Category Archives: AmeriCorps

It Takes a Community

Tree Raft 062014 100

It takes a community

Last week we took our final group of teenagers climbing 150 feet up into an old-growth tree. Each Outdoor Ambassadors Trip brought something new to each individual; getting into a harness and ascending into an old-growth tree, snow-shoeing, learning about the Pacific Crest Trail, and what opportunities exist on public lands. For one youth from Milwaukie, Oregon, the Outdoor Ambassador trip on June 22nd 2014 was his first trip into a forest.  “This is just all very new to me. I’ve never been around so many trees,” he says, wide-eyed.

Getting into the forest is something that I had taken for granted. As a child my dad would take my brother and I out into the woods about once a month;  pointing out trees and plants, teaching us how to stay warm and dry, and how to walk on soft, uneven ground.

I’ve learned a lot over the past 10 months serving an Americorps term with Northwest Youth Corps and the Willamette National Forest.  I’ve learned a lot about our public lands, their uses, their controversies, their locations, and the many different careers involved. I’ve met many wonderful, passionate people at both organizations who have dedicated their lives to studying, protecting, and managing the land that we are blessed to live on.

As a Community Outreach Liaison, my role at both organizations was to connect diverse, urban communities with the forest; whether for recreation, careers, or just general awareness.  I struggled a lot with the word “outreach”, and how it conjured up notions of, “hey  you  people, we have something that you should know about and you probably need our help.”  I think that notion is pervasive amongst many agencies and organizations that are predominately white and middle class and trying to connect with communities of color and other diverse communities. This notion of “outreach” also ignores the fact that access to the outdoors was not historically, nor is it currently equal across race, gender, ability, and income. Furthermore, numerous studies show that while people of color support environmental issues at a larger percentage than the general public, that they are vastly underrepresented in natural resource and environmental organizations and agencies.[1]  Having had access to the outdoors my whole life as a middle-class, white person with no disabilities, I was humbled by my own ignorance about how far we have to go in creating equal access to nature.

Humbled, and hopeful. As a part of my service, I became involved with the Forest Service’s Civil Rights unit, a group of folks that are part of the Forest Service’s Cultural Transformation effort.  The Cultural Transformation mission is to:

-Better understand, represent, and reflect the diverse citizenry we serve;

-Place high value on inclusiveness in our workforce where all employees are treated with the utmost respect;

-and to leverage our unique talents and diverse perspectives to simply be the best we can be.

Indeed, if we want to make sure that our organizations are serving the multicultural populace, we must have multicultural organizations and teams.  Outdoor Ambassadors would not have been successful without the collaboration between local youth and community organizations and multiple outdoor organizations. With funding from Merrell and Outdoor Nation, and a collaboration between the NAACP of Eugene Springfield, Juvented FACETA, Youth MOVE Oregon, The City of Eugene Parks and Recreation Outdoor Program at the River House, Northwest Youth Corps, and the Willamette National Forest, we held three fun and educational field trip for 29 youth. You can see a video summary of the project here.

So, instead of “outreach”  let’s focus on how we can  connect with one another.  Let’s connect AND listen.  Let’s find ways that we may be perpetuating the dominant power structures created during our colonial history, and explore new ways of sharing power and ideas in a multicultural society.  Let’s work together to make sure that all people, regardless of gender, race, ability, or income can access and enjoy nature.

~ Sara Worl, Americorps member

Fore more information about diversity in the outdoors, check out this article by Marcelo Bonta and Charles Jordan.


[1] Bonta, Marcelo, and Jordan, Charles. 2012. Diversifying the American Environmental Movement

DSCN6235

LVEF Garden

Lane

This past summer was the first year that the Laurel Valley Educational Farm has had summer interns. It was very successful and made not only the summer fun and productive but we were also extra prepared as we moved into fall and winter. The interns gained experience in every aspect of farm, from the exciting side- planting and harvesting, to the mundane and tedious side- weeding and clearing paths. One of the interns tried some vegetables for the first time, while another intern got to hone her cooking skills, preparing interesting lunches with our produce for us once a week.

There was a wide variety of personalities and skills but we all got along great and enjoyed working together as a group when the task called for it. I got to share my knowledge of gardening with interested and eager learners and I grew in my ability to communicate a concept or task more clearly. I visited an interns home garden she put in after her summer here and it looks great! Having interns in the garden was a very rewarding experience!

Lane Wallick

Garden Coordinator

The Actions We Take

AmeriCorps Blog Osprey PicImagine a day out on the lake, sitting in a boat and enjoying the sunshine and the beauty of the surrounding hills. Suddenly the calm is broken when a large ball of feathers drops from the sky at a high rate of speed and hits the water with a splash like an atomic bomb. Seconds later the feathery ball emerges, spreading 5-foot long wings and clutching a large fish in its sharp talons.

The aforementioned ball of feathers is actually an Osprey, one of the most ancient known birds of prey that still exists today. There are many things that make this species unique, starting with the fact that they are one of the most widely distributed birds in the world. They inhabit every continent on Earth except Antarctica, and they breed everywhere in their range except South America.

Another unique feature about an Osprey is that they are piscivores, meaning that they are primarily fish eaters. In fact, the diet of ospreys consists of 99% fish. They pretty much eat nothing else.  That sounds like a pretty boring diet to me, but it could be one of the reasons for their success, and maybe even for their comeback from being highly endangered in the 1950s as a result of DDT use. The banning of DDT in many countries probably was the main source of their rebound, though.

After evolving to eat nothing but fish, Ospreys have become master anglers. Several different studies have shown that Ospreys can catch a fish 1 out of 4 tries, sometimes with success rates of up to 70%. The average time spent fishing before a catch was 12 minutes. In other words, they’re good at what they do, so they stick to it.

Ospreys are much less picky about where they nest, and will gladly nest on man-made structures such as telephone poles, channel markers, or platforms designed specifically for them. They will also commonly nest in trees next to bodies of water, which brings me to the very reason why I was sitting in a boat on a lake and enjoying the sunshine and beauty of the surrounding hills earlier this summer.

One of my favorite wildlife surveys that I got to participate in as an AmeriCorps volunteer was the Army Corps of Engineers’ Osprey survey at Green Peter Reservoir in Linn County, Oregon. The purpose of this survey was to locate a series of Osprey nests that are closely monitored by the Corps, and determine if they were active, inactive, or defunct. It really was that simple. As indicated above, the survey is conducted by boat.

The process for finding the nests was also pretty straightforward, but they were not always very easy to find. We had maps of the reservoir with us that contained a series of points, each corresponding to a nest site. Most of the nests at this particular site were in trees, rather than man made structures which made them much more difficult to find. When I look back on it, the whole thing was very similar to Geocaching.

The thing that stood out to me about this survey was the fact that while the process was so simple and relaxing, we were still gaining just as much useful knowledge as we did on some of our more complicated surveys.  It goes to show that while the actions we take may not seem that great, the impacts that come as a result can still be very deep!

The Purple Martin

Purple martin combined It was a hot, muggy day at Fern Ridge Reservoir, a US Army Corps of Engineers managed reservoir just outside of Eugene in the Willamette Valley region of Oregon. Two of my coworkers and I were loading up a truck with gear, and rigging up a small boat called a Zodiac, which slightly resembled a blow-up raft that you could find in the sporting goods section of a Wal-Mart (though much more structurally sound). We loaded up the truck and boat with an assortment of items that included a battery operated drill, three hard hats, a metal clip board, and five or six elongated bird boxes with half-moon shaped openings. The reason for such gear was the fact that we were preparing to undergo what would be my fourth purple martin nest box survey as an AmeriCorps Volunteer with the Environmental Stewardship section of US Army Corps of Engineers.

Before I get too much further into what goes on during a purple martin nest box survey, I feel I should provide a little background information as too why the Corps of Engineers actually does such a thing. It all starts with the Corps-run operation known as the Willamette Valley Project. This project is based on 13 reservoirs within the Willamette River Drainage system. Starting in the south outside of Cottage Grove, Oregon and continuing north to the Detroit Lake east of Salem, Oregon. The main goal of this project is flood reduction, and with that comes an array of other objectives such as irrigation, hydroelectric power, improvement of water quality, environmental stewardship, and enrichment of wildlife. The last one is where the purple martin surveys come in.

The purple martin is a species of bird from the order of Passeriformes (perching birds) and is the largest species in the swallow family. Purple martins are insectivores, meaning they catch and eat insects from the air, and like many other swallows, they nest in tree cavities and man-made nest boxes. The purple martin is a unique species due to the fact that throughout their present range they rely on man-made nest structures. In the Eastern portion of the United States, purple martins have relied heavily on man-made nests since before European colonization. Native Americans would place hollowed-out gourds around the settlements to provide nesting areas for the martins. After colonization, settlers continued this effort and today purple martins nest almost exclusively in man-made structures in the eastern portion of their range in North America. In the West, purple martins do not rely solely on man-made structures, but with the reduction of natural nesting structures the boxes the Corps maintains have become more important. Over the last century a decline in the population along the Pacific Coast region has been observed. Potential factors for the decline include habitat loss, removal of snags during logging operations, and competition with European starlings for nesting sites.

The population estimate for the region (including California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia) was estimated to be 3,500 pairs in 2005. The original regional management objective was to reach more than 6,000 pairs by 2010. While there has been an increase in breeding pairs, this goal has not quite been met, but conservation action continues with the hope of bringing this beautiful species of bird back to a healthy population in the Northwest.

The Corps of Engineers environmental stewardship section, which is based at Fern Ridge Reservoir, is one such group that contributes to the study and actively manages of purple martins. As a wildlife biology student, I feel very fortunate to have been a part of the team as an AmeriCorps volunteer during the Summer of 2013, and contribute my service to such a great wildlife-related cause. AmeriCorps is known for outstanding service to human communities, and I feel honored to have been able to provide service to natural communities as well. In a way, purple martins have also become part of human communities due to the fact that people have done so much for them throughout history.

Now that a little background has been presented, I’ll get back to what a purple martin nest box survey actually looks and feels like in action. On paper, the concept of the survey seems relatively simple, but speaking from experience, it can be quite difficult logistically.

Purple martin nest boxes are located on poles placed throughout Fern Ridge Reservoir. To maintain safe places to nest some type of predator guard is required (usually in the form of sheet metal wrapped around the poles), and what better way to keep land-based predators out than by surrounding them by water. The process begins with boating out to various poles that are marked on a map. This sounds like it should be the simplest of tasks, but for the Fern Ridge survey, it took my coworkers and I two tries with two different boats due to the substantially low water levels of the reservoir this year.  During one particular eight and a half hour day, half of our time was spent trudging through knee-deep water pulling the boat through mud, bull rush and reed canary-grass to reach our destinations.  Add 95 degree weather to that equation and you’ve got yourself one heck of a fun field day!

Each pole has a series a nest boxes attached to it, all arranged in columns on two-by-fours that are known as ‘gangs’. The direction that each gang is facing is noted on the data sheet, so that we can properly record our findings in each box. Once we arrive at a nest box pole, the next step is to secure a ladder on to the pole, climb it, and take each next box down. This is generally doable without issue, but caution is always a must as falling off a ladder would require some lengthy paper work and needless to say injury. Naturally, the swarms of angry parents flying around can make for a distraction during this high stakes operation.

After all of the nest boxes are safe and sound in the boat, the study truly begins. This is the stage of the survey where we have to be the most careful, as we actually have to handle the purple martin chicks in the boxes in order to gauge how old they are. We have to act quickly so as not to disturb the nesting process too much, and because some of the chicks are at the age when they are ready to leave the nest (this usually happens sometime around 28 days). If a chick leaves the nest when a box is on the ground, it will not be able to achieve flight without being held in the air. I personally had to help chicks fledge on several occasions, and while it went smoothly, it can be dangerous as the chicks can be injured.

In the end, after many long days of hard work in the heat and knee deep mud, we leave with a few simple, yet crucial pieces of information. This data provides insight into how this species is doing and where future management actions should go for recovery and management of a beautiful species that is in need of our help and protection. If organizations such as the US Army Corps of Engineers continue to study these birds, and the public takes action towards caring for the environment, I believe the purple martin can easily return to a healthy population along the Pacific Coast. I also believe that the successful recovery of one species leads to success for many others, as wildlife scientists are able to take and use examples of proper management and stewardship.

Leo Fremonti

AmeriCorps Member

Purple Martin 3