Category Archives: Human interest

Field Notes: Taking a closer look at nature

Ron Kikel is a bird man. And an ant man. And a wasp guy. Those aren’t his superhero aliases – they’re descriptions of just some of his work as a conservation education specialist for the Mt. Hood National Forest.

But, Kikel is probably best known as the “owl guy.”

Meet Jack.

Jack, a 12-year old Great Horned Owl, is blind in one eye. He was rescued and rehabilitated by staff at the Rowena Wildlife Clinic, which trains disabled raptors for use providing wildlife education. Courtesy photo provided by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
Jack, a 12-year old Great Horned Owl, is blind in one eye. He was rescued and rehabilitated by staff at the Rowena Wildlife Clinic, which trains disabled raptors for use providing wildlife education. Courtesy photo provided by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Jack is a 12-year old Great Horned Owl. He’s also blind in one eye. Jack was rescued after tangling with some barbed wire, and rehabilitated several years ago by the Rowena Wildlife Clinic, which partners with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to care for disabled raptors and trains them for use in educational settings.

Kikel met Jack in 2010, at a Wild for Wildlife event. Jack was working with his caretaker, Dr. Jean Cypher, at the time to provide conservation education to students. Kikel was doing similar work for the Forest Service, using a taxidermied owl as a prop.

Their encounter inspired Kikel to pursue training to become a raptor handler, himself.

 
Jack, a disabled Great Horned Owl, assists Ron Kikel, an Information Assistant on the Mt. Hood National Forest and trained raptor handler, with providing conservation education talks around the region. Courtesy photo provided by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Jack, a disabled Great Horned Owl, assists Ron Kikel, an Information Assistant on the Mt. Hood National Forest and trained raptor handler, with providing conservation education talks around the region. Courtesy photo provided by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

“With taxidermy, you are mostly talking about anatomy. Kids ask a lot of questions about where the bird came from, sometimes it gets a little off-track,” he said. “Show them the live owl, and you have their attention for at 30 minutes, at least.”

These days, Jack and Kikel work as a team to provide conservation education at schools and public events located near Kikel’s “home base” at the Hood River Ranger District in Parkdale, Oregon.

 
Jack the Great Horned Owl poses with Ron Kikel, an Information Assistant on the Mt. Hood National Forest and trained raptor handler. For the past few years, the pair have worked as a team to provide conservation education for classrooms and community groups around their area.  Courtesy photo provided by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Jack the Great Horned Owl poses with Ron Kikel, an Information Assistant on the Mt. Hood National Forest and trained raptor handler. For the past few years, the pair have worked as a team to provide conservation education for classrooms and community groups around their area. Courtesy photo provided by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Sometimes, Jack even joins him at the ranger station’s front desk, where Kikel provides visitor information and the owl has his own perch.

“He’s a star. Everyone likes him a lot,” Kikel said. “He’s probably the best coworker I’ve ever had.”

"This is a hoverfly, I found him on a sunflower last summer," Ron Kikel, an information assistant for Hood River Ranger District on the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. He explained the insect is a fly species that looks much like a bee. "If you look at their eyes, they're more fly-like.. and there's no stinger. (But) when you're camouflaged like that, you're less likely to become someone's dinner." Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
“This is a hoverfly, I found him on a sunflower last summer,” Ron Kikel, an information assistant for Hood River Ranger District on the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. He explained the insect is a fly species that looks much like a bee. “If you look at their eyes, they’re more fly-like.. and there’s no stinger. (But) when you’re camouflaged like that, you’re less likely to become someone’s dinner.” Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Kikel isn’t just a bird man, he’s also a bug guy. He’s known in the Forest Service’s regional conservation education community for his nature photos, many of which feature dramatic close-ups of the nature he finds around him.

In his prior career, photography was Kikel’s job. He served 20 years in the Air Force, 12 of them as a photographer working in medical research and forensics.

“I worked at Wilford Hall, a big research hospital. So we had an infectious disease lab, dermatology, poison control. They’d want (close-up) photos for teaching, so I took some courses in it,” he said.

"This is a hoverfly, I found him on a sunflower last summer," Ron Kikel, an information assistant for Hood River Ranger District on the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. He explained the insect is a fly species that looks much like a bee. "If you look at their eyes, they're more fly-like.. and there's no stinger. (But) when you're camouflaged like that, you're less likely to become someone's dinner." Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
“(This dragonfly) was at a pond near the (Columbia River Gorge) Discovery Center in The Dalles. I think that was last summer,” Ron Kikel, an information assistant for Hood River Ranger District on the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. The photo was taken from about 12″ away, using a Nikon D50 camera and 105mm macro lens. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Today, skills he once used to photograph scorpions and fire ants for environmental health brochures given to deploying service members are the same ones he now uses to capture breathtaking images of Pacific Northwest beetles, birds and butterflies.

To avoid disturbing his subjects, Kikel often works with minimal gear, often taking photos with just an old Nikon D-50 camera, a manual macro lens, and sometimes a flash.

A ladybug makes a meal of an aphid.  "She's so busy munching down, she didn't even notice me," Ron Kikel, an information assistant for Hood River Ranger District on the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. Kikel makes a hobby of his love for nature through photography, with a special focus on landscapes and macro (close-up) photography. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
A ladybug makes a meal of an aphid. “She’s so busy munching down, she didn’t even notice me,” Ron Kikel, an information assistant for Hood River Ranger District on the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. Kikel makes a hobby of his love for nature through photography, with a special focus on landscapes and macro (close-up) photography. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Despite the seeming spontaneity of this approach, he said macro photography is actually a very slow-going endeavor.

“It takes a lot of patience, because your subjects aren’t going to sit still,” he said.

This Marsh Hawk was in the rehabilitation enclosure at the Rowna Wildlife Clinic, Ron Kikel, an Information Assistant for the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. He said he spends a lot of time studying his subject's features, and it's hard not to imagine his subjects' have an inner emotional life, much like humans. “You go into an enclosure with big birds, and they can be pretty foreboding-looking when they are not happy,” he said.  
Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
This Marsh Hawk was in the rehabilitation enclosure at the Rowna Wildlife Clinic, Ron Kikel, an Information Assistant for the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. He said he spends a lot of time studying his subject’s features, and it’s hard not to imagine his subjects’ have an inner emotional life, much like humans. “You go into an enclosure with big birds, and they can be pretty foreboding-looking when they are not happy,” he said.
Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

These days, Kikel said, he considers his photography to be not his job, but his passion.

But he still finds lots of inspiration at the office.

“Mt. Hood is right outside my window… I can watch it change with the seasons,” he said.

An autumn photo of Opal Creek, Ore. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
An autumn photo of Opal Creek, Ore. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

While Kikel credits patience for his most successful shots, he said sometimes a little luck is also required.

He was experimenting with a new camera when he caught a striking image of a Cooper Hawk perched just outside his bedroom.

This Cooper Hawk made a late-February, 2019 appearance at the bird feeder outside Ron Kikel's home. "He takes the word 'bird feeder' to a whole new level," Kikel said, saying the hawk left hungry that day, but has since killed at least one bird who came to feed there. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
This Cooper Hawk made a late-February, 2019 appearance at the bird feeder outside Ron Kikel’s home. “He takes the word ‘bird feeder’ to a whole new level,” Kikel said, saying the hawk left hungry that day, but has since killed at least one bird who came to feed there. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

“I was shooting (pictures of) the birds at my feeder, through the window, and suddenly they all bolted,” he said. “Then I looked up, and said ‘well, that’s why… I’d better get this dude’s picture before he takes off!’”

Whether he’s providing customer service at the ranger station, giving wildlife education talks, or providing tours of Cloud Cap Inn, it’s the interpretive element that drew him to his job.

Ron Kikel took this photo of a heron while visiting Seaside, Ore. in early March, 2019. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
Ron Kikel took this photo of a heron while visiting Seaside, Ore. in early March, 2019. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Seeing the world through a different lens, and being able to share it, is what draws him to photography, as well.

“It’s really an incredible world, when you see it close up,” he said.

"Rufus," a Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), photographed by  
Ron Kikel, an information assistant for the Mt. Hood National Forest. "I tend to anthropomorphize my subjects," he said. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
“Rufus,” a Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), photographed by
Ron Kikel, an information assistant for the Mt. Hood National Forest. “I tend to anthropomorphize my subjects,” he said. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Source information: Catherine “Cat” Caruso is the strategic communication lead for the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s Office of Communications and Community Engagement, and edits the “Your Northwest Forests” blog. You can reach her at ccaruso@fs.fed.us.

A field filled with wildlflowers at Dalles Mountain State Ranch in Washington, spring 2017. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
A field filled with wildlflowers at Dalles Mountain State Ranch in Washington, spring 2017. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Smokey Bear to bring fire prevention message to Oregon license plates this summer

Smokey Bear is an iconic symbol of wildfire prevention. Oregon's new Keep Oregon Green special license plate joins 1950's artist Rudy Wendelin’s Smokey Bear with a backdrop of Oregon's lush forests. The plate's $40 surcharge will help fund wildfire prevention education activities around Oregon, which share Smokey and KOG's shared message regarding the shared responsibility to prevent human-caused wildfires.

Keep Oregon Green, in partnership with the USDA Forest Service, the Ad Council, and Oregon Department of Forestry, have partnered to bring Smokey Bear and his important message to Oregon drivers: Only YOU can prevent wildland fires.

The Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles sold 3,000 vouchers for a new, Smokey Bear -emblazoned license plate in December.

The vouchers serve as pre-payment for the special plate surcharge fee for drivers hoping to adopt the new plate; the sale of 3,000 vouchers is required for the state to begin placing orders for plates with a new design.

With 3,000 vouchers sold in just a few days, the plate is will go into production soon, and will become available to vehicle owners registering their passenger vehicles, or replacing their existing license plates, later this year.

Once the plates are released, any Oregon vehicle owner can apply by paying a $40 “special plates” surcharge when registering for new or replacement license plates, in addition to the usual registration and plate fees.

The surcharge will help fund wildfire prevention activities conducted by Keep Oregon Green, an organization that educates the public about the shared responsibility to prevent human-caused wildfire in communities throughout Oregon.

For more information, visit:
https://keeporegongreen.org/smokey-bear-license-plate/


Source information:
The Keep Oregon Green Association was established in 1941 to promote healthy landscapes and safe communities by educating the public of everyone’s shared responsibility to prevent human-caused wildfires.

Smokey Bear was created in 1944, when the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council agreed that a fictional bear would be the symbol for their joint effort to promote forest fire prevention. Smokey’s image is protected by U.S. federal law and is administered by the USDA Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters and the Ad Council.

In the News: Adriana Morales, Siuslaw NF district fisheries biologist

Adriana Morales, Hebo District fisheries biologist, Siuslaw National Forest, wears waders and poses with a depth measurement tool while collecting stream data

How does a girl from Bogota, Columbia, who grew up in a city set high in the Andes, fall in love with the ocean and end up working for the Forest Service in Hebo, Ore.?

The Skanner News recently profiled Adriana Morales, a district fisheries biologist for the Siuslaw National Forest, as part of a running series highlighting diversity in the Forest Service, and opportunities in the natural resources career fields.

Morales is passionate about working with partners to restore the Pacific Northwest’s salmon and steelhead habitat, which relies on the clean, cold streams supplied by forest shade and melting mountain snow.

She’s also dedicated to sharing her love of the natural world with others; she frequently conducts bilingual outreach events and opportunities that open outdoor experiences to youth from under-served communities.

From the story:

“We are sharing this planet … and we need to recognize and ensure that conservation, preservation and rational use of natural resources needs have a balance with the interest of the society, and with other animal and plant species, because this is our legacy for future generations,” Morales said.

Read more, at:
https://www.theskanner.com/news/northwest/27715-adriana-morales-makes-a-difference-as-a-usda-forest-service-fisheries-biologist

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SWEET HOME TO DC: 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree delivers season’s greetings in Nebraska

The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree crossed Scotts Bluff National Monument on Nebraska's Great Plains Nov. 18, 2018. The tree is traveling from Sweet Home Ranger District on the Willamette National Forest in Oregon, where it was harvested, to the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C., where it will be delivered with 10,000 handmade ornaments to decorate the Capitol lawn this holiday season. Courtesy photo by Andrew Smith, Adventure Photography. Used with permission

Sweet Home to DC: The 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree journey

A Modern Day Adventure on the Historic Oregon Trail

Each year, a National Forest provides a Christmas Tree for display on the U.S. Capitol lawn in Washington D.C. This year’s tree is travelling from the Willamette National Forest’s Sweet Home Ranger District, in the western Cascade mountain range. District Ranger Nikki Swanson is recording her notes from the journey for the Your Northwest Forests blog.

To read previous entries, visit https://yournorthwestforests.org/category/capitol-christmas-tree/.

For more information, visit the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree website, www.capitolchristmastree.com, and story map: https://arcg.is/10DOyv

Track the tree! Follow the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree on its Return to the Oregon Trail journey in near real-time, at www.trackthetree.com


November 18th, 2018
Scottsbluff, Neb.

Season’s greetings and holiday cheer on the Great Plains

What a beautiful day! Blue skies and incredible scenery pass our windows as our modern-day wagon train rolls by.

High prairie grasslands, golden in the sun, and the most incredible rock formations I have ever seen are dusted with the snow from yesterday’s storm.

Oh, what a difference a day makes!

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This morning, we stopped at the Historic Territorial Prison in Laramie, Wyoming.

This beautiful state park was a prison in the late 1800’s and helped to maintain law and order during the wild, wild, west. It was used to lock up notorious outlaws, such as Butch Cassidy.

The site now offers historic buildings, museum exhibits, a gift shop, and today, the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree.

Quite a few people came out to sign the banner, have photos taken with Smokey Bear, and to wish the tree team well on our way to Washington D.C.

Our next stop was 147 miles away. We said “farewell” to Wyoming and “hello” to Nebraska with a stop in Scottsbluff, Neb.

The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree team stops for a photo while cleaning road grime from the truck during a stop in Scottsbluff, Neb. before continuing to Scotts Bluff National Monument Nov. 18, 2018. The "Return to the Oregon Trail" tour left Laramie, Wyo. and continued to Scotts Bluff National Monument and Scottsbluff, Neb. en route to thThe U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree visited Scotts Bluff National Monument Nov. 18, 2018. The "Return to the Oregon Trail" tour left Laramie, Wyo. and continued to Scotts Bluff National Monument and Scottsbluff, Neb. en route to the U.S. Capitol. USDA Forest Service photo.

The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree team stops for a photo while cleaning road grime from the truck during a stop in Scottsbluff, Neb. before continuing to Scotts Bluff National Monument Nov. 18, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo.

The first thing we did upon arriving was to wash the truck, trailer, and all of the support vehicles. The storm had left all of the vehicles coated in icy, sandy, grime!

Once everything was sparkly-clean, we drove up to Scotts Bluff National Monument for a photo shoot.

Here’s the view from my window as we drove past the bluffs.

What a beautiful area!

Big, reddish colored rocks rising like giant castles seemingly touch the sky, above the golden plains.

Majestic.

Magnificent.

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It’s incredible to think about the half-million travelers on the Oregon trail who marveled at the exact geologic formations I stood marveling at, 175 years later.

Some things change, and some things stay the same.

This evening, the City of Scottsbluff hosted a wonderful nighttime parade, with several thousand spectators in attendance.

The mayors of Scottsbluff and Gering, Neb. also proclaimed November 18th, 2018 as “U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Day.”

When the tree stopped at the end of the parade, everyone converged on the tree, eager to sign it and to see the noble fir and the beautiful, handcrafted ornaments.

Once again, the atmosphere was joyful and full of peace and good will. I have never in my life experienced 30 days of joy, in a row. This tree has shown me that there is still joy in the world even though it can sometimes be hard to find around us. It is there, just under the surface, waiting to emerge if given the opportunity.

A sign in the city of Scottsbluff, Neb. advertises a nighttime Christmas parade and visit from the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Nov. 18. 2018. T

The city of Scottsbluff, Neb. hosted a nighttime Christmas parade Nov. 18. 2018. USDA Forest Service photo.

I, for one will be looking for the hidden joy every where I go from here on out. I think I might be addicted to joy now. I’m ruined forever, in the best possible way.

Nikki Swanson
District Ranger, Sweet Home Ranger District
Willamette National Forest

PS: Check out this aerial footage of our U.S. Capitol Christmas tree “modern-day wagon train” as it travels through Scotts Bluff National Monument, courtesy of Andrew Smith at Adventure Photograpy.

 

 

 

SWEET HOME TO DC: 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree rolls out on tour

A reenactor representing Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the Forest Services, poses with U.S. Airmen during a 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree whistle-stop event Nov. 10, 2018.

Sweet Home to DC: The 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree journey

A Modern Day Adventure on the Historic Oregon Trail

Each year, a National Forest provides a Christmas Tree for display on the U.S. Capitol lawn in Washington D.C. This year’s tree is travelling from the Willamette National Forest’s Sweet Home Ranger District, in central Oregon. District Ranger Nikki Swanson is recording her notes from the journey for the Your Northwest Forests blog. To read the previous entries, visit: https://yournorthwestforests.org/category/capitol-christmas-tree/.


November 10th, 2018
Albany, Ore.

Thankful for family, friends & veterans

Today we left home. The packing and the year of preparation is complete and it is time to leave family and friends and to take the first steps away from all we know, to venture into the great unknown. It was also a day to be thankful for the veterans who have made this country free so that we can travel as we wish. This freedom does not exist everwhere.

Our stop at the Cabellas store in Springfield, Ore. was like a giant farewell party. My family and friends who had not made it to the Sweet Home event came to wish me well.

I realized at this moment how much I am going miss all of my family and friends over the next month. It was just a small taste of what the Oregon Trail pioneers felt when they left their friends and extended family members behind – the pioneers were going to be gone for a much longer period of time than me. Many pioneers said “goodbye” knowing they might never see their families and friends again.

Cabellas was so festive!  There was music, hot chocolate, Smokey Bear and there were even LIVE reindeer! There was such a spirit of joy in the air as people picked their favorite spot to sign the banners on the side of the truck.

My friend’s son summed up the mood of the event perfectly: “Of all 50 states, that Oregon was chosen to deliver the Capitol Christmas tree ALL the way to D.C.? That is amazing.” I agree.

The U.S. Capitol Christmas tree also visited the Albany Veteran’s Day Parade, the largest Veteran’s Day Parade this side of the Mississippi. It was such an honor to be at this event.  There are so many veterans in my life and I am thankful every day for their service to our great country.  Not every country has the freedoms that the United States of America enjoys. When I was 17, I traveled to Canton, China as part of an international sports exchange to run a cross country race.

The funny thing is, I don’t remember the race at all. What I remember is seeing the poverty, and being surprised at the lack of freedom that we had. We could only visit the places the government gave us permission to visit. We could not go to just any jade factory, we had to go to the one they directed us to.

In America, visitors can move freely. I had always heard from my Dad that I should be thankful to be an American, I did not realize just how true that was until I visited another country. I came back proud to be an American, and thankful for all of our veterans and the price they paid for our freedom.

The service members and veterans, Civil Air Patrol cadets, and parade-watchers had a great time signing the tree banner, learning more about the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, and having their photos taken with Smokey Bear.  It was our second day officially “on the trail” with the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree, and it was a very good one.

Nikki Swanson
District Ranger, Sweet Home Ranger District
Willamette National Forest

SWEET HOME TO DC: The 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree begins its journey

A tractor trailer hauls a large evergreen tree on a narrow forest highway

Sweet Home to DC: The 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree journey

A Modern Day Adventure on the Historic Oregon Trail

Each year, a National Forest provides the tree that lights up the National Mall from the U.S. Capitol lawn in Washington D.C. This year’s tree is travelling from the Willamette National Forest in central Oregon to the nation’s capital, a month-long journey.

The forest’s Sweet Home Ranger District hosted this year’s search for “The People’s Tree,” District Ranger Nikki Swanson is accompanying the tree on it’s journey across the U.S.

Because 2018 is also the 50th year of the National Trails Act, the route will follow a reverse version of the Oregon Trail, a federally-recognized National Historic Trail. She’ll be sharing her notes from the trail on the Your Northwest Forests blog.

You can find all of our Capitol Christmas Tree coverage at: https://yournorthwestforests.org/category/capitol-christmas-tree/.


November 7nd , 2018
Sweet Home, Ore.

Preparing for the Big Journey

All big journeys begin with much preparation. Pioneer’s packed covered wagons to journey west via wagon train along the Oregon Trail to make a new life in Oregon. The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree is preparing for its journey from Sweet Home, Oregon to our Nation’s Capitol in Washington, D.C. following the same route that many of our ancestors took, only in reverse.  There are so many things that had to be done before the big day on the Willamette National Forest.  The tree needed to be found, cut, transported into the City of Sweet Home, and wrapped before it could even begin its journey.  It has taken a year of planning to get to this point, but compared to the planning and preparation of the pioneers 175 years ago, our project is easy.

A crew stands ready to fell the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree

A crew stands ready to fell the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree, which was harvested from Sweet Home Ranger District on the Willamette National Forest in Oregon. Photo by James Edward Mills of The Joy Trip Project (Nov. 2, 2018).

The Willamette National Forest was selected to provide to 2018 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree because the climate and growing conditions on the west side of the Cascade Mountains lends itself to perfect conditions for growing trees of all kinds, including Christmas trees of ALL sizes. It took a long time to find the perfect Christmas Tree.  I don’t know about your family, but it takes a long time for my family to find our Christmas Tree. There are always lots of opinions about what makes the perfect tree and not everyone always agrees.  It’s like a beauty contest for trees. Only the best will do to adorn the west lawn of our Nation’s Capitol. Of the thousands of trees that we looked at, this one was by far the most beautiful.  It is 80 feet tall with a perfect shape looking lovely from all sides.  The blue green needles seem to shimmer in the mist turning upwards slightly towards the sky, a classic noble fir tree.

Panels for constructing a plywood and Plexiglas box stand ready to be assembled around the the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree.

Panels for constructing a plywood and Plexiglas box stand ready to be assembled around the the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree. It took about a week to prepare the tree for its cross-country journey. USDA Forest Service photo by Joanie Schmidgall (Nov. 4, 2018)

Cutting the tree was the next step.  The weather on the cutting day was rather typical for Oregon: Wet. VERY wet. But I suppose that is the price of having such lovely green trees. It took a village of partners and friends to cut the tree without a single limb touching the ground. A crane was attached to the top of the tree and when the tree was cut it hung there suspended and swaying slightly.  A firefighter from the Willamette National Forest was the person who cut the tree.  He has lots of experience using a chainsaw and that was a good thing with so many people watching.  He didn’t seem nervous at all.  I would have been! Once the tree was cut, it was gently placed on special cradles on the back of the truck designed to support the tree and keep the branches from being crushed or broken.

The tree was located in the middle of the woods. Getting the tree eight miles down a narrow, windy, gravel road was a bit tricky. The truck and trailer are 102 feet long! It took a special piece of equipment to pick up the back end of the trailer and move it around each corner. The narrow bridges were tricky too, but thanks to the great skill of the truck driver, the tree made it safely to Highway 20.  Because the truck and trailer are so long and would not be able to make it around all of the corners and still safely in its lane, the highway had to be closed.  Saturday, the tree pulled into Sweet Home to the cheers of the people lucky enough to see it before it was boxed up for the big journey.

Plexi_glass_pannels

The 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree is being transported in a special shipping container constructed with Plexiglas panels on the sides, so visitors can catch a “sneak peak” of the tree at events celebrating its journey from the Sweet Home Ranger District on the Willamette National Forest in Oregon to Washington D.C. USDA Forest Service photo by Joanie Schmidgall. (Nov. 5, 2018)

The next order of business was wrapping the tree.  The tree needs to be boxed for its 3,000 mile journey to protect it from the weather.  A local mill was kind enough to donate a dry warehouse for the wrapping. A large “bladder bag” was placed at the trunk of the tree so that it has water along the way.  It even has a heater so that it does not freeze. Bright red panels were placed on the truck one by one until the entire tree was boxed up.  Plexiglas panels at the back end of the truck allow people to see the top twenty feet of the beautiful Oregon noble fir tree.  The visible part is decorated with lights and a sample of the 10,000 ornaments hand made by the people of Oregon to decorate the tree in Washington D.C.

A bladder bag is fitted at the base of the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree to help keep the tree hydrated during its cross-country journey

This “bladder bag” will be filled with water help keep the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree fresh-looking and green during it’s month-long journey to Washington D.C. You can cut your own Christmas tree on National Forests! Contact a Visitor Center or Ranger Station for your local forest to learn more about the agency’s Christmas Tree permit program. Permits cost $5; trailhead, day-use, or Sno-Park permits may also be required at some locations. A Christmas Tree cutting permit is available at no cost to 4th graders who’ve requested their free, interagency public lands access pass through the Every Kid in a Park program – for details, visit https://everykidinapark.gov/USDA Forest Service photo by Joanie Schmidgall (Nov. 5, 2018)

Banners are placed on the sides of the truck thanking all of the people and businesses that have helped with the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree.  None of this would have been possible without the help of SO MANY people in Oregon and across the Nation.  The unity and helpfulness I have seen bring tears of joy and gratitude to my eyes. From many of the stories I have read, the Oregon pioneers had a similar experience along the Oregon Trail with strangers helping strangers and becoming friends along the way.  As we travel across the Country there will be many stops so that people can sign the banners, a giant card to accompany this gift from the people of Oregon to the people of the United States of America. I hope to see many of you again, in person, along the Oregon Trail at the numerous public events along the way!

The adventure begins Friday, Nov. 9. There are many ways to virtually join the tour: follow our journey at TrackTheTree.com for near-real time tracking of our precious cargo, check out this daily travel blog, learn more about the places we’re visiting on the Forest Service story map, and visit the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree website http://www.capitolchristmastree.com/ and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Questions can be emailed to capitolchristmastree2018@gmail.com, and I will answer them as soon as I can.

Nikki Swanson
District Ranger, Sweet Home Ranger District
Willamette National Forest

District Ranger Nikki Swanson, Sweet Home Ranger District.

District Ranger Nikki Swanson, Sweet Home Ranger District, Willamette National Forest, delivers remarks at the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree cutting Nov. 2, 2018. Photo by James Edward Mills of The Joy Trip Project.

A walk on the wild side: Exploring the forest with your dog

A German Shepard poses against the view after a hike to a mountain ridge.

It’s a bright cool morning when a hiker arrives at the trailhead with great anticipation. The trail ahead is lined with huge trees towering over the cerulean sky. The only thing that could possibly make the experience better, for many recreation users, is to have their canine best friend along for the adventure.

Dogs are welcome in most areas throughout our National Forests, but there are some simple guidelines we ask dog owners to follow to ensure the safety and enjoyment of all who use these great public resources, including their furry friends.

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The underlying rule for people bringing their dogs into “developed recreation” sites — that means areas designated as trail heads, campgrounds, parking lots, interpretive trails, visitor centers, and so on — is that dogs need to be a leash six feet in length or shorter, or restrained in some other way, such as a crate or carrying case.

In most other forest areas— including areas of trails beyond the trailhead or outside a developed recreation area — there are typically no leash requirements.

That doesn’t mean owners are relieved of responsibility for their animal, or that an off-leash walk is recommended, or even safe for your dog.

“Know your dog, but also recognize that the changed environment can impact your dog in different ways. You can’t control the environment or the possible sensory stimulation your dog may experience on the trail,” Tanya Roberts, Manager of Training and Behavior at Oregon Humane Society, said. “It’s always best to keep your dog on a leash when you’re on an unfamiliar trail.”

Some campers aren’t dog lovers; they may have phobias or allergies that prevent them from being happy to meet an unrestrained pet.

“Learn as much about trails and campgrounds as you can before you bring your dog. Steep terrain, narrow trails, steel mesh bridges, and log climbs can make the hike very difficult for your dog,” Roberts said.

When hiking, uncontrolled dogs may wander off a path and encounter wildlife, with disastrous results for the animal or themselves.

Some dogs have little fear of heights; in areas with cliffs, gulches, canyons, caves, or big rocks, they may slip under railings or over a steep drop and get hurt — or worse.

Another way to protect your pet: Before heading outdoors, ensure all vaccinations are up-to-date and make sure you’re using flea and tick control. Make sure dogs are both wearing identification tags on their collar and are microchipped, in case they get lost. Bringing a recent photo is also good idea, so you can show it to others campers or a rangers if your dog does go missing.

In some forests, you may encounter areas that restrict access to domesticated animals outside of developed recreation sites. These restrictions may be in place to protect watershed health, municipal water systems, sensitive plant species, or other natural resources that could be damaged. For example, restrictions are in place on some parts of the Deschutes National Forest to protect the City of Bend’s municipal water supply.

“Bottom line, it comes down to being respectful to others, wildlife, and keeping your dog safe,” Logan Free, the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s developed recreation program manager, said.

Free is an avid hiker and dog owner, and enjoys helping others enjoy the outdoors successfully with their dogs.

Yielding on trails is a common friction point among recreation users, he said.

“A basic etiquette rule I’ve heard is ‘Wheels yield to heels,’ where bikers and OHVers yield to all other users, while hikers yield to horseback riders,” Free said. “Restrain your dog when others try passing and yield to others, as you don’t know if other hikers would enjoy Fluffy jumping up to greet them.”

Keeping your leashed on trails is recommended, even if it’s not required, Roberts said.

Maintaining a safe distance between your dog and other trail users, including those on bikes or horseback, protects not only other users but also your pet.

“It’s just not worth the risk of having your dog off leash. It could become a life or death situation if your dog runs around a corner on a trail and startles a horse. This can be very dangerous both for your dog and for the horseback rider,” she said.

While some dog owners are confident allowing their dog to roam off-leash because their pet is trained to follow voice commands, even well-trained dogs can behave unpredictably — especially in an unfamiliar area, Roberts said.

“Some people are concerned that their dogs won’t get as much exercise if they stay on a leash, but usually with all the new sensory input, dogs will come home very tired anyway,” she said.

Another source of human-dog conflicts are areas around developed recreation sites. Even leashed, a dog’s presence can interfere with activities like bird watching. Barking is also a common source of friction between dog owners and other visitors.

“The National Forests are for everyone to enjoy. If people encounter dogs that are interfering with their ability to enjoy public lands, a polite conversation with the dog owner is a good first step, if the issue isn’t serious or threatening; followed by a call to your local ranger district office if the problems persist, and a call to law enforcement if the dog is aggressive,” Free said.

If you encounter other dog owners, remember that they also may prefer your dog be leashed around their pet, Roberts said.

“There may be lots of possible reasons. Maybe a dog is recovering from surgery, and having other dogs jump on them could do real damage,” Roberts said.

And sometimes, the best way to ensure your dog enjoys your time outdoors is to leave them at home.

Before taking your dog on a hike, take the weather, and the distance and terrain into account, Roberts said.

“Watch out for heat,” she said. “Put your hand down on the terrain: if it’s uncomfortable for you to put down pressure on the ground because of heat or sharp terrain, it will probably also be for your dog.”

If your dog is younger, older, or hasn’t hiked before, start with shorter hikes so dogs can get familiar with the environment, strengthen supporting muscles, and toughen up the pads on their feet.

“Get your dogs’ heart checked by a veterinarian before attempting any hiking. Carry a first aid kit, especially if you have a big dog who you won’t be able to carry back to your car. With elderly dogs, it’s especially important that you know what the dog will encounter along the trail and how difficult it will be,” Roberts said.

For pet safety tips, first-aid, and more information about responsible recreation with dogs on National Forests, check out the FAQ at https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5351574.pdf.

Before your visit, contact the local Ranger district office for specific local considerations or recommendations.

And don’t forget to scoop your dog’s poop! “Leave no trace” should be your goal for pets (and people, too). Dog feces can take months to decompose, and may carry diseases and parasites that are dangerous to wildlife and contaminate water that humans rely on, as well.

“It’s lovely to see people being respectful and being aware of how their dogs may be impacting others around them,” Roberts said. “We need to encourage people to do things right.”


Source Information: Chris Bentley is the Website and Social Media Manager for the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s Office of Communications and Community Engagement. He doesn’t have a dog… yet.

Field Notes: 自然に触れる大切さ (The Significance of Nature)

A man and woman pose holding pine cones.

Jay Hideki Horita is a resource assistant in the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s Office of Communications and Community Engagement. In this “Field Note,” he shares his first week on the job, which he spent working with a pair of Japanese Exchange students volunteering at the region’s Portland, Ore. office.

“As a new Resource Assistant with the Northwest Youth Corps and the U.S. Forest Service, I knew much of my job as a Youth & Community Engagement Specialist would be to act as a liaison between the Forest Service and improve information and access to the agency’s services for under-served communities in Oregon and Washington.

“I didn’t know that this would mean using my experience as a Japanese-American who is fluent in Japanese in my first week on the job!

“As a participant in the Resource Assistants Program, folks like me have an internship of at least six months, after which we have a shot at becoming a permanent employee of the Forest Service. It’s one of the ways the Forest Service is trying to attract a younger and more diverse workforce.

“Recently, the Forest Service hosted two volunteers from Musashino University 武蔵野大学at the agency’s Regional Office in downtown Portland. The students were studying in the U.S. as part as an exchange program, and required to complete a volunteer service project while they were here.

“My first assignment, as a recent graduate – more importantly, Japanese-language speaker, was to guide our new volunteers during their time with us in Portland.

“During job interviews in Japan, one often explains their motivation, or 切っ掛け (kikkake), for applying to an organization or company.

A man and woman pose holding pine cones.

Kousuke Yoshia (left) and Yukime Nakajima (right) hold Douglas Fir cones on a hike at the Hoyt Arboretum in Portland, Ore. (Sept. 2018). USDA Forest Service photo by Jay Hideki Horita.

“For Yukime Nakajima and Kousuke Yoshida, their motivation aligns with many others who choose to work or volunteer for the Forest Service; an interest in forests, wildlife, and nature in general.

“Their assignment seemed simple enough: to help develop social media and other conservation education material by researching related pictures, quotations, and facts for 25 topics. The 25 topics ranged from universal themes like “employment” and “rivers” to more culturally-specific terms, like ‘Woodsy Owl’ and ‘Smokey Bear,’ ‘trail work,’ ‘wilderness,’ ‘mushroom foraging,’ and ‘veteran employment.’

“To understand these, the volunteers dove deep into the complicated history and culture surrounding U.S. land management.

“I asked Yukime what her favorite term was, and she expressed her affection for “Holiday Trees.” She was intrigued – and delighted – to learn that each year since 1970, the Forest Service provides the U.S. Capitol with a carefully chosen conifer, now known as “the People’s Tree.”

“These trees often complete cross-country trips to the National Mall in Washington D.C., where they are decorated with ornaments created by residents of the state where the trees originate.

“This charming tradition marries the Forest Service’s efforts with those of the many volunteers involved.

“The tradition also manifests more locally; the Forest Service encourages the public to harvest their own Christmas trees from National Forest -lands across the U.S., offering Christmas Tree cutting permits for only $5.

“Our two volunteers were delighted to hear about these traditions, as Christmas tree-harvesting is unheard of in Japan; indeed, Christmas itself is a holiday seldom celebrated in their country, as either a secular or religious holiday.

“Kousuke was surprised to learn about the darker history of land management in the United States. When looking at a map of Oregon, he asked me about the large tracts of reservation land.

“The ensuing conversation focused on the U.S. government’s displacement of and systemic discrimination against Native Americans and how this dark history laid the groundwork for public land management in the United States, including our national forests and parks.

“Through our work, our volunteers gained a more comprehensive and realistic understanding of the federal government’s role in U.S. land management.

“They also learned about the Forest Service’s more recent efforts to right these wrongs and to share perspectives often left out of the standard environmental education curriculum.

A woman and man pose with forestry hand tools

Yukime Nakajima (left) watches as Kousuke Yoshia (right) poses with a trail work tool while learning about forest recreation work. (Sept., 2018). USDA Forest Service photo by Jay Hideki Horita.

“Other terms, like ‘trail work’ or ‘wilderness,’ were completely foreign to our guests, who are both residents of Tokyo — Japan’s capital, and one of the worlds most densely populated cities.

“They learned about the creation of wilderness areas, and the trail work crews employed to maintain the nation’s many trails.

“We had sobering discussions about the accessibility of outdoor spaces for city residents across the world; in a mega-metropolis like Tokyo, these accessibility problems are often magnified.

“For their final day, the volunteers hiked the nearby Hoyt Arboretum, a 189-acre forest preserving 6,000 plant specimens from around the world. There, they gained a behind-the-scenes perspective on land management work.

Portland Parks & Recreation Trails Coordinator Jill Van-Winkle gave them a tour of the Arboretum’s facility, and the two experienced wielding a ‘double-jack’ and ‘Pulaski,’ among other classic trail work tools.

“Next, they visited the World Forestry Center, where they learned about the diverse forests across the world, including those in their home country Japan.

“Throughout these two weeks, both the Forest Service and the volunteers gained much insight into cross-cultural conservation work.

“As their journey in Oregon concluded, Yukime and Kousuke said they’d miss the Pacific Northwest’s vibrant landscapes, and wished they could stay longer.

“As the day ended, we said our final farewells in true cross-cultural spirit: with a big hug, and a low bow.

“When I asked Yukime what message she plans to bring home, she offered the phrase自然に触れる大切さ, which roughly translates as “the significance gained from nature.”

“She said she was moved by the love and care that people place on wilder places in this country and how nature gives its humans a way to understand love, care, and significance.

“For the many who live, work, and play in outdoor spaces – whether in the city or beyond – perhaps the same sentiments are true after an early morning wildlife sighting, an afternoon walk in the woods, or even an evening outdoors playing basketball on the blacktop, in a park surrounded by some of the trees that comprise Portland’s urban forest.”

A man and woman pose holding certificates outside the entrance and sign for the World Forestry Center Discovery Museum

Kousuke Yoshia (left) and Yukime Nakajima (right) at the World Forestry Center in Portland, Oregon (Sept., 2018). USDA Forest Service photo by Jay Hideki Horita.

More information:

USDA Forest Service – Resource Assistant Program:
https://www.fs.fed.us/working-with-us/volunteers/resource-assistants-program


Source Information: Jay Hideki Horita is a resource assistant in the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s Office of Communications and Community Engagement.

Willamette NF hosts public potluck honoring CCC Co. 2907 Aug. 15

Black and white photo of a forester wearing a 1933 forest ranger uniform and hat,, standing on a felled log, with a crew of young men sitting and standing beside him.

SWEET HOME, Ore. – Aug. 6, 2018 – The Willamette National Forest is hosting a public potluck picnic in celebration of the Civilian Conservation Corps Company 2907 (CCC).  The event will take place on Wednesday, August 15, 2018 at historic Longbow Organization Camp.

“We look forward each year to hosting original members of the CCC Company 2907 and their families at this annual picnic which highlights their valuable contributions including the construction of Longbow Organizational Camp in the 1930’s,” Nikki Swanson, District Ranger for the Sweet Home Ranger District., said. Attendees are encouraged to bring photos, news clippings, and other memorabilia from the CCC years to share during the event.

Longbow Organization Camp is located 23 miles east of Sweet Home via Highway 20, turn onto the Gordon Road (2032) after milepost 46 and continue for almost two miles.  Those in need of transportation to and from Longbow should call ahead to reserve a seat with the Sweet Home Ranger Station, located at 4431 Highway 20 in Sweet Home, the shuttle will leave at 9:30 am.

Company 2907, formerly Company 1314, was organized in 1933. The members moved to Camp Cascadia, located along the South Santiam River east of Sweet Home, in 1934. While working in the Willamette National Forest, Company 2907 built 35 miles of forest roads and 80 miles of trails; installed 17 miles of telephone lines; built 6 fire lookouts and 8 bridges; landscaped 4 acres of grounds near the Cascadia Ranger Station; constructed 2 large dwellings, an office building and a gas and oil station; and constructed House Rock, Fernview, and Trout Creek Campgrounds. The men also spent over 7,000 days fighting wildfires. Many of the Company’s members stayed in Oregon, and have since become important figures in local communities.

The celebration will begin at 11 a.m. with a flag colorguard opening the ceremony, and a potluck-style lunch at 12:30 p.m.  Attendees should bring a potluck dish (last names beginning with A-H, bring a hot dish; I-P a salad; and Q-Z a dessert. Plates, utensils, napkins and beverages will be provided.

For more information and to make transportation reservations, please contact the Sweet Home Ranger District at (541) 367-5168 or visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/willamette/news-events/?cid=FSEPRD589911.


Source information: Willamette National Forest public affairs staff.

Ochoco NF employee assists Puerto Rico forest with hurricane recovery

Heidi Scott poses on the wall of a small reservoir, beneath a waterfall

PRINEVILLE, Ore. – July 9, 2018 – An Ochoco National Forest employee recently returned from a five-month assignment to El Yunque National Forest, helping to rebuild the forest’s recreation infrastructure following 2017’s Hurricane Maria.

Heidi Scott, lands & recreation special use administrator for Ochoco National Forest, served as the El Yunque’s first recreation planner, helping to develop a forest recreation and interpretation plan and strengthen connections to surrounding communities.

Hurricane Maria, which formed in September last year, is regarded as the worst natural disaster to affect Puerto Rico on record. The Category 4 hurricane toppled trees, bridges and structures across the National Forest, and left several million Puerto Ricans without power, water or cell service.

When Scott first arrived on the island in January, there were approximately 500 contractors and an incident management team working to clear debris from roads and trails just to allow workers back into the National Forest, Scott said.

Most workers were housed in a hotel on the beach with a generator for electricity and no running water. The local power grid did not come back up until May.

During her detail, Scott helped to reestablish recreation infrastructure, lay plans for new recreation opportunities, and assisted the Forest in finalizing a new Forest Plan.

Fore example, she helped to reestablish visitor services when the hurricane rendered the existing visitor’s center, El Portal Rainforest Center, uninhabitable. The building will be under construction for the next couple years, so Scott helped the Forest revitalize an old ranger station into a new visitor’s center, and installed a series of kiosks, called “portalitos,” in surrounding communities to bring the visitor information to the community.

One of the best parts of the detail was experiencing a National Forest so different from the other forests in North America, she said. Keeping an eye out for the West Indian Mongoose in the field was a standard precaution (because they can carry rabies) and it was not uncommon to encounter the Puerto Rican Boa in the forest.

While re-construction efforts on the forest will take years to complete, Scott said she hopes to return in a few years to see the results.

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Source information: Patrick Lair is the Public Affairs Officer for the Ochoco National Forest and Crooked River National Grasslands in central Oregon.