Public Lands Stewards: We Are Hat!

I was laughing and crying with excitement as I drove across the Hood River Bridge between Oregon and Washington. I couldn’t believe I was moving to the beautiful state of Washington… It seemed so surreal for me at the moment. Shall I provide some backstory? Continue Reading…

VetsWork: Life at the Leavenworth Fish Hatchery

One month into my internship and I’ve already learned so much. My VetsWork AmeriCorps position is with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, specifically at the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery as a visitor service assistant. Like any new position, different location and fresh beginning, the first month seems to be the busiest. The first few days started with briefly familiarizing myself with the ins-and-outs of the Fish and Wildlife Service, which falls under the Department of the Interior. I then quickly jumped into the abundant and diverse work of the Information and Education Department. This included involvement in current programs such as hatchery tours, snowshoe tours, high school education programs on site, and community education programs off site. One thing I learned right away was that the programs don’t stop coming, so constant planning is a large task for the department. I’ve received various trainings and have been learning about the day to day operations of a large-scale hatchery. There’s a lot to learn! My experience so far has been nothing less than great… and pleasantly busy!

Swiftwater Safety Training

This was the first training I received shortly after arriving to my service site. It was two full days that broke down roughly into 3 hours in the classroom, 3 hours in the river from the shore with no boats, and 6 hours on the river in a personal watercraft, winding miles down the Wenatchee River through a few decent rapids! When I was told about the training I believe I said “that’s sweet” aloud, but then my next thought was “Um wait, it’s like 19 degrees out with 10 feet of snow everywhere, does the training start in June?” I got my certificate the following Thursday!

Snowshoe Tour

Here was one of our scheduled preschool tour groups. We started with a hatchery tour then took them on a one mile snowshoe tour that closely follows the hatchery’s Icicle Creek Nature Trail. As you can see, we had to keep it fun for the little adventurers.

A Glance at Trail Maintenance

Fish Health Education Tour

There’s a small high school on site that is with us here learning about fish health and the workings of a hatchery. They are a fun group of students and seem to be enjoying the opportunity for a much more hands on learning experience. There are multiple schools that come to the hatchery and any school is welcome and encouraged to come and get as much education as possible.

Winning

Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery has been hosting the Nordic events of the Special Olympics Washington Winter Games for over 15 years! I was glad to be here all weekend in support of the event. Pictured here is the Games oldest athlete with supporters.

Public Lands Stewards: Not Your Average Business Trip

ellie-demarseI recently had the amazing opportunity to spend two weeks in sunny California…for work! My AmeriCorps Public Lands Stewards position at the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery involves Latino outreach and Spanish/English translations, and what better place to research bilingual outreach than southern California? My wonderful supervisor, Julia, worked with a couple of Fish and Wildlife employees and partners in CA to set up my trip. The main goal of the trip was to gain exposure to well-established bilingual programming and apply what I learned to future bilingual programs at the Hatchery. I could write a novel about all of the neat things I learned and cool people I met on my trip, but I’ll just give you the highlights…

Otter Selfie at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Otter Selfie at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

My trip began in Monterey, CA. While there, I spent two days shadowing educators at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I got to see programs for a variety of ages, from preschool through high school. I especially enjoyed watching the preschool programs. Preschoolers are great to work with, because everything you tell them absolutely blows their minds. Aquarium staff introduced the preschoolers to different ocean habitats and the creatures that live in those “homes.” The kids got to see (and sometimes touch) different plants and animals that live in coastal habitats, and it was amazing for me to see the wonder in their eyes and their excitement at feeling a slimy kelp leaf or a rough abalone shell. The best part about this preschool program was that it was entirely bilingual. Most of the students were learning Spanish at home and English at school, so the aquarium staff smoothly switched between the two languages to help the kids learn new vocabulary in both English and Spanish. I plan to use this style of interpretation in future tours that I give at the Hatchery!

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium

After enjoying a few days with the otters and beaches of Monterey, it was time for the next leg of my trip–San Diego! I spent a week exploring the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex and learning about the challenges faced by urban wildlife refuges. The Complex consists of three urban refuges, and each refuge faces its own unique set of challenges.

The San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is entirely surrounded by the city of San Diego and the San Diego Bay. The site is an important place for migratory birds, but the refuge’s proximity to a large city can make it challenging to maintain a healthy, natural ecosystem.

San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge

San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Tijuana Slough NWR is close to the border with Mexico along the Tijuana River. This refuge is situated between two large cities–San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico. Both nature and pollutants do not recognize international borders, so the refuge is affected by both. Because Mexico and the United States have different environmental policies, it can be difficult to manage this type of refuge without communication and cooperation on both sides of the border.

Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge

Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge

The third refuge in the Complex is the San Diego NWR. This is a large, noncontiguous refuge outside of the city. San Diego NWR has many access points, making it difficult for staff to enforce NWR regulations and monitor trail usage.

My trip to San Diego taught me that urban refuge management must focus on managing the people that impact the refuge and not just the plants and animals on the refuge itself. My experience at the San Diego Refuge Complex has inspired me to seek future employment in the urban refuge system.

I feel lucky that I had the chance to experience so many interesting things on my trip. I want to send a HUGE thank-you to my supervisor and all of the other people who helped make this trip happen!

Rosy Boa Selfie at San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Rosy Boa Selfie at San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge

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

Verna Gonzales

Over 1000 hours in and we are a little more than one month away from the end of the internship. The summer has been somewhat of a blur, but I am happy to announce that the job search has commenced and a few of those positions have been referred to the hiring manager. Just waiting on the phone call (s)… In the meantime, Tony has in store TONS of back country overnight trips which will test my physical strength, endurance, and definitely the knees.

img_20160707_113647Hells Canyon in early summer with a thunderstorm rolling in.

The views have been amazing and the people I’ve connected with are becoming bittersweet because I know I’ll have to leave soon to pursue my career and education. Let the good times roll, as the song says. I’m working hard, but hardly feel its effects as it is work that I am genuinely enjoying. The training experiences have been phenomenal. One included learning how to restore and repair historic windows.

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The number one most treasured thing about the internship is being able to get a first-hand glimpse at the work involved in this Archeology position with the Forest Service. I can pick and choose the sides I like and the sides I do not like, and am able to make a clearer decision on the next steps I’ll be taking. Today I will be taking steps to help my strength and stamina for next week’s back-country trip (I’m just going on a 2 hour hike after work). Next month I will be taking tons of GIS classes to help grow my knowledge base in the technology needed for this position. Next year I hope to enroll at Adams State University for their Master’s program in Cultural Resource Management.

img_20160824_170505Mormon Flat Cabin Circa estimated early 1900s

My supervisor, Tony, has been an awesome mentor and I cannot thank him enough for putting up with all my questions. Which reminds me, for those future interns: Ask as many questions as you can possibly think of! I’m getting quite comfortable with mapping, the pace and compass method, using GPS technology, and my overall map reading skills have definitely seen some improvement. On the personal side, I was able to receive guests this summer which helped boost my mood ten-fold. Seeing familiar faces and introducing them to a little slice of heaven was definitely needed!

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Public Lands Stewards:  “Lessons from the Trail”

Jessy Mueller

As the season is coming to an end I am reflecting back to the last five months of living and working in the backcountry. Through this summer’s hard work I have grown a lot as a person. It didn’t come easy, but with some trial and error I can safely say there is a lot of life lessons I will be taking away from this Public Lands Stewards AmeriCorps experience.

The first life lesson came to me on a cold, 35 mph windy morning. My co-worker Azrael and I were setting up the ranger base camp at Lyman Lake in early July. There was still lots of snow on the ground, but it was melting fast. Two days prior our boss had hiked up with us showing us around, telling us different projects to work on and where to set up camp. The ranger camp consists of a large cook tent and a small 2 person sleeping tent. They are about 500 feet away from one another and to get from one tent to another we had to walk across a snow field. Our boss informed us there was a creek somewhere under the snow and showed us a long route to get from one tent to the other. Fast forward 2 days, our boss left us to finish setting up camp and acclimating ourselves to the area. It was 7:15 a.m. when I emerged from my tent, still half asleep with no coffee in my system I made the cold trek to the cook tent. It was very windy, and I see Azrael with all his strength trying to keep the large tent from blowing away because we did not stake down the tent properly. Mistake #1. I feel frantic and want to rush over to help him. The snow by now is melted by 50% and a direct trail to the cook tent is SLIGHTLY uncovered. It’s not the route that our boss showed us, but in my mind I should trust the trail, right? Wrong! Little did I know this path was created by previous rangers to get water from the creek. I am now thigh high in freezing cold water, in my boots and work clothes, trying to jump out on the snowy edge. Once I pull myself out, I unhappily walk up to Azrael thinking he saw the whole disaster, but he didn’t. Instead I hear “About time you got up! Its hurricane winds out here and the tent is ripping!” In the calmest voice I could manage I scream back “I just fell in the creek!” But I knew there was no time to waste. The only thing worse than trying to stake down a tent with no feeling in my fingers and toes would be going back to the office and explaining to our boss how we managed to break a tent on the first day of being unsupervised. So with soaking clothes we staked it down, managing only to put a few tears in the rain fly. An hour later I was finally able to put dry clothes on and warm up with some hot coffee. I can honestly say it was the worst morning of the whole summer, but some valuable life lessons were learned.

#1 – Always Listen to your boss when they show you a route to take. Even if you think you know a better way, most likely you don’t.

#2 – Don’t assume social paths have your best interest.

#3 – Don’t take short cuts

#4 – Always bring an extra pair of socks

#5 – Make sure to have coffee before making decisions in the morning.

The second major incident happened a few days later at the Holden Village ranger cabin. The project was too chop large logs into smaller pieces for the wood burning stove. Once everything was chopped you re-stack the logs in an organized pile next to the cabin. Easy enough. A coworker and I started the re-piling task, she would toss me the wood and I would stack it. I decided I didn’t need to wear my hard hat because I have stacked wood at home and never wore one, why would I now? About 30 minutes in we got in a groove, toss, catch, stack, toss, catch, stack. We got it down so well there wasn’t even a pause between each toss, leaving little room for error. Then it happened. A log slipped between my hands and fell on the ground. I should have let it go, picked it up later knowing that in a few short seconds another log would be flying towards me. But being mission driven, I had to pick it up. As I bend over I hear “JESSSSSSY!!” BAM. A small log hit my skull. I look at my co-worker, her face says it all. “What is my head bleeding?” I started to ask… but before I can finish my sentence blood comes rushing down my face. Luckily we were near a well-stocked first aid kit and I had a wilderness first responder tending to my wound. Another co-worker walks up to the situation and shakes his head. “Jessy, Jessy, Jessy. No PPE?” (PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment, A.K.A my bright yellow hard hat.) Thankfully, all I got was a bump, a small cut and another life lesson learned.

#6- Always wear your PPE!

#7 – No matter how monotonous a task is always pay attention.

#8 – Don’t be afraid to tell your co-worker to slow down.

#9- Listen to your gut instinct. If your gut tells you to let the log go and pick it up later… pick it up later.

#10- Always carry a first aid kit.

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I could go on and on with more stories from this summer and how I learned a few things, but I will keep it brief. Other major life lessons were, always bring 2 watches when you are rangering alone, especially if one of the watches was only $9 from Walmart. If you don’t, you might get really good at telling the time by the sun. Always bring your rain gear in your day pack, you never know when a storm decides to roll in for a whole work day. If you don’t, you will end up with soaked work clothes for a few days. Always double check you have everything packed in your backpack before you leave for a 9-day hitch in the backcountry. If you don’t you might forget your stove and have to eat uncooked cold oatmeal and coffee for breakfast every morning. Never leave your backpack in a rat infested shelter in the woods. If you do, your pack might smell like sour urine for the rest of the work week. And if you ever happen to find yourself wearing a Smokey Bear costume for a Fourth of July parade, while sitting on a bench in a back of a pick-up truck. Listen to the driver when they tell you not to stand up. If you don’t listen, the driver might slam on the breaks, making you fall behind the bench, on your back, with your feet and hands straight up in the air.

As you can see I have learned a lot this summer and will always remember these experiences. Glacier Peak Wilderness, you will always hold a special place in my heart.

Thanks AmeriCorps. Jessy out.

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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: “My Dream is a Dream No Longer”

jimmy-pardo

In a strange series of fortunate events, my wife and I are moving off the Mt. Adams Ranger District after two incredible years in a 1932 Ranger Assistant cabin built by the very capable young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps. It’s a dream cabin without a doubt, but finding our own place has been a goal of ours knowing that we’d love to stay in the area after my last internship. We knew moving out of this Forest Service cabin would be bittersweet and have soaked up each day enjoying Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter in all their Cascadian majesty. 

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After three years in the VetsWork program I’ve exhausted AmeriCorps’ 4 term limit, having also been a member of the Public Lands Stewards program in 2013. Through the Mt. Adams Institute I have served in the the Mt. Hood National Forest, Gifford Pinchot Headquarters and the Mt. Adams Ranger District. In each position I had the pleasure of exploring local hikes, getting to know the communities and creating great memories with my wife, coworkers and friends. This current position here in Trout Lake, Washington has been the luminous cherry on top of the mountain and now we hope to create our own place, although temporary, where we can continue to work & play in this valley of dreams. I’d say more about it, but I’d hate for people to have a romantic sense of this place without knowing the work required to be here. I love it for many lofty reasons, but also because of the hard work and the great people this environment creates. Its a trade off of struggles living so close to nature versus living in a city. There’s no traffic or buildings obscuring the open view of the horizon, but there’s also no public transportation, major stores, fast food, movie theaters or music venues (or lots of people). The solitude is wonderful, if you enjoy your own company. If you don’t, you could go a lil stir crazy, especially in the Winter.

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To me, the hard work it takes to be in the forest year round is just too much fun and so rewarding, I don’t know how I could ever go back to a city. Thankfully we have been offered a very unique opportunity to reside in a stretch of land on the Washington side of the Columbia, just as close to both my wife and I’s workplaces.

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So whats so special about this place? It’s almost completely off-grid; No power, century-old spring-fed water and no cell service at all! This can be daunting for some, but for me it makes me smile just thinking about it.

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The past several months we have been preparing for this move in big ways. I purchased a sweet little 1997 red Mazda truck to haul wood and handle light amounts of snow. I didn’t think I would ever fall in love with a truck, but with a tape deck and the soundtrack from the movie Stand By Me, I feel like a time-traveler. If you haven’t seen the movie (and you should) it was filmed in a small town north of Eugene, called Brownsville (Castle Rock in the film). What Ive been feeling is a kind of nostalgia for a place I’ve never been, for an era not my own. Imagine crossing old bridges, hauling wood to an off-grid cabin and blasting this old tune. Good times.

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When I don’t have rainbows and unicorn filling my head with what the winter will be like, I imagine the complete opposite.

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So I also now have an old snowmobile and am still piling up as much wood as possible. We have an old propane stove, a new propane fridge all with new gas lines, regulator, gauges and shut of valves. We’ll store lots of water, but the spring apparently works through Winter. Currently Ive been building our outhouse which about as happy as I can get working on a poop throne. Ive loved outhouses way before I started cleaning them for the Forest Service. In fact theres a great little book called The Vanishing American Outhouse which comically details all the problems of indoor plumbing (acoustical mainly) and how some of the best ideas came from sitting in outhouses! Ha!

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All the materials for everything we build at this place have mainly come from the Rebuild-It Center in Hood River. They’ve got it all and its cheap! Otherwise there’s a lot of old lumber on the property that we are taking advantage of.

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A huge bit of progress was getting a new phone line dug and connected, so now we are spoiled with that and limited internet. It took some patience and thankfully my supervisors allowed me to work my schedule around the installation.

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Its a humble little cabin and while many think, “Wow, you’re going to live in there?!”… I am encouraged by so many who remind me that they have lived in cabins like this and even with a few kiddos!

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Living with less, pulling myself through the eye of a needle, is exactly what most of my heroes have done or did through their best years.

One Mans Wilderness by Richard Proenneke is another inspiring read (The film adaptation is called Alone in the Wilderness). In it he journals his adventure of building a log cabin at the age of fifty in the Alaskan Wilderness and would go on to live there for 30 some-odd years in peace and harmony, only leaving when hauling water from a frozen lake became too difficult. From his writings you hear of the awesome beauty of his new home, the solitude, seasons, but also the effort put into being where your heart calls.

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With this new home we’ll be steeped in nature and learning valuable practical skills that will not only benefit my work with the Forest Service, but as Richard Proennekke said, [quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]”(Our) dream is a dream no longer.”[/quote]

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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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Public Lands Stewards: “Let’s measure smiles!”

Erynne van Zee

“Let’s measure smiles!” is by far my favorite camp quote from this summer. I am staffing MacGyver Camp this week, a design-build-tinkering camp where students use teamwork, creativity, and tools to design and build benches, water filtration systems, and ultimately an “elevated village” (we’re trying not to instill the idea that a treehouse is a must because a house on stilts would be just as cool!). As students built benches Tuesday morning and learned to use various tools, one camper practiced using a measuring tape by measuring everyone’s smiles. Just one of those moments where I stood back and smiled, soaking in the charm and playfulness of the gesture.

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As a Public Lands Stewards Intern with Cascade Mountain School camps this summer, I’ve had the opportunity to fill almost too many roles to count: camp “logistics guru”, shuttle driver, overnight counselor, chef, Band-Aid dispenser, hiker, gardener, fundraiser, the list goes on. I’ve spoken Spanish with parents, mastered booster-seat-tetras in the van, and counted views of five different mountains (Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Rainier) from the top of Steamboat Mountain. Each role brings new challenges, learning opportunities, and excitement, but most importantly, the diversity of roles I’m playing allows me to be involved in sharing the outdoors with students ages 6 to 18, making science fun, developing teamwork and outdoors skills, and encouraging students to be creative and curious.

There are many happy memories and stories to share from this summer, so here are my favorite photos from each camp I’ve worked at. Enjoy!

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Black Butte School tours Mountain Laurel Jerseys raw milk dairy in Trout Lake.

Photo 3Mountain Camp 1 camps out the last night.

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A student drinks from his rainwater catchment system at MacGyver Day camp.

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Campers finish up each day at Farm Camp with raspberry picking at Broadfork Farm.

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High School Mountain to Valley students gear up for their four day backpack through the Mt. Adams Wilderness.

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The view from Stagman Ridge where Mountain to Valley students hiked out from backpacking.

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Nature Art Camp students created a “wild-being” with natural materials they found around campus.

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Students learn to sew bags from cloth they solar printed at Nature Art Camp

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MacGyver Overnight campers come to a consensus about their “elevated village” design. They designed the entire structure themselves.

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Public Lands Stewards: “The Wilderness Particle”

Azrael Wilson

It’s another year, another season in the mountains. Last summer I shouldered a heavy pack and enough primitive crosscutting tools to gain a 19th century woodsman’s approval and set to clearing the main path up the Entiat valley with my work partners, Martin and Peter. We transformed from the soft outdoorsy types we arrived as into rough part-feral trail workers. So returning this year to work in the nearby Chelan district would be a piece of cake, right? Right. I guess things have a way of turning out exactly as they are and not the way you envisage.

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One of the things I’ve come to appreciate about the wilderness is the many truths and stories it tells. Deer, for example, have salt-deficient diets and they will stalk your camp and steal your delicious ultra-sweaty salt-encrusted shirt should you hang it on a branch outside your tent. And this gem: where there is standing water, there are mosquitoes. Your body is full of truths, too. Sometimes these truths are particularly challenging – like when your brain says “Yes, you are going to do this thing” but the sudden searing of nerves screams “NOPE!” Of course, it helps if you listen to your body’s story the first time and not, uh, the second or third. There’s likely some lessons tucked away in there about practicing patience and knowing your limits and learning to pace yourself. Big picture stuff. But I’m not here to complain about a minor back injury.

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[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]So why did I return to wilderness trail work this year?

Two words: fame & money.[/quote]

Ha! Just kidding. Working on the trails will earn you payment in equal measures of sunburns and stunning vistas. You might find fame with the deer if you forget about your shirt often enough. Really, though, it comes down to the details. How the trees and weather shine incandescent when the shy sun re-emerges after hours of pouring rain. Tracing veins in a leaf as light filters through. Memorizing the colors of wild paintbrush: coral, ochre, carmine. Watching an umbral dance play out on glaciers as the clouds above shift and swirl. The stunning silence of the mind after seeing no one for days.

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A couple years ago I found myself walking on a long trail at the zenith of a longer adventure of self-discovery, awareness, and action. At the time, my reason for hiking the trail seemed vague and bland. “Why not?” I’d respond to hikers who inquired. Upon later rumination I decided this: choosing to hike was an act of self-preservation. By walking through the living wilderness I became alive. To this day it feels as if a tiny part of the mountains, rivers, deserts and forests have become a part of my body like an extra particle in my blood – the wilderness particle.

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So here I am – another year, another summer in the mountains. With the absence of major fires so far, the trail crew, Jessy and I have accomplished a fair bit of work in the uplake Chelan area – logging out trails, fixing tread, cutting brush, replacing signs. We’ll keep on truckin’ and despite my mid-season stumblings, maybe I’ll find my groove yet.

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