VetsWork: A Fork In The Trail

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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: 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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VetsWork: “Fire Fever”

Darrin Grant

There is something that calls to the men and women who have served their country in the Armed Forces. It quietly gnaws at them from somewhere down deep where they can never quite understand it. From the beginning of time it was placed there, eons before their right hand was ever raised and the Oath of Enlistment sworn. Somehow it almost seems unfair that this group of fine folks was born with a feeling that leaves them unsatisfied outside the uniform, beyond the common brotherhood of a service.  However “the outside” as most veterans soon discover is called that for a lot of reasons. It is difficult even to describe for me and I have been out for over two years. I think the military is the single biggest paradox in the world. When you’re in most of the time you want out and when you finally get out for some inescapable reason you want back in; or at some level of the human psyche you think you do.

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So what are we to do but live our lives and learn the lessons? The only question that sometimes comes to me late at night is this; at whose cost and what price will this lesson be learned? I am thankful for my wife’s unending patience and encouragement through all of this. I say this all the time, but it can never be said too much. Without the love and support of my family and the good Lord I would not be where I am today! I think that for a lot of veterans like myself there will never be another real job. I think that it’s important to note that I actually have a real job right now. What I mean is this; after being in charge of millions of dollars of equipment and squads or even platoons of personnel the prospect of a conventional 9-5 job does not sit well with most veterans. Additionally, some lack skill sets and experience required for the career path they may want to cross over to. For myself it was never a question of finding another career; it was finding something that I love doing again. There is a huge gap that appears when you transition out of the military and generally speaking the longer the enlistment time the more deployments and therefore the larger the gap. Unfortunately most of the veterans I know are people in that gap. The key is finding something to fill the gap that has similar experiences with the military and that you will enjoy.

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                  As part of my internship I was fortunate enough to become Red Card certified and sent out west with a Wildland Firefighting crew. While in Wyoming our crew was able to help contain two different fires. Remember that gnawing little feeling? Since transitioning from the Army in 2014 I have been feeling it grow stronger each month. When I got to my first fire everything just sort of clicked, like I was supposed to be doing this and nothing else…that feeling was gone. Part of the reason I felt so at home is there are a lot of similarities between Wildland Firefighting and the Military. Too many to mention, really. However one is significant to me: in the beginning of the Incident Response Planning Guide (IRPG), which is like the Wildland Firefighter’s bible, on page V you will find the Army’s 11 Leadership Principals almost word for word. I guess they figured since they have been around since 1948 they wouldn’t change them!

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                  Being on a fire for 14 days pulling 16 hour shifts and sleeping in your tent is like this bizarre but mostly great combination of Basic Training, prison camp, and a resort in the Rockies. In basic training you meet a bunch of guys you don’t know, eat MRE’s, tell a lot of bad jokes and fart whenever you want. However by the end of it you all survived and bonded and it really developed you for the better as a person. Alright, so obviously I’ve never been to a prison camp…however at times (mostly cold trailing) fire was a toilsome task. Sometimes it was just downright punishing due to the sun and the smoke or just the grade of the slope we were actually standing and working on. However in fire just like anything else there is down time and for all that hard work there is rest. The money is better than prison camp too. Lastly, if you are lucky enough to land on a large fire as we did for our last 9 days out you will have a catering service, supply tent and hot showers; all the comforts of home. Not to mention we were looking at the snowcapped peaks of Yellowstone National Park!

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                  For those of you interested there are a lot of opportunities, especially if you are in good physical condition and are willing to travel. Additionally if you are a veteran there are multiple programs to get you certified, including the one that I am currently in; http://www.mtadamsinstitute.com/programs/ As veterans you remember that no matter what happens in life you can always recall Basic Training, right? Wildland Firefighting has that same effect. No matter what, you will always remember the sound of the crackle and the smells…you will always remember your first fire. To the members of the CAC-1 Crew out of West Virginia if you are reading this I hope you enjoyed the post and THANK YOU! Especially to Bravo Squad and the crew Bosses who shared both nuggets of wisdom and tidbits of ridiculousness, not necessarily in that order. So here’s to always having a “Pirate Tuesday” and may none of us ever have to grid three miles of desert sage again!

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VetsWork: “A Year of Reflection, Clarity and growth”

 

Brian Cummings

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Maxwell Lake trail, beautiful country

This year so far has been amazing. I have had the opportunity to go on adventures I have always dreamed of doing. Thankfully, I am literally living the dream.

One of the most exciting highlights so far, I had the opportunity to reside in a Guard Station in the Lostine River Corridor on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest for a couple months. It was a great time and setting for reflection and also close to trails.

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Guard station in Lostline River Cooridor

Over the duration of this internship I’ve had a great learning experience. The last two months or so I am actually applying the skills I have learned and it’s coming together like a jigsaw puzzle. It is exciting and I can’t wait to hopefully do this permanently.

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Marking boundary for Cold Canal timber sale

Over the course of the internship I have learned and have become qualified in a number of skills; wildland firefighting (Red Carded) marking trees and setting/marking boundary for timber sales in accordance of a prescription. I have even got into taking technical Pre-Cruise plots for stands for inventory purposes. Hope to keep learning and soak it up like a sponge. It is amazing how much I have learned and applied since I started this journey.

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Picture of Fire school at Mt. Emily

The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest is so diverse and vast. It is mind boggling how one side of the Forest is Hells Canyon and the other corner you have an Alpine forest. I find myself extremely lucky for this opportunity.

In conclusion, I am looking forward to the rest of my adventure. Hope to gain more experience and skills to help pursue my career in Forestry. I really feel this internship has helped me with skills and finding connections that will help me achieve my goal of a career in Forest or Recreation Management. I am excited for the future and what it holds.

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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 Mix of Work and Play. It is All Adventure.”

David Blair

The middle section of my service term has been a nice little ride. Getting out in the field more to do trails and recreation projects has been a lot of fun. As the snow melted I got to see and help work on some of the higher elevation sites like getting the Cascade Peaks Info Station ready for opening.

One of the great opportunities has been getting my hands dirty with the trail crew. I’ve gotten to see some beautiful areas on Mt. St. Helens and then also had the chance to take volunteers out on several projects to do trail work.

The latest recreation project I had a hand in was helping to mix and pour concrete along with setting posts for the installation of boot brush stations at Ape Cave. They will play an important role in helping to keep White Nose Syndrome out of the cave by decontaminating visitor footwear before they enter and after they exit the cave. Hopefully this action will prevent White Nose Syndrome from contaminating Ape Cave and will keep any bats in the cave healthy.

Some other highlights include:

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Artwork: In July I helped lead 12 elementary students for an overnight Volcano Camp. It was a really great experience. I got to lead the kids on hikes, a GPS scavenger hunt and assist with many other great activities. As part of the camp the kids had Arts and Crafts time. In the first project each child was given a piece of a picture relating to Mt. St. Helens and asked to paint it. The painted fragments from each child’s artwork will now be pieced together like a puzzle and displayed for all to see. The second project had the kids painting picture frames to display their group picture from camp. These they got to take home for the memories.

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Trashcano: As a parting experience from the Volcano Camp our campers got to experience Trashcano. I simulated a volcanic explosion using a trashcan, liquid nitrogen and water balloons. This was the highlight of the weekend and all the kids enjoyed throwing around any water balloons that didn’t break.

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Mountain Goat: Saw this mountain goat on a hike up the Sleeping Beauty trail. A great example of the wildlife that exists in our forests. Mountain Goats returned to Mt. St. Helens seven years after the eruption. Since then they have grown to a sizeable number as the regrowth on Mt. St. Helens continues.

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Rafting: One of the highlights of mine was whitewater rafting during our July Quarterly Training. Never having rafted before I was really excited. With such a big raft it was a team effort to paddle in the right direction and navigate the rapids. I plan to do more rafting in the future and maybe even purchase a kayak.

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VetsWork: “It’s the people’s forest, we just manage it”

Mike Bishop

As I departed Sisters this past Monday to start working in Crescent, I thought about all the people I’ve encountered and the experiences I’ve gathered since I first started this internship in February. I have gained more invaluable lessons in the first five months than I had gained in one season working for the Maryland State Parks. Splitting up my time between the Sisters and Crescent Ranger Districts has allowed me to gain twice the amount of knowledge and experience.

Three Creek Lake

The agency’s Special Uses program authorizes uses on National Forest System (NFS) land providing a benefit to the general public and protecting public and natural resources values. Currently, there are over 74,000 authorizations on the NFS lands for over 180 types of uses.

Sisters Stampede, over 500 mountain biker race under special use permit

When I started the internship in February I was handed the task of reissuing multiple land use permits on the District. The expired permits included multiple uses such as access roads to private property, signs, water spring systems, research studies, waste transfer stations, clubs, a church and a cabin encroachment. The land use feature of Special Uses has been by far the most enjoyable aspect of my work. My motto has always been it’s the people’s forest, we (the Forest Service) just manage it. It is possible to have a multitude of various user experiences on the forest through due diligence and plenty of NEPA (the National Environment Policy Act).

Spring near Canyon Creek

During my time on the Sisters Ranger District, I was able to successfully reissue over twenty expired permits. Along with the expired land use permits reissuance, I was also given the opportunity to process and monitor recurring recreation event permits along with a brand new outfitter and guide permit and still photography permit. It is very rewarding to be able to help individuals or businesses develop their ideas into fruition.

Metolius River

As a Special Uses administrator, through constant contact with your permit holders and by sorting through correspondence paperwork and documents in files that sometimes date back over 75 years or more, you gain a significant awareness of the historical nature and importance of the position. It is a unique and vital puzzle piece of the entire agency. I have been very humbled and privileged to have been part of the Special Uses program on the Deschutes National Forest.

Welcome Sign near D Wight Observatory

Smokey Bear

Odell Lake, outside of Crescent

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VetsWork: “Welcome to the Wild Side!”

Kyle Davies

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Elk are nature’s version of loiterers. Always hanging around.

I’ve seen a lot of things in my life. The sun getting blotted out by a sandstorm, a river swallowing a tank and a whole line of cars sliding downhill on a sheet of ice to name a few. I’ve learned to keep a careful eye on nature. The truly troubling thing about nature is that it keeps track of us as well. I’m going to show you some of nature’s watchers.

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Just because you can’t see him doesn’t mean he doesn’t see you.

First up is the sneaky lizard. He is rather subtle in his observation habits. I was able to obtain this photo while doing fence inventory in the Upper Imnaha area. It was a day of dodging rattlesnakes and climbing steep hills to make this photo happen. You probably can’t see it, but he had a clear glint of amusement in his eyes as he watched me. Next is the combined air and water watcher.

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Air or water there is no cover from the watchful eyes of these ducks.

These can be found patrolling the local water developments in the Chesnimnus Allotment. While some people in city parks try bribing them with food I would not recommend trying it out in their native habitats. I knew a man that lost a whole arm to a hungry duck out in the wild. They also like to use ducklings as bait to lure in the unwary. I would say approach with caution, but it’s far safer not to approach at all. The one good thing about ducks is that they make a lot of noise when moving fast so you at least have some warning to hightail it. The next one doesn’t share that reassuring trait.

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Chipmunks, nature’s stealth missiles.

They are among the smallest of nature’s observers, but should not be underestimated. When necessary they are able to move with a speed that must be seen to be believed. A chipmunk could be 50 feet away and then you blink and its only 25 feet away. They put horror movie monsters to shame in terms of unnatural speed. If you ever find yourself pursued by one make sure that you have someone with you that runs slower than you do. Also a light dusting of nuts to enhance your decoy is a good idea.

When out in nature make sure to keep an eye out. It is beautiful, but it is also perilous out there in the wild. You can be sure that there is always something out there keeping an eye on you.

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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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VetsWork: “The Right Stuff”

Michael McGraw

Tbe Right Stuff. Yes, I have borrowed this title from Tom Wolfe’s recounting of NASA’s first astronauts in the U.S. space program. While I may not have the qualities and characteristics described by Wolfe as needed to be a NASA astronaut, I have found another government agency where I might have The Right Stuff required for success.

1In a flight suit and getting ready to go up in the air, but not to space

Working in the VetsWork Environment program with the Forest Service has afforded me the opportunity to pursue my passions and apply my abilities in a fruitful manner towards objectives I consider more than worthwhile. While working on projects to manage our public lands I’ve been able to research, analyze, and write in varying ways to help complete Forest Service projects. There have been opportunities for me to interact with the public by receiving their input and feedback so we could design projects in the best possible way.

3The view from atop Eagle Cap summit

But one of the biggest positives in this experience so far has been the people I’ve had a chance to work with and for in the Forest Service. They have allowed me to take on these responsibilities and roles without hesitation, which have contributed to me developing a knowledge base in the natural resource field. This has absolutely been one of the key aspects contributing to having such a positive and beneficial experience in this program. It is this trust and mentorship I’ve received that now positions me to use my skills and newly acquired knowledge to move forward with a career in the natural resource field.

2Being part of a team

I am most grateful for this present opportunity and try to take advantage of everything it provides. I am excited for what the future holds, and I will always remember where this path started. I have no doubt that this path I have chosen is the right way forward. It is full of The Right Stuff.

4Taking a break while running through the Eagle Cap

 

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VetsWork: “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something.”

Heather Vaughan

After transitioning out of the military, I found myself longing for a job where I could get out from behind a desk and make a positive impact on the community immediately around me. The VetsWork Internship has given me exactly that. One of my biggest passions is educating people about how they can make a better tomorrow through caring for and working with our environment. Because let’s face it, things are kind of a mess right now in the world and we have to pick our battles carefully so as to not get overwhelmed. Well, conservation and preservation of our natural resources is the battle that I’m going to be fighting. And it all starts with education. So while there will always be the necessary jobs at the Forest Service, (making sure camp sites are maintained and doing paperwork), there are the more rewarding tasks of educating the community on how to live in harmony with the environment and preserve it. Having an office that is mostly outside is also a huge perk for me, as I’m a natural tree-hugger. Science has even proven that hugging a tree every so often is good for you!

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This was a delightful way of teaching cub scouts all about the Leave No Trace (LNT) principles and how to make a clean camp. Using the “Talking Hat” to keep order, we discussed all the good and bad things about the camp that had been set up. The older kids nailed all the rules of LNT that had been broken including the wild flowers that had been picked. (Leave what you find, take only pictures.) One of the best things about teaching kids these principles is that they will go back home and hopefully pass this knowledge on to their parents. Kids can be great reminders of the things that we should be doing right.

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For those of us that love being outdoors, sometimes it can be hard to look around the woods, beach, or mountains and see the pollutants of previous hikers and tourists. It can be discouraging even to know that our fellow human beings can be capable of. I’ve nearly spent a whole day on vacation just cleaning up fireworks along an area of the beach. Seeing the plastic and remainders of old campsites is disheartening. But if you ever do feel that way, remember what Edward Hale said, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do”.

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Trail maintenance is a huge part of the Forest Service. Fall and winter are the heavy trail maintenance times. So in preparation for that, I attended a week long class on how to maintain trails. Drainage was a huge portion of the class and understanding how people use trails. Needless to say, it was a great week to be outside.

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I’m happy to be a part of the Forest Service and for anyone else out there thinking about a career change, just know that taking a step out of our comfort zone can be very rewarding. I was very timid about retiring from the military after having only know that since I was 17. This VetsWork position reaffirmed my decision to retire from the military. I can still serve my country through AmeriCorps and feel a great job satisfaction. If we could all be so lucky as to find meaningful work that we love to do, we would be a lot better off. Taking the opportunity that was presented to me through VetsWork has been a great experience and I have no doubt it will take me places. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy my days working towards the good of conservation, educating the community about Leave No Trace, and maintaining the trails. Come visit the Pisgah National Forest to see all the great work being done. Hope to see you out and about the Grandfather Ranger District!

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VetsWork: Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest – Where Every Day is a Good Day

Allen Atkins

Wow, what an experience it is being part of the Vetswork Environment program and having the opportunity to work for the Forest Service on a daily basis. My name is Allen and I am a forestry technician on the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest where every day is a good day, full of opportunity and excitement. I have been doing this job for just over six weeks and I still cannot believe it, the wealth of knowledge and exceptional people that I am surrounded by every day is quite enjoyable. My job ranges from removing hazard trees to painting land lines to visiting schools and educating today’s youth about fire prevention with Smokey the Bear.

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The natural world has always been a career field that I have desired and tried hard to attain because of its ability to give back and maintain sustainability. Leaving the military and transitioning to civilian life was a scary moment, with a million thoughts a second about what I was going to do and having no real course of action or direction to follow. After applying and attaining this opportunity with Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork AmeriCorps program my desire to attain the ever illusive full time position in the environmental field is stronger than ever. It is a program that I would recommend to anyone and encourage them to take the leap of faith much as I did.

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You can learn more about the VetsWork program here: http://www.mtadamsinstitute.com/programs

2017 positions will be posted starting in September. http://www.mtadamsinstitute.com/jobs/

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GreenCorps: “On My Way” Wildland Firefighting with the Umatilla Veteran Crew

Dyllon Hatcher

Coming from a small mountain town of Susanville in Northern California, I’ve always loved the outdoors. Growing up in the Ponderosa forests full of deer and small woodland creatures made me feel like I had a connection with the woods and the nature around me. After a small amount of time in the military, I wound up in the wonderful city of Portland, Oregon, which for me was a big change from the edge of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. I love the city and what it has to offer, but I found myself missing the dry air of the eastern side of the western states. After working for the city in the Parks and Recreation Department, a coworker of mine brought me a Craigslist ad for VetsWork GreenCorps, an AmeriCorps program of the Mt. Adams institute.

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Thompson Peak in Janesville.  

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Portland, Oregon.

As a veteran’s program I was instantly interested and started my application as soon as I could. After months of phone calls, emails, and applications I finally found out I was accepted. My particular internship was for wildland firefighting. Although I ran into bumps in my road to success, some car problems and money issues, I managed to make my way to the Mt. Adams Institute in Trout Lake, WA for our orientation. This is where I got to meet my group of fellow veterans who will join me in the new adventure. After our initial meet and greet, a few awesome activities, pack test and paperwork, we traveled to Ukiah, OR where we are on our way to be a part of the Umatilla Veterans Crew.

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Mt. Adams in Trout Lake, Washington.

Now I am currently learning how to become a wildland firefighter, something I honestly never thought that I would be able to do. Under the supervision of some great leaders, I am working on and becoming certified in chainsaw operation, first aid, cpr and lots of other great things to come. I live in an awesome bunkhouse with some great people who all have helped to serve this country and like myself, strive to become a greater help to not only the community, but to the forest and the land around us. I can’t wait for the rest of my internship to play out, and look forward to all of the great memories to be made. I’m on my way to success.

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