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Fire Restoration | El Dorado National Forest

An ACE California crew of 4 just completed a 7 day project creating erosion control structures in an area impacted by the King and Power Fire just east of the Hell Hole Reservoir in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, CA.

The aim of this project was to improve hydrologic function within the King Fire and Power Fire burn areas by increasing ground cover with burned trees or other natural material, and by removing ground disturbances that affected hydrologic conductivity. Activities include falling dead trees to increase in-stream coarse wood, and some stream bank reconstruction.

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Sawyers strategically felled trees across slopes where structures were needed. Rounds were cut and placed where water had already began to erode the stream bank, and in areas where a lack of vegetation would lead to a high possibility of erosion during winter months.

Jack Colpitt explained that his favorite part of this project was the opportunity to learn more about the complex process of felling trees, and also the tree identification exercise.

The King and Power Fire was a human-caused fire that started on September 18, 2014. The fire burned 97,000 acres and caused hundreds of people to evacuate their homes.

ACE staff would like to extend a special thanks to Wade Frisbey for joining us on this project to assist with the technical cutting.

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#IamACE | Jendrik Hohn

Jendrik Hohn, and International Volunteer with ACE California, working on the Ventana Wilderness Alliance Silver Peak Wilderness Trails Project.

[ACE] Can you tell me about your background?

[JH] I’m 19 and I’m from Germany. I’ve been with ACE for 2 months. I graduated from high school last year in a small city near Bremen.

How did you find ACE?

On the Internet. There were many different opportunities that I learned about—volunteer work, au pair, work and travel, things like that. I finally found this volunteer opportunity in America: ACE!

What interested you in this position?

I didn’t want to be away from home for too long, and this program allowed me to do a 3-month program. I wanted to do something in nature, and something that was totally different from what I’ve been doing so far. It’s free, and I can do something that’s sustainable.

Can you tell me about a highlight and a challenge so far?

My highlight was Yosemite National Park. I went there on my off days with other people from ACE. I also really like this project we’re on now, there’s a great view, you can go into the ocean every day after work, it’s really cool.

The whole program has been challenging. You’re in a different country with foreign people. You have to adapt, speak the other language the whole time. I think this whole thing has been a challenge for me, but I’m glad I’ve done it.

Do you think this position has helped you prepare for the future?

Yeah, of course. I feel like I am more open-minded towards other people. Some people I would have never spoken with in Germany for example. You get more independent and flexible.

What do you think sets ACE apart from other organizations?

Everything is nice to each other. I didn’t expect that. I got to know about 40 people now, and everyone’s so nice. The work is fun although it’s hard. Nice people, nice work, what else do you want!

Do you have any advice for someone thinking about joining ACE or looking to get into conservation?

I recommend it to everyone who wants to try it, even people who are afraid of doing something alone. It’s good because you’ve got a lot of time and fresh air to think about everything. You can hear opinions of other people about what they want to do in the future and you can compare views.

Flat-Tailed Horned Lizard Monitoring | BLM El Centro

ACE Emerging Professional Internship Corps (EPIC) Interns spent 10 weeks working with the Bureau of Land Management’s El Centro Field Office in Southern California surveying, monitoring, tagging, and collecting data on the Flat Tail Horned Lizards in the surrounding desert.

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Our interns’ work supports the Flat-Tailed Horned Lizard Range wide Management Strategy, which seeks to evaluate the conservation and management of lizard habitat to monitor their population.

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Over the course of their internship, EPIC interns captured, tagged, and monitored over 100 lizards.

#IamACE | Katt Lundy

For this week’s #IamACE, we met up with Katt Lundy, an Assistant Crew Leader (ACL) with ACE Arizona, working on the Meder Canyon Trails Project in the City of Santa Cruz.

[ACE] Can you tell me about your background?


[KL] I’m from Brooklyn, New York. I’ve been with ACE for a year. I graduated with a degree in geology.

What motivated you to get into conservation?


The whole outdoor aspect of studying geology got me into it. I wanted to continue the fieldwork aspect and do more physical practical work.

How did you find out about ACE?


The Internet, and I’ve got some friends who had worked for ACE who recommended it.

Can you tell me about a highlight and a challenge you’ve had during your internship?
A highlight for me is all the chainsaw related work I’ve gotten to experience. We’ve been on a lot of cool projects involving felling hazard trees and I’ve really enjoyed that.

A challenge has been learning how to live a different lifestyle. It can be very busy and chaotic at times. But this can be positive, because when you go on project you’ve got all this time to get to know people on a very personal level, and it adds a really nice teamwork aspect.

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You began your term with ACE as a crewmember, but you’ve recently become an assistant crew leader. Can you tell me about the transition between the two positions?
Well, I want to be a part of ACE more seriously. Being an ACL is a stepping-stone to do that. The position is different from being a crewmember because you have more responsibilities including more office-based work and driving an ACE vehicle. The transition has been pretty easy for me though.

Do you feel that the staff at ACE has been supportive of your desire to achieve a more supervisory role?
Yeah, definitely. I use the phrase ‘mutual respect’ a lot to refer to the relationship between the staff and the crews. They are really communicative and supportive.

Do you have any plans for the future after ACE? 

I’ve been thinking about going to graduate school for forestry eventually.

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Do you think that this position has helped prepare you for the future?


Absolutely. It’s given me a lot of experience with a leadership role, working with other people, technical skills. It’s been all-encompassing.

What do you think sets ACE apart from other organizations?


I think there’s a lot more communication and freedom to choose to do what you want…If you apply yourself you can get a lot out of it.

Do you have any advice for people looking to get into conservation or join ACE?


Keep an open mind. You can get a lot of positive things from this job if you strive for it.

#IamACE | Rory Patrick McLaughlin

When we met up with Rory for this post he was working on the Meder Canyon Trails Project in the City of Santa Cruz.

[ACE]Can you tell me about your background?


[RPM] I’m from Wilmington, Delaware. I grew up there and have lived there my whole life until now. I went to school at the University of Delaware, and I studied psychology and Spanish.

What motivated you to get into conservation?


I took a few trips when I was younger out west. I worked at a camp in Colorado and I got acquainted with the outdoors. I’ve always really loved nature and I figured I should do something to help preserve it so that others can experience it as well.

How did you find ACE?
I found it through a very good friend of mine who is crew leading for ACE right now. I was taking some time off from school and he turned me on to the program.

Can you tell me about a highlight and a challenge you’ve had during your term?
ACE attracts a lot of different people. You’ve got people who are younger than you, who may have just graduated high school; some are from another country. So it can be difficult to work with so many different people sometimes.

A highlight has been being able to work outside every day. There are negatives and positives in ACE of course, but everything balances out.

What goals do you have for the future when you’re done working with ACE?


Well, ACE has a way of kind of sucking you in. I might extend my term. My next goal is to teach English in Chile.

Do you think this position has helped you prepare for the future?


Absolutely. If I decide to keep working in the field of conservation or with a government agency at some point, I’ve made so many contacts within the USFS and the BLM that would help me to pursue that. It’s also taught me to be flexible and easily adapt to new things.

What do you think sets ACE apart?
Well it’s very different from other jobs. Spending so much time with the same people, everything’s on the table. Working, cooking, eating, with these people all the time changes things a lot. You know everything about everyone. That can be tough sometimes, but I think it’s also positive. If there are any problems they’ll come to light pretty quickly, but I think in a healthy way. They can be dealt with quickly. I’ve worked doing manual labor before. I worked as a roofer for 5 years. ACE beats that for sure. The environment and the people you work with here are much better.

Do you have any advice you’d give to people who are thinking of joining ACE or thinking about getting involved in conservation?
If you’re not afraid of hard work, this is position is attainable for anyone. But you’ve got to be flexible and you’ve got to work hard.

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#IamACE | Jennifer Rose Diamond

In this installment of #IamACE, we are proud to introduce Jennifer Rose Diamond of ACE California! At the time we caught up with Jennifer she was the Assistant Crew Leader on the Ventana Wilderness Alliance – Silver Peaks Wilderness Trails Project.

[ACE] Can you tell me about your background?

[JRD] I’m from Maryland. I went to the State University of New York. I started off undeclared but ended up majoring in anthropology, focusing more on biological anthropology.

What got you motivated to get into conservation?

Well I’ve always loved being outside. I’ve always done a lot of hiking with my family. They really ingrained that in me growing up—valuing nature and doing outdoor activities. One of my best friends from back home found ACE and we ended up joining together. We made a cross-country road trip out of it. We were signed up for 3 months, but then I found out about Americorps and decided to stay on longer.

Can you tell me about one highlight and one challenge that you’ve had during your term so far?

I loved the project I did over the summer. I worked for the USFS in the Sierra Nevada’s at Hilton Lake. It was a pretty long-term project. There were only six of us, and we were there for 4 months. We worked directly with this USFS ranger and it was really hands-on, tough rockwork, rerouting trails, crosscutting logs, it felt like real trail work. It was really cool to experience something that felt so professional.

A challenge has been not having a lot of alone time except for when you’re in your tent.

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Can you tell me about the transition from crewmember to assistant crew leader?

This is the first project I’ve been on where I’m an ACL. When I came here, from the beginning people would ask, “Do you want to stick with ACE?” I realized pretty quickly that it is really doable to move up from being a crewmember to more of a leader because there are so many opportunities when you’re a crewmember to take on more responsibility. The first crew leader I ever had told me “ACE is what you make of it.” If you want to use it as a tool to begin your career, or if you want to use ACE as a way to experience leadership roles, it can definitely be that kind of a job for you. That’s what I decided I wanted to take on. Because now that I’ve had the experience as a crewmember and I’ve had the chance to become more professional and learn a lot of new things, I want to pass that on.

Do you have any plans for the future when you’re done with ACE?

I would really like to move up to become an official crew leader within ACE. I think I’d like that challenge. I think it’d be a great way to make some good connections. I’ve definitely thought about going to work with NPS or USFS. I’m not sure yet if I want to do federal or work for another nonprofit. But I do want to stick with conservation or just general outdoors type of work.

Do you think that ACE has helped you prepare for the future?

I do! You can enjoy this program regardless of your background. Like I said earlier, it’s what you make of it. If you come here and you want to make connections and start building you career, you can. You just have to put yourself out there.

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What sets ACE apart from other organizations?

It’s not just a job; it’s a whole lifestyle. It’s not a 9 to 5. But I really like the change. And I feel like this is the time in my life to really experience this kind of thing. I’m pretty flexible and I don’t have a lot tying me down anywhere and I like the opportunity to travel around California and see all these cool places and camp. It’s really awesome.

Do you have any advice for someone thinking about joining ACE or considering getting into conservation?

I’d say do it! If anything, just try it out as a 3-month volunteer term and go from there. It’s a great way to get the experience and get out in the field.

ACE CA AmeriCorps Training Week 2016

A group of new ACE CA AmeriCorps Members participated in a rigging and rock quarrying training along the Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway. A large rock fall had obstructed the bikeway and the members learned how to split and quarry stone and safely move large rocks with rigging equipment and rockers.

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The Tahoe-Pyramid is still under construction, but when completed it will connect forested Lake Tahoe to its desert terminus at Pyramid Lake. The route will descend over 2000 feet in 116 miles, using a combination of existing dirt and paved roads, plus some sections of new trail and bridges.

First, the new corpsmembers learned how to split large boulders that are obstructing the Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway, using a rock drill and pins/feathers (see header photo).

breaking rocks down

breaking rocks down

After splitting this large boulder once, corpsmembers begin their next set of holes in preparation for the next cut. They reduced the size of the rocks until they could be safely moved with the rigging equipment or rock bars.

Here Corps members learn how to safely transport rocks using griphoist rigging equipment…

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…and here that good technique always trumps raw power while they practice using a rockbar to move large boulders.

moving rocks with rock bars

moving rocks with rock bars

Through completion of the training of the AmeriCorps members, the Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway is now clear of rock fall, and users can safely pass through as they explore the area.

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#IamACE | Mark Gestwicki

In our 3rd installment of #IamACE we are excited to feature one of our California-based Assistant Crew Leaders, Mark Gestwicki. Mark’s journey within ACE is common: a transition from Corpsmember into an Assistant Crew Leader. Mark’s work ethic and leadership skills are a true asset to our California crew program, and we are happy to showcase his story here.

[ACE] What is your background?
[MG] I grew up in Western New York. I went to the State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry where I earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Conservation Biology. After graduation, I served for 2 years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi, Africa where it was my responsibility to introduce sustainable farming practices to a rural village. My goal was to implement community-based projects that would ultimately lead to a permanent increase in standard of living.

What motivated or inspired you to be in conservation?
My Field Biology teacher in High School was very influential and inspired me to pursue a career in environmental conservation. Together we formed the Dunkirk Outdoor Adventure Group which takes students out rafting, backpacking, and caving. He is still a good friend and I visit him whenever I’m back in New York.

How did you discover ACE?
I found ACE on a conservation job board.

What was your favorite aspect of being an ACE Corpsmember?
I enjoyed having the opportunity to spend time in some of the most beautiful parts of California. Not many jobs other than ACE offer the opportunity to spend a month in the backcountry of Sequoia National Park.

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How did you transition into an Assistant Crew Leader?
It seemed like the logical next step after my initial 6-month AmeriCorps term. I wanted to take on more responsibilities at work.

What has been your favorite project and why?
My favorite hitch was probably an invasive removal project in Sequoia National Park. We were about 20 miles in the backcountry for a month. I would spend hours’ trout fishing after work and on the weekends. We hardly saw anyone out there.

What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced at ACE?
I think that ACE is socially challenging. There are constantly new faces and it can be exhausting meeting new people all of the time.

What are your future goals?
I want to expand my knowledge and skills related to international development, sustainable agriculture, and natural resource management. I’m applying to graduate schools now and looking at creative ways to use my AmeriCorps Education Award. Ultimately, I want to manage conservation projects with an international NGO or nonprofit.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
It is my intention to continue pursuing a career in conservation.

Do you think this position has helped prepare you for your future career?
Yes! It’s been interesting to be a part of the “on the ground” conservation projects. I’ve been able to work closely with the major governmental land management organizations and witness which projects are given priority and how they are implemented. I’ve also gained valuable skills in environmental restoration, leadership, and problem solving.

What advice can you offer to future corps members who are looking to get into the conservation field?
Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget why you want to protect natural areas in the first place. Take some time to go for a hike, sit by a stream, or climb a tree.

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ACE CA at Mount Hermon

ACE California often partners with Mount Hermon, a family-oriented camp, conference, and concert center located just outside of Santa Cruz, CA. Mount Hermon is nestled in the towering Santa Cruz mountains redwoods and it attracts more than 60,000 visitors each year, many of which are part of school groups.

Ryan Smith carrying brush

As a neighbor, ACE California helps out at Mount Hermon however it can. We often send crews to Mount Hermon to help with a variety of projects ranging from roadside brushing to fuel reduction, and trail work to ecological restoration.

Crew Moving Planks

Last week Mount Hermon hosted a crew of 11 ACE California Corps Members and volunteers. Led by Crew Leader Jake Homovich, the crew completed a rock work project on a trail that circumnavigates the Mount Hermon Conference center.

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Mount Hermon is a popular project location among our crews; rather than preparing breakfast, packing lunch, and cooking dinner after work, crews at Mount Hermon are often served breakfast, lunch, and dinner by the camp’s kitchen.

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Later this week, from November 19, ACE California will be hosting a school group from Providence Day School in North Carolina at Mount Hermon. For 4 days the students will experience life at Mount Hermon and participate in a range of conservation-focused projects and educational sessions prepared by ACE Staff and AmeriCorps members. We’re very excited and look forward to bringing you more new of that project soon!

Kingsbury Stinger Trail – Lake Tahoe, California

ACE is partnering with the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU), in Douglas County, Nevada, in the southeast portion of the Lake Tahoe Basin. Here, ACE California crews have been rerouting the Kingsbury Stinger Trail, a challenging OHV (off highway vehicle) and mountain bike trail, known locally as the “Stinger Trail”.

ACE California crews begin construction of the Stinger Trail

ACE California crews begin construction of the Stinger Trail

Although the Stinger Project, like the Mount Tallac Trail, involved a reroute, that is where the similarity ends. Instead of a 12-16″ wide wilderness trail, the Kingsbury Stinger Trail is 50″ wide and designed for motorcycles, ATV’s and mountain bikes. Consequently, ACE crews have adopted a different approach, skill set, and attitude.

Corps members drilled through large rocks in order to move them from the trail.

Corps members drilled through large rocks in order to move them from the trail.

The crew has used highline rigging and power drills in to maneuver the massive boulders required to create a sustainable, yet fun and challenging trail, which flows down Kingsbury Grade to Lake Tahoe. As they build, the crew need to remain mindful of the eventual users of the trail; mountain bikers and ATV users. These trail users will travel a lot quicker than hikers, and therefore the trail must be safe to travel yet still be enjoyable.

In order to move such large boulders, the crew used the grip hoist

In order to move such large boulders, the crew used the grip hoist

While the existing trail provided plenty of challenges, it also was built along the fall-line and as a consequence had become severely eroded. The Stinger Trail realignment will bring the trail further away from drainage’s, and contour along ridge lines, using the topography to provide a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly trail.

Over-sized tree stumps were removed by hand using pulaskis

Over-sized tree stumps were removed by hand using pulaskis

ACE California crews will be back to work, finishing The Stinger Trail, during the summer of 2016.

Meet an ACE Intern

Meet Cristobal Castaneda, Youth Programs Assistant Intern at John Muir National Historic Site

Cristobal Castaneda is an incredible ACE intern at the John Muir National Historic Site in the San Francisco Bay Area. He first began as a youth volunteer for John Muir National Historic Site before starting as the ACE Youth Program Assistant Intern in January 2015. While gathering and cataloging phenology data, supporting high school volunteers with the New Leaf Program, and reaching out to the public, he plays an instrumental role at the site.

Cristobal Castaneda

Part of his role includes working with under-represented teenage groups in order to promote jobs working with public lands, and whilst undertaking this he has demonstrated his amazing skillset. To date Cristobal’s projects have included leading tours, conducting interviews with park guests, working directly with youth volunteers, managing restoration teams, and advocating for National Parks.

Cristobal is a stellar example of how passion and dedication to the ACE and National Park Service mission contributes to personal success, professional development, and a really good time!

ACE receives American Trails Award!

We are proud to announce that ACE and the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU) have received the American Trails Partnership Award (Level One) at The International Trails Symposium which was held in Portland, Oregon on May 19-22.

ACE - LTBMU Partnership Award

ACE – LTBMU Partnership Award

The American Trails Partnership Level One award is granted to a partnership which benefits agencies or services within the field of trail planning, design, or implementation. ACE and LTBMU of the US Forest Service have partnered on projects since 2009. Most recently ACE and LTBMU partnered worked closely together on the Eagle Falls Trail Reconstruction Project, a 2.5 mile sustainable multi-use trail. This project alone has provided more than 50 young adults with valuable trail-building and conservation experience.

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American Trails National Award Seal

The American Trails Awards Program aims to recognize the tremendous contributions of volunteers, professionals, and other leaders who are working for the betterment of trails both nationally and internationally and in both rural and urban settings.

A big thank you to our staff and corps members who worked on this project, and to our fellow award winners and partner Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. Click here to read the full press release of the American Trail Awards.for a full description of the award and the ACE-LTBMU partnership visit the 2015 Partnership Award – Level 1 page on AmericanTrails.org

California Trails and Greenways Conference

The 30th Annual California Trails and Greeenways Conference was held at Yosemite National Park on April 22-24 2015. The conference is a 3-day training venue for trail professionals and advocates to learn practical, up-to-date trail skills; and provides a forum for collaborating on accessible and quality trail systems. The conference also acknowledges and shows appreciation for worthy individuals, organizations, agencies and businesses that, through their hard work, integrity and social responsibility, have made outstanding contributions to promote, enhance or expand public awareness and use of trails and greenways in California during the year.

The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU) Eagle Falls Trail Reconstruction Project, on which ACE Crews worked between April and October 2014, won the Merit Award for project development. Garret Villanueva accepted the award on behalf of LTBMU and took the opportunity to talk about the positive relationship with ACE, which has developed over the previous 6 years.

Steps on the Eagle Falls Trail - before and after

Steps on the Eagle Falls Trail – before and after

Another highlight of this year’s conference was the session hosted by ACE’s National Trails Trainer Patrick Parsel and National Trails Director, Mark Loseth. The session was titled ‘Maximizing Volunteers for Trail Work – recruit, train, retrain’ and aimed to provide land management agencies and “friends of” groups, who often rely on volunteers to perform a majority of their trail work, with the knowledge and expertise to effectively utilize the volunteer resource.

Mark Loseth presenting at the California Trails and Greenways conference

Mark Loseth presenting at the California Trails and Greenways conference

Patrick and Mark tapped into their extensive experiences of recruiting and training hundreds of volunteers at ACE, and explained how to make the most of a volunteer’s valuable time and contribution. A particular emphasis was placed on leadership skills, training methods, and methods to ensure volunteers keep coming back.

We at ACE are so very proud of Patrick, Mark, and all of the ACE corps members who worked so hard on the Eagle Falls Trail Reconstruction project last year. Thank you! We would also like to extend a thank you to the Lake Tahoe Basin Management team for your support and partnership. For more details about the California Trails and Greenways Conference please see their site.

ACE @ California Trails and Greenways Conference

ACE @ California Trails and Greenways Conference

Partner Showcase: Ventana Wilderness Alliance

This week we feature our partnership with the Ventana Wilderness Alliance (VWA), a non-profit grass roots organization dedicated to the protection, preservation, and restoration of the wilderness areas within California’s northern Santa Lucia Mountains and the Big Sur Coast (Featured header image. Photo credit: Brandon. Used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. Generic License).

ACE Crew working on the Ventana Wilderness Trail System

ACE Crew working on the Ventana Wilderness Trail System

ACE’s partnership with the VWA began with the opening of ACE California in 2007. Since then ACE corps members and volunteers have contributed tens of thousands of hours of work to the protection of the Ventana Wilderness, and to the maintenance of public trails within the Ventana back country. One of the stated purposes of the VWA is to nurture effective and cooperative relationships with similarly concerned organizations, and ACE is proud to find itself within this category.

The Ford F150 truck which ACE donated to the VWA in December 2014

The Ford F150 truck which ACE donated to the VWA in December 2014

In December 2014, ACE donated a Ford F150 truck to the VWA. The vehicle is of particular benefit to Youth In Wilderness, VWA Trail Crews, and Volunteer Wilderness Rangers as they continue their efforts to preserve, protect, and restore the Ventana Wilderness. Rich Popchak, Communications and Development Director at the VWA, expressed his gratitude to ACE President Chris Baker:

“The Ventana Wilderness Alliance greatly appreciates the 4-wheel drive pickup that the American Conservation Experience donated to our nonprofit organization. Not only will this vehicle simplify the administration of our stewardship activities, it will also improve employee happiness and retention since our staffers will not have to use their personal vehicles nearly as much as in the past. This is a win-win for our organization and our education partners in the Youth in Wilderness program. The VWA is very thankful to ACE for this donation and we look forward to working together to improve trail access in the Ventana and Silver Peak Wilderness areas in 2015.”

At the time of writing, ACE Crews are at work on the network of trails in the Silver Peak Wilderness (just south of the Ventana Wilderness). The crews are performing maintenance on the Cruikshank and Buckeye Trails. In April efforts will focus on the Black Cone Trail, part of the Tassajara Trail network.

ACE would like to thank the Ventana Wilderness Alliance for their continued support and partnership!

To read more about the Ventana Wilderness Alliance please visit their website, and check them out on Facebook.

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