Snorkeling Continues (brrrrrrrrrr)
In early October, I was out with the Forest Service Center for Aquatic Technology Transfer (CATT) team again for a youth snorkeling event near Front Royal, VA. A few schools drove out from D.C. to participate and we introduced them to their watershed by talking about where their drinking water comes from, signs of a healthy river, and the role of the forest in the water cycle. By actually getting in the water and learning how to snorkel, the kids were able to get out of their comfort zones, and I think it sparked a sense of curiosity in them. When they saw the world underneath the surface of the water, their fear often turned to excitement. I think, when it comes to promoting a conservation ethic, schools are a great group to interact with because you can reach people from all backgrounds and spark conversations at home. The kids always seem to provide such an amazing energy in return.
The following week I went down to Staunton, VA with the CATT team for a brook trout survey. We netted many fish and even a few eels throughout the day while I tested out my shocking skills with the electrofishing equipment. I have a feeling I’ve been very lucky with my opportunities to participate in the amount of fieldwork I did this fall. It was nice to feel a sense of balance between my time in and out of the office.
National Wilderness Workshop (NWW)
Towards the end of October, I made perhaps the most highly anticipated trip on my calendar. I got to fly out to Bend, OR for the NWW hosted by the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance. The workshop theme was:
“The Path from Recreationist to Steward; Engaging Wilderness Users to Care for the Places They Cherish”.
The participants included volunteer stewardship groups and nonprofits as well as USFS wilderness rangers, regional leaders, and a few folks from the Washington office. There were many sessions discussing aspects of both Wilderness Stewardship Performance (WSP) and Wilderness Character Monitoring (WCM), two programs used to improve and monitor the quality of wilderness management in the Forest Service. My two favorite sessions were closely tied to the workshop theme of encouraging visitors to become conservationists.
First, was a brainstorming session on public engagement and Wild & Scenic River planning. Each community is impacted differently by the protection of a river that is important to them, and there are many ways to make sure their voices are forefront in the discussion for how the river will be managed. Many participants in the session highlighted the importance of making the community aware of their reliance on the river and then acknowledging that it will change over time. Since change is inevitable for our resources, we can use management practices like protection to help make sure the change is for the better. Public engagement seems like a sticky topic, but participating in the session revealed a lot about what communities go through when federal land designations take place.
The other session I really enjoyed was presented by the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA). The Oregon Desert Trail (ODT) was developed by ONDA 5 years ago as a trail ‘that’s not really a trail’. Only about 10% of the route is actually hiking trail while the rest is a mixture of old service roads and unmarked open country. The 750-mile trek winds through Oregon’s high desert and finishes near Bend. Opportunities for solitude and a spirit of ‘choose your own adventure’ have resulted in hikers having the chance to move through the landscape based on their understanding of the ecology, their own skill set, and curiosity. Designing trails and redirecting use in heavily visited landscapes is a hot topic in the wilderness world. Much of this analysis is done through remote sensing and other survey methods. The ODT allows for a more accurate picture of the landscape to direct the use in the area because the hikers can provide detailed documentation of very remote parts of the land. I think it’s an exciting approach to trails and I look forward to seeing how the concept shifts over time if there is a significant increase in hikers.
Grey Towers National Historic Site
Last week, I had the chance to continue many wilderness discussions from the workshop at the Chief’s Wilderness Advisory Group (WAG) meeting. The site for this year’s meeting was Grey Towers National Historic Site located just outside of Milford, PA. Grey Towers is a unique place because it is the estate where Gifford Pinchot, the founder of the Forest Service, lived. The structure of the week included reporting out on the issues being faced in each region and splitting into task teams to address those issues. The WAG is made up of wilderness managers from the field in each region, and they plan projects to assist other wilderness managers and provide a channel of communication from the field directly to the Chief of the Forest Service. Participating in some of the task team brainstorming sessions gave me the chance to draw on what I’ve learned in the past five months of this fellowship. My confidence really grew when I found I had a few things to contribute to the conversations and even inspired me to consider how I can help tackle the issues wilderness managers are facing With the forest service being so huge, I’d really like to see more progress made in the direction of internal communications.
We also had some time to tour the estate and learn more about Gifford Pinchot and his wife Cornelia. We talked about how their work might inspire us, and many of us were impacted by their sense of vision. Pinchot certainly had a lot of wealth and resources, but he was also intentional with them as he promoted conservation, served as Pennsylvania’s governor, improved infrastructure, and regulated utilities. His wife Cornelia fought for women’s suffrage and child labor laws and spoke out against poor working conditions for women and minorities. I’d like to think of them as a good example of what it means to embrace your resources, no matter how great or how little, and use them for good.
I hope I can express my gratitude for this fellowship by not being afraid to have a vision for myself and career. It’s been uplifting to have the support of the HAF staff throughout the process as I’ve often doubted myself, but this fellowship has been a confidence builder! I’m excited to share this sense of empowerment with the rest of my family and community.
The Oregon Desert Trail: https://onda.org/discover-oregons-desert/odt-story/
Gifford and Cornelia Pinchot: https://www.greytowers.org/wp-content/uploads/2016_Pinchots_SocialJustice.pdf