It’s hard to believe that six months have passed since I began this chapter of my life. Working as the natural resource intern for the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest through the VetsWork program of the Mt. Adams Institute, I have had quite the adventure already. Much like nature’s changing seasons, I have seen the Forest Service throughout the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest undergo changes as well as we transitioned from the quiet winter months where most days were spent behind the desk, planning the months ahead; to the roar of the fire engines and radio calls as crews check in for their day out in the field. One great part of this program is that because it begins in February and continues through December, I was able to witness all the districts come to life once the month of May approached and the fire and recreation seasonal crew members arrived. My once lonely 3 bedroom bunkhouse is now full of women from all over the country. My days of reading Forest Service documents and maps to familiarize myself with protocols and roads are now replaced with driving those roads and implementing projects. I’m curious to see what it will be like when the days become shorter, the nights become colder, and the district compounds empty out.
After years of enjoying and recreating on this forest, I now have seen all the hard work it takes to keep these forests lands accessible and useable not just to humans but to all plants and animals. This position has enabled me to be a part of many different projects the Forest Service is involved with. I’ve seen the fisheries seasonal crews conduct road and stream surveys, helped trail crews clear logs and brush fields to improve trail conditions, and treated countless miles of invasive species on Forest Service roads to ensure our forests stay healthy and native. But the projects I’ve most enjoyed are the restoration projects I’m able to be a part of.
Just recently I helped a Washington Conservation Corps crew plant bare root transplants of salmonberry, red elderberry, and trailing black berry at a repository on the old Monte Cristo mining site. For three days we dug tiny holes and placed the bare sticks into the hard packed ground where contaminated soil had been deposited. The contamination is a result of 18 years of mining activity when gold and silver were extracted from surrounding mines, leaving a slew of arsenic and other toxins in the soil, threatening the surrounding water sources.
Federal mandates required the contaminated soil and earth to be extracted and deposited to a nearby area where it could be capped and stored. That’s where our crew came in. We planted over 4,000 bare root plants that would help hold the repository in place and minimize the leaching of the heavy metals. As the new plants grow and establish, their roots will help hold the soil in place to prevent erosion of the contaminated material into the nearby South Fork Sauk River.
Along with helping restore a disturbed site on the national forest, it was really fascinating to be surrounded by the old relics of years past. Currently at the townsite you can see some of the dilapidated buildings that would have been the saloons, hotels and houses that give evidence of the once bustling town. You can even see the old turnstile of the railroad built in 1893 that delivered the ore to a smelter in Everett on Washington’s Puget Sound.
As the field season continues, I hope to explore more of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and continue to help the Forest Service in its effort of finding the intricate balance of conservation and utilization.