

Otter Selfie at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Otter Selfie at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

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!

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium

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.

San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge

San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge

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.

Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge

Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge

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!

Rosy Boa Selfie at San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Rosy Boa Selfie at San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge

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Public Lands Stewards: “A Place, Sensed”

 

Joe Kobler

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Public Lands Steward: In the Lap of a Mountain

 

Joe Kobler

The Glenwood Valley in Southern Washington is modestly sized, as valleys go. It lies nestled in the broad skirts of Mt. Adams, dwarfed by her looming, snow mantled shoulders. The valley gives home to a small town, an impressive profusion of cattle, and Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge. It is here, through the collaborative efforts of Mt. Adams Institute, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and AmeriCorps, that I find myself residing on this fine day in early July.

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I have to believe that as thinking beings immersed in time every experience alters us, perhaps imperceptibly, perhaps immensely, but enough so that you and I, intrepid reader, are not the same people we were yesterday, or will be tomorrow. I know relatively few things, but I can tell you that summer in Glenwood is a sharp contrast to the sere, palm lined streets of Los Angeles I left behind me; streets I’m sure still shimmer and swelter under a savage southwest sun, saturated with the steady roar of restless traffic, the syrupy tang of smog, and the wafting scent of sizzling carnitas.

I can also tell you of the ways I have changed, and of the most immediate difference here: the quiet. A silent stillness holds reign over Conboy Lake Refuge, unopposed save for the silver whisper of the unfettered wind telling the trees of the many places he’s travelled, far and wide and back again. It is a silence that settles first into the eyes, a new depth to the gaze, a calmness not languid but centered, steady as the regard of still pools. There is nothing sinister to the silence, it simply exists, natural and ubiquitous. Slowly and softly it steals into the bones until a nod becomes a conversation, a work roughened hand as it rests on the truck seat becomes a tale told by the curl of fingers and the tracks of calluses.

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            That is not to say that we are always so reticent. My AmeriCorps companion Greg Hendricks and I croon soothing Beach Boys songs back and forth to each other as we stalk bullfrogs through the high rushes; we squabble and squall when hordes of catfish thousands strong flood into our nets overnight. Our proud gasps of triumph after chasing down and banding Greater Sandhill Crane colts move as ripples along the satin curtain of quiet. Certainly we have changed, but remain, as ever, admixtures, studies in contradiction, as variegated and colorful as the blotched backs and rosy underbellies of the Oregon Spotted Frogs we battle daily to save.

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            The other change I can relate to you emanates from the mountain. It is her regal presence that dominates the valley, a massive, majestic bulk. She slumbers peacefully, her breathing is the ponderous tread of eons and her pulse the deliberate churn of long buried magma. Most mornings she hides her face beneath covers of cloud, but I’ve woken by her side enough times to know her snow splashed features as well as I know my own. It is a sight which never grows stale, a resounding crescendo of force and might and time and scale standing stark against the infinite azure sky. Mt. Adams has humbled me, unburdened me, and daily held captive my eyes and mind. I bear her indelible mark, and henceforth shall carry its weight within me wheresoever on this vast earth I roam.

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            There are likely other transformations, subtler, harder to articulate, unrealized, or yet to come, that I will not at this point endeavor to enumerate or impart. I feel I have said enough, and so very simply would like to thank the wonderful staff of the Mt. Adams Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the invaluable opportunity they have provided for me to learn and grow in a magnificent new place. As I close our brief time together, dear reader, it is with the earnest hope that when the echo of these final words fades from your mind you are left, at the very least, with the fleeting impression of wind murmuring against the monumental silence of a patient mountain, as faint as the dance of eyelashes down a cheek.

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VetsWork: “The Economic Value of Self Worth”

Heather Love

This blog may not be the most light and fluffy, it comes with a TRIGGER WARNING. But what brought me to find my niche within the world of fisheries with the help of Mt. Adams Institute’s VetsWork Program is what has shaped my success so far in the program. And it’s an ugly story.

I spent 6 years in the US Coast Guard (CG), bouncing all over the world traveling to my little heart’s content as a mechanic onboard ships. I dabbled in other areas of the CG, getting qualified as Boat Deck Supervisor and Small Boat mechanic while in the Middle East, onboard USCGC Monomoy. I did pollution investigation and environmental response at Marine Safety Unit Duluth, MN. I was also working on qualifications to become a qualified law enforcement officer to do boardings at one point, but I could never stick to just one thing. There was never any follow through or completion of these shortsighted ambitions I had. I thought I was truly a “lifer”. But I wasn’t happy, I knew I was smarter than turning a wrench, but all my paths were dead ends within the CG. If I wanted to change rates, I would’ve taken a hit in rank so I chose to continue to move up in the world of Machinery Technician (MK). I finally landed my dream unit coming back from the Middle East, USCGC Healy. I was told it was going to be a career killer for me, and in hindsight, they were absolutely right but for the wrong reasons. By February 2008, I was on the verge of making MK1 (E-6), my life was lined up for me as a “Career Coastie”, but things started to get out of control with my mental health and it broke me.

I’ve always dealt with depression during deployments, it was always attributed to Seasonal Affective Disorder which has the same effect on a person when the sun never sets. When you’re in the areas of the world say Antarctica or the Arctic, where the sun never sets, it starts to get to you. So I’d go in to the Corpsman, get on anti-depressants and then experience now what I realize was a manic episode, I’d promptly go off the meds, and I would cycle all over again. These unmanaged issues over the course of 6 years cost me advancements within the CG, and other opportunities that would’ve allowed me to become a much better Coastie. Finally in February 2008, I was diagnosed with Bipolar. I lost it. I was scared. I couldn’t stand to face my comrades, I couldn’t face the reality, I definitely could not face the stigma, I couldn’t face the idea of not being trusted with a gun, or that my fellow Coast Guardsman would not be able to serve alongside me knowing that I was mentally unstable. I lived and breathed the Coast Guard, and I felt my world shatter with a simple diagnosis at 24. Without even allowing myself adequate treatment, I opted out of the CG the fastest way possible even though I still had 4 years left on my enlistment. I went straight to my Command within a week, and I got out under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) with an Honorable Discharge. This isn’t the story I tell most people. I always leave out the part of my mental illness diagnosis. It’s easier to blame the CG for kicking me out under an unju st archaic law, DADT, rather than saying that there was something wrong with my brain. I was discharged on April 30, 2008. I served exactly 6 years 29 days with 5 and half years of sea service, 6 months shy of receiving the Enlisted Cutterman’s Insignia, 1 day away from advancing to E-6. How the CG handled my discharge and how I was treated is a story unto its own. Turns out the Healy wouldn’t be my career killer, I was the one who killed my career.

I was suddenly thrust upon the civilian world, something everyone in the military dreams of happening one day, but for me, I was lost. I lost all structure, discipline, the financial stability, the comradery, everything that I solely depended upon for the first 6 years and 29 days of my adult life. I held myself together the best I knew how with my partner standing firmly beside me the whole way through it. I immediately enrolled at Cascadia Community College for Fall 2008, was later accepted to University of Washington Bothell (UWB) to pursue a degree in Conservation Restoration Ecology. I obtained this degree within four years and graduated in 2012 with a 2.8 GPA. Mental Illness is the easiest to blame for my ups and downs, the difficulty with getting out of bed, the lack of energy to turn in assignments, or even to show up for class. During my senior year at UWB, I was a rock star aside from my grades. By then I had an ADA accommodation which made life easier when having to skip classes to see my therapist or psychiatrist. I was very active in bettering my mental health, but by 2012, something happened that I never experienced before. I was given a new medication, and immediately went into a full blown manic episode that lasted almost a year. At school, I was incredible. I was the recipient of the University of Washington’s Women in Leadership Award for academic school year 2011-2012, received the Program of the Year Award for 2011-2012 from UW, was the president of the Gay Straight Alliance for the second year in a row, planned/organized/performed all outreach/solicited funds for a month long campaign on campus to address recent hate crimes, and managed a budget of well over $15,000 for our little club. I was maintaining 3.0 and above in all my classes, taking 5 classes (25 credits) with 3 labs during spring quarter of 2012. What people didn’t see was who I was at home. I was angry, destructive in my relationship, agitated, irritable, and just flat out mean to those I love and that meant the most to me. I was destroying my world from the inside out, but I had no clue because my mental illness presented me from seeing what was truly going on around me and who I had become.

Sleeping Lady

View of Sleeping Lady Mountain from the office at Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery.

To me, everything was amazing. Everything fell right into place like it should have. I had been accepted to Evergreen State College to pursue a Masters in Environmental Studies for Fall 2012, as a professor once said “[I] was a force to be reckoned with”, and I knew it. . Then it all fell apart. I started destroying relationships that I had worked hard to forge for my future, I walked off of a pretty prestigious internship with the City of Bothell because my integrity was questioned after a week on the job and I couldn’t mentally handle criticism, I aced an interview with WA Department of Ecology’s Spill Response department only to be turned down due to me not having knowledge of their Area of Operation of Vancouver, WA (I lived on the north end of Lake Washington in a Seattle suburb). I was crushed. I laid in bed for 3 weeks. I immediately came off my manic high and plunged into a deep depression. I thought it was all over. This was June 2012. I continued to make some pretty erratic decisions that summer that almost cost me my long-term relationship. In the end, it cost me graduate school, my family, and any future prospects.

My self-worth at 28 was null. I had convinced myself that I didn’t matter. On a starry night in August of 2012, I took 60 pills. I have a science degree – I understand the implications of 60 pills in the correct combination will essentially end one’s life. I woke up the next morning delirious, helped my partner with a grocery shopping list, and went back to sleep. I woke again later in the day coming to realization that my plan did not work. I had to do damage control. I texted my partner what I had done and that she needed to take me to the hospital immediately. I walked into the ER with the blood pressure of a coma patient, and absolutely surly. The doctors could not explain why or how I was alive. I was angry that my suicide “intent” did not work. It was not an “attempt”, I did exactly what I was supposed to, but my body rejected my theory, and thus I wound up in VA Puget Sound Psych Ward for 5 days. I was able to talk myself out of the ward, saying that I was fine, putting on a show so I could get out. Looking back, I should’ve been there for a month, at a minimum. I was released from the psych ward with the exact same medications I was admitted on, put on the VA’s High Risk list, and immediately took off to WI for 4 months abandoning my partner and our two boys.

Ever since I got out of the CG, I was under the continuous care of a psychiatrist. I was able to make the right decision for seeking out a counselor and psychiatrist in WI. That was the only thing I held onto and made sure I continued self-care. I understood the implications of what I had done attempting suicide, but to this day I have no idea why I’m alive. I’m not religious person. I don’t believe in a creator. But whatever happened to me that night…I realized I survived for a reason and I was going to work like hell to get myself back on track. Finally, after over a year of spiraling out of control in both directions, I saw the light. I had the correct medication combination and the pieces all fell back into place. That’s when I came to the realization that going to WI was a mistake, and was not where I was supposed to be, so I headed back to WA to be with my partner and our two children.

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Snowshoeing tour of hatchery grounds with supervisor, Julia. February 2016

After graduation, I spent 3 years doing what I felt was absolutely nothing with my life. I worked odd summer jobs here and there, too afraid to get an actual job because of my diagnosis. I didn’t just have Bipolar Disorder, I WAS the Bipolar Disorder. It overtook who I was. My identity was of mental illness, I was too paralyzed to do something that required responsibility. I completed a lot of projects at home – mastering the art of hand painting letters on to signs, mastering the art of pallet creations, I taught myself to bake – I even opened up a made-to-order pie business called Healy’s Pies. Summer of 2015, a friend tapped me to be her head baker at a local restaurant. After 4 months in the position, I started to feel pieced back together, like a whole person again. I felt normal enough to take on the world. I found a weird, little ad on Craigslist offering an Information and Education Assistant Position with US Fish and Wildlife Service through Mt Adams Institute VetsWork program. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I did know that I was ready to face the world again and no longer allow myself to be a burden of my own mental illness. I was no longer going to allow myself to be defined by bipolar disorder II with mixed episodes. It’s just something I have, like a manageable toothache.

SupaDope

Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery visitor sign in log. Very interesting comments.

My self-worth is now of economic value. I have always had the skills – the professionalism, the integrity, the devotion to be a dependable employee. But once I lost myself after that Dept. of Ecology interview, it took me years to realize that if I do not find myself to be of value, I then believe that no one, including an employer, will not find me of value also. Fortunately, I landed this gig as a VetsWork AmeriCorps Intern with USFWS at a hatchery in WA. I’m worth something to someone, to an agency, to a nonprofit, to other people. I’m valued. I am no longer an unemployed disabled veteran statistic. I’m now a contributor to my community, to society as a whole. I have worth.

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1.2 million Spring Chinook released into Icicle Creek April 2016

Special Olympics Snowshoe race

Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery hosted the Special Olympics in March 2016

I’ve fallen in love with fish, specifically salmon. I teach children and adults all about salmon. I’ve led and assisted in a number of programs with the I&E Dept. at the Complex’s 3 hatcheries, and have assisted the Conservation Office with ongoing studies doing collection of field data. I’ve been open and honest with my direct supervisor at US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and she’s helped me through some of my toughest obstacles of easing into the work place after what I’ve put myself through over the last few years. She has been an amazing mentor to me, and I literally could not ask for someone better. I’m already making plans for grad school again, this time possibly in natural resources with a focus in fisheries and wildlife management.

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Teaching high schoolers about Fish Health during Kids in the Creek. May 2016

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Teaching macro invertebrates to 5th graders from the Entiat School District during Entiat Outdoor Skills Days. June 2016

I can’t describe how amazing my internship has been thus far, so I’ve included a few photos to give an idea of what’s been going on around here. I can say for sure that my photography skills are back to up to par like the time I wanted to be a professional photographer. I never imagined I’d be in the place I am today, both mentally and physically. The last few years were pretty dark, but I’ve managed to pull through. I never dreamed of teaching the salmon life cycle to hundreds of school children, or building a soil science curriculum from scratch for 6th graders, or installing a 2400 sqft monarch butterfly/pollinator garden right out in front of the hatchery with over 350 native plant species, but here I am and I’m rockin it. I look out my window and gaze upon this garden that’s become an important part of our hatchery tour to stress the fact that USFWS is more than just fish, I look out there and I smile because I did that. It was me. The economic value of my self-worth is immeasurable, but I see it reflecting back at me from this garden every single day.

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Fish dissection and weighing of gonads with the USFWS Mid-Columbia River Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office for the ongoing maturation study. June 2016

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Enumerating of fertilized, wild steelhead eggs at Winthrop National Fish Hatchery.

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Beaver on display at Winthrop National Fish Hatchery. I helped trap it. June 2016

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The area of the future monarch butterfly garden. May 2016

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Monarch garden with plants installed. Not quite finished. A 4’W x 155’L gravel path is yet to be put in and the rest of the mulch to be laid down.  June 2016

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Biggest Fish of the Day – 11lb fish caught at Winthrop Kids Fishing Day. June 2016

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Public Lands Stewards: Protecting Endangered and Threatened Species

Greg Hendricks

As a Refuge Technician at Conboy National Wildlife Refuge I work to protect and enhance endangered and threatened species. At Conboy our mission is to help the Oregon Spotted Frog and Greater Sandhill Cranes gain a stronger foothold in their remaining habitat.

In the afternoon I head out with Joe Kobler, my Public Lands Stewards Americorps workmate and friend. We drive through rough roadways along canals studded with levees that control the water levels in the refuge and throughout the entire Glenwood valley. When we arrive at one of the predesignated sites we unravel our 15 foot fyke nets and wade out into the waterways. We tie the cinch end of the net tightly to an anchor point and drive the edges onto the rebar that hold it in place. After ensuring the net is taut, we rumble off to the next site.

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When we wake in the morning we head straight out to the sites we set the previous afternoon to gather in our nets. We take note of water temperature and enter any pertinent data in our trusty Rite in the Rain field book. We look through our catch and return any Oregon Spotted Frog adults and bag up any bullfrogs, a direct predator of the Oregon Spotted Frog in the region. We slowly sift through the remaining catch to identify any spotted frog tadpoles, keeping count and gently returning them to the water. We bag up hundreds of brown bullhead catfish, an invasive competitor for food with the Oregon Spotted Frog.   We carefully write the site number on the bags and are off again to the next site.

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Around mid-morning we head back to the station and take the bullfrogs directly to the freezer for later shipment to my stomach. Using the old boom box we found in the corner of the station we throw in a mixed CD a friend made for me. As tunes rasp out from the dusty speakers we mix water and a powder which relaxes the fish, then measure the brown bullhead and bullfrog tadpoles. After finishing the count we take the brown bullhead to “the boneyard” where we keep fed a thriving variety of fervently working decomposers. We spend an interim period between counting the morning’s catch and setting the afternoon’s sites doing a variety of work from building more fyke nets to setting out into the wetlands to search for Greater Sandhill Crane nests with the refuge biologist Sara Mcfall. After setting the afternoon nets for a second day we head back to the bunkhouse with gorgeous views of Mt. Adams looming in the distance. Tomorrow, more sites will be cleansed of bull frogs and bullhead and the chances for the continued survival and success of the Oregon Spotted Frog will increase.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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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VetsWork: Sense of Place – Tomorrow is History

Jimmy Pardo

So much has happened since I started working with the Mt. Adams Institute (MAI). My first experience with MAI was with the Public Lands Steward (PLS) program in 2013 and I am now in my third year with the VetsWork program. It continues to be such a rewarding experience for me both personally and professionally. On-the-job experience as well as new skills have made me into a far more confident prospect for work with a land management agency. Though I can’t help, but to curiously look at the bigger picture of our world and my place in it. One thing is certain, I love being in nature and so does this community in/around Trout Lake, Washington

This is my second year working on the Mt. Adams Ranger District as, both, an intern for the Mt. Adams Institute doing graphic design/social media and with the US Forest working with developed recreation. The two sides of this unique internship make for a very spoiling work balance.

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Three days out of the week I am sharing blogs (like this one!), making flyers, managing our facebook and instagram accounts as well as making videos from time to time. This is a lot fun for anyone who enjoys being creative and sharing the beauty of the natural world. The work I support at the MAI office is not just needed, but very rewarding and I’m honored to be a part of so many new chapters for our interns, past and present. The staff here at MAI makes our day-to-day work so much fun. We meet weekly to stay on top of each programs varying schedules and their related tasks. We’re privileged to have a really solid team of great human beings who go above and beyond to make sure our interns have the support they need to be successful.

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2015 PNW VetsWork Graduation – Family, friends, members & staff.

Two days out of the week I am geared up and ready for almost anything nature can throw my way. The work with developed recreation varies with the seasons and currently we’ve been making the switch from servicing Snoparks to day-use areas, trails and campgrounds. On one day I may be cleaning outhouses. Another, I might be rerouting a trail with a crew of hard working inmates from the nearby counties and yet another day I might be on my own, scouting a trail for future log out (trial clearing). It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, cold or just mentally a tough day… I always make sure to look at the beauty that is all around me. It is ever present for those that take the time to notice. It may not be quantifiable data or even be directly connected to the project you’re working on, but if I wanted to have tunnel vision just for the work, I would be robbing myself of the perks of working in nature. Observing the wildlife, weather and changes in the forests further connects me to mother nature and those who love her.

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Sense of Place

Lately I’ve been reading Chief Joseph: The Biography of A Great Indian by Chester Anders Fee. It was published in 1936 and though I had plenty of modern alternatives to choose from, I went with this older and spend-ier hard back. Perhaps it was the magic of the oldest bookstore in Oregon, Klindts Booksellers (open since 1870) that drew me deeper into our local US history, the forming of the Oregon Trail and the heartbreaking removal/genocide of almost all natives tribes from this country.

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While learning the gritty details of the mixing of these two very different cultures, settlers and the tribes, I can’t help but feel like part of the story when I am here in the very region where this surreal story unfolded.

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Celilo Falls

I can almost see it; the lively lower waters of the Columbia, Celilo Falls bursting with Salmon and the growing cloud of dust of wagons making their way west on the Oregon Trail. I am especially envious of our members in the Eastern side of Oregon, who might recognize or have even visited some of the historic landmarks mentioned in detail in this book. 

The first image in the book gives a stark glimpse of what westward expansion really meant for the Nez Perce and most other tribes in the US during the late 1800’s. A migrating people who lived off the land for thousands of years saw these immigrants arrive [quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]”as a trickle, then a stream, then a flood.”

~Bobbie Conner, Director, Tamástslikt Cultural Institute in Pendleton, OR[/quote]

In the Fall of 1841, 24 immigrants came to Oregon. The next year, 114. In 1843, just two years later, 1000 immigrants came to Oregon.

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This period in time is profoundly sad, but an important part of American history nonetheless. When we talk about having a “Sense of Place” and being connected to an area and the communities therein, this story, that of the original inhabitants of this land, is key in understanding how and how not to move forward when it comes to “caring for the land and serving people.”

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″] “Why is any of this important now?” [/quote] When we look at what this place was like 200 years ago and what has been developed in a relatively short time, it’s easy to see the reasons for tribal animosity towards any federal land management agency; being removed from their ancestral homes followed by the industrial development of those lands, rivers and streams. Even the treaties of both 1955 and 1963 were never honored. Miners in search of gold entered the Nez Perce reservation by the thousands as soon as six years after the 1963 treaty was signed. That would be more than enough to cause a major conflict should it ever happen to Americans today. A sincere understanding of this, as a rep for any US gov’t agency, is paramount in any land/resource management discussion with Tribes and cannot be understated. 

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Construction of Bonneville Dam – August 18, 1936

It’s all connected.

The reality of nature is that you cannot single-out and study anything without also studying many other related things. Unfortunately U.S. resource management agencies were formed around that very idea; that you can look at one thing in nature and manage it in total isolation of all of the other elements of an ecosystem. Today, land-management agencies are slowly seeing nature in a more holistic way; reflecting some of what native people were doing hundreds of years ago.

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One example of this is the current push from the Wildland Firefighting community around Wenatchee, Washington for more prescribed burns in the spring, thinning the forest to reduce devastating summer fires. Historically this is what the first Oregon Trail settlers arriving in Spring would see entering Oregon, a blue hue of smoke cast over what were then called the Blue Mountains, now the Wallowas. This practice opened the forest floor for hunting, but also made more resilient forests.

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Another example of a holistic approach to optimizing natural ecosystems, in my opinion, is the removal of deadbeat dams (dams producing less energy than they’re worth), which immediately opens up everything upstream for the return of salmon. This injection of fish upstream brings untold benefits to those ecosystems deprived of salmon runs since the start of the dam era.

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Construction of Condit Dam 

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Destruction of Condit Dam 

Phew… long blog, eh?

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. Starting a career with a land management agency would be an incredible privilege and my mom could finally relax, knowing I can afford my own socks and underwear. But on a serious note, I wrote this blog, not to point fingers or place blame, but to shine a light on how we are writing history every day and I can only hope that our nation keeps this history close to heart as we move forward in caring for the land and serving people, as always “for the greatest good” or as many natives put it “for the seventh generation.”


Articles related to topics mentioned in this blog:

http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/fighting-fire-with-fire-state-policy-hampers-use-of-controlled-burns/

http://www.oregonlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/04/columbia_river_tribal_village.html?cmpid=ENTERPRISE_TRIBALHOUSING_FACEBOOK_SP_ORPAGE

http://www.seattletimes.com/sports/state-and-tribes-still-at-impasse-on-salmon-fishing-seasons-all-of-puget-sound-closes-on-may-1/

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Public Lands Steward: Looking Back at Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Morganne-Barret-Blog-2-header

Things are coming to a close for me at Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge, but I can confidently say that committing to an AmeriCorps volunteer internship has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had thus far. Every weekday, I am assigned a new project, providing me many different skills while being here. My main job task has been fencing construction and maintenance, but I have also been able to test my ability to learn quickly through installing drainage devices, building a new hiking trail, fyke net setting, and invasive species management.

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After I leave Glenwood, Washington, I will be making my way back to Phoenix, Arizona to be close to home, friends, and family. I would like to continue exploring career options and find a field that I am truly passionate about working in. This AmeriCorps assignment has allowed me to see inside environmental fieldwork and consider it as a possible career option, however I would like to experience other fields as well.

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Looking back on the last 15 weeks, my favorite part of AmeriCorps has been the cultural experiences in this geographic region. Aside from career exploration, working in Washington has given me the chance to explore the Pacific Northwest, a very scenic region. I shared a weekend camping in Netarts, Oregon with a Phoenician friend of mine, where we indulged in fresh oysters and observed the workings of a fish hatchery. The following weekend, I explored Seattle with my Conboy Lake fencing compadre and witnessed the organized chaos of Pikes Place Market and toured the Space Needle. Cultures are fascinating to me, and now I can accurately depict that of the great Northwest, thanks to AmeriCorps.

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For anyone who is considering a service commitment with AmeriCorps, I would recommend it as a way to explore career options, discover new places, and to provide essential public service. Giving your time and energy can be extremely gratifying and rewarding, as it has been for me. Take a chance and be an active member of your government and community!

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Look out! Bees!!!

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Public Lands Steward: In the Land of Barbs

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I’m in the home stretch. The weather is starting to turn, but heat still lingers from the hottest Washington summer that I’ve experienced.

My escapades in fence building and maintenances have slowed considerably, as my partner Morganne and I took down most of the major projects. But don’t worry; barbs are still in my life! Not from fences, but from bullhead catfish. The biology intern, Guy, left the refuge in mid-August, and Morganne and I took over some of his duties. This consists of the setting and retrieval of fyke nets. We set three pairs of these nets Monday through Thursday in the various ditches throughout the refuge. The majority of the invasive species we remove from these nets are the bullhead catfish, and they have barbs on the pectoral fins and dorsal fin, making handling them nasty business. We’ve each gotten a few catfish splinters. Bullheads and bull frogs are the invasive species we remove; trying to get all the bull out of Conboy. Besides nets, we are in the midst of a trail building project, which is also a nice break from fencing.


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Outside of work, I’ve gotten into mountain biking! I enjoy hiking, and mountain biking just adds a little adrenalin rush for the way down. There are tons of great trails in the Gifford Pinchot forest, with little crowds, so I don’t have to worry about running anyone ever. I’m also spending a good amount of time studying for the GRE, and the solitude of Conboy is a great place for it. After my term is up here I plan on focusing a month on grad school applications, and then head to Colorado with my sister and friends and live the ski bum lifestyle for a winter, or forever. We’ll see.

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          I am grateful for the summer I’ve had here in Conboy. I’m not sure I will ever have another time like it. There aren’t many distractions, meaningless cares or worries, but plenty of time to think about what is actually important. Barbed wire and barbed catfish build character.

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Public Lands Steward: Adventure & Discovery

 

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Today marks the beginning of my seventh week in Washington, and I must say this is one of the grandest states I have ever visited. Phoenix, Arizona, which is home for me, is pretty brown and dry, however Washington has offered endless greenery and beautiful summer days. Here at Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Glenwood, I am a Refuge Technician. My fencing compadre, Nate, and I build and repair barbed-wire fences that border the public lands in order to keep the ever-present open range cattle from destroying refuge habitats. We are first assigned a fence to assess its damage, after which we gather equipment to make it whole again. By now, I have learned how to stay clear of our sometimes-dangerous fencing tools, but I wasn’t as lucky in the beginning of my term. I’ll definitely be taking some intimidating scars back to Phoenix, courtesy of the sharp barbs. From time to time, I also work alongside some local high-schoolers. This encourages, as AmeriCorps values state, that the community remain engaged.  Also, I’ve officially been on a frog hunt, where we catch invasive bullfrogs that are endangering the Oregon Spotted Frog population.

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Fences aren’t the only part of my season here though! When I am not working, I’ve been able to fill my time with lots of fun and recreation. I took a trip to Twin Harbors State Park in June, where I witnessed big sandy beaches, a small fishing community, and families gathering for fireworks at dusk. Nate and I also backpacked 20 miles in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. It was such a peaceful and serene setting there that reminded me of a storybook, each landscape more beautiful than the last. Additionally, I’ve been able to make some friends that I join at the local poetry slam and enjoy a cold drink every so often. Finally, I went rafting down the White Salmon River this past weekend, where we washed over and into the largest commercially rafted waterfall in the lower 48. It’s safe to say I’m really enjoying my time in Washington.

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I think the things I value most about being here are the wide-open spaces and disconnect from city life. I have come to realize that we over-stimulate ourselves in urban settings and move at a pace much faster than necessary. I’m really hoping to bring this “take is easy” lesson back to Phoenix with me. I’m positive I have grown personally and gotten to know myself better in the last seven weeks, and am optimistic about the continued self-discovery to come. I have also become more aware of the complexities of our environment as a whole. Humans have barely chipped the iceberg when it comes to understanding Earth’s natural systems, yet I learn something new every day, just about ecology.

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From maintaining the refuge, to recreating, to learning, my service in AmeriCorps has been a great opportunity thus far. It not only serves the community I’m surrounded by, but myself as well. I can’t wait to see what adventures this place holds for me in the future.

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