The last time I wrote, I was in the final leg of my previous 11-month VetsWork AmeriCorps adventure with the U.S. Forest Service. Hiring freezes and my stubborn nature to land a job on my local forest has me back for another fun-filled year with the VetsWork AmeriCorps program on the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois (the nice part of Illinois, not Chicago). While I didn’t find a permanent position, another year with the VetsWork program will give me more diverse experience in the field, and help me expand my resume even further—and it is already paying off!
Right out of the gate, my supervisor put me in contact with our forest’s silviculturist to ask about any work opportunities he would have available that I could help with. He happily assigned me to a project in the Lee Mine area where I would be conducting a 72 plot Common Stand Exam. Having recently received a bachelor’s in forestry, this was a perfect fit for me, as it would provide me with actual on-the-ground experience in the field. I began brushing up on my tree identification and before I knew it, I was out in the field collecting data on what was going to be one of our first timber sales in a long time.
The stands of timber consist generally of pine; mostly shortleaf pine with some eastern white and loblolly pine mixed in. In the field, all of my forestry senses came out. I started noticing things I had learned from courses in the forestry curriculum. I noticed how parts of the area that had been burned yielded more oak and hickory regeneration. To say the least, I was where I needed to be. Then, the rains came.
In early May, Mother Nature, whom I have learned and are forced to love, dumped upwards of ten inches of rain on southeast Missouri and southern Illinois. Rivers rose, creeks roared, and my basement flooded. Afterwards, on a clear sunny day, I was power-washing my boat when I received a call from a man named Ray who had heard through the Forest Service grapevine that I had an extensive knowledge of the Shawnee’s trail system, and wondered if I would be interested in assisting with trail assessment and clearing. I happily offered my assistance, because that’s what you do when you are trying to make a name for yourself, and joined the Southern Tier 2017 Flood Incident Management Team.
The operation is based out of the Mark Twain National Forest. In the first week, I walked over 30 miles of trail looking for blowouts and downed trees. Every day started with a briefing and ended with a debriefing. We eventually got some saw teams from the Green Mountain National Forest. Working with these guys has been awesome. I have made some great friends as a result of this natural disaster, and they have learned the hardships of humidity, ticks, and poison ivy. I am writing this blog in what appears to be the last week of work on this incident. My new friends will soon go back home, and I will go back to stand exams; but I cannot be any more excited to see what the rest of the year brings, if the first couple months have been like this.