VetsWork: Total Eclipse of the Heart(land)

Since my last blog, a truly spectacular event has occurred that you, the reader, will have likely heard about—The Great American Solar Eclipse. As we all know, in August, much of the United States of America had the pleasure and astronomical luck of witnessing a total solar eclipse. Continue Reading…

VetsWork: On the Road Again

The last time I wrote, I was in the final leg of my previous 11-month VetsWork AmeriCorps adventure with the U.S. Forest Service. Hiring freezes and my stubborn nature to land a job on my local forest has me back for another fun-filled year with the VetsWork AmeriCorps program on the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois (the nice part of Illinois, not Chicago). While I didn’t find a permanent position, another year with the VetsWork program will give me more diverse experience in the field, and help me expand my resume even further—and it is already paying off!

Right out of the gate, my supervisor put me in contact with our forest’s silviculturist to ask about any work opportunities he would have available that I could help with. He happily assigned me to a project in the Lee Mine area where I would be conducting a 72 plot Common Stand Exam. Having recently received a bachelor’s in forestry, this was a perfect fit for me, as it would provide me with actual on-the-ground experience in the field. I began brushing up on my tree identification and before I knew it, I was out in the field collecting data on what was going to be one of our first timber sales in a long time.

A friend I made while collecting timber sale data.

The stands of timber consist generally of pine; mostly shortleaf pine with some eastern white and loblolly pine mixed in. In the field, all of my forestry senses came out. I started noticing things I had learned from courses in the forestry curriculum. I noticed how parts of the area that had been burned yielded more oak and hickory regeneration. To say the least, I was where I needed to be. Then, the rains came.

In early May, Mother Nature, whom I have learned and are forced to love, dumped upwards of ten inches of rain on southeast Missouri and southern Illinois. Rivers rose, creeks roared, and my basement flooded. Afterwards, on a clear sunny day, I was power-washing my boat when I received a call from a man named Ray who had heard through the Forest Service grapevine that I had an extensive knowledge of the Shawnee’s trail system, and wondered if I would be interested in assisting with trail assessment and clearing. I happily offered my assistance, because that’s what you do when you are trying to make a name for yourself, and joined the Southern Tier 2017 Flood Incident Management Team.

Flooded trail on the Mark Twain National Forest.

The operation is based out of the Mark Twain National Forest. In the first week, I walked over 30 miles of trail looking for blowouts and downed trees. Every day started with a briefing and ended with a debriefing. We eventually got some saw teams from the Green Mountain National Forest. Working with these guys has been awesome. I have made some great friends as a result of this natural disaster, and they have learned the hardships of humidity, ticks, and poison ivy. I am writing this blog in what appears to be the last week of work on this incident. My new friends will soon go back home, and I will go back to stand exams; but I cannot be any more excited to see what the rest of the year brings, if the first couple months have been like this.

VetsWork: A Fork In The Trail

jesse-part

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

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

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

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

Wilderness Monitoring in the Panther's Den Wilderness

Wilderness Monitoring in the Panther’s Den Wilderness

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

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

Nathan DameronThe 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.

Deteriorating historic infrastructure. West Virginia has always been a “resource extraction” state, and many buildings tell the tale of past boom times.

Deteriorating historic infrastructure. West Virginia has always been a “resource extraction” state, and many buildings tell the tale of past boom times.

Multiple civil war forts provide glimpses back in time

Multiple civil war forts provide glimpses back in time.

Limestone and Sandstone have created multiple rock shelters on the Monongahela. Shown here is the deluxe two level variety. These are commonly associated with pre-historic habitation.

Limestone and Sandstone have created multiple rock shelters on the Monongahela. Shown here is the deluxe two level variety.  These are commonly associated with pre-historic habitation.

We had the fortune of being trained by HistoriCorps as part of a project to restore an old cabin on the forest.

We had the fortune of being trained by HistoriCorps as part of a project to restore an old cabin on the forest.

I made this new window ledge. One of many “firsts” for me on the cabin restoration project.

I made this new window ledge. One of many “firsts” for me on the cabin restoration project.

Can you spot the preservation opportunity?

Can you spot the preservation opportunity?

Positive feedback when we cut back the overgrown vegetation at this site was immediate. We received multiple visitors while we worked.

Positive feedback when we cut back the overgrown vegetation at this site was immediate. We received multiple visitors while we worked.

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.

A regional meeting with other VetsWork interns included a train ride!

A regional meeting with other VetsWork interns included a train ride!

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