As the time flies by, the days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months, I am grateful to take a moment to reflect back on the first two months of my internship in the VetsWork AmeriCorps program. As a natural resource intern with the U.S. Forest Service, I have had the opportunity to experience the many different aspects of the Forest Service. This position allows me to learn from the agencies’ many unique specialist positions that work together to manage our nation’s forests. On any given week, I can be out with the forestry technician measuring and marking trees for a timber sale and the next day be surveying a trail for invasive species with the invasive species specialist. Being a natural resource manager affords me the opportunity to understand the broader picture of managing our natural resources and the complexities that are involved.
Being stationed at the North Bend Ranger Station, I have access to pretty much the entire Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (MBS) that stretches from Mt. Rainer all the way north to the Canadian border. North Bend, WA is a special place to me that sits at the gateway of the Alpine Lake Wilderness; a part of the MBS that hosts over 700 pristine mountain lakes and where I took my first backpacking trip five years ago up to Pratt Lake. I feel extremely fortunate to have so much wildlife and recreation possibilities right at my doorstep now.
Within the first few weeks on the job I was already gaining many new perspectives. I was hit pretty hard with a reality check right away that has given me a new outlook on logging and how we manage our public forest. Initially, when I decided I wanted to go into natural resource management, I thought I would be focusing on keeping trees on the land and not cutting them down. Growing up in Florida on the beach, I did not have much exposure to large forest and logging operations. I assume I was much like many other people in that I benefited from the many wood products we use without much thought into where or how the products are produced. A bit hypocritical if you ask me. I just knew I didn’t like seeing gaps in the forest landscape and so I didn’t like logging. Fast forward to a couple weeks ago and I found myself marking trees to be cut down for a timber sale the Forest Service regularly takes part in. It was a strange feeling to be identifying a tree that will not be there three months from now. However, once I learned why we were choosing each specific tree and all the intricacies that go into a logging operation, I began to see things differently.
Unlike private logging companies, the Forest Service is required to adhere to specific regulations regarding each timber sale operation such as how many trees and which ones must remain on the land. After working with the Forests’ silviculturalist (silviculture is the art and science of growing stands of forest vegetation), I learned they take special care in deciding what trees should be left to maintain forest health objectives. For example, they try to leave trees that have a “witches broom”, a unique branching characteristic brought on by dwarf mistletoe disease that creates important habitat for wildlife. They also pay special attention to the arrangement of trees left behind, making sure to maintain proper canopy structure and dynamics. Since becoming more knowledgeable about their forestry practices, my mindset has changed. I realized just how much we rely on forest products and that they can be sourced in a renewable way. It doesn’t have to be clear cuts or no logging at all. We can harvest trees while maintaining the health of our forest ecosystems and I am privileged to be a part of that.
I’ve already learned so much about all of the different details that go into taking care of public lands. It’s like I have a different pair of eyes that I am seeing with now. When I go out in the field, I’m not only looking at the different tree species around, but also the condition of the road and trail and how it effects the access to the public. Looking forward, I’m excited to get to know this unique and diverse landscape in a way that not many people get to experience.