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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Sequoia National Forest, California, USA

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Sequoia National Forest, California, USA
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rudolphthered



Registered: December 2010
City/Town/Province: San Luis Obispo
Posts: 1
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As a child I was instinctively drawn to nature and the outdoors. I would routinely look for lizards, write down every insect I saw in a journal, and spend hours watching the Crocodile Hunter, whom I believed it was my destiny to become. As I have grown older, my knowledge of the environment has expanded and my concern for the future of the complex system of ecosystems on this planet has grown, and both have contributed to my decision to make the environment my career. I am now a Forestry and Natural Resources major at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, and over the summer I had the opportunity to work directly with the environment through an internship with the Forest Service as a Wilderness Ranger. The area in which I was working was the Hume Lake District in the Sequoia National Forest, which was especially intriguing because I had never before seen the Sierra Nevada. Three other rangers and I focused our work in the Jennie Lakes Wilderness and the Monarch Wilderness, but worked primarily in Jennie Lakes because it was the more popular of the two and was more easily accessible. It rests at an elevation of nine-thousand feet and contains meadows, peaks offering scenic views of the Great Western Divide, and five lakes which are optimal for camping and fishing and therefore generate a lot of visitor use.
Our duties included trail maintenance, educating visitors, and backcountry campsite monitoring. Work in designated wilderness areas is different than in any other outdoor recreation area because of the lack of strict regulations which is only one characteristic of the entire official and unofficial concept of a “wilderness”. Unlike National Parks and Forests, the ecosystems in wilderness areas are completely left to their own natural functions, meaning that humans do not interfere with natural processes. There are no prescribed burns, logging operations, or any other allowed use of natural resources excepting non-motorized recreational use. Regulations are unique to each designated wilderness, and indeed the rigidity of regulations between the John Muir Wilderness and the Jennie Lakes Wilderness differ immensely, but in general the health of the ecosystem in such places relies on the ethics and knowledge of those who visit. Thus, education was an enormous part of the work we did and, I believe, was also the most important. It was our job to encourage people to practice proper backcountry ethics without the backing of regulations and consequences- we had to rely on mutual understanding, a shared love of the outdoors, and scientific explanations to convey the importance of the individual in the wilderness. I received Leave No Trace certification beforehand and used my knowledge as a trainer to talk to many hikers and campers, and there were a multitude of instances when the people with whom I spoke were surprised to learn of different methods involved in hiking and camping that further alleviate stress on the forest. We tried, for instance, to encourage people to camp at least one hundred feet from water sources due to wildlife use and the increased chance of contamination. Thankfully, the majority of the people were welcoming and friendly.
When we were not conversing with fellow hikers, we were repairing trails and water bars with shovels and Pulaskis. Trail maintenance was an all-day task so many times we would work four days straight, camping in the backcountry overnight and continuing on the trail the next day. At first I was, ironically, not impressed with the trail work. The trail seemed to be in decent condition and trails had been made around most of the fallen trees, so it did not seem necessary to remove them. As the season progressed however I came to better understand the importance of the work we were doing and see my job in a completely different light. If people created trails around every fallen tree, for instance, the miles of trail in the wilderness would easily double and eventually trails could reach a width as wide as roads. I also became more perceptive of the forest around me and more aware of the effects of water erosion and the necessity of repairing water bars, which divert water from the trail. Trail washout leads to the creation of more trails as they become more narrow and rocky, as well as flooding because the established trails have no vegetation to absorb the water and prevent widespread erosion. In areas popular for overnight camping we utilized a method of maintenance I had never known existed. In order to further prevent people from camping too close to the lakes, beyond simple education that does not necessarily prevent unethical backcountry practices, we would “iceberg” sites. “Iceberging” a site consisted of burying large rocks deep in the ground so that only a quarter of it would protrude from the ground, similar to an actual iceberg. After eight or ten of these a site would be thoroughly uninhabitable, unless one minded sleeping in a yoga pose, and thus visitors would be forced to make camp further away from sensitive areas. Campfire ring removal was only done in extreme cases, such as in sites with two or more fire rings. Sometimes we even corrected some errors of the previous season’s wilderness rangers. Treated wood, for example, is outlawed in the wilderness as is motorized equipment in order to promote a feeling of solitude and ruggedness in the wild, which is one of the main components of the Wilderness Act. Many of the trail signs in the wilderness were posted on treated wood and we therefore had to remove the posts and replace them with non-treated wood or thick tree branches, all with wrenches and hammers. We were often thanked for our work by passing hikers, and the signs that were posted on branches seemed to be a crowd favorite.
Towards the end of the season all of the trails had been repaired and the summer crowds were beginning to dwindle, which gave us the opportunity to evaluate all the backcountry campsites. This meant counting the number of campsites that showed signs of obvious use, recording their location in a GPS unit, and filling out evaluation forms for each one. The evaluation forms required us to, using our best judgment based on our knowledge of the forest, rate the sites based on different characteristics. For instance, I would give a site a rating from one to five based on the amount of vegetation cover, then another rating based on the number of roots exposed, and so on. We were given guidelines, but since there were numerous sites I had to rely solely on the accuracy of my own judgment, trusting myself and my knowledge in order to produce sound evaluations. I was surprised to see, on paper, the effects of visitor use had on the backcountry and the sheer number of campsites we found- there was upward of forty-eight campsites. The evaluations would eventually be used by the Recreation Officer for the Hume Lake District to create an official Wilderness Plan for the Jennie Lakes Wilderness, which was not yet in existence. The data collected could possibly influence the decision to establish designated backcountry camping sites or require wilderness permits, as is done in many other wilderness areas or a multitude of other considerations.
After the season ended I walked away with not only a lot of memorable experiences and new friends, but a better appreciation of an area of expertise I had never before considered: recreation management. After a year in college I had cultivated ideas for possible careers, none of which involved outdoor recreation. I never realized how much work goes into maintaining recreation areas that serve the needs of the people while also protecting the environment. The recreation side of the natural resource profession relies heavily on not only the people in charge but those who visit natural areas, so there are many components necessary to ensure a safe and healthy ecosystem that can be used multiple ways. And although the wilderness in technically an area free from human influence, the use of wilderness by recreation enthusiasts requires some professional maintenance that must be done in a minimalist way. I could definitely see an improvement as the season progressed: the trails were clear of debris, the backcountry sites were cleaned up, and I had become more proficient at talking to visitors and educating them about Leave No Trace ethics. I appreciate all the work and planning the Forest Service puts into managing our nation’s forests as multiple-use resources and plan to work with them again, possibly in recreation management position.
· Date: December 31, 2010 · Views: 3177 · File size: 25.6kb, 1062.4kb · : 2848 x 1896 ·
Hours Volunteered: 1380
Volunteers: 3
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 19 & 18 to 24
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