VetsWork: Blazing a Trail in the Right Direction

Every morning when I start my day, it is still dark outside. I wake up so early because I have an hour commute to my job site, and I want to make sure I start my day punctual and ready to go. As I walk to my car, the sky is dark, the stars are twinkling, and the moon is still beaming at full swing. The local frogs by the pond are croaking a comforting tune, along with the joyful singing of the Indiana morning birds. I love the sounds of the birds in the morning because they are so different than the bird sounds that you hear in the mornings, back in my home state of Ohio. Rolling my windows down and heading for the road, I put my morning music on, as I sip my coffee. Driving down the roads, through the busy city I live in, I’m making my way to the Ohio River Scenic Byway, where I will be driving, during my hour to get to my job site.

The feeling is invigorating during my drive, as the wind blows against my hair, and I get lost in the lyrics of my morning music. The sun is slowly rising in the horizon, of the local Midwest farmland and silos, and radiating a beautiful glow of reddish, orange colors, amongst the pinkish, blue, and purple colors against the morning sky. The colors are so pretty, they almost look like cotton candy. With the wind blowing in my hair, the sky looking radiant as ever, and the music comforting my soul, I began to slip away into deep thought. A thought that came to mind was, how it was such an honor and a privilege it was, to be where I am, and where I am currently headed.

Who would have thought I would be in this position? I came from a town with little to no opportunity, with two bachelor degrees that I couldn’t put to use anywhere, and I had a family of 6 depending on me. I had applied to over 150 jobs and no one would give me an opportunity to prove my work ethic and my skills, without the required education, or the specific degree. I felt that my time in college was such a waste, as I had no opportunity to look forward to, but then I came across a posting from the Mt. Adams Institute for veterans, and figured I would give it a shot.

The VetsWork AmeriCorps position was for a natural resource intern position, but I didn’t have an environmental or biological related degree. I didn’t think I could possibly have a good chance, since my degrees were in other fields, but I APPLIED ANYWAY. So, I applied to the Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork internship program. I watched their amazing videos of prior interns that completed the program, saw them being exposed to an environment that they are passionate about, and how they went on to do great things. As I was applying, these facts made me want the opportunity even more. A week or so, after I applied, I had received a phone call from the Mt. Adams Institute about me possibly becoming an intern and they wanted to do a phone interview with me. Once I got through that process and interviewed with the supervisor at the location that I applied for, I was offered the position, and I took it in a flash.

Now, here I am, blazing a wonderful trail for myself and my family, by learning and training in an environment I love, and earning great skills that are going to pave my way to my future career in an environmental, nature/wildlife-related career field. I have not even been here for a whole two months yet, and even started the program later than the rest of the VetsWork interns across the nation, but I have learned so much already. I’ve assisted in timber markings, planted trees, assisted in aquatic surveys with taking fish samples, I have taught 5th graders at the local elementary school how to plant a tree properly, started to learn how to identify the different local trees, assisted in tree measurement, took a tree risk assessment training, learned about what invasive plant species were, how detrimental they were to the health of our forests, and assisted in eliminating these Non-Native Invasive Species, in order to promote a healthier forest. This is all just the beginning, too!

If it would not have been for the opportunity, that the Mt. Adams Institute had offered me, I would not even be here. I can only imagine how miserable I would have been, staying back in my hometown, searching through all of the mediocre jobs that were hiring, and how I would have had to settle for what I got, even after I worked my butt off in college to build myself a future. Mt. Adams Institute valued my potential and saw the possibilities in my future. To be offered this wonderful opportunity working towards a career field, in an environment I love, I can’t even place the words, on just how grateful I am, at this chance given to me. The great thing is, is that I’m only getting started, and still have much more hands-on training coming up with bat surveys, herbicide certification, invasive species training, and so much more.

The people of Mt. Adams Institute are more than just an organization that offer you the chance to get into an environmental related field that you love. They offer you guidance, support, and the encouragement you need, throughout the whole process. The whole Mt. Adams Institute team are your cheerleaders and some of your biggest support system, throughout your individual internship journey. That is one of the best things that makes this organization stand out, above the rest. Not only do they offer you the chance of a lifetime, in getting your foot-in-the door, towards an environmental career future, even if you don’t have an environmental or wildlife-related degree, but they support you throughout your journey, every single step of the way! For my family, and especially in my situation, that my family and I had come from, the Mt. Adams Institute was a Godsend for me and my family. The solid stepping stone and the foundation we needed, to get a new start. It is because of them, my future with my family is looking brighter than this beautiful morning sun that I see every time I drive to my job site. I am so humbled and appreciative.

VetsWork: A Glimpse Through the Trees

Mornings seem to always come to soon, and sunrises usually conjure up flashbacks to early sunrises after grueling nights in the desert. But today is different, there are no war zones and the surroundings remind me that I’m in a much peaceful place, one filled with a connection to nature and tranquility. The birds are singing their relaxing rhythms as the sounds of the nearby creek whisper in my ear. The morning ritual is a great reminder that life can be challenging but there is always a ray of light to propel me forward. This is how I’m greeted most mornings as I prep for another day as an AmeriCorps natural resource intern with the Forest Service on the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest.

Arriving at the office early gives me a chance to collect my thoughts before the buzz of voices fills the office walls. First task is to catch up on work emails from the following day. The scope of the natural resource intern thus far has encompassed an array of information. To stay caught up many of my coworkers carbon copy emails my way. To say my mind is inundated with Forest Service information would be an understatement but I welcome the challenge with an optimistic mindset. The first month has been a crash course in forestry, recreation, roads, wildlife, volunteer programs, and fire. Additionally, there are the administrative obstacles of becoming certified in basic training necessary for all Forest Service employees i.e. defensive driving, computer access, chainsaw training, wilderness training, and forest familiarization to name a few items. Sounds exhausting and it can be, but snippets of the AmeriCorps motto pass through my synapses, “I will get things done for America.”

Spring brings the forest into a slow reawakening as the migratory birds began to arrive and the trees release their buds to the crisp open air. Sounds delightful and it is, the forest begins to burst into life and so does the office.

Silene Virginica or “Fire Pink”

Trout Lilies spring into bloom!

Old beer bottle turned terrarium by nature.

Encounter with a red salamander during timber marking.

Should be collecting data but the conversation with slimy salamander was more exciting, (click the link to see the video)

For the Forest Service spring also brings a commotion of work. The winter freeze thaw cycles have left Forest Service roads in a state of disrepair and they must be maintained before the public has access to them. Timber sale plots need preparation as the loggers ramp up their efforts for the workable seasons. As the sun’s direct rays begin to shine on the northern hemisphere the public also senses the warmer weather and this draws them to the outdoors. As a result, the Forest Service office hears a constant ring of phones calls. Most of the calls are inquiries to forest access “is this campground closed? When will Wild Life Road open?” The fire section begins its prescribed burn plans and is at the mercy of the finicky weather.

Fire seems to take precedence in the forest and as the eastern fire resources seem scarce other sections of the office put their work on pause to assist fire as the Fire Militia. A term that is new to me but a common resource on the east coast. This balancing act of weather and resources causes the work plans for all sections of the office to become very tentative. In this environment flexibility is key. Thanks to my military experience I welcome the challenge and metaphorically stay light on my feet.

Thus, far I’m been introduced to a wide range of deciduous tree species (trees that lose their leaves with the change of seasons). I’m becoming familiar with the most common forms i.e. sycamore, walnut, locust, oak, ash, hickory, cucumber, cherry, poplar, maples, dogwoods, and countless others. Most of the species are unfamiliar to this westerner and I do everything in my power to learn the nuisances of each tree species. Whether on the clock or not, every trip into the forests brings an opportunity to learn about my new friends.

In the first month, I’ve spent a large portion of time with the foresters and as such have been given a glimpse into their responsibilities and mission. Like every new subject the theory behind it is unclear but as I’ve worked with the crew the big picture begins to unfold. The Eastern Divide Ranger District covers 11 counties and is spread widely. As such, travel to work sites can be an average 45-minute drive. For me, most of the drive time is spent gathering intel, familiarizing myself with the district, and asking massive amounts of questions.

What follows is a glimpse into the forester aka “Timber” section of the office. As a district, there is a set plan for the forest which lays out guidelines for all sections within the office. With this the foresters have an outline of what is available for harvest, the plots are chosen and sale prep work begins. Simple enough, right? Not quite. Once the plots are selected the proper procedures must be determined before approval for sale is granted. What does this look like? Well it varies depending on the plot in question but can involve extensive analysis, data collection, and reporting. In an effort to spare the reader an arduous blog filled with definitions of terms like the National Environmental Policy Act, categorical exclusions, environmental assessments, and environmental impact statements; I’ll need a little trust when I say the process can become quite lengthy.

So, where were we? Ah yes, an area of the forest has been selected and approved for sale. The lot is marked for boundaries, roads, and equipment landings. The crew then follows suit and begins to mark trees based on allowable basal area (spacing between trees that will leave a total mass of wood in the designated plot) or the area can be clear cut but that requires additional requirements.

Painting and tallying marked trees is where I began the forestry adventure. A handheld device was my tool and for every tree marked a count must be made. Once a predetermined number of trees is hit, for example 40 trees marked, a sample measurement must be taken to collect data about the average trees mass, height, defect, and species. Certain equipment is needed i.e. forester tape measure, clinometer, calculation charts, additionally tree identification. Tricky tricky. The information is later collected and added with additional data for reporting. So, the plot is ready for sale.

Once the plot is sold and loggers are cutting, additional resources are needed to inspect the plot on a regular basis. This process assures the logging company is adhering to forest regulation and protocols.

The plot has been harvested, now what? You guessed it, final inspections and rehabilitation plans commence. Undesirable trees maples, invasive trees are sprayed before desirable species are planted. For our forest this is usually oak species and based on the initial forest plan for the district.

Once the plot is ready for tree planting augers and saplings are brought in to plot, again this is where I come in to the story.

Boring holes with the auger to plant native trees.

The auger demands respect

Planting trees with good company.

Today the forester crew and some fire resources are planting red, white, and chestnut oak and I am pleased to be part of the crew. We drive through the oak forest and on creek roads, where fishermen cast their early morning lines. Upon arrival, the crew readies the gear and the job hazard analysis form is read aloud as a reminder of the potential dangers the work entails. The refreshing aromas of spring try to distract my mind of the briefing. And we are off, gear loaded we hike to timber sales of previous years and begin to plant trees. The work can be taxing at times but a brief pause and awareness of my location brings a large grin to my sweaty face. There are not very many jobs that bring satisfaction of this unique level. The scenery is amazing as we work mid slope on some of the most iconic mountains this nation offers. A break in the days’ work affords further exploration and yet another satisfying surprise. Eureka! It appears we have stumbled across some tasty morel mushrooms. The excitement propels my workday forward and I begin to make mushroom hunting plans for my days off.

Morel Mushrooms

Mission accomplished, trees planted, equipment loaded, and the crew departs the forest but the job doesn’t end. The timber guys will continue to check the progress of these sapling trees. From timber prep, to sale, rehabilitation, and continuous monitoring the job is never done but this is one way the Forest Service stewards the natural resources of the forest. Assuring that these public lands maintain their healthy aesthetic for generations that follow.

VetsWork: A Relief to a Concern

Starting out I didn’t know what to expect or how any of this would truly turn out. Honestly, it was a bit nerve racking and I was worried that I may be making a risky gamble on a too good to be true posting on the internet (I think we have all heard horror stories of those). Well in the last few weeks I found the answer to my concerns and it’s the one that I wish I would have been able to read before I drove from North Carolina to Oregon for a posting I found online. First off Mt. Adams Institute’s (MAI) recruitment coordinator, Katie, is as nice if not even nicer in person than on the phone when you first speak to her. Aaron, Laura, and Erica also go above and beyond expectations and they are some of the most awesome down to earth individuals I have ever met. But I digress, the MAI staff has been very supportive and have made me feel like I can go to them for anything that I may need; they truly care about their mission and I truly believe that they want me to succeed in this endeavor.

In regards to the Forest Service, I was very unsure what to expect with the business culture and working environment at my Forest Service site. I was pleased to find it very inviting and friendly and they make me feel like I am one of them; they are very accepting. It has been a very pleasant experience, except the fact that I am so far away from my family. That has been the most difficult part, but that was to be expected as it is never easy but it is not the first time I have had to leave my family for an extended period (hence the veteran part). I have been able to do the job that I have been given as a VetsWork AmeriCorps intern as well as see what other Forest Service employees’ positions and duties are, and have been invited from time-to-time to go along with them and help in their day-to-day work. I’m indeed off to a good start and I am looking forward to where it is going to lead me into the future.

Columbia River Gorge

VetsWork: Not Everyone is Made for the Woods, and that’s OKAY!

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.

 

My new office on the Pisgah National Forest.

 

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.

Hanging out at Wiseman’s View overlooking Hawksbill Mountain.

VetsWork: View From The Field

dakota-mahaffey

This internship has been one of the best experiences in my life and I am so happy that I took this opportunity and never looked back.  Here are some pictures from my experience.

In May 2016 at the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, we collected Virginia trout stream sensitivity water samples for West Virginia University to conduct chemical balances of native trout streams on the Glenwood Pedlar District. I have also done a lot of tree pruning and improving for wildlife in our area. Pictured on the right is an apple tree in the area that we spent several days improving.

 

Also during spring, we discovered a large Gypsy Moth infestation. Included in the pictures are the gypsy moth in the caterpillar state and the enormous amount of defoliation that is happening.

 

We also spent a vast amount of time bush hogging, discing, and seeding linear wildlife strips in order to provide a food source and a thriving habitat for animals. Here we are discing our largest tract in order to plant corn.

 

During the fall I have spent time working with local interns. Together we completed many task and projects as a group. On the right, we are marking a timber sale plot. By far, the most interesting and enjoyable experience in this internship has been working in the wildland firefighter section of the U.S. Forest Service. This was the major experience that brought back the adrenalin and brotherhood that has been missing from my life since my discharge. Fire operates much like the military and is a family like atmosphere.

 

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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: 64 Kid Field Trip, 65 Including Me

Matthew Carrell HeaderHow I remember field trips

When I think back to school field trips, I remember the bus ride as being the best part, closely followed by just not being in the classroom. Didn’t matter the reason. A couple that stick out in my memory were to the Police station and the Nature Preserve. I believe that one of the goals of a field trip is to give the kids a positive memory that will encourage them to return. (Maybe except the Police Station unless they become Officers.) I am confident that this field trip we prepared for the West Louisville fourth grade elementary class would be one they find the inspiration and desire to return to.

Preparing for 64 fourth graders

When I heard that the head count of the fourth graders was to be 64, my mind thought the worst. We held the field trip at German Ridge Recreation Area on the Hoosier National Forest. The area has a small pond, picnic shelter, trails, campgrounds and other standard amenities. I envisioned these kids running all over the forest, jumping in the water, skinning their knees, sick kids, kids that have to use the bathroom all the time, crying, screaming, laughing, basically utter mayhem. I couldn’t have been more wrong. We organized them into 3 smaller groups by marking their hands in a certain color. Their behavior was outstanding. No doubt, due to their respect of their teachers and chaperones. They all seemed genuinely interested in what we had to teach them and show them.

The Activities

We had three stations that the kiddos would rotate through: fish nets, wildland fire truck, and a nature walk down a trail. I worked with the fish biologist and in preparation we set up 3 fyke nets the day prior. The nets extend from the bank towards the center of the pond, guiding fish as they cruise the shoreline into a series of funneling nets that the fish can’t find their way out of. We were extremely successful with many different species including: redear sunfish, bluegill, green sunfish, largemouth bass, channel catfish, and a few turtles including a monster snapping turtle which the kids talked about the rest of the day. We passed around the different fish for the kids to touch, hold and look at.  At the fire truck station the kids sprayed water and learned about the benefits of prescribed burns and how we fight wild fires. The Nature walk introduced these children to different types of trees and plants found in our forests.

Exhausted

After all the excitement we put the kids through, we let them eat lunch and loaded them back on the bus. All of that plus the brisk fresh air of October, they were out like lights as soon as they drove away. We were all exhausted. The teachers were thankful for a bus full of sleeping children all the way back to Louisville.  Overall I think this field trip was a total success! I really feel like we got them excited about being outside and enjoying the land that belongs to them. I’m sure they will make this a reoccurring event for this school out of West Louisville. If only we could get some local schools to participate in their own backyard.

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VetsWork: Top 5 Reasons Why My Job Had A Huge Impact

Jarret Griesemer

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.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.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

Forest site visit on Vashon Island with King County Forester, Kristi McClelland

Forest site visit on Vashon Island with King County Forester, Kristi McClelland

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

Volunteers from local Girl Scout troop helping remove invasive blackberry bushes in Snoqualmie, WA.

Volunteers from local Girl Scout troop helping remove invasive blackberry bushes in Snoqualmie, WA.

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

Installing a Hügelkultur garden mound with DigginShoreline in Shoreline, WA.

Installing a Hügelkultur garden mound with DigginShoreline in                   Shoreline, WA.

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?

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2. One is from the City of Bothell and one is from the Olympic National Forest. Which is urban forest?

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3. One is from the City of Redmond and one is from the Olympic National Forest. Which is urban forest?

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4. One is from the City of Seattle and one is from the Dome Valley in New Zealand. Which is urban forest?

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ANSWERS: (1) A (2) A (3) B (4) B

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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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VetsWork: Looking Ahead

Robert DiTomassoAs my time in the VetsWork program approaches closure I find myself in a reflective state. I am at a point where I am trying to quantify my experience and figure out what my next step should be. One of the most important lessons learned while working with the Forest Service is that this land and its resources belongs to all of us. Agencies like the Forest Service exist to manage, but it is up to all of us to ensure sustainability. Why? Why is sustainability so important? Well, to paraphrase a popular sentiment: the world doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to our children.  Therein lies my desired path forward. Continue Reading…

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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VetsWork: Lessons Learned

Heather VaughanThe 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.

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VetsWork: 1000 Hours In and a Month to Go. Finishing Strong.

Verna Gonzales

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.

img_20160707_113647Hells 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.

img_20160624_064709Historic 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.

img_20160824_170505Mormon 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!

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