Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Party at the USFWS NWR!

   HI, my name is Julian Lucarelli and I have been with the Nevada Conservation Corps since the end of August and will be here until August 2015. I enjoy the NCC community and can-do spirit associated with getting outdoors and completing a new project each week. The NCC has given me a glimpse of what many federal, state, and local agencies are responsible for on a regular basis. It has helped see the value in much of what I learned in college and opened vast horizons to continue to do so. I am here to work hard, learning the ropes of conservation work. The insight accumulated will follow me as I hope to later on earn a master’s degree.

   I am a part of Crew #1, led by Jess Knowles, and rounded out by Tyler France, Nick Regalalo, and myself. We enjoy epic three hour dance grooves to tunes from any era. We’ve tried Nutella on just about any edible matter waiting to find a match.

   Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is in the Amargosa Valley just over an hour North of Las Vegas. It sits directly east of Death Valley and is supported by a network of hot springs that sprout out of the desert at unfathomable rates. These hot springs pool to form fragile wetland habitat for Ash Meadows pup fish and dace, two endemic species. A third, the Devil’s Hole pup fish is only known to exist in a singular formation at the base of a mountain known as Devil’s Hole. The wildlife refuge contains a diverse range of habitats including desert, dunes, badlands, salt flats, canyons, wetlands, and mountains. Big horn sheep are seen grazing in the afternoon on the equally eclectic plant population.

   Our crew, fearlessly led by the venerable Jess Knowles, spent two hitches at the wildlife refuge camping at the US Fish and Wildlife office onsite. We awoke our first morning to coyotes yelling and hooping over their early dawn kill. This couldn’t’ve been more than 150 yards from our campsite. We spent our first tour removing barb wire fences from former ranchlands swamped by growing marshes. This was done to open these parts of the refuge from the possibility of larger fauna becoming entangled in fence line where it may be left to wither. The third day at Ash Meadows we jumped in some of the flowing springs to remove cattails. In cutting these plants from the waterways, there is an increase in sunlight that reaches the water promoting algae growth needed to support populations of dace and pupfish. Our last day was spent removing invasive coyote willows from various areas.
   Our next tour was a nice break from hot weather in the Vegas valley. The majority of this tour was again spent cutting down coyote willows. We were still untrained for chainsaw use so we left the thick stuff for USFWS staff but thousands of invasive willows fell to the understory those three days. Coyote willows, like salt-cedar use valuable diverted water and choking out other native plant species.
   Earlier in this tour we spent a day repairing a boardwalk we later took a tour on led by a Great Basin Institute Research Assistant. We tightened bolts and boards and trimmed back flora too close to the trail featuring custom ironwork and informative signage.
The last day of hitch we set out to dig up and remove the last four reptile and small mammal traps that had been built in the refuge for a study that started with thirty. These traps were spread out between meadow, salt flat, desert, and dune environment. One of the traps yielded an encounter with a black widow the only spider of the like I have ever seen.

   If you live in Nevada or southern California I advise a trip to Ash Meadows. The land was saved from development for good reason and is home to a truly enthralling scope of wildlife.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

From the Road


I hope ya’ll have been having a great start to a new NCC year. I have been traveling all along the west coast and have had some wonderful adventures.

I am writing this for a few reasons. Firstly, I would like to thank all of you for such an amazing year. When I began the program I had little experience with tools, especially chainsaws or jackhammers. I’m pretty adventurous but compared to a year and a half ago Daisy, it’s a pretty huge feat to get giant (they seemed giant in my mind, before) flesh-eating machines into my hands. Learning and becoming comfortable with these machines because of the guidance of Corey, Nate and Vince as well as general training has made me confident to face other fears as well.

I also learned about attitude. I remember the first week, when we were all sitting in monsoon rain, drenched to our guts in the downpour and immediately learning that you have to keep lighthearted when situations are tough otherwise you’ll just be miserable. Lindsey and Justin and I were yelling back and forth but none of us could hear over the sound of the downpour so it just turned into unrestrained laughter. Ever since the downpour this lesson in attitude has carried me through difficult times.

The people in this program are a huge part of why I grew. With everyone coming from different backgrounds, there were a lot of different viewpoints on life. I had the opportunity to have deep conversations about life and perspectives. Being in the field gives time for great reflection and idea sharing. The friendships that were created and the memories made together are an invaluable part of this program to me. I would like to thank you for this most of all.

End of Summer On a Trail Crew

Before even coming to Reno, I knew that this summer would be full of challenges. I had basically thrown myself into a program 2000 miles away from home and away from any support. Admittedly, I was quite anxious, but at the same time, I was exhilarated! Excited that I had the opportunity to do meaningful work and explore new places. I wanted to squeeze the day for all that it was worth and learn all I could. 

I soon learned that, despite my motivation, I was a true greenhorn in almost every aspect of what I dubbed the "NCC experience". Here I was, big city boy educated in a traditional sense, and with minimal exposure to the outdoors other than through pictures in magazines. I was a new recruit among veterans who had basically grown up with the outdoors. However, I saw this as an opportunity to learn and carried on.

My first real challenges came a couple of hitches in, after my initial excitement fell. The heat, long workdays, and the lack of a comfort zone had started to take its toll on not only my body, but my mind as well. I could handle my body aching, but this kind of mental strain was hard to bear. I became frustrated with the work and fell into a pit of pessimism. I didn't think all of the effort was worth my time and certainly not my health. On one hand, I wanted to quit, to give up and leave. However, deep-down, I also wanted to see this program to completion. By braving through tough situations, I gained a broader understanding of my limits and shortcomings. Not only did I have time to reflect, but also had time to face my faults. I began to see trail work as a character building experience and a metaphor for life.

Sometimes the earth is soft and smooth, making it easy to pave a way through; in these times one should enjoy the simplicity and perfect this section of tread -- life. Other times the earth is rocky and uneven. At times like these, even more effort should be invested in because this is where it counts. Just because work is harder is not a reason to be lazy; rather the opposite is true! Only when the tread is rough can your diligence polish it. At the same time, though, one must realize that tread can always be improved infinitely, bit by bit, but that one should not get caught up in this infinite improvement. Sometimes it is better to move on rather than getting caught up in little things. I also learned that talking about our hesitations and challenges is the best way to get through them, together. I could not have done this without my crew encouraging me and helping me pass the time, which is bound to pass no matter how slow it seems to be ticking at times. 

As I prepare for my last hitch, I will continue to seek meaning in my work. By no means have my hesitations and frustrations disappeared, I have simply learned how to be resilient and handle them in a positive way. I usually don't appreciate the work I am doing until after it is done, but I know that there is no other place I would have worked at this summer than here.

Omkar Kulkarni

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Welcome to the Nevada Conservation Corps!

My name is Nick Regalado and I joined NCC in hopes of having a hardworking, honest job and ended up getting more than I could bargain for. I was put on a front country crew located in the Spring Mountains just for the summer and couldn't have enjoyed it more. As an aspiring wildland firefighter, I felt that this was the perfect way to be introduced into working in all types of weather and terrain and the hard work that came with it. While cutting trail, I was constantly thinking about how I was going to accomplish being a firefighter and how I would go about it after my tenure was over, until my crew leader and I had a one on one interview. He told me I could join a sawyer crew and get experience which is needed to be a wildland firefighter. I found this immensely important and jumped on that idea quickly. I didn’t know NCC could offer such a vital aspect for me to accomplish a lifetime goal.

I honestly could not have asked for more to be put on such a well-knit crew with an outstanding crew leader. Our chemistry with each other was eye opening for me, because we were all there for the same reason which was to work hard and have fun and that’s exactly what happened. There was not a dull day that I could remember and we all grew as a family and it was simply amazing to me. We worked and camped for eight days and had six days off, but when it was time to pack up and go back to the office it was as if nature was drawing you back in to stay and almost sad to leave. We were dirty, grungy, tired and desperately needed to shower, but it was the most fun I’ve ever experienced and would recommend it to any young adult that is looking to have fun.

-Nick Regalado

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Bows to the Knees

I've been waiting for this week since I read the NCC position description: Chainsaw Training. Now let’s get this straight, I’m the type of lady who uses electric blowers and push mowers, so power tools, especially sharp flesh tearing power tools, terrify me. But oh my my are they exciting!

The week started with a day of powerpoints explaining the safety and maintenance. It was taught by Nick, a bald man with a great beard. It should be required to have a beard if you are teaching people to use a chainsaw. It wasn't until day 2 when we were in Toiyabe forest that we even touched a chainsaw. We learned how to start the chainsaw (harder than one might think), properly sharpen a chain, fix a flooded chainsaw and other basic maintenance procedures. We were joined by Pete, a Certified Stihl Silver Mechanic and Miguel, a class C sawyer. My crew leader of Team Flash, Corey, also has a deep passion for the chainsaw. If you are going to learn how to use a chainsaw, these are the best people that you can learn from.

The first day of sawing, the sky promised to bring excitement. By the time we began our safety meeting, snow had begun falling, the mountains were erased by clouds and the NCC crew began to shiver. I don’t think any of us had been thinking about the possibility of snow when packing. But what’s a better way to warm up than firing up a chainsaw and cutting down some trees?

The purpose of our work was to take down pinions and juniper trees that were below 5,000 feet, encroaching on the habitat of the endangered Sage Grouse. My crew, Team Flash, began with the largest tree on the site. Corey quite enjoys using the saw so he was happy to take on such a beast. The tree gave a good fight but in the end Corey prevailed. Justin and Lindsay took quickly to limbing and bucking the tree. Then it was my turn, I was still terrified but felt ready. I made some successful cuts, but when bucking the logs I hit a rock and the rest of the day I spent sharpening the chipped chain. It was less than exciting but I did improve exponentially at my sharpening skills.

The next day I was more comfortable with cutting. I also was able to swamp for Lindsay who is the friendliest person to swamp for. Every time she motioned for me to take the brush she looked so gosh dang happy to be sawing. We all got to practice felling trees, which meant we got to yell loud and proud “TREE COMING DOWN” and point in the direction it was falling. Something about making the calls made it seem more official that we were becoming sawyers.

Friday we had very little time to be out in the field. We had a quick hour to complete the quick week of sawing. It was a great experience that pushed us all out of our comfort zones and we all learned so much. On the drive home it felt like the general consensus was that we all wanted to saw more in the future.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Nevada Conservation Corps goes to...Arizona?

This past week my crew went somewhere I never expected to have a project: Arizona. I'm not sure if other crews have gone there in the past, but it seemed quite unusual to me because I didn't think we would ever leave the state for any of our projects. The reason we did was because we were working with Lake Mead National Recreation Area, which is located in both states, and it just so happened that the work they needed us for was over the border. I wasn't complaining, though, because it meant that we got to see another amazing place that I never expected to see. The scenery where we were working was breathtaking because we were right where Lake Mead NRA meets Grand Canyon National Park. The work we were doing was road decommissioning and installing barriers to keep people from off-roading in the areas we were closing off; and for the entire week, anytime we were working, we could just glance up and see the mouth of the Grand Canyon where the river flows out of the Canyon and meets up with Lake Mead. You can't ask for a better view than that while you're at work. It's things like that that are constantly reminding me how lucky I am to have a job that allows me to be outside so much, seeing new places and having new experiences.

One part of the experience, recently, that has not made me feel quite as lucky is the cold weather. It did get colder much more gradually in Vegas than I am used to from New England but usually it is slightly colder than Vegas in the areas where we work, and this week was no exception. I don't know exactly how cold it got during the nights but it was definitely below freezing (which was quite apparent when the milk in my cereal began freezing to the side of the bowl while I was eating breakfast). Sleeping in weather that cold can be quite uncomfortable, so when we have those cold temperatures during a project I've taken to sleeping with all of my layers on, including hat and scarf, and using my sleeping bag liner inside my sleeping bag to add more warmth (this past week Corey lent me his liner also so I had 2 liners in addition to my sleeping bag), then pulling my sleeping bag over my face to keep it warm. My feet also get very cold during the night so my strategy for that is to put hot water in my metal water bottles before bed and stick them in the bottom of my sleeping bag to warm up my feet. Unfortunately the heat usually dissipates completely by around 3:00 am, but for those first few hours my feet stay wonderfully warm. The morning also presents several challenges of it's own, other than frozen milk. Since we have to wake up before dawn, it hasn't started to get warm yet, so getting out of the sleeping bag can be a challenge, although sleeping in our Carhartt work pants instead of changing into more comfortable pajamas makes it slightly easier because you don't have to undress or put on freezing cold pants in the morning. The boots are a different story though. There is no good way to keep boots warm during the night, even if they are inside the tent, so putting my boots on in the morning can feel like putting my already-cold feet into ice boxes. Then, breakfast involves trying to eat as quickly as possible so I don't have to expose my hands to the cold for too long; and then on the last morning of the week, when we have to pack up our tents, it can be a difficult choice between trying to finish taking the tent down without gloves on before your hands are completely frozen, or fumbling with the buckles and clasps wearing gloves and possibly taking twice as long. On these cold mornings it can be a blessing when the worksite is far enough away to require driving because then we can put the heat on in the truck to warm up. As much as this might sound like a terrible situation to deal with, and sometimes it feels pretty terrible, it's worth it because it's all part of the experience. If there were no challenges the job would not be as rewarding, and by the end of this year I will feel very accomplished being able to say that I lived in a tent most of the year in all types of weather.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Getting Oriented

And so it begins, another year in the NCC. On one hand I’m extremely excited – why else would I have stayed on as a leader – on the other, I’m terribly nervous. A year in the program has taught me that not every day is a walk in the park. Already we face challenges.

Orientation lands smack dab in the middle of monsoon season in the Mojave. Camp Foxtail, nestled away in the upper reaches of Lee Canyon, is at the epicenter of southern Nevada’s “Thunderstorm Alley.” The Spring Mountains present a massive barrier to warm, moist air rolling in from the West. The rugged range wrings all the moisture from the air, leading to torrential downpours and flash floods; like the one we were trapped by this week.

After two and a half days of classroom instruction we're ready to hike out to Rocky Gorge and get some tools in the ground. We arrive on a gray, drizzly morning; everyone groaning in protest as we explain the scope of our day’s work. As we practice our trail-building techniques the rain only grows heavier. Soon a barrage of thunder and lightning shuts us down. Swinging large metal tools on a treeless ridge is asking to get struck. So, we must sit and wait for the danger to pass, cold and miserable in the chilling rain.

Finally, the rain stops. The leadership gathers around and begins discussing options when suddenly I hear what can only be the sound of rushing water. We all turn to look at the wash below us. There it is, a 6 foot wide, 3 foot deep river. Frothing and churning where only seconds ago was nothing but damp sand and gravel. A mile away – on the other side of the flood – are our trucks. Now what? The water looks unsafe to cross, but further up the canyon we can see the rain coming down hard again. It’s decided, we move now. Otherwise we risk ending up more stranded than we already are.

“Everyone grab your tools and move now! Stay together and watch out for more flooding and lightning!”

Thirty minutes later and we’re all safely in our trucks again. We've only had a couple of hours of practice on the trail, but mother nature has the upper hand. We end our orientation with less experience, but more memories, than we had planned on. This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that I've been stuck in a sticky situation. This year comes with greater responsibility; I have the safety and well-being of four others to look out for. But, I've always loved a challenge, so bring it on!

-Nick Brasier