Stint Four: Little River

Last season our training weeks finished up in the Little River Watershed—this year my crew returned to the Lake in the Woods Campground for genuine surveying of Little River and some adjoining tributaries. We had a variety of sites; a few roadies, a few hikes down from ridge tops, and even a hike from camp to a site just above Hemlock Falls. The sun shone down on us for most of the week, with the exception of a fantastic thunder and lightning storm late one night.

 

 

I awoke to the rumblings of a cacophony of cracking thunder nearby, and then quickly saw the first bolt of lightning. The sky seemed to be pulling away from and yet smashing into itself all at once with sound that I could feel through my body. The rolling noise gave way time and time again to seemingly blinding flashes of white light. Mere seconds separated the shaking roars and outstanding bursts. The closeness of the action first led me to tense up in my tent and curl up on my sleeping pad—fearful darting thoughts filled my mind, ‘should I stay in my tent where I’m surrounded by trees and right next to a lake? This is where the lightening would be drawn to, right?’ And, ‘is the rest of my crew hearing this, should I go to the truck?’ Rain droplets pelted my rainfly. I repeatedly calculated the supposed distance of the storm in my head, ‘one second per mile, am I remembering correctly?! Booooooooom…one mississippi, two mississippi, three mississippi, four mississippi…flash! Four miles! Boom…one missis…flash! One mile?!’ Yet eventually, thankfully, I had the good sense to calm down. Realizing that the storm was most likely not concerned with my whereabouts and would likely roll right on over without a care—I decided to simply enjoy the pre-dawn performance.  It only continued on for about twenty minutes, but it was quite a fantastic moment of the week.

Other notable occurrences from the week include the candlelit dinners we shared as a crew each night as we stuffed ourselves full after steep daily hikes, enjoying French-pressed coffee each morning thanks to a great birthday gift of a travel press mug (thanks, Katy!), reading wonderful stories from the Sun Magazine (thanks Mom!), and trying Chobani Greek Yogurt for the first time (I’d recommend some flavors of it, though I think I prefer standard yogurt). And, I got the chance to talk to my dad for a good while on our ‘town evening,’ which succeeded in getting me far too excited about my upcoming travel plans! Let’s see, what else?– our data recorder went berserk and had to be replaced midweek, then we came inches from hitting a deer on our drive into town, and nearly lost our GPS that had been left on the hood during that same drive. We also managed to lock our keys in the work truck one morning, and were lucky enough to have a nearby recreation ranger hear us on the radio and pried our door open for us! Quite a few exciting moments throughout the week!

It was a week well spent in the Umpqua National Forest.

Up next (I just got back from stint five yesterday): Hehe Creek in the Willamette National Forest, just east of Eugene.

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a few [random] photos from the season thus far.

 

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Stint Two: Northfork Hayfork (near Hayfork, OR)

I expected the sun to be blazing down on us as we surveyed last week, especially as we drove through scorching one-hundred degree Redding, CA. However, the thick blanket of clouds most of the week kept the hot rays from reaching us. Regardless of the chilly weather (with a few exceptions (we took advantage of one sunny day after work and swam in a gorgeous bedrock pool), it was a week well spent working off of the Northfork Hayfork.

The watershed offered a variety of ‘creeks’ for us to survey, some better than others. We had two sites on the mainstem which were pretty nice— in them we found quite a few frogs, and even a turtle! There were a few sites with mellow cascades and more large wood than the others. And then there were two dry sites—offering not too much in the way of excitement (although the second dry site we surveyed had about thirty cows wandering around in the channel and on the road next to it. I don’t imagine they’re helping improve the quality of the stream).

This year I’ve been trying to utilize the plant press that our program provides. My first pressing attempt turned out quite well, although I was disappointed to realize that the process of drying the plant takes most of the color away. I first pressed Arctic Lupine which I found along the road at our last watershed. Tiger Lily, Red Columbine, and another unknown lily-looking flower are being pressed now—I’ll see how they turn out in a few weeks!

One highlight of the week was the amount of wildlife we saw in our watershed. Though they weren’t too spectacular individually (we didn’t see any bears), the diversity of little critters was exciting. There were quite a few yellow-legged frogs, squirrels, and cows, some horses, and tree frogs, a hummingbird, a few types of snakes, a tiny bounding fawn, and I even found a little scorpion under my tent as I was packing it up on the last day! Another highlight of the trip was the spectacular view we got of Mt. Shasta. On the way south to our watershed we has a perfectly clear view of the mountain in all of its glory, and on the way home it looked just as stunning, this time hugged by a donut shape cloud around its center.

I’m currently spending my week off back home in Washington with lovely family and friends. I had a wonderful time celebrating my birthday with my loving mother, and have spent the past few days either relaxing at home with my pets or catching up with old friends who are still around for the summer.

This next stint will be spent near Brookings, OR, I’m looking forward to seeing a whole new area!

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Back at it.

After a long hiatus away from this blog, I’ve decided to return– I’ve missed having a place to share my stories and photos with family and friends who live far away. So as a brief update, here’s a summary of what I’ve been up to since my last post in September 2010. I:

-graduated from Western Washington University with a B.S. in Environmental Science

Graduation

Graduation (March 2011)

-moved to Corvallis, OR to work for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) doing watershed monitoring (stream mapping and habitat surveys)

-moved back to Bellingham for a winter at home

-and, finally, moved BACK down to Corvallis this May to work for the same BLM program for the 2012 field season.

So, now I write from ‘my room’ in the lovely house I get to stay at every few nights I’m actually in Corvallis– my friend’s family was kind enough to open their home to me last season, and again this season. They say I’m the perfect house guest, seldom around. This is because I’m fortunate to have a fantastic work schedule: eight days on, six days off. I find myself sleeping more nights in my tent than in my house throughout the season. I can’t complain, and I hope this pattern keeps up. I love the adventurous life I’m able to lead right now. Already this summer I’ve gone to Newport (on the Oregon Coast), to the tour Thompson’s Mill (in Shedd, where my grandpa grew up), on an overnight backpacking trip to Wahtum Lake (near Hood River), and just today got back from a long weekend climbing trip to Smith Rock State Park. 

Thomson's Mill (Shedd, OR)

Thomson’s Mill (Shedd, OR)

Tunnel Falls (hike to Whatum Lake)

Tunnel Falls (hike to Whatum Lake)

Belaying at Smith

Belaying at Smith

Climbing at Smith

Climbing at Smith

When I’m not out adventuring around the PNW, the program I work for sends me to watersheds that were chosen from a set of ‘randomly generated’ GPS points on public land throughout northern CA, OR, and WA. We usually survey six sites within a watershed, each site falling on a different reach of stream/creek. Within the reach we survey a variety of habitat characteristics such as: large woody debris distribution, substrate size, amphibian and invasive species presence, as well as collect a macroinvertebrate sample. We also map the channel morphology of the site. The data we collect is used to monitor watershed ‘health’ over time. It’s used to observe the effects of a variety of land uses and management practices. From what I hear it’s a very well respected program, and the data we collect is used by a variety of agencies for various documents influencing land management decisions. I’m so thankful to have found such a great program to work for– this type field work is exactly what I was hoping to do when I graduated from college. I’m looking forward to this seasont, and will hopefully get to spend another season surveying next year (we’ll see where my life leads). 

Training Week

Training Week

Red Legged Frog

Red Legged Frog

After two weeks spent learning (or refreshing on it for the returners) protocol in the office, and one week training in the field, we had our first stint at the beginning of June. My crew of four (one crew leader, two BLM employees, and one intern) was sent to a watershed near Cottage Grove, OR. It was a nice first stint. We had a bit of rain and a bit of sunshine, a high flow site and a bunch of lower flow tributaries–it was an all around beautiful watershed, a good place to spend a week. 

Crew Three

Crew Three

On Wednesday I’ll head out for my second eight day stint. We’re headed down south to a watershed near Hayfork, CA to survey. It should be an excellent, beautiful, hot, and hopefully poison oak-free week!

 

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Internship

It’s time to include, for anyone who might be interested, just how exactly this awesome summer job has fulfilled the requirements of an environmental science internship. It is a requirement of my program at WWU to complete an internship related to my field of study; it’s a fairly open ended requirement which is great because it’s allowed me to have this experience working for the Forest Service.

Although I’m not in the field each day collecting water quality samples and analyzing species in the lab, what I do as a wildland firefighter (or ‘forestry technician,’ my Forest Service employee title) is actually quite involved in the world of environmental science (which isn’t too surprising I hope). Whether my daily duties include suppressing or managing a fire for multiple objectives, or thinning and digging line in a unit to prepare for a prescribed burn, I’m helping to make an impact regarding the overall health of the Wenatchee National Forest.

Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with one of the chief forest managers, as well as another fire management officer from our forest. For my internship I’ll be writing a paper about prescription burns (the topic of my choice), and I had the great fortune to meet with these two professionals working in this region to learn more about how prescription burns are managed, to learn more about the history of the technique, as well as to learn about the purpose and benefit of prescribed burns. It was quite an interesting meeting and I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to meet with them.

A ‘brief’ overview of what I learned: when the FS was being established forest boundaries were designated, and the land was allocated for a variety of objectives- wilderness, matrix, roadless, recreation, scenic- which were ultimately decided through the input of the public. As the FS was being established the thought behind the agency was focused on conservation, and use, of the land- which was a thought system led by Gifford Pinchot (opposed to the thoughts of Muir who focused on preservation with the Parks Service). Different political and social influences throughout the 40s (depression era), 50s & 60s (timber era), and the 70s (environmental era), impacted the allocations and the overall Land Management Plans. For example, Region Six encompasses 19 forests, one of which being the Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest. The LMPs have been amended throughout time as needed; R-6 changed the NW Forest Plan when there were concerns regarding the habitat of the Spotted Owl.  Influential people throughout each era of the Forest Service’s history have led to different management actions, for example Jack Ward Thomas’ involvement helped to establish the use of Environmental Impact Statements (which is what my capstone (final senior class) will focus on this winter). As each forest was established, it was required to provide a 5 year action plan which would describe the restoration strategies of each ranger district, including fire exclusion, fire reintroduction, and land management. The land has been managed a variety of ways throughout history, including a struggle between beliefs of ‘let it burn’ and to put all fires out (especially after the Big Burn of 1910). Forest management now aims to reintroduce fire to systems which are naturally fire driven, they do this with prescription burning. The burns are designed to enhance natural burn conditions, and to mimic the characteristics of the land’s fire regime. Problems do exist with the reintroduction of fire- due to the long era of fire suppression many species (plants and animals) have adapted to the lack of fire on the land, this can lead to difficulty when trying to restore the land to the old ‘natural’ system. The reason for the reintroduction of the fire regime is to help: restore species diversity-which can be decreased without fire acting as the final step to many fire tolerance species life histories (many species rely on fire to open the seeds and complete germination), and to sustain a natural range of variability for species-fire helps to enhance species’ tolerance ranges, to allow the environment to continue to operate on a wobble, with the necessary natural disturbance. I also learned a bit about the timber side of prescribe burns, as well as a bit of the finances side of burning.

What I was most surprised to learn was the way in which prescribed burns are used as an act of restoration to the forest. I’d always thought of it as a detrimental process, and was pleased to have my ‘west sider’ views changed. Being so unfamiliar with fire, I saw burning and timber sales as negative management; I’m glad to now know of the positive restorative processes that are really taking place. I also received a few recommendations of influential environmental scientists and policy makers to learn about; Jerry Franklin, Aldo Leopold, Jim Agee, Paul Hesberg, and Chad Oliver.

Quite exciting to see all that is ahead of me in my pursuit of knowledge; the opportunities are seemingly endless at this point. I head back to Bellingham on Saturday (it’s been raining here, fire suppression season is pretty much over), then start classes a few weeks later. I graduate in March (2011, so soon!), and who knows where I’ll go next!

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Adventures

On one of my days off this week my wonderful father took me river rafting on the Wenatchee River! It was great fun! The day was a bit overcast, but it wasn’t raining so we weren’t too cold at all. The first half of the trip we were in a raft with two other people and our guide, floating in front of us was our safety kayak. Half way through the trip we switched to inflatable kayaks and were able to hit the rapids all on our own, it was just thrilling! I did pretty well the whole way, but definitely almost tipped out into the frigid water in one rapid.

Here’s a photo of me and my dad before our grand adventure…

On a side note, I forgot to mention that I saw my first bear here last week! I was with one of the engines for a day last week. We wandered up Derby Canyon to go paint trees for a timber sale and right there in the middle of the dirt road was a big ol’ black bear! I was so excited, but couldn’t snap a picture quick enough for proof. Anyway, it fulfilled my hopes of seeing a bear in my time here in Leavenworth.

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Exciting Moments

Most of my posts have been about a specific event during my time here, but I realized that doing this leaves out some of the best moments I’ve experienced yet; the moments that put joy into my day and remind me how great it is to be alive, regardless how small the moment may be. So, I thought I’d share a few things that have made me smile lately.

1. Running 6 miles with  my crew, weird to be a highlight I know. This was the farthest I’ve run in my life thus far and I was excited that I was able to do it. It was hard, but so rewarding. Doing this helped me to realize just how much I’ve improved physically. PT is still quite hard each time we do it (for example: today we hiked ‘ski hill’ and my legs were on fire), but my crew is just getting stronger and stronger. I feel like my mental strength while working out has definitely improved this summer. I feel much more confident in my ability to push past the tough parts and get as much out of a work out as possible. I’ve been able to work harder than I really thought I could. While it’ll be tough without my crew for me to push as hard as I do here, it’s definitely a goal of mine to keep working out hard when I go home so that I stay in great hiking/running shape.

2. Out on patrol one day about a month ago, one of the Blue Angel jets flew super fast and low right over our rig, it was awesome! Apparently they fly over here as a part of their practice route from Whidbey Island, it’s quite a thrill.

3. Twice this summer my crew has helped out at Lake Wenatchee campground with the Smokey the Bear show that the Forest Service puts on for the families camping there. Smokey dances around and tells the kids how to put out their campfires so that the forest won’t catch on fire. My crew goes up on stage with our full gear on (greens, boots, yellows, packs, helmets, and tools), and our crew boss explains to the families what a fire crew does and what each of our jobs on the crew is. Afterwards we stand near the stage and people can come ask us questions if they’d like. After the second Smokey show that we helped out with I had two little girls come up to me and ask me questions. The first one asked me how we put a fire out, and then took a photo with me which was awesome. But even better was the second girl who came up to me; she asked me “what’s it like to be a girl fire fighter??” She was just darling, bright eyed, and genuinely curious. I told her that it was incredibly fun; that we got to go into the woods and hike around and see the beautiful forest. She was also wondering if I had to carry the same amount of weight as the boys did, and so I told her yes indeed, that we do the same work as the boys. It was just darling. As she was walking away she was like, “I want to be a fire fighter!!!” It definitely made me day.

Well, that’s it really for stand-out exciting moments. There are lots of little moments though that make me smile and laugh all day long. Only nine more days of work left, it’ll be strange to leave my wonderful crew and this place I’ve called home all summer long.

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