VetsWork: Experience, Connections, Selfless Service & Gratitude

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With only weeks to go in this internship I feel it is important to reflect on my experiences and what I am grateful for. For the past ten months or so I have been all over the Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest conducting invasive species treatments, inventories, and rock pit surveys from highway 542 to Mt. Rainer National park. In July the temperature reached 100 degrees and most of my time was spent hauling an herbicide backpack sprayer around in an attempt to slowly eradicate noxious weeds. In all, I treated over 100 different infestations. At times, weeks were blocked out on my calendar with somewhere to be and usually something to kill. For this I am thankful. I got to see many places here that I had never been. I stood at the top of Artist Point and basked in the absolute majesty of the Shuksan-Baker area, rafted the Sauk River looking for knotweed, and stood near the base of Mt. Rainier and watched the White River as it slowly deposited mass amounts of glacial till. You might recall from my last blog that I had hoped to get a picture of a black bear and a cougar. While I didn’t manage to get my camera out, I did come across both species.

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None of this could have happened if it wasn’t for a lot of people. First I would like to thank my girlfriend Tasha. Without her help and understanding I would not have even taken this internship. She moved 350 miles from where we lived, where she grew up, to allow me this opportunity. This year she took care of our daughter Kadence, had to make do yet another year with very little income, and lived at my mother’s house in Snohomish while I was away most of the time working. I also owe my mother thanks for letting them live with her for the year.

The staff at the Mt. Adams Institute are really the people who put these internships into motion. All of them, Aaron, Laura, Katie, and Brendan put forth a lot of effort to see that we as interns had all the support needed to accomplish our missions. In the army there are core values that are hammered into you at basic training. One of those values is selfless service. These people have this value in spades.

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Finally, everyone I have met here in the Forest Service, particularly the Botany team, has been more than friendly and helpful. Shauna, my supervisor and north zone botanist, has been particularly helpful. While I suspect that she knows virtually everything about botany and the Forest Service in general, she won’t always answer my questions outright. Instead, she would sometimes give me just enough of a push in the right direction for me to figure out the problem myself. I find that knowledge gained in this fashion sticks with you longer than more conventional methods. And of course I can’t forget Carrie, the south zone botanist, and Kevin, the ecology and botany program manager, for all their help and guidance in both the office and field settings.

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For those that are reading this blog from somewhere other than the Mt. Adams Institute website you should know that this internship is made possible in part by AmeriCorps.  I mentioned in a previous blog that even after nearly 8 years of military service and two bachelor’s degrees, I searched for any environmental government position, from the municipal to federal level, for a year and a half and wasn’t even offered an interview for a single job. Then I came across the Mt. Adams Institutes’ Vetswork program and everything fell into place.This program is designed to give veterans experience working in conservation, natural resources, and ecological fields. I now feel that I have the experience and connections to officially start the career that I have been slowly making progress on since I graduated high school. It seems that the hardest part is just getting your foot in the door.

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If you are a veteran and are reading this with interest thinking, “I want to do that!” I say to you, “You can!” The Mt. Adams institute recently posted next year’s internships on their website, www.mtadamsinstitute.com. They are now taking applications for positions across Washington and Oregon in Forests such as, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie, Wallowa-Whitman, Umatilla, Deschutes, and Mt. Hood as well as Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery, and King County Conservation. There will also be opportunities for internships in Missouri, Virginia, and North Carolina coming soon.

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VetsWork: Lesser-known Gems of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest


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Want to know a couple really cool, lesser known places in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest?

Well, here you go;

Texas Pond (Darrington Ranger District);

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Texas pond used to be the site of the now removed Suiattle-Finney fire guard station. Here cedars were harvested and transported down to the Sauk River via a flume on the north end of the pond. There is one campsite about 50 yards north of the pond and a day use site on the pond where the flume is. The water exiting the lake takes a steep nosedive on its way out and if you are standing at the end of the flume (not recommended) you can feel the rush of air coming up from below.

I have been told by a few locals in Darrington that this place used to be excellent for fishing trout. However, years ago someone stocked the pond with bass and since then trout numbers have declined. Personally, I have only caught bass here but I suspect that the trout keep to the south end of the pond where it is more open and gets deeper. While you can access the south end of the pond via fisherman hiking trails, the closed in nature of the forest extends to the water’s edge and makes casting very difficult, as do the many logs clogging the shoreline. This pond is best fished with a small row boat. The “boat launch” and regulations prohibit larger, motorized vessels.

Ovenell (Mt. Baker Ranger District):

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The Ovenell Parcel is a section of land owned by the Forest Service about 3-4 miles south of Concrete on the Concrete-Sauk Valley RD. The Forest Service bought the land with the intent of restoring the riparian area that had been used as cattle pasture for years. This year 50 or so 7th and 8th graders volunteered their time to help plant around 700 elderberry, willow, and Douglas firs on the parcel near a bow in a side channel of the Skagit River. These new trees are meant to protect the field from large flow surges that periodically crest the banks and flow over the parcel carrying away biomass for which plants and animals depend of for habitat creation.

While the reed canarygrass makes it difficult to find the path and to walk with ease, it is possible to follow a path cut by the Whatcom Co. Corrections Crew this year to an island on the north side of the parcel. It is an island only because of a small side channel of the Skagit River cuts it off from the mainland, but in many places during the summer and fall it is possible to jump over the water that is barely running through it. On this island it isn’t uncommon to come across elk, deer, bear, and beaver. There are also great fishing opportunities here where salmon runs come through as well as trout and steelhead.

Twin Lakes (Skykomish Ranger District):

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Figure 1, Twin Lakes. Photo Courtesy of the Student Conservation Association. http://www.thesca.org/

This one may not be “lesser known”, but I rarely hear anyone mention it. When I was 17 or 18 I took two of my friends on a hike to this lake. My father and uncle used to go up there to fish for trout in the 70s. Using a map he pointed out which trail to take to get up there, although he hadn’t been there in many years. We came up from the Troublesome Creek side off the Index-Galena RD, which has since washed out, but work to repair the road should start next year. It took two days of bushwhacking and consulting a map and compass to get to the lake, as the trail dad had mentioned had long since grown over. When we got to the ridge between Twin Lakes and Silver Lakes we saw why it had been neglected. We had come up from the south, but standing on that ridge looking down to the north was a nicely maintained, gravel layered trail that comes up from Monte Cristo in the south east corner of the Darrington Ranger District.

The lake itself is absolutely gorgeous and offers a great opportunity to catch some nice rainbow trout. There were also small glaciers on the northern facing slopes at the time; this would have been about 2002. There is a small spring or glacier feed creek on the west side that drains Columbia Peak. The water is so clean you probably don’t even need to treat it. I said probably!

You can also take a path that splits the two lakes and try to take a look at the waterfall that drains the lake into Troublesome Creek, but it gets very steep over there. Even if this way looks like a “shortcut” back down to the Index-Galena RD, trust me, it is not.

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VetsWork: Learn Something New Everyday, About Yourself or the World Around You

Here we are at the end of spring and at the beginning of summer. As the summer solstice approaches, the days are incredibly long and I am able to enjoy more sunsets. I do not know why, but even though I’ve been in Oregon for 3 summers now, I am still surprised by how late the sun sets here. Being that I am from Florida, the days in the northwest are much longer than the southeast –I believe it’s by a good hour or so. I love long days! They allow me to be outside more on a daily basis and my husband and I are able to enjoy at least a part of the day together after work. Plus, it’s no fun waking up when it’s dark outside.

I have finally found my groove in the office and am even accurately remembering names of the lovely people around here. I still can’t believe how nice everyone is and how willing to help out with things. I have remained quite busy these past few months and have continued to learn something new every day. I truly believe that if a person doesn’t learn something new every day, whether it is about themselves or about the world around them, then they are not living life properly. If you just realized you are one of these people – it’s not too late to learn something today! If you ever want to hear a random and often useless fact, I’m full of them.

Last month we had our Watershed Field Days for the area 5th graders and it was a lot of fun! It was nice to see the results of our work in trying to organize it this year. In total, there were nearly 800 students that were able to participate in learning about everything watershed related. The students were in eight groups and rotated between different stations throughout the day. They learned about water quality, plant identification, macroinvertebrates (as pictured below), wildlife, weather, soils, first foods, and stream stabilization. It was an exhausting yet fun filled week for me.

 

Another event I was able to participate in was the Salmon Summit held in Kennewick, Washington. This is a celebration and learning day for the area’s 5th graders who have participated in “Salmon in the Classroom”. The kids would release the salmon raised from eggs in their class and release them into the river and afterwards spend the day learning from various presenters about salmon related matters. This was something that was looming since I started in February. At first it was a little intimidating to be asked if I could lead a 20 minute interactive presentation of my choice to multiple groups of kids. That day had come and I prepared a presentation from almost scratch. I decided to do an activity about invasive species of the Columbia River. In the beginning it was going to be how these invasive species affected the salmon, but that was a little easier said than done. It morphed into the most interesting invasive species of the Columbia River. While figuring out how I was going to pull it off, I decided to go with colorful and part interactive and part teaching. I ended up with 6 species and was able to turn it into a game of sorts. I posted the picture of the board I came up with. I’d read a story about the animal or plant and then have the kids in 6 different groups and they’d work together to put up the cards in the correct box. Pictured below is what the finished result would look like. It was fun and I think the kids enjoyed it. The teachers would even come and tell me that they learned something from it. I got help from another VetsWork member – Jonathane Schmitt who does the invasive species work around Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Overall, it has certainly been an eventful past two months. We are gearing up for Natural Resource Career Camp for Young Women that takes place at the end of the month and then I’m off to Ukiah to tackle the wilderness portion of the internship – which will hopefully include more aesthetic forest/nature photos. I am also scheduled to attend Incident Qualification (a.k.a. red-card) training in a couple weeks and will be working alongside the GreenCorps crew on that.

 

My husband has been looking all over the western portion of the U.S. for permanent wildland fire positions. The good news is that he got a job! The bad news is that it’s 9+ hours away in Nevada. I want to finish the internship out so we’ll be living in different states for the time being. It’ll be hard but we’ve lived apart before and it probably won’t feel too different than a regular wildland fire season since he’s hardly home during that time anyways. The place he’s going to seems nice. Looks like it’s going to be high desert terrain which is similar to the area we’re in now. I’m looking forward the possible opportunities that I may have down there after the internship!

 

That’s all I have for now. Thanks for reading!

VetsWork: The various tasks working with invasive species.

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It is hard to believe that I only have 7 months left in this internship. But as the saying goes, “time flies when you’re having fun”. Variety, in this case, drives the enjoyment I have taken from this job. As the invasive species specialist on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, I naturally have been dealing with plants in general, but my tenure here has been much more than that. In the last couple months I have been given the opportunity to burn a giant “slash pile” with the Darrington Ranger District (RD) burn boss, conduct hazard tree analysis at Horseshoe Cove Campground with the Mt. Baker RD permit administrator, oversee the Whatcom County Corrections Crew as they mowed a field of reed canary grass, helped supervise 50 7th and 8th graders while planting over 700 trees, co-hosted a “weed watchers” training event for the King County Noxious Weed Control Board at the North Bend RD, released Bruchidius villosus (a tiny beetle that eats Scotch broom at the Taylor Spawning Channel) and found a  nice 5 point elk antler on the Skagit River.

Bruchidius villosus biocontrol

Bruchidius villosus biocontrol

Whatcom Co Correction Crew

Whatcom County Correction Crew mowed a field of reed canary grass. 

Planting Trees with Middle School Kids

Planting Trees with Middle School Kids

I have seen elk, deer, coyote, eagle, bass, trout, steelhead, and a river otter. As weather has been warming up, so have the animal sightings. Although I have never been one to take a lot of pictures in the past, I feel that it is important to try and document this journey. Because of this I carry my camera with me everywhere I go; you never know when you only have a moment to snap a photo of something rare out here. I haven’t taken a good shot of deer or elk yet, they are fast and most of the time I see them at a distance. Still, I am waiting to get a good shot of a bear and a cougar, which it seems, are out there in good numbers. While conducting the hazard tree analysis I was shown a cougar kill site where the cougar killed a deer and buried it under the detritus in the area. On a log the animal scratched up you could clearly see four claw marks spanning eight inches across the paw. That’s a big cat and it’s one of the few animals in the region that I have never seen in the wild. It’s only a matter of time though.

Blacktailed Deer

Blacktailed Deer

Elk Shed 1

Elk Shed

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