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: Not The End For My Forest Endeavors…

Michael McNeil

With only one month left in the season, time is beginning to move very fast. My time as a Public Lands Stewards – AmeriCorps member at the Entiat Ranger District has made this one of the best summers of my life. There aren’t many other jobs where you can spend 40 hours/week (or more) outdoors. After working with the Forest Service this summer, it will be hard to ever get accustomed to living and working in the city, and frankly I don’t plan on ever doing that again.

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Hoodoo Pass 

Since my last blog post not many things have changed but the weather. It has become very frigid in the mountains which represents the end of the season. Over the last two months much of my time has been based out of the Lake Chelan Sawtooth Wilderness and within the Methow Valley. My work schedule has consistently been 4 nights and 5 days in the backcountry since the beginning of June. As far as my daily schedule, there have been a lot more encounters with hikers and bikers. The difference between the beginnings of the season versus now is the amount of people, and the amount of questions they have to ask. I now can distinguish between hikers from the city vs. local. The main difference is the preparation amongst people during the hiking season. Our job is help people who are new to the area and really have no sense of direction. In preparation for going into the backcountry, I know it is important to bring extra maps and know the area that you are headed too. You need to know how to get around so you can guide others who are disorganized. I have recently met a lot of hikers from the Seattle area who are new to hiking. It is great running into these types of people who are eager to get in shape and see new things, and in the end, I become their guide in the backcountry.

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Enchantments

I can honestly say that the area is some of the most beautiful country I have ever been in. The main areas of focus within this valley have been on the Foggy Dew Trail and Crater Creek Trail. These trails thrive with mountain and dirt bikers, which has enticed me to buy my own adventure mobile. To say the least, this area has been very busy the last few months.

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Boiling Lake 

In the Entiat Ranger District, the same conditions are present, but the users are different. Dirt bikers everywhere! Along the Mad River trail seems to be a very popular spot; the rangers cabin is the selling point for me. During Labor Day weekend Forest and myself encountered over 50 groups of bikers! So far, that is a record. Also while we were there, a 100K running race took place. There is so much going on in the woods!

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Upper Eagle Lake

October 21 marks the end of my time with Mt. Adams Institute, AmeriCorps, and the Entiat Ranger District. I am sad to see that date come, but trust and believe this is not the end for my forest endeavors…

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Upper Eagle Lake 

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VetsWork: Thus far… On The Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest

 

Allen AtkinsThus far I’ve had a wild and meaningful ride being partnered with the United States Forest Service through the Mt. Adams Institute, VetsWork AmeriCorps program. I have participated and played many vital roles in a wide variety of tasks and projects. Whether it be clearing trail on a national trail system, and almost getting bit by a snake, or mowing wildlife opening with heavy machinery and having the chance to observe bears and how they interact in the wild.

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These are just some of the many projects that I have been a part of, it is never a dull moment and the opportunities across my district have been abundant. The training opportunities that I have had have helped greatly and those coupled with my practical hands on experience no doubt are going to make me competitive for future positions with the agency. Positions in various career fields that I never imagined could be possible when starting my journey with VetsWork program.

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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 Stewards: The Cyclical Life of a Wilderness-Backcountry Ranger

Forrest Patton

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Every trip into the backcountry begins the same. The day leading up to a hitch is filled with last minute preparations for the trip; trips to The Grocery Outlet to buy bagels, tortillas, cheese, summer sausage, Pumpkin Pie Clif Bars, and all the other necessary provisions, a stop at the ranger station to pick up the radio battery that has been charging since our last hitch, and of course the meticulous packing of my backpack.  At this point in the season I have dialed the packing process down to a science. Each item has its preassigned location within my pack and I can now complete the process within a matter of minutes.

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Sawtooth Backcountry from Sunrise Lake

The following morning we (my rangering partner Mike and I) report to the Entiat Ranger Station where we are given maps, advice on campsites and trails, and instructions on what to tell the visitors of our appointed backcountry for the coming week. From here we drive. Sometimes it is north to the Sawtooth Backcountry, out of our home ranger district and into the area bordering the Chelan and Methow Valley Ranger Districts. Sometimes it is up the Entiat River Road to do patrols in the Upper Mad River area or along the North Fork of the Entiat. But it always means driving for a while through beautiful Washington country before we hit a Forest Service gravel road, switch the rig into four-wheel drive and find the trailhead.

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View from Campsite near Klone Meadows

Every trip may begin the same, but it is the ever differing conditions of weather, trail, and country that make each trip interesting in its own right. At the trailhead we make the final adjustments; we put on our hiking boots, tighten the straps on our packs and lock the rig to leave the world of easy transportation behind. Once we hit the trail it is a life of slow, hard-earned progress. We decide on a campsite for the night, radio our position into the dispatch center in Wenatchee and hit the trail. Some days are easy cruising through flattish country and clean trail, where we can cover a great distance in a relatively short time. Some days are marred by dozens of trees covering the trail and massive elevation gains over a short length of trail, only to be relieved by postcard worthy panorama shots of the forest I call home for five days at a time. Sometimes the trail has been obliterated by the fires that have plagued the Entiat Ranger District in recent years and we must resort to compass and topo map to keep us headed in the right direction. But regardless of the day, by the time we get to camp I am happy to be spending my time in God’s country, living by my own proficiencies. When you’re living in the woods the days roll together and before I know it, it is time for Mike and I to return to our truck on the fifth day.

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View from Saska Pass

After spending the last five days propelling myself forward with determination and the endurance developed from months’ worth of hard hiking, nothing is quite like the ease of cruising down scenic, mountain roads with the windows down in the expectation of a hot shower. After each trip Mike and I return to the ranger station to report on our trip and charge our radio batteries for the next hitch. We’ll be hitting the trail again in a couple days.

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VetsWork: Stewardship Planning for Forested Land Owners & Hügelkultur Gardens in King County!

Jarret Griesemer

Since my last blog, a lot of great things have been happening at the King Conservation District (better known as KCD or ‘the District’). Within the last few weeks my co-worker Michael and I have gotten the go-ahead to officially start providing rural forest health management services to private forest landowners in King County. This means that for any private landowners with 1 to up to 5 acres of forest on their property, we will help them develop a forest stewardship plan in addition to helping to provide services to promote good stewardship, whether that be cost-share through the District or technical assistance. This is important work as these individual stewardship plans benefit our communities as a whole similar to how individual wildfire protection plans can reduce the threat of large fires that can potentially destroy communities.

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Well over a year of planning work has gone into our program since conception so that we can provide a high quality product to our customers. Michael and I have gone on several site visits so far and we are in the process of developing our first forest stewardship plan.

Our urban forest health management program is well into the 2016 implementation phase with the cities of Shoreline, Snoqualmie and Bothell. Shoreline is having several public forested open spaces assessed for forest health, resulting in a health assessment report for each. Snoqualmie and Bothell have both already received similar assessments and associated reports. All cities will be provided a stewardship plan to help manage the forest stands assessed. I am working hand-in-hand with my colleague, Elizabeth, to complete these plans so that each city has a high quality guide for forest stewardship well into the future. Over the coming months we will be helping each city set up on-the-ground stewardship events with volunteers and restoration crews.

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Picture: American Forest Management crew, urban forester for Snoqualmie, KCD forestry team
before first forest health assessments in Snoqualmie.

The Friends of North Creek Forest (Friends) recently received an award for a partnership for 4 weeks’ worth of Puget Sound Corps commitment for ecological restoration in North Creek Forest in Bothell. Sound Corps is a Washington Conservation Corps restoration crew with Washington Department of Natural Resources (WA DNR). North Creek Forest is a 64 acre forested stand owned by the city of Bothell and stewarded by Friends in partnership with KCD. Friends, with technical assistance from KCD, completed the application for this partnership with WA DNR and submitted earlier in June. The work done by this crew will provide much need invasive species eradication within the forest.

In addition to all the great progress we are making with our new forestry team at KCD, I am also coordinating an urban agriculture project as part of my community action project for my Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork AmeriCorps program. With the help of volunteers and permaculture enthusiasts we will be building a hügelkultur raised garden bed at a community garden site called City Soil here in Renton. Hügelkultur is basically the use of decaying wood and other organic material to build raised mounds that provides more surface area for growing crops than a traditional garden bed. This design significantly reduces the amount of irrigation needed over time and provides an abundance of nutrients for healthy soil and productive crop growth. To date, we have acquired the wood through donation and are in the process of organizing volunteer dates to build the garden bed. Success of this project will help us advocate for hügelkultur garden beds as a viable option for installation on challenging urban sites. All produce from the project will be donated to local food banks.

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I’m excited for the latter half of the internship to turn into a lot of results on-the-ground, making all of the in-office planning and coordination a huge success all-around.

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VetsWork: Battle for Bats!

Matthew Carrell Header

We caught bats today! Well, tonight.

I’ve always enjoyed watching the bats in the evening as the day turns to dusk and their silhouette flashes between the trees. Their agility to catch a flying insect belittles the most advanced fighter pilot in a dog fight.

I’ve had two unfortunate encounters with the flying fur balls. The first I’ll speak of was when I was in maybe 7th or 8th grade. It was the middle of the night at my parents’ Victorian style home in Indiana. My mother wakes up in her bedroom to the cat’s head swiveling in a circle, around and around. She looks up and sees a bat circling the bed. She yelled and before my father knew what happened, he woke up, they both left the room and slammed the door, leaving the cat to fend for itself. Mother had the window open for fresh air while sleeping, and when father peeked back in the room he did not see the cat. Assuming that the cat must have went out the window and onto the porch roof, he throws on the first thing he finds which happens to be a suit coat, grabs the ladder, and heads to the front of the house. By now I’m wondering what all the commotion is and find my sister is awake and crying about the cat, mother is yelling at father to find some pants to put on because boxers and a suit coat is not appropriate for climbing on the roof at midnight to save a cat. Once sister explained the situation to me, I went back to my room, grabbed my BB gun and returned to the bedroom door. As soon as I propped open the door and pulled the BB gun up to sight level, my father (on the roof) looks through the window and yells at me to not shoot the BB gun in the house. I was already pulling back on the trigger and fired a single shot dead center of the bat. Casually, I walked back to my bedroom and went back to sleep, leaving my family silent in their moment.

My second run in with mythical creature was in the same house but down the hall in the bathroom. Thankfully I looked before I sat. Somehow a bat had trapped itself in the toilet. It must have been going in for a drink and the porcelain was too smooth for the bat to grip. Without much thought, I put the seat down and asked dad for his opinion on what to do with this flying devil mouse. We both pondered the situation for a minute or two. We were both afraid to lift the seat and risk the attack of the creature. I slowly reached for the toilet lever. I half expected Dad to verbally arrest my advance. He did not. And the poor thing went down to the underworld forever.

Fortunately, my most recent encounter was not as tragic and much more informative. Mist netting allows us to safely catch many different species of bat in a large flat net, like a bunch of volleyball nets lining the poles from top to bottom. The nets allow most bugs to fly through it but the bat is too big. Once caught we would measure and take statistical data on them and release them back into the night. Before my internship at the Hoosier National Forest, I did not have much knowledge of bats. I knew of a few different species and their echolocation abilities, and that if you see one that looks sick, not to touch it. I did not know of the white nose infection of the Indiana bat, or how many different types of bat there are in just Indiana, or the mystery of their evolution. In just one netting session, I have found a new appreciation for the frightening little mammals. They are the only sustained flight mammals, which give me hope that one day humans will grow wings and fly.

One of the focuses for this survey was the Indiana bat and White Nose Syndrome. In North America, there are 7 species of bat affected by White Nose Syndrome, of which, the Grey Bat and the Indiana Bat are endangered. White Nose is a fungus that lives in the cool dark caves, the same that hibernating bats like. The syndrome disorients the bats and they come out of hibernation too early and it’s believed that this uses their fat stores at a rapid rate and they essentially starve. The fungus is presumed to be spread from bat to bat and by humans traveling and visiting the caves.

It was hard to capture many good pictures as most of the work was done at night and the little buggers don’t like to sit still. Here’s a video made for the Forest Service explaining White Nose Syndrome.

Battle For Bats: Surviving White Nose Syndrome from Ravenswood Media on Vimeo.

VetsWork: “A Late Start, but Right on Track”

Jesse Part

The Journey of a Mt. Adam’s Institute VetsWork Trails, Heritage, Surveying, all-out Natural Resources Intern—by Jesse Part

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Horseshoe Bluff. Overlooking the Big Muddy River and the Mississippi River floodplain.

I guess I should start by explaining the “late start” portion of the title of this blog. This was the second VetsWork intern position I applied for on the Shawnee National Forest. The first was a position on a trail crew. I was very hopeful given the fact I just graduated with a B.S. in Forestry from Southern Illinois University, and had volunteer experience in trail building. When I received the phone call that they chose someone else for the position because they wanted to train a person from the bottom-up, I was happy for whoever it was because of the experience they would gain, but I was also a bit disheartened. I began to ask myself, “What good is a degree, if it doesn’t even land you an internship?” With a wife and two young children at home, the need for landing some sort of employment weighs heavy on a parent. About two or three weeks later, I received a phone call from Mt. Adams Institute (MAI) about another VetsWork position that would be soon opening on the Shawnee. This position would be starting roughly a month later than the rest. Without hesitation, I told her to sign me up. This time around, I actually got to interview with my soon-to-be supervisors. The interview went well, although it was awkward interviewing via conference call, as I had never experienced that before. A week or so went by and my anticipation grew. My wife had booked us a trip to Las Vegas as a graduation gift, and it was during our stay there that I received the call from Katie. The news was good, I had been offered the position! This news actually stood tall among the other events of our Vegas vacation, and I felt like I was standing on top of the Grand Canyon again as I had been two days prior. Being in Vegas, I had to have a Bloody Mary to celebrate:

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The first week of my internship consisted of a lot of paperwork, both for MAI and the Forest Service. Mary, my supervisor was very welcoming, as well as the other Forest Service staff. We soon took to the field where we would be showing some Heritage sites to personnel from Southern Illinois University Archaeology Department. As we made our way down an equestrian trail through a stand of eastern white pine, suddenly an open area littered with sandstone, limestone, and daffodils came into view. What we were standing on was the remnants of an old home foundation that was in the process of excavation by the Forest Service. One of the most noticeable features of this area was the intact well that still holds water.

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Well at an old home site in the Shawnee National Forest

The next stop of the day was a prehistoric heritage site. We followed a trail along a bluff line through a mature oak/hickory forest to a large cave. Inside the cave, chert flakes could readily be found. The cave was massive and noticeably cooler than the outside. I could imagine a family of Native Americans inhabiting this cave centuries ago.

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Cave where prehistoric artifacts and by-products have been found

Aside from my normal work activities in Heritage with Mary and Heather, I was able to work some with the trail crew, and then the survey crew. Work on the trail crew consisted primarily of clearing any debris blocking the trail. Most of the time we were in a designated wilderness area, so no power tools were allowed. Towards the end of a trail loop one day, we encountered something not even the tourist brochures would tell you about. During part of the year, this trail is open to horse-back riders and there is an open area in the middle of the forest right off the trail that appeared to be some kind of area where riders camp. Inhabiting this camp as a permanent resident is what appears to be a hillbilly scarecrow named Paco; however, some call him Pedro. Standing at about 4’8”, Paco or Pedro overlooks the camp, beer in one hand, walking stick in the other. Throughout the years, hikers and riders have adorned this guy with their own taste of fashion. Looking at this guy, I can’t help but think to myself how creepy it would be running into him on a night hike.


I received word from my supervisor that the plan for my permanent project had been laid out and I was able to begin. I was to report to the Supervisor’s Office in Harrisburg the following Monday morning to be briefed on the project. Shortly after my briefing, I was to head out to Garden of the Gods observation trail, a popular tourist site and featured on the Illinois quarter, to “get my feet wet” with the rating system. The purpose of this project was to utilize a rating system for the trails on the Shawnee that would gauge difficulty levels for equestrians, mountain bikers, and hikers. Characteristics like grade, tread stability, and technical features such as bridges and natural obstacles were to determine a trail’s overall difficulty, and this would someday be available to the public. What started at a local recreational hotspot, would soon blossom into a project that would take me to some of the most remote, yet beautiful places I never dreamed were right in my backyard.

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Some Wildlife Encounters along the Way

6A random albino rat in the forest. I’m guessing someone dumped it.

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A Northern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen).

He was sunbathing right in the middle of the trail. Luckily I had my eyes peeled, or I might have stepped on it and been bitten.

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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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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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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: Dissecting Freddy and Franny Fish

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Fish are interesting little creatures. 

The first thing you may notice when you hold a fish is that it is slimy. This slime protects the fish from predation, lowers resistance while traveling through water, and also protects the fish from fungi, parasites, and disease.

After you’ve gotten a hold of this slimy little guy or gal, the first step is to cut open its vent. If fish had chins, you would cut all the way up to the chin. It is critical to cut all the way up to the chin; otherwise you would not expose the heart and other organs. Remember not to cut to deep; you might puncture some of the other organs!

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Now that we have cut our fish open, we need to determine if it’s a male or female.

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Franny the fish should have two eggs sacs. I say Franny should have two egg sacs because depending on her maturity, she may not. If not, eggs will likely come gushing out upon the table-and floor.

Clean up is less than fun.

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While Freddy the fish should have two milt sacks. I say should, because I found one fish that had neither eggs nor milt sacks.

When Franny is mature she will deposit her eggs in a particular location. Then Freddy will find Franny’s eggs, and fertilize them.

All of this happens from the vent hole including excreting waste products.

The next step is to cut out the digestive system. This includes the liver, the gall bladder, the stomach, the pyloric caeca, and the spleen.pic 4

Liver

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Gall Bladder

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Stomach

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Pyloric Caeca

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Spleen

Remember when I said to cut up to the chin?

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Here’s Freddy’s heart! In person, it actually looks like a little nose.

Notice this balloon like structure.

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This organ is called the swim bladder. Fish can adjust the amount of air within the swim bladder in order to hover at different levels in the water.

These are the kidneys.

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Notice that the kidneys look like a little pool of blood. The kidneys are very fragile organs. Even with the tenderest of care, you may end rupturing the kidneys, and then you have a pool of blood in your hands. The joy of clean up!

Next are the eyes.

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The key to popping out the eye is putting enough pressure behind the eye socket to tear the flesh to get underneath the eye. The students typically love this part.

The gills are last.

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I normally cut the gills out last because they are filled with blood and don’t want my hands to become a bloody mess.

With the time that has normally been allotted to me, I don’t normally have time to crack their melons open and look at the brain. Someday soon; I hope!

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VetsWork: Watersheds, the front-line of filtration.

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After a few weeks on the job, I have come to the conclusion that I have one of the best jobs in the world. Not only do I get to enjoy the great outdoors, but I also have the important responsibility of educating the public regarding the environment.

Yesterday I shadowed a coworker who was working at the Lake of the Woods, a natural lake in the Fremont–Winema National Forest. As I ventured through the misty forest, I was taken aback by the beauty found in my “office.” In fact as I type this blog, I am drinking water I brought back from a local well located near this pristine forest. I can’t help but think this is what water is supposed to taste like— clean.

Many of my colleagues in the Forest Service have an environmental education background, which I do not possess.  In preparation for my responsibilities as an environmental interpreter, I have had to study a lot. One area of study that has captured my attention is our country’s watersheds. Besides providing a habitat for so many creatures that we regularly depend on (whether we know it or not), watersheds serve as the first filtration system for the water that many of us drink.

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Besides the awesome job, I have an exceptional work environment. My coworkers are extremely helpful; despite being exceptionally busy, they always take time to help me navigate the learning curve. My direct supervisor and the district ranger exceed all of my expectations. Besides being competent and capable individuals, they are kind people who seem genuinely interested and concerned for my well-being. I have expressed my desire to learn as much as I can about the forest and the Forest Service, and they both seem eager to help me accomplish that goal. We have an open line of communication and this makes work very smooth.

To say a little bit more about my job, I am a Youth and Community Engagement Program Assistant Coordinator. The Forest Service recognizes that managing the forest is an impossible task by themselves, and they have wisely decided to partner with the community in an effort to accomplish this goal. Two of my main duties include educating the public and establishing partnerships with like-minded organizations. My goal is to educate the public, especially urban youth, with conservation education and to demonstrate the value of a well maintained forest land. Our partners typically have the same goals, and I aim to lend a hand in whatever way possible to help them achieve those goals. The first few weeks here on site I mostly spent preparing for my role. This past week was the first time that I worked with the public, educating both high school students at the Klamath Basin Wildlife Refuge, and elementary students at their campus. I anticipate this to be a great year.

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VetsWork Jobs: Supporting the Career Transition

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There is a lot of chatter about this transition from the military culture to a civilian culture.  There are a number of research studies on the matter (see this from Pew Research among many more).  Books have been written like  “The Military to Civilian Transition Guide” by Savino and Krannich.  There are also numerous resources for support on the internet (Real Warriors).  Without intentional planning, though, this transition remains largely unsupported.

There are many factors that will determine success for our returning heroes, but one of the largest indicators seems to be tied to a community of supports.  Religion was identified in the Pew Research study as a key indicator of success.  This highlights the need for a community that is available as a system of supports for a wide range of transitional barriers.  One of those barriers is adjusting to civilian workplace culture and expectations.  This can be a barrier from both sides of the fence.  Veterans may struggle to adjust to the civilian workplace environment.  Employers may not understand the military ethic and highly trained strategies.  In either case, it is a matter of understanding and communication that makes the difference.

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Additionally, that community of supports is essential in supporting specific needs as they arise.  Being able to identify when help is needed is the first step.  Helping to locate resources is essential.  Whether it is post-traumatic stress, medical benefits, childcare, or military benefits a strong support system is essential to successful transition.  We know that our returning veterans have developed a strong reliance on a team.  That’s been their life in the military.  The civilian environment is very different.  It becomes very isolating.

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At the Mt. Adams Institute, we have designed VetsWork to be that system of supports.  We intentionally structure training for veterans and supervisors to create common understanding of this transition.  We build in team structures that include other veterans to connect with on a regular basis.  We connect with state and federal support agencies to ensure veterans are getting the services and benefits they need.  We work with specialists in the field of military to civilian transitions to better understand the issues and make sure we’re prepared to be there for our members.  VetsWork is that community of supports that the research says is so important.  Our mission is to make the transition a seamless and effective process.  We want to be more than just a job opportunity.  We want to be a powerful resource in transitioning to a new and exciting career after the military.

Log on to our website at www.mtadamsinstitute.com/programs to see how VetsWork has been designed to support veterans and natural resource agencies looking to hire them.  Also, visit the jobs page at www.mtadamsinstitute.com/jobs to see what internships are available.  Get started on your new career with VetsWork. We’re here for you.

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