Friday, October 9, 2015

my ranger district in the press

 “Once lost, a wilderness resource is irretrievable. But once won, a battle may need to be fought again and again. Until an area receives the relative permanence of formal protection, a threat initially forestalled may repeatedly rear it's head. Defenders must be alert each time, and they must win each time, for if they lose but once, all earlier victories are obviously erased. It is, in every sense, a lopsided struggle.”
-David Knibb "Backyard Wilderness, the Alpine Lakes Story"

My ranger district has been getting serious press this summer! Being so close to Seattle, we don't really need it since we are heavily used and impacted BUT I still think it's pretty neat to see the place I have the pleasure of working in be featured in prominent magazines!

We are on the cover of the summer issue of the magazine put out by the Pacific Crest Trail Association. The photo is a part of the PCT north of Spectacle Lake: 

Then in August, one of our already overly popular spots, Robin Lakes was on the cover of Backpacker magazine: 

Then, a few weeks ago Washington Trails Association's magazine put out an issue that featured Peggy's Pond in a feature about hikes with big views:

It's bittersweet being featured in the press like that, on the one hand it makes me proud of the place I get to work and protect, on the other it means....more people! Which means more impact on these often fragile environments. Hopefully it also means more people wanting to care for these areas and protect them too!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

backcountry garbage woman

"But the love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need — if only we had the eyes to see. Original sin, the true original sin, is the blind destruction for the sake of greed of this natural paradise which lies all around us — if only we were worthy of it"
 -Edward Abbey, "Desert Solitaire"

On average I talk to 30-50 people a day. As the season pushes into fall I start to feel like a broken record. Saying the same things over and over. When I wonder if I'm having any impact on anyone I talk to, I always think "well at least I'm keeping the Wilderness clean." This summer my trash has weighed in from 2-20 pounds per each 4 day hitch. Here's the "best of" for the season.

No official trail goes to Chikamin Lake so imagine my surprise when just after I was admiring how pristine and unblemished this area was, I found a huge dump in some bushes near this tarn.

 So far I have packed at least 4 giant tarps out of the Wilderness this year. I was about to pour out that water bottle on the left then realized it was a full container of vegetable oil!


Garbage pulled from just ONE fire ring near Lemah Meadows

 Also from just ONE fire ring!!

This is the fire ring I pulled the trash from the last photo out of. So full and ugly. It can take a long time to pick all the bits of trash people burn. Here's a great idea....don't burn your trash! It generally doesn't burn all the way and chunks can fly out and start a wildfire. Also: foil doesn't burn! It turns to tiny bits that drive Wilderness Rangers nuts.

I picked and packed the trash out, and rehabbed the fire's a rare day where I don't clean out fire rings.

We figured out that this ten pound sign had been stashed in some bushes for at least 2 decades! Wilderness managers are encouraged to use signs with no paint or mileage which speaks to the "managed so as to preserve its natural condition and which generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticed" and also the "land retaining its primeval character and influence" portions of the Wilderness Act. I also think signs that are a little more discrete in size than this one are more in line with those Wilderness Act ideals.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

History of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness

“It was here the ice had truly done it's magic. Twisted and gouging, it had sculpted the land. Making the region unlike any other in the Cascades, it had scooped and shaped pockets, which filled with water and became a dazzling array of lakes. Over six hundred were carved from the landscape between what later were called Stevens and Snoqualmie passes. Randomly scattered, they were an incomparable assortment of high, granite-bound tarns, shadowy ponds on the mountainside, and wide, long lakes in the valleys.” 
― David Knibb, "Backyard Wilderns The Alpine Lakes Story"

Alpine Lakes Wilderness where I am working was designated as a Wilderness Area in 1976 after a lot of work and research by Washington residents. It was originally supposed to be proposed by an ineragency study team in the 60's but the team could not agree on boundaries for the area. The Forest Service initially proposed two areas bisected by Jack Creek (there was talk of creating a road through to Leavenworth) and Epps Pass (where there were mining claims and at one point claims for the owners to want to develop a ski area) while Department of the Interior wanted one large area. In the fall of 1968 a group of Washington residents formed the Alpine Lake Preservation Society (ALPS) in what would turn out to be a multi-year effort to protect the Alpine Lakes area. ALPS worked to decide where Wilderness boundaries should be while at the same time other conservation-centric groups (Sierra Club, North Cascades Conservation Council, Mountaineers, Mazamas) were working on their own proposals for Wilderness designation.

In the September of 1971 the Washington state congressional delegation requested some resource studies from the Forest Service to help in the decision making of the potential Wilderness. The Forest Service said it would not be able to complete these studies until fall of 1973 which upset ALPS and the other conservation groups because the more time went on with no Wilderness designation, the more roads were being pushed into the potential Wilderness and the more commercial logging and mining development was happening. Some of the logging companies ramped up their operations, acquiring more mills in hopes to capitalize on forest areas before they were closed to logged by Wilderness protection. However, in November of 1971 Governor Dan Evans asked the Forest Service not to push development into any area that any group was proposing as potential Wilderness.

In 1973 four bills were introduced to Congress by the following groups: ALPS, Forest Service, CWCST (Central Washington Cascade Study Team, a group made up by timber company representatives/ supporters), and the conservation groups (Sierra Club, North Cascades Conservation Council (NCCC), The Mountaineers, Mazamas). Though initially working on separate proposals (ALPS's had less Wilderness and included a "National Recreation Area" (NRA) which similar to designated "Wilderness" adds another level of protection and management regulations to federal land), ALPS teamed up with these other groups in fall of 1974 and came to an agreement with them on boundaries to strengthen their support for the proposal; their joined proposal would have 575,000 acres of Wilderness. In 1975 there were now three bills submitted to the congressional Subcommittee on National Parks and Recreation. Though each proposal was different based on the interest group that submitted it, ALL four bills proposed some amount of Wilderness protection. There was then a series of public hearings where public could voice their opinions on the proposals, one of which brought out a lot of conservation/Wilderness supporters and another that brought out a lot of support for the CWCST proposal....made up largely of people whose livelihood depended on the logging industry.

The subcommittee amended the bill proposed by ALPS and the conservation groups. The amended subcommittee bill proposed 304,00 acres of Wilderness plus about 80,000 more acres to be added in when private land plots were acquired/bought by the federal government. The NRA portion of the proposal was tossed out and the amended bill was approved by the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee in February of 1976, despite opposition by the current President (Ford) and Forest Service. The Forest Service opposition was based on costs to acquire private land that would fall within proposed Wilderness boundary and restrictiveness on managing the land. In June the bill was submitted to the full House and then the Senate. It was approved by both. On July 12th, 1976 despite earlier proclamations against the bill, President Ford signed it and Alpine Lakes Wilderness was born and 393,000 acre were to officially be preserved under protections set forth by the Wilderness Act. This past December 2014, congress voted to add 22,000 acres to the Wilderness bumping the acreage up to 414,161 acres!

Alpine Lakes Wilderness proposals:
-CWCST: 223, 580 acres
-Forest Service: submitted various options falling around 200,000-300,000 acres
-Sierra Club: 533,000 acres
-North Cascades Conservation Council: 580,000 acres
-ALPS: can't find acreage on this
-conservation proposal put forward when ALPS, Sierra Club, NCCC, the Mountaineers joined forces: 575,000 acres

Most of the information in the post was gathered from the book Backyard Wilderness The Alpine Lakes Story by David Knibb. Seattle: The Mountaineers, 1982.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Forest Protection Officer certification

“His supervisor, a well-liked ranger by the name of Dick McLaren, gave Randy a line of advice to which he would adhere for the rest of his career: 'The best way to teach the public isn't with a citation, it's with communication.”
― Eric Blehm, The Last Season

I spent a week in Coeur d'Alene in the Idaho panhandle getting my Forest Protection Officer (FPO) certification. This certification will allow me to write people tickets for forest violations. While there is a huge laundry list of laws that are specific to what you can't do on Forest Service land, and I am now able to write a ticket for any of those, generally, any ticket writing I do will mostly be focused into the more common violations we see in Wilderness areas. The more common issues in Wilderness areas (all of which have laws protecting them and are ticketable offenses) are:

-building a fire during fire restrictions
-not extinguishing a fire completely/ unattended campfires
-leaving trash (mostly in their fire pits...people try to burn trash but most of it doesn't burn completely)
-not disposing of waste properly (poop should be buried in a 6" hole)
-not abiding by camp site restrictions (many areas have 100-200' set backs from water sources and trails, some places have entire areas closed to overnight use)
-not getting a Wilderness permit
-improper food storage (many places where bears are an issue require all smellables to be stored in bear proof containers)
-cutting of live trees (firewood must be from things that are dead and on the ground already. Sometimes people will cut trees to make a lean-to)
-improper stock use (leaving stock tied too close to water, tying stock directly to trees, bringing untreated hay etc)
-caching gear 
-riding a bike (the Wilderness Act was written to preserve areas as primitive with no motorized or mechanized use allow, so only foot and horse travel are allowed)

As an FPO and I not allowed to use force (physically detain visitors) nor am I armed. I'm not allowed to enter any situations involving guns, alcohol, drugs or violence. I am not a "law enforcement officer" (though we do have LEOs aka police that are specifically for Forest Service lands), the FPO certification is just for writing tickets. The training was a lot of classroom time and then we spent a day going through role-playing scenarios where we had to enter into an acted out violation and decide how we handle it. Probably more important than being able to write tickets is becoming familiar with the laws so I can document misuse and we can take action accordingly (example: if we gather enough definitively documented cases of misuse and impacts issues, management can take actions like having trailhead quotas or only allowing camping in pre-designated sites to try and mitigate those impacts or issues. But to do something like that we really need lots of documented examples of the misuse and that doesn't need to be tickets, it can also be written up as an incident where no one gets cited). As with any Forest Service trainings one of the best parts was getting to be around other Wilderness Rangers and hear about other Wilderness areas. There were people at the training from Forests in OR, WA, ID and MT. I got to carpool with the rangers from the next district of them has worked as a rafting guide and another was a climbing ranger on Mt Rainier for 3 seasons and he also trains dogs to search for avalanche victims! I also met a ranger who as a girl went through a lot of the GirlVentures programs (where I have done some volunteer as well as paid contract work)....very cool to see a GirlVentures alum working in the Wilderness!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

New season, new ranger district

"Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year"
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

I'm very excited about the 2016 season! I landed a spot in my first choice district which I picked for it's alpine mountain scenery, it's opportunities to learn new things/get new certifications and it's proximity to Al's district (now we are only 4 hours apart! Last year I had a very unusual schedule for a Wilderness Ranger and so I went 5 months without seeing was worth it because I love the job but it wasn't easy!) In addition to my regular ranger patrols I'll be helping out the trail crew, moving up a level in my crosscut saw certification, getting certified in chainsaw use (as I'll also sometimes be helping the trail crew out on non-Wilderness trails), getting my "Forest Protection Officer" training (ability to write people tickets), get my "Red Card" (so I can help fight wildland fires), I will probably also get to staff the fire lookout on our district (!!!!) when lightning is forecasted and may even get to learn how to ride a dirt bike and shadow the OHV/motorized trails rangers. I'm going to get to do a lot this summer and I'm so excited to learn new things and see new mountains and Wilderness!

I've only been here one week but I already went to a crosscut saw training/certification where I got to meet a bunch of other Wilderness/trails folk from around the forest. I love going to things like that. It's great to be around other people who are passionate about Wilderness and trails... it's like finding long lost family.

On Thursday I went out with our noxious weed guy and look for and document invasive plants. We hiked along the Pacific Crest Trail and then cut over traveling cross-country to an old logging road. On forest lands noxious weeds are most liable to spread on those roads as opposed to trails because of all the vehicles that can carry dirt and seeds. It was nice to get out on the trail and learn some new plants.
Joe our ranger district's noxious weed guy references his weed guide on the trail

Orange hawkweed...we spent the day looking for and documenting these invasive plants

 Headed east from Snoqualmie Pass

We traveled off-trail to get from the PCT to the old logging road. It put us in this old clear-cut, you can tell where the clear-cut was made in this photo because of the shift in height of the trees.

It's going to be a great year. Everyone in my district seems happy and supportive of each other and the trails folk I'll be working around all seem very cool and fun.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Ode to the off-season

 "You can not do a kindness too soon for you never know when it will be too late"
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

So like the majority of people who work for the Forest Service, my job is seasonal. This has to do with the federal budget not allocating enough money to pay people for the entire year but is also due to the fact that many of the places I patrol are under snow for the other half the year and rather inaccessible and visitation is very low compared to summer time. So here's an ode to ranger related work I did this off-season.

I helped out my friend Hummingbird who helps manage the Girl Scouts Nor-Cal camp properties. We did trail work at Camp Bothin which I actually attended as a camper back in the mid-90s! We had new trail construction, mitigating a trail washout/erosion and also some stair projects. I learned a lot. I had never made trail steps with wood before, only with rock so that was different. We had fun!
scratching in the new trail construction

before and after of one of our stair projects

Hummingbird at the bottom of one of our stair projects

My good friend Robin is working on her master's thesis and her field experiment has to do with testing a method of controlling an invasive plant called Sesbania without herbicide. I went with her a few times to help out, her test sites are along the San Joaquin river. We counted and measured the plants on the test plots where they were growing back. We also collected and counted seeds in the soil around the plants.
Robin carrying the soil sieve she made for us to sift seeds

one of the sesbania plants
this is after we dug out the area around it to sift for seeds

I also had some contract work for GirlVentures which is an awesome organization that leads outdoor adventure/education trips for middle school girls. I got to help girls learn to rock climb and lead them in team-building, confidence building and outdoor ethics activities. In addition to those things I also spent some time helping friends with their own projects...hanging dry wall for a friend's home improvement project and weeding and cleaning another friend's home. I like to be productive and since I'm not always great at socializing it helps me with anxiety. Of course there was plenty of time spent climbing, hiking and backpacking too!