Texas Conservation Corps in the Panhandle

On September 12th, 2014 AmeriCorps members all across the nation celebrated the 20th anniversary of the creation of AmeriCorps. The date was marked with events from the White House to community food banks. In Texas, events were held at UT Austin and smaller venues across the state. The Texas Conservation Corps’ Emergency Response “Blue” Crew had the pleasure to attend one of the local events held in Amarillo, TX.

The Amarillo ISD AmeriCorps Program reached out and invited the crew to swear in at the High Plains Food Bank. The crew gladly accepted this invitation. The Amarillo ISD AmeriCorps Program engages regional high school and college students as tutors. The tutors travel to regional elementary schools where they assist students with reading comprehension and other subjects. The program is proud to be one of 2 AmeriCorps programs in the state that engages high school students in this capacity.

The TXCC “Blue” Crew has spent several weeks working at the nearby Lake Meredith National Recreation Area. We have been building a new multi-use hiking, biking, and horse trail for visitors to the area. The trail system will be the first of its kind in the region and will provide over 20 miles of trail when it is completed. We worked on several projects at Lake Meredith over the course of our season, and weather is always a challenge. The day of the Anniversary was no different – we had cold wind and rain and so welcomed the chance to spend the day inside!

The event in Amarillo involved harvesting food from the community garden, live feeds of the state and national events, and a group swearing in ceremony. During the swearing in ceremony members recited the AmeriCorps pledge and vowed to get things done for America! The Members from the 2 programs had the opportunity to learn about each other and share stories from their term of service. Because we are a unique program in our state, and we stay on the road all the time, we don’t often get a chance to spend time with other AmeriCorps programs. The event was a fun change of pace for the crew and several Amarillo members expressed interest in serving with Texas Conservation Corps in the future.

Ricky Reedy, Emergency Response Team Crew Leader

 

Previous Reflections at Lake Meredith:

I just finished my first spike to Lake Meredith, which is a series of 4 trips. We have the unique opportunity to work with a professional National Park Service trail crew. I learned a copious amount about several key elements of trail construction including rock building, switchback construction and carving trail out of new hillside. The coolest part of all is getting to learn how to blow up boulders with dynamite charges! Needless to say, I am looking forward to seeing what the next 3 hitches bring.

Taylor Wolter, Emergency Response Team Crew Member

 

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Texas Conservation Corps at Goose Island

Goose Island is a relatively small State Park near the town of Rockport, TX. The park is thickly vegetated – filled with Coastal Live Oaks, Youpon Holly, Mustang Grape, and Greenbriar. Like most upland coastal habitat in South Texas the area is an overgrown remnant of coastal savannah. When fire was common there, it was able to keep the vegetation down and maintain the cover of grasses and interspersed Oak trees. After western civilization moved in, we suppressed the fire (due to the ostensible danger of letting fires run rampant in a developed land) and the understory vegetation was able to crowd out the grasses. Left unchecked, the vines are able to creep up and eventually bring down even the oldest of Oak trees. There are still many left, but even those are slowly succumbing to the sheer weight of vegetation ever present upon them

Arborculture aside the thick mass of vegetation also presents a tremendous fuel load. Replicating the mistakes of western civilization across North America, in suppressing the naturally occurring fire cycle we increased the damage potential of a catastrophic fire exponentially. While not a new concept, it is a notion that has moved to the forefront of every resource and park manager’s mind after the colossal Bastrop County Complex Fire in 2011 which destroyed over 1600 homes and much of Bastrop State Park itself. It is not economically feasible to fix the vegetation problem entirely in Goose Island, as the fuel load is so great that it would be much too dangerous to burn and would have to be removed mechanically. It is, however, feasible to mitigate the spread of such a fire by implementing fuel breaks to slow the rate of spread. Which is where we come in.

Texas Conservation Corps was contracted to construct several thousand feet of fire break around the park, protecting campsites and structures. The breaks were 30 feet wide, and herbicide was applied to slow the eventual regrowth of the understory. Oak trees were also left as an implementation of a shaded fuel break. The going was slow, mechanically removing thick vegetation is a difficult process. But after 2 11 day spikes trips and over 160 hours of work the crew was able to construct fireline around most of the park’s “Lantana Loop” (the most thickly vegetated camping area) as well as both park restrooms and some of the park residence. With the work completed the crew and park were both able to rest easier knowing that the work they had done might save lives some day.

Colin Foltz, Emergency Response Team Crew Leader

Texas Conservation Corps at the Bastrop Wildfire Academy

The Firefighter Training & Introduction to Wildland Fire Behavior (S130/190) course conducted by the Capital Area Interagency Wildfire & Incident Management Academy was an extremely rewarding experience. Myself along with 9 other members of the Texas Conservation Corps were provided the opportunity to learn about the expanding world of wildland firefighting. Our instructors- Larry Weaver, Willie Mcinnes and Mark Elliot—are experienced professionals who used hands-on experiences to teach us.  During the first few days, we learned about the most important factors of predicting fire behavior and how conditions on a fire can change from minute to minute and hour to hour. Even though there were a lot of technical aspects of fire behavior analysis our instructors taught us practical skills, such as using a sling psychrometer to measure relative humidity, and how Relative Humidity affects the fire’s fuel and burn behavior.  Each day built on the previous day’s knowledge and we were challenged to think critically about how fire behavior adapts, not only with weather conditions, but also due to the terrain. Depending on where a fire starts, we learned about how natural geographic features, such as box canyons, saddle backs and other terrain elements can accelerate the fire’s spread and intensity. Our instructor’s taught us fire vocabulary but also to use natural barriers within an environment (such as roads, waterways, and rocky areas) as anchor points to fight fire. I can hear our instructors now: “work smarter not harder!”

When we transitioned to the fire fighting portion of our course (S190) we simulated a fire camp and were able to participate in the construction of a fire line and a prescribed burn. You know the saying, “you don’t fight fire with fire?” Well, in wildland fire fighting this just isn’t true. In the classroom we learned that fire creates its own weather conditions, but in the field we were able to see how setting a fire within the constructed fireline can use the convective properties of fire—drawing it to itself—and how this actually extinguishes the fire. The fireline construction, fuel reduction and “mop up” were the most exciting aspects of the course. In our Nomex suites and full protective gear we constructed a fire line using the one-lick method. Each person, wielding a different tool, scratched out a small portion of the fire line until the line is down to mineral soil. Working with my fellow classmates, I could sense the camaraderie that develops on a fire crew. As we walked, each one of us pointed to widow makers and stump holes, preventing the crew from slowing down and ensuring each member’s safety. Once the fireline was complete, the instructors allowed me to light a fusee to begin the fire. Once the fire was going we could observe fire behavior and use the tactics learned in the classroom to extinguish the fire by drawing it to itself and eliminating unburnt fuel. The S130/S190 course was an exciting and extremely engaging experience with which to end my year.

LaJuan D. Tucker, SLA Crew Leader 

Texas Conservation Corps – It Will Change You!

A year ago, I was sitting in a cubicle in Washington DC. My days were spent filling out excel sheets, pinging emails back and forth, and periodically checking ESPN for the latest NFL injury reports. The fantasy football season was in full tilt.

Although I couldn’t always explain why, for most of my childhood and into my adulthood, I had intended to join the military. What I wanted all along, I learned to realize, was a career with a pace that would keep me engaged and challenged, filled with excitement and opportunity. The armed forces seemed tailor made for me. In my junior year of college, however, I learned that I was ineligible for service.  And so, just like that, I found myself in a cubicle instead.

In between the routine I described above, I checked USA Jobs constantly, trying to find something exciting- a career that I could really love. I stared enviously at the postings I found there. Sometimes I applied. I looked at jobs which had exciting words like “Helitack”, or more mundane ones like “Handcrew” in their descriptions. And of course, the most desirable postings of them all were those which ended with the word “Smokejumper” in parenthesis. But no matter what they called themselves, all of those postings represented something I wanted. The first step, the last step, or somewhere in between along a career path I had imagined for myself, somewhere down the road.

Wishes notwithstanding, I was laughably unqualified. I wracked my brain searching for ways to get the experience I needed.

And then I found out about the conservation corps world. I had friends from Texas, and I knew it was an area which was under constant threat of wildfire. I applied for all of the Texas Conservation Corps positions, hoping that I’d get accepted and once there, learn practical skills and the value of hard work in unforgiving heat. And maybe, just maybe, find a way to get my foot in the door with a job I day dreamed about.

I’m not in DC anymore. I’ve forgotten how to navigate the Excel taskbar and learned how to operate a chainsaw. My experience to date has been more rewarding in more ways than I ever could have imagined. I’m excited to have gotten that chance to put my foot in that door, and open up a world of opportunities which thus far has remained off-limits to me.

Matt Lore, Field Crew Member

Texas Conservation Corps – It’s A Real Thing

Environmental Corps held it’s last graduation on 16 November at Stevenson’s Preserve in South Austin. We played kick ball, tried to keep track  of the dogs and kids that appeared to outnumber the greenshirts, ate food, and went through the memorable moments of the year. Thanks to Texas Parks and Wildlife and Bastrop State Park for coming and celebrating with us! From FEMA to Big Bend Trail Crew to Grad School to Casa Verde Builders, our members are moving towards interesting and rewarding futures. Best of luck to all of you, and keep in touch! Alumni love shwag too, right?

Things are starting to look a little different, and it’s certainly not thanks to the ever steady 80 degree weather. WE ARE THE TEXAS CONSERVATION CORPS! And with the beginning of training for our 2013 crew leaders on 26 November, it’s official. It’s going to take us a while to stop mutter ‘ECorps,’ but we can’t wait to see what kind of changes lie behind this one.

Speaking of crew leaders, we’ve got these 14 guys and gals a little less than a month and are determined to pack in as much training as possible. We have already gone to visit some past local projects, had an incredible adventure out to the Hill Country for 3 days (thanks to The Nature Conservancy and Madrono Ranch), worked on trails and rock work, and received Wilderness First Aid and CPR Training from NOLS. The conversations about past experience and future goals may linger a little longer than expected, but we were hoping it would anyway. Vehicles, chainsaws, risk management, communication, leadership styles, and probably a little more fun and we will be ready to do it all over again with the members in January.

Take a look at our photos over the last month, and remember, WE ARE THE TEXAS CONSERVATION CORPS!

Environmental Corps Staff – We Get Out There Too!

During the past month, we have had crews all over, and as we head into summer and a heavy spike schedule, you will certainly get to read about great crew trips to New Mexico, Oklahoma, North Texas, San Antonio, and Bastrop. But the crews aren’t the only ones who travel around! In May, 2 of our staff members went to Taos to the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps to put on a rigging workshop for their great staff. Around the same time, another 2 staff members went out to east Texas to participate in the Lufkin Wildfire Academy. We love when we get a chance to adventure, teach, learn, and grow so check out the photos below!

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Who We Are

There is nothing wrong with trying to save our world

We bleed we scar we stink we sweat.

 Chicks with chainsaws dudes with rocks work hard all day in our smelly sweaty socks

We may plant trees cuz were cool like that but we are mean and green environmental machines

We are who we are like family to the corps

Water is our daily drug cuz with out it we’re like fish out of water

We beat out invasive we arrive in our

E-corps slab

So don’t be mad cuz we E- corps

Elaine and Erin yell at us cuz they know we are g’z and expects more, we come  back sweaty and sore, but come back each morning cuz we are whatchamacallit…

E-corps…….mannnnnn!!!!

Ooo n also we are AmeriCorps and we get things done for America!!

Jessica Rodriguez, SLA Crew Member