We worked for a week at a site in Baudette, Minn. on a household property whose owner in the 1960s dumped trash into their yard, which sloped gradually downward into a lake. Random objects buried in shards of broken glass and rusty scraps of tin told of its age: blue and green mason jars, soft plastic doll limbs, simple fishing reels, shattered bakelite kitchenware. Where the land curved down into the lake, the trash was more deeply layered. Each shovel full of broken glass and metal revealed another layer underneath. I joked with a co-worker about discovering a new kind of geological stratum. We found more recent trash scattered about the property as well: bits of foam board insulation, plastic wrapping, beer and pop cans.
Earlier this year in mid-June, half of the North Woods crew—myself, Will, and Nate—helped the Water Trails crew for a week in clearing a portion of the Mississippi River near Bemidji of fallen trees. South of Lake Irving, a stretch of river about three miles long running through the woods was unnavigable.
After unloading a jon boat from a trailer at an access point on the north side of Lake Irving, we packed in our gear: chainsaws, gasoline, bar and chain oil—a biodegradable type for use in water—hand saws, loppers, helmets, chaps, a saw box with tools for maintenance and repair, and our lunches. We followed the Water Trails crew across the lake into a marshy area where the river began. The forest around us soon became thick, and soon we spotted the first tree lying across the river. We agreed with the Water Trails crew to observe them working on a tree to learn, then we would go down the river and work ahead of them, after they would leap-frog ahead of us.
The sun rose quickly through a clear sky, burning off all the dew that settled earlier in the morning. We were walking through a wooden trail, following our project host in the Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge to look at the work site, when the woods suddenly opened up to a prairie like a sea of grass spreading outward, the horizon only broken here and there miles in the distance by aspen and oak forests. Our job was to help create an oak savannah landscape by painting herbicide onto the aspen trees in one section of the land. We became familiar with the location, ate lunch, and began painting trees that afternoon.
Some of the work we do involves wildland fire. Conservation Corps members not only help firefighters with wildfire suppression, but also help natural resource managers with prescribed burns. Part of our training includes the completion of a week-long course for an Incident Qualification Card, or Red Card. The Red Card is a certification given by the Minnesota DNR that qualifies individuals to work with fire at federal, state, county, and local agency levels.
Corps members most often help with wildland fire ‘mop up,’ which is the work done after flames have been extinguished and the fire is no longer running. In the burned or ‘black’ area, firefighter doing mop up put out smoldering material and clear logs, brush, and other fuels from the edge of the burned area to prevent the fire from reigniting. Mopping up after the fire has been controlled has been my experience with wildfire as part of the North Woods crew.