After three weeks of training, including two short training hitches, the members of White Crew, sometimes known as Panda Pack, were ready to take on their first real assignment. The project? Shaded fuel break. The location? Sunset Valley. The equipment? Chainsaws and herbicide.
The Setting: a stretch of undeveloped land consisting of thick groves of mesquite, Mexican palo verde, and ashe juniper. Mainly mesquite, though.
The Crew: our team leaders, Sonia and Tema, a duo of no-nonsense veterans of the field; and the members, a team of rag-tag novices looking to make a name for themselves in the rough and tumble world of conservation and disaster response. (It should be mentioned that Purple Crew was also present)
The Odds: not in our favor. The mesquite was abundant and thorny, the sun was mercilessly bright and scorching despite the forecasted rain, and we were mostly inexperienced with saw work.
After a confusing start (it was unclear where the project partners wanted us to set up at first), we began our mission, daunted yet hopeful. We assembled our chainsaws, strapped on our chaps, put on our personal protective equipment, and faced the thicket of thorns and branches.
On the first day we struggled and learned. Our cuts weren’t the cleanest, our speed was lacking, and progress was slow. We cut a lot of mesquite, but there was still a seemingly endless wall of vegetation. On the second day we were a bit more confident, if a bit tired. But good leadership, determination, and a bit of old-fashioned grit go a long way. Though each passing day our muscles grew sorer, the mesquite thicket steadily opened to a satisfyingly uncluttered savannah of grass and majestic trees cleaned up of low-lying branches and immature growth. Our progress became visible and significant. On the final day we pushed hard, even recruiting some backup from our sister crew, Blue Crew. Our breaks were cut short and our muscles burned as we strove towards completion. Throughout the week, though we became physically exhausted, our bond as a crew became strong. Chainsaws roared, sweat poured, and branches fell.
Carlos Leos – Disaster Response Team Member (White Crew)