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San Andres National Wildlife Refuge

p1000492-2An ACE crew assembled from Utah and Arizona just finished a month at the San Andres National Wildlife Refuge. San Andres National Wildlife Refuge’s was established in 1941 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt ‘for the conservation and development of natural wildlife resources.p1000510-2

In the beginning the refuges main focus was on the declining population of big horn sheep. In 1941 there was an estimated 31-33 animals left in that area. This refuge is unique as it is within the boundaries of the 2.2 million-acre White Sands Missile Range, which restricts public access on these pristine lands.

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The crews main objective was to cut and treat Salt Cedar. Salt cedar Tamarix chinensis is a tree that is from Central Asia. It was introduced into the western United States for erosion control purposes in the early 1900’s and has spread throughout the western United States. Once established on the refuge it out competed and eliminated all other trees. It is found primarily along the refuge springs and streams. Large density of of these trees uses large amounts of water and will take over a spring to the point that the surface water often disappears. This can be detrimental to all native species that depend on the limited water in a desert environment. To combat it, refuge staff cut the trees and applies an herbicide.

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Fuel Reduction in Zion National Park – Watchman’s Campground

dsc_5799Starting November 1st ACE’s Utah branch had a crew lead by Troy Rudy working in Zion National Park at the Watchman’s Campground. The scope of the project was to reduce the fire hazards around the Watchman Campground loops. dsc_5732

The crew worked to reduce the campground’s sagebrush by roughly 80%, while strategically leaving desirable species to provide privacy between campsites. This technique should strike a balance between reducing the risk of wildfire and preserving the cultivated native plant aesthetic already present in the campground. The crews then reinforced the removal efforts with the use of herbicide on the remaining stumps to prevent regrowth. dsc_6089

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Approximately ten years ago there was an effort to actually plant sagebrush at the Watchman’s campground to keep the campground rich with native plants. However, about a year ago there was an accidental fire close to the campsite area. Sagebrush is a highly flammable plant and with only one road leading in and out of the park the plants proved to be too dangerous to leave at the site.dsc_6039

The crews target species was Rabbitbrush, Big Basin Sagebrush, Sand Sagebrush.  The slash was hauled out and piled in a manner that will make if safe to burn at a later date. Our ACE Utah crew is working in partnership with the National Parks Service, specifically with the Fire Management Department. 25375289019_e3fd9a8667_k-2

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The Cottonwood Trail Project – Kanab, Utah

kanab-5ACE has been working in partnership with Kanab, BLM Field Office (Bureau of Land Management) for nine hitches over the past several months on the Cottonwood Trail located west of the town of Kanab, UT. The planning, design, and approval of the Cottonwood Trail has been in the works for nearly 18 years and has culminated this year with ACE constructing 3.5 miles of brand new trail.kanab-4

When complete the trail will connect the Cottonwood Trail to a road that will provide users access to local road that will create a 20-mile loop for trail users. The trail is being constructed to accommodate hikers and equestrian users and will establish a sustainable route for trail users to access the beauty of the red rock bluffs and distant views of the Kaibab Plateau. kanab

This week the crew is being led by Brandon Lester.  The crew is working to build a series of “check steps” on one section of the trail and complete the final stone wall on the final switchback of the trail. The check steps are being created to slow down the water and to reduce rutting along the trail by reducing the steep grade of the trail and providing areas where water can be diverted from the trail. On another section of the trail, the other half of the crew is building a stone retaining wall to support a switchback designed to elevate the trail to the top of a ridge.kanab-3

Log Out | Dixie National Forest

ACE Utah’s crosscut sawyers recently teamed up to complete a complex log-out project on the Pine Valley Ranger District of Dixie National Forest. The project site was a wilderness trail that had been covered by dead and downed trees caused by an avalanche slide. The avalanche debris covered the trail and water tributary.

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Due to the sheer volume of debris, the Forest Service was considering the use of explosive to clear the way. This is not without complications, however, and therefore the Forest Service turned to ACE for help.

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The ACE crew worked very hard to manually cut and remove all the logs, and the then rebuild the trail tread. Being in a wilderness area the use of chainsaws was prohibited and thus the crew used crosscut saws to complete the project.

The crew was led by David Frye who now heads off to work for ACE California in the Inyo National Forest. AmeriCorps member Brice Koach commented that his favorite part of the project was “practicing his crosscut and axe skills all while spending time with a great crew.”

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ACE at The Corps Network Conference

Six ACE staff members are currently in Washington D.C. attending The Corps Network Conference. Representing ACE this year are Director of Utah, Jake Powell; Southeast Director, Adam Scherm; Director of California Operations, Eric Robertson; AmeriCorps Program Coordinator-California, Carolyn Getschow; National AmeriCorps Program Coordinator, Bradley Hunter; and National Restoration Program Manager, Afton Mckusick.The Corps Network National Conference is an annual gathering of national, state, and local leaders in the fields of youth development, community service, and the environment. Attendees include approximately 200 Directors and senior staff from Service and Conservation Corps across the country; officials from federal agencies; representatives from philanthropic foundations; and friends and supporters of the Corps movement.

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ACE is a proud partner of The Corps Network and a member of the 21CSC.

Tamarisk Removal along the Virgin River, UT

Last week, a crew finished a hitch working on the Virgin River near St. George, Utah. Crews have been hard at work removing invasive Tamarisk trees from the banks of the Virgin River.

A corps member removes Tamarix from the bank of the Virgin River

A corps member removes Tamarix from the bank of the Virgin River

Tamarisk is extremely invasive in riparian areas, often completely replacing native vegetation with impenetrable thickets of the plants. In this particular area, Tamarisk has altered the morphology of the river, negatively impacting the habitat of the native flora and fauna. A goal of the project is to initiate the process of restoring the area to its original state, ensuring that native species can reestablish and flourish once more.

Crew leader Michael Stapleton shows some corps members a topographical map of the area they will be working in.

Crew leader Michael Stapleton shows some corps members a topographical map of the area they will be working in.

Where once the river was shallow and wide — ideal conditions for native fish species such as the wound fin and the Virgin River chub — the Tamarisk trees now grow so thick that their huge root systems prevent the natural erosion of the bank. As a consequence, the river becomes centralized, deep, and cold. This type of non-historic river morphology causes challenging conditions for these two endangered species.

A corpsmember uses a chainsaw to cut invasive Tamarix on a cold morning

A corpsmember uses a chainsaw to cut invasive Tamarix on a cold morning

The project also seeks to re-establish nesting sites for the Southwestern willow flycatcher, an endangered species of bird that lives in riparian areas and whose habitat has been altered by the invasion and establishment of stands of pure Tamarisk. ACE is partnered with BLM, the Virgin River Partnership, and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources on this project, which has been ongoing throughout 2015. “I’ve always been really impressed with ACE,” said project partner Bob Douglas. “They have great work ethic and they are very safety conscious.”

Corpsmembers clip the smaller Tamarix stalks with loppers, being careful to avoid cutting any young native willow saplings

Corpsmembers clip the smaller Tamarix stalks with loppers, being careful to avoid cutting any young native willow saplings

This project has required many hours of very hard work over a long period of time, and the efforts of everyone involved will help to restore this area to it’s original state.

Commute into work

Commute into work

Zion NP revegetation

On November 13th, an ACE Utah crew completed a re-vegetation project in Zion National Park. The crew worked alongside NPS staff repairing areas where heavy equipment and major road construction activities had removed or damaged vegetation on a section of the scenic Kolob Terrace Road.

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Roadsides in this area of the park are very susceptible to erosion, and in order to stabilize the sediment in this vulnerable area, crews planted a collection of native grasses, shrubs, and cacti. The attention to detail, and careful consideration of each plant will be key to the long term success of each planting.

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Working alongside NPS staff provided a great opportunity for crew members to learn from the staff’s experience and knowlege and provided opportunities for crew members to show off ACE’s work ethic and culture. “The NPS staff said this was one of the best crews they have worked with,” affirmed field operations manager David ‘Skip’ Siesel, “and the area was really beautiful.” Although the project was short, the work will allow park visitors to witness the gorgeous plant species native to Utah.

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Swedish students visit ACE

For the past few weeks, we have had a group of 6 Swedish students visiting and documenting the work of the crews in both our Flagstaff and Utah branches. The students are gathering content for a presentation on social entrepreneurship as part of the requirements for their environmental science major. They have been interviewing corps and staff members to learn more about ACE.

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Interviewing ACE Crew LEader

Interviewing ACE Crew Leader

The leader of the group was Marie Olssen, who served a 3-month term with ACE 9 years ago as an international volunteer. “It was the time of my life. I grew so much as a person, and became a lot more optimistic, independent and adventurous. My passion for the environment began with ACE, so I think I can credit my experience working for the organization for at least part of the inspiration for the continuation of my education in this field,” said Olssen.

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Interviewing NPS staff member

Interviewing NPS staff member

The students fly back to Sweden on Friday August 28th, and we will miss them!

Restoration along the La Verkin Creek, Utah

This past week, an ACE Utah crew completed a four day hitch working to eradicate the invasive species Arundo Donax from the banks of the La Verkin Creek in Utah.

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Arundo Donax is a plant native to the Mediterranean. It is a perennial grass that grows in large stands up to thirty feet tall.

Arundo Donax can grow up to thirty feet tall

Arundo Donax can grow up to thirty feet tall

It is a voracious water consumer and can grow up to 6 inches per day. Furthermore the plant contains oils that make it a fire hazard. Combined, these factors make Arundo a very problematic plant. “If Arundo is left to grow, it can create a monoculture,” explained staff member Rick Anton. “We still have a chance to eradicate this species, but early detection and rapid response is our motto for this project.”

The crew used GPS to locate stands

The crew used GPS to locate stands

The eradication project is ongoing. Previously ACE crews went out on the creek, sawed down the stands, and sprayed the stumps with herbicide to prevent regrowth. The current project involved crews revisiting sites by following GPS coordinates and re-treating with herbicide any stands that had signs of new growth.

Cutting Arundo Donax plants by hand

Cutting Arundo Donax plants by hand

The conditions were hot and humid, and the task was repetitive. But the corps members remained in high spirits, even Bhrianna Malcolm, who has completed five hitches on this project. “It’s challenging work but I’m able to stay positive because you can see that your efforts are working. You can see that the plant is slowly becoming eradicated. It’s well worth it,” said Malcolm.

Spraying Arundo Donax stumps

Spraying Arundo Donax stumps

ACE’s work removing the Arundo Donax plant from the creekside is of significant importance to the restoration of this riparian zone to its original state.

Arundo Donax stumps

Arundo Donax stumps

Mesa Verde Crew

Today we welcome back a crew returning from Mesa Verde National Park in Southwest Colorado who for the past week the crew has focused on eliminating the highly invasive species Russian Knapweed from along the Mancos River within the park.

The Mesa Verde crew

The Mesa Verde crew

On the first day of the hitch, however, the river was swollen with monsoon rains. Since it was therefore unsafe to work by the river the crew worked with NPS staff to eradicate invasive musk thistle in a different location in the park.

Removing Musk Thistle

Removing Musk Thistle

Corps members removed the blooms from the musk thistle plants by either pulling them by hand or snipping with pruners. They cut the stalks to waist level height so other corps members came through and sprayed the stalks with Milestone herbicide to prevent the regrowth of the invasive.

Pruning the musk thistle

Pruning the musk thistle

The musk thistle can spread extremely rapidly because of the high seed production–almost 120,000 per plant!

Spraying the musk thistle

Spraying the musk thistle

Ecological restoration is something ACE corps members dedicate themselves to during their term of service. Part of restoring a native plant community to its original state is the removal of invasive, destructive species followed by the planting of native species.

The fruits of labor

The fruits of labor

ACE Utah @ Manti LaSal NF

Before, during and after shots of the turnpike

Before, during and after shots of the turnpike

Today, a crew returns from a hitch working in Manti-LaSal National Forest in Utah. The 8-day project initially focused on repairing a turnpike on the Josephite Point Trail, with the crew then moving to work on a reroute and construction of log drainage structures along the Castle Valley Ridge Trail.

The Manti LaSal crew's morning commute

The Manti LaSal crew’s morning commute

The reparation of the turnpike was a team effort. First, the old logs had to be removed and the rebar had to be salvaged. Next, sawyers felled trees that were the correct diameter for use in the construction of the retaining walls, and then cut them to 10 1/2 feet.

Sawyers cut trees of the correct diameter

Sawyers cut trees of the correct diameter

Crew members stripped the bark from the logs, a technique which will help them to withstand rot for a longer duration. Next the logs were hauled to the trail, and pounded into place with the salvaged rebar.

Drilling the harvested logs to insert the rebar

Drilling the harvested logs to insert the rebar

The project was important because the section of the trail that included the turnpike was a meadow that retained water easily during heavy rains, and the trail could be rendered impassable if it wasn’t reinforced. The crew’s efforts will ensure that visitors to the National Forest can have an enjoyable and safe experience.

High five for a job well done!

High five for a job well done!

ACE in the news!

On Thursday, Feb. 19, ACE was involved in a trail maintenance and improvement project organized by Southwest Utah National Conservation Lands Friends (SUNCLF) at the Halfway Wash Trail in Paradise Canyon. The project was a collaboration of the Dixie Mountain Bike Trail Association, Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and Paradise Canyon Homeowners Association.

According to the BLM, the Paradise Canyon trail system had an estimated 21,288 visitors between October 2013 and September 2014. The system connects with the network of trails north of Paradise Canyon, including Paradise Rim, Turtle Wall, Chuckwalla, and Beck Hill. You can read the full story in the Southern Utah Independent.

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