VetsWork: “Welcome to the Wild Side!”

Kyle Davies


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.


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.


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.


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: Excited on a New Adventure

Brian Cummings

My whole life it has been always a dream of mine to work in the Forest. Finally, I am living it for a whole year. I will admit at first, I was a little hesitant because I have worked seasonal jobs which never turned into permanent positions. Consequently, you can probably see why the hesitation. Over the last couple of months since I have been in the VetsWork program. Thankfully, I have been eased and the hesitation has turned to a fire to learn and gain experience. Mt Adams Institute has given me an opportunity to jumpstart a career that once was a dream to a reality.

Blog 1 Moraine Trail above Wallowa Lake

Blog 1 Photo 2

The last few months I have been learning different things in my field. I have been learning hands on like I am an actual Forestry Technician and it’s only the beginning. My sponsor has me going to trainings and actually out in the field. If I have questions the team is eager to share their knowledge.

Blog 1 Photo 3

I am beginning to realize this could actually turn into something great for the future. I am excited and ready and eager to learn more. Also the networking with people in the field or out in the community is awesome.

Blog 1 Photo 4

Blog 1 Imnaha Canyon

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VetsWork: Sense of Place – Tomorrow is History

Jimmy Pardo

So much has happened since I started working with the Mt. Adams Institute (MAI). My first experience with MAI was with the Public Lands Steward (PLS) program in 2013 and I am now in my third year with the VetsWork program. It continues to be such a rewarding experience for me both personally and professionally. On-the-job experience as well as new skills have made me into a far more confident prospect for work with a land management agency. Though I can’t help, but to curiously look at the bigger picture of our world and my place in it. One thing is certain, I love being in nature and so does this community in/around Trout Lake, Washington

This is my second year working on the Mt. Adams Ranger District as, both, an intern for the Mt. Adams Institute doing graphic design/social media and with the US Forest working with developed recreation. The two sides of this unique internship make for a very spoiling work balance.

Screenshot 2016-04-25 16.54.55

Three days out of the week I am sharing blogs (like this one!), making flyers, managing our facebook and instagram accounts as well as making videos from time to time. This is a lot fun for anyone who enjoys being creative and sharing the beauty of the natural world. The work I support at the MAI office is not just needed, but very rewarding and I’m honored to be a part of so many new chapters for our interns, past and present. The staff here at MAI makes our day-to-day work so much fun. We meet weekly to stay on top of each programs varying schedules and their related tasks. We’re privileged to have a really solid team of great human beings who go above and beyond to make sure our interns have the support they need to be successful.

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2015 PNW VetsWork Graduation – Family, friends, members & staff.

Two days out of the week I am geared up and ready for almost anything nature can throw my way. The work with developed recreation varies with the seasons and currently we’ve been making the switch from servicing Snoparks to day-use areas, trails and campgrounds. On one day I may be cleaning outhouses. Another, I might be rerouting a trail with a crew of hard working inmates from the nearby counties and yet another day I might be on my own, scouting a trail for future log out (trial clearing). It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, cold or just mentally a tough day… I always make sure to look at the beauty that is all around me. It is ever present for those that take the time to notice. It may not be quantifiable data or even be directly connected to the project you’re working on, but if I wanted to have tunnel vision just for the work, I would be robbing myself of the perks of working in nature. Observing the wildlife, weather and changes in the forests further connects me to mother nature and those who love her.

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Sense of Place

Lately I’ve been reading Chief Joseph: The Biography of A Great Indian by Chester Anders Fee. It was published in 1936 and though I had plenty of modern alternatives to choose from, I went with this older and spend-ier hard back. Perhaps it was the magic of the oldest bookstore in Oregon, Klindts Booksellers (open since 1870) that drew me deeper into our local US history, the forming of the Oregon Trail and the heartbreaking removal/genocide of almost all natives tribes from this country.


While learning the gritty details of the mixing of these two very different cultures, settlers and the tribes, I can’t help but feel like part of the story when I am here in the very region where this surreal story unfolded.


Celilo Falls

I can almost see it; the lively lower waters of the Columbia, Celilo Falls bursting with Salmon and the growing cloud of dust of wagons making their way west on the Oregon Trail. I am especially envious of our members in the Eastern side of Oregon, who might recognize or have even visited some of the historic landmarks mentioned in detail in this book. 

The first image in the book gives a stark glimpse of what westward expansion really meant for the Nez Perce and most other tribes in the US during the late 1800’s. A migrating people who lived off the land for thousands of years saw these immigrants arrive [quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]”as a trickle, then a stream, then a flood.”

~Bobbie Conner, Director, Tamástslikt Cultural Institute in Pendleton, OR[/quote]

In the Fall of 1841, 24 immigrants came to Oregon. The next year, 114. In 1843, just two years later, 1000 immigrants came to Oregon.


This period in time is profoundly sad, but an important part of American history nonetheless. When we talk about having a “Sense of Place” and being connected to an area and the communities therein, this story, that of the original inhabitants of this land, is key in understanding how and how not to move forward when it comes to “caring for the land and serving people.”

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″] “Why is any of this important now?” [/quote] When we look at what this place was like 200 years ago and what has been developed in a relatively short time, it’s easy to see the reasons for tribal animosity towards any federal land management agency; being removed from their ancestral homes followed by the industrial development of those lands, rivers and streams. Even the treaties of both 1955 and 1963 were never honored. Miners in search of gold entered the Nez Perce reservation by the thousands as soon as six years after the 1963 treaty was signed. That would be more than enough to cause a major conflict should it ever happen to Americans today. A sincere understanding of this, as a rep for any US gov’t agency, is paramount in any land/resource management discussion with Tribes and cannot be understated. 

bonneville construction

Construction of Bonneville Dam – August 18, 1936

It’s all connected.

The reality of nature is that you cannot single-out and study anything without also studying many other related things. Unfortunately U.S. resource management agencies were formed around that very idea; that you can look at one thing in nature and manage it in total isolation of all of the other elements of an ecosystem. Today, land-management agencies are slowly seeing nature in a more holistic way; reflecting some of what native people were doing hundreds of years ago.


One example of this is the current push from the Wildland Firefighting community around Wenatchee, Washington for more prescribed burns in the spring, thinning the forest to reduce devastating summer fires. Historically this is what the first Oregon Trail settlers arriving in Spring would see entering Oregon, a blue hue of smoke cast over what were then called the Blue Mountains, now the Wallowas. This practice opened the forest floor for hunting, but also made more resilient forests.

burn piles in forest MKauffman cropped

Another example of a holistic approach to optimizing natural ecosystems, in my opinion, is the removal of deadbeat dams (dams producing less energy than they’re worth), which immediately opens up everything upstream for the return of salmon. This injection of fish upstream brings untold benefits to those ecosystems deprived of salmon runs since the start of the dam era.

condit construction

Construction of Condit Dam 

[youtube height=”HEIGHT” width=”WIDTH”]PLACE_LINK_HERE[/youtube]

Destruction of Condit Dam 

Phew… long blog, eh?

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. Starting a career with a land management agency would be an incredible privilege and my mom could finally relax, knowing I can afford my own socks and underwear. But on a serious note, I wrote this blog, not to point fingers or place blame, but to shine a light on how we are writing history every day and I can only hope that our nation keeps this history close to heart as we move forward in caring for the land and serving people, as always “for the greatest good” or as many natives put it “for the seventh generation.”

Articles related to topics mentioned in this blog:

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VetsWork: More than Gold – A Wealth of History in the Wallowas

Verna Gonzales

En Route to Menucha Driving on Clouds

En Route to Orientation Driving on Clouds

Taking that step in drastically changing my career path felt risky. I’ve done archaeological field work in the past, but it mostly involved curation. I haphazardly stumbled on the AmeriCorps VetsWork opportunity online and delved into work with the U.S. Forest Service. I am currently assigned to Joseph, OR at the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. I am in the middle of nowhere and it is beautiful; a little piece of the U.S. untouched by traffic lights, major crime, and major retail stores.

Wallowa Lake

Wallowa Lake

Week one was amazing. Our initiation into the program consisted of housing all the VetsWork Interns into one bunk house filled with awkward-laughter-filled introductions, motivational talks, necessary paperwork, and outdoor activities. Best of all the first week allowed us to grow a network that will probably last a lifetime. I got to meet men and women with similar backgrounds and the greatest motivational and supporting team ever (no coaxing for me to tell you that, it’s the big hardy truth).


The Dug Bar Recreation Area

First day on the job was nerve wracking. I had not felt homesick just yet, but some anxiety definitely set in. After a few more days of learning new names, shown around the facilities, and sitting down with my sponsor to review the work plan — the anxiety was gone. The realization that you just embarked on some kind of adventure settled in and I had to get on the ball to start reading and learning as much as I possibly could. My sponsor has a wealth of knowledge and having that one-on-one interaction with someone in the field is a luxury. I get first-hand experience in the dynamics of working within the U.S. Forest Service.

Chinese Massacre Site

Site of the 1887 Chinese massacre in Wallowa County

Two and half months into the program and the homesickness kicked in. I started to experience what my sponsor called “Dog Withdrawals” (due to the fact I had to leave my dogs back home with a loved one in Colorado). Working miles away from home and temporarily departing from those you love has made me realize something I wish to pass on to future interns: Do not foist yourself into feeling that you abandoned those you love. Think of this as an opportunity for advancement. An advancement that is going to put you and those you love in a better position in life whether it be financially or just simply having the satisfaction that you are doing something you can make a difference in. I am blessed to have friends, family, and loved ones back me up on this decision 100%.

I’ve made several new friends, including the previous Archaeology Intern Cynthia Armentrout. I have gone hiking on the Wallowa Lake moraines and various other trails in the vicinity. With my sponsor, I have had the opportunity to network with numerous groups of people, getting advanced training on the Section 106 process, and how to document surveys and monitoring. I’ve learned the prehistory, proto-history, and modern history of the Nez Perce and of the region. Thanks to Ms. Bishop at Wallowology, I understand the area’s geology and I know now how to differentiate some of the trees in the area. I partook in an Introduction to NEPA course. I have gotten to camp out (in the cold and in the rain) and have even taken a ride through the Snake River on a boat a couple times. The best part is being able to get out in the open and visit all the archaeological and historic sites.


Kirkwood Ranch

In the future, I hope to utilize the training that my sponsor, coworkers, and mentors have bestowed on me and push forward in a career in Cultural Resource Management (CRM) or Archaeology. The potential of doing what I love, learning and getting out in the field is turning out to be a dream career possibility.

Morraine Hike

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VetsWork: Umatilla National Forest HQ’s New Conservation Educator

Daniel Abbott

Hello everyone. I’m the Conservation Education and Wilderness Intern on the Umatilla National Forest. What does that mean? Well, I work for the Public Affairs Officer and Youth Engagement Coordinator and part of my duties are to assist them with their daily operations.

Over the past couple weeks I have been coordinating the presenters and setting up tours for Tri Tech Skills Center’s Natural Resources Career Camp for Young Women. During this summer camp, 20 high school aged women will come together from the Tri-Cities area and participate in hands-on activities led by professionals from the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and other state and federal agencies. The students will get to participate in:

  • Interpretive Hikes
  • Plant & Tree Identification
  • Wildlife Rehabilitation Presentation
  • Law Enforcement Activities
  • Fire Suppression Hands-on Training
  • Observing a Prescribed Burn
  • Information Sessions on College Opportunities
  • Job Opportunity Presentations


My work station here on the Umatilla National Forest Headquarters in Pendleton, OR.

Coming up in April I will get to take part in an Arbor Day celebration in Pendleton. Pendleton Parks & Recreation, Pendleton Tree Commission, and Umatilla National Forest are coming together to educate the community on how to plant trees properly, where to plant specific trees and how to prune them. During these events we will be handing out:

  • Western Larch
  • Mountain Ash
  • Mountain Alder
  • Service Berry
  • Mock Orange

These tree seedlings will be free and they can be planted anywhere they want. And if you’re lucky enough to stop by at the right time you can get your picture taken with Smokey the Bear… who will be played by yours truly!

1990 "Why?" by Rudy Wendelin. PR Image for "Celebrating Smokey Bear: Rudy Wendelin and the Creation of an Icon" exhibition, August 9, 2014 - February 1, 2015. Organized by the Virginia Department of Forestry, to celebrate its 100th anniversary. Image courtesy of the National Agricultural Library, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

 “Why?” by Rudy Wendelin. Image courtesy of the National Agricultural Library, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As part of the VetsWork program participants get together three times during the term of service to share experiences and engage in educational and/or professional development activities. These are called Pod Meetings and our first took place on March 24th in Joseph, OR near Wallowa Lake. The weather, in Pendleton, OR, was just getting into the mid 60’s and sunny while by the lake it was still snowing.


Joseph, OR. Woke up Friday morning to find a snow cover vehicle.

The VetsWork AmeriCorps members from the Deschutes, Umatilla, and the Wallowa-Whitman National Forests got together to learn more about the region from Mary Ellen Bishop who works at Wallowology, which is a non-profit educational and science based community center. Ms. Bishop explained to us how Wallowa Lake was formed from ancient glaciers, how volcanic activity also had a role in creating the landscape in Wallowa County and taught us about some of the plant life in the area as well. During the day Ms. Bishop had her dog, Diesel, along at almost every stop. The rambunctious Australian Shepard seemed to be full of endless energy and was always willing to chase pine cones.


Wallowa Lake State Park. Diesel wanting someone to throw a pine cone.

We visited the Wallowology Center, Iwetemlaykin Trail Site, the South end of Wallowa Lake, a cut out along Highway 350, and an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Steelhead Acclimation Station. While at the ODFW site, we said goodbye to Ms. Bishop as she handed us over to the staff at that facility. Here, we learned how 260,000 baby fish were cared for and released at different locations around the state when they grew up to be big and strong. When the fish are ready to leave the staff allow the fish to leave on their own. After so long, if the teenage fish haven’t left on their own, they are politely nudged out of mom dad’s basement and told to get out!

ODFW Group pic

Back Row: Mike Bishop, Tyson Schoenmoser, Myself, Mike McGraw & Richard “Allen” Castillo.

Front Row: Verna Gonzales, Mary Bishop, Kyle Davies & Brian Cummings.

Well until next time America!

Dan Abbott – OUT.

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VetsWork: A new year, a new place, and a new opportunity.

Kyle Davies

Blackmore Scenic View 0202 #2

I really didn’t expect so many new things to come with 2016. When I was still in 2015 browsing the Boise Craigslist for a new job I had rather conservative hopes for the coming months. I had no way of knowing how much change I was going to experience with the coming of 2016. Thanks to the Mt. Adams Institute I am now in scenic Joseph, Oregon working in the great outdoors. The fact that I get to work outside so much is already great, but that I get to work in areas like Hells Canyon and the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest is just icing on the cake. Oh, did I mention that the bunkhouse I get to live in is within walking distance of Wallowa Lake? It’s still a little cold to take full advantage of the outdoor opportunities in the area, but that’ll change in due time.

Blackmore 0206 Scenic View

One of the less pleasant aspects of the area is the rather unpredictable weather. It can quickly go from warm and sunny to snowing in the same day. When out hiking for work or for pleasure I have to be ready for anything, which means a backpack at least half full of winter clothing. Another reason to have a wide selection of clothing on hand is the variety of elevations that I work in. I can be up on a mountain helping with timber or way down in the bottom of Hells Canyon inventorying allotment fences and water developments.

Blackmore Scenic View 0202 #1

The weather tends to put limits on how much fieldwork can be done in the early months. A lot of the higher elevations are closed off due to snow still making the areas impassible. When there is a good day we try to take full advantage of it and spend a full day out in the field. I’ve been devoting most of my field time to the Blackmore Allotment in the Upper Imnaha area. It’s pretty steep going in a lot of areas. The elevation is typically about 2,600 feet near the river, but rises as high as 4,000 feet for some of the areas that I’ve inventoried. A lot of the terrain is inaccessible by vehicle so I tend to put in a lot of legwork on a good field day. I even get to play hide and seek with many water developments whose locations are only roughly marked on old maps. When I find them I fix their exact locations with GPS so that they can later be entered into the GIS system for easy review later.

Blackmore Elk #1

It’s only the start of my internship here in Joseph, but I’m already enjoying myself. I’m getting to know the local people and the area itself. I’ve already seen some nice country, but once the weather warms up I’ll be able to go to some really remote areas that no one has been to in decades.

Lostine Corridor 3_3_2016 #3

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VetsWork: Taking a Leap of Faith

Michael McGraw

Making the decision to become a VetsWork AmeriCorps member with the Mt. Adams Institute could be described as a leap of faith for me. I was at a point in my life where I was in a comfortable routine—I had a good job where I performed at a high level. However, there was not a sense of fulfillment from being passionate and satisfied in my professional life. That lack of completeness drove me to leave a stable and secure life and venture into what could be described as the unknown. There can be a great deal of uncertainty or hesitancy when one makes a grand change in their life but as the saying goes—‘nothing chanced, nothing gained.’


While at the outset this journey may have begun as a leap of faith, it has quickly descended into a landing zone of opportunity. Three remarkable organizations have partnered in a manner that will allow me to grow by learning and acquiring new skills in the natural resource field. From the beginning there have been people willing to help guide me in a way that will allow me to take advantage of a vast array of opportunities provided by the VetsWork internship.


The Mt. Adams Institute, along with AmeriCorps and the United States Forest Service, has provided an opportunity for me to mesh my professional life with the personal values and ethos I embrace. In the Writer Analyst position on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest there is a chance to have an impact on the local community in a healthy and productive way. Additionally, being able to work with the Forest Service allows me to have an impact on our nation’s natural resources. The combination of being able to impact the local community in a way that is harmonious with the natural world is an opportunity that will be extremely rewarding for me personally.


While I am now reassured in the leap of faith I took, there was still the initial doubt that I was making the right call to uproot my entire life to take a job all the way across the country. But with the support of the Mt. Adams Institute staff and the chance to learn with the Forest Service I am continually grateful for taking a chance. Everyday I now look forward to the present opportunities and for what the future holds.

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