ACE Pacific West North has a unique backcountry crew that works in partnership with the Inyo National Forest. The crew is comprised of two corpsmembers, Adrian Guizar and M.J. Aquilar and one crew leader, Jesse Wherry. Wherry led the project last season and was a corpsmember on the crew back in 2017. This small but mighty crew of three has been working in the backcountry of the Inyo National Forest for the last several months and will be finishing their season mid-October. You might be able to find them anywhere from three miles to twenty miles into the backcountry logging out trails, building rock structures, and performing general trail maintenance.
We caught up with the crew while they were logging out a section of the John Muir Trail and a section of the Minaret Creek Trail within the John Muir Wilderness and the Inyo National Forest. For this particular project, the crew’s supplies were packed in by mules but often times the crew will be carrying all of their tools, food, and camping gear for the duration of their eight-day project. In order for a crew such as this one to operate successfully, it requires a lot of planning from our project manager, Rory Mclaughlin and the crew leader, Jesse Wherry. Every detail from water sources to be filtered at camp to the location of logs on the trail that need to be removed from the path are worked out before the crew heads into the wilderness, often in locations without cellphone reception.
The crew is all trained in the use of the antique crosscut saw. These saws are required to be used over chainsaws when working in wilderness areas. Chainsaws are not only a disturbance to wildlife but they require gasoline and oil which would need to be hiked in in-addition to all of the other tools the crew carries. The crosscut is lighter and operates silently, making it the perfect wilderness tool. After crew clears logs from the trail making them passable for hikers and equestrians, they close off social paths that formed as a result of the down trees. It is important for conservation to keep one defined path so that the impact of recreation is concentrated in one area as opposed to having several social trails. The crew will be heading up to Mount Whitney in the coming weeks to work on the trail that leads to the highest point in the continental United States.
In the Cleveland National Forest, ACE Pacific West South partnered with the US Forest Service to work on the Three Sisters Trail. The trail is located just outside of Descanso, CA and leads to a beautiful waterfall.
Specifically, in 2018, American Conservation Experience crews completed a reroute of the final 0.5 miles of the Three Sisters Falls Trail. The trail was previously unsustainable and dangerous, leading to an increase in injuries and evacuations. In particular, the last mile of the trail required ropes to scale down a steep, quickly eroding slope which was causing many of the injuries on the trail. The erosion from hikers was impacting the hillside and the creekbed below.
During the second half of 2018, the crew finished the final 0.2 miles of the reroute and widened and stabilized the tread and benching work. The crew also built rock structures such as junk walls, retaining walls, and rock steps. At the end of 2018, the crew had put in 0.56 miles of new tread, brushed 1.09 miles of corridor, and built 10 retaining walls, 5 junk walls, and 31 rock steps! ACE is continuing work with Cleveland National Forest in 2019!
This past June ACE had both Southwest and Mountain-west based crews working side by side on the Bunker Creek Trail. The Bunker Creek Trail is located in the Dixie National Forest, Utah’s largest national forest, expanding over 170 miles in Southern Utah. The trail, which is intended for mountain bikers, is a total of 11.6 miles one way and reaches elevations of over 10,000 feet. The single track Bunker Creek Trail is designed to start at the top of the mountain with the bikers having another person at the bottom to shuttle them.
In the summer of 2017 this area of Dixie National Forest, known as Brian Head experienced a massive forest fire expanding over 100 square miles including the area of the original Bunker Creek Trail. In partnership with the Dixie National Forest, the ACE trail crews came in with the goal to reroute some areas of the trail with a more sustainable slope as well as maintain and clear parts of the existing trail. The ACE Southwest crew, led by ACE Crew Leader, Emily Merlo was out for four project weeks and the Mountain-west crew, led by ACE Crew Leader, Jordan Herron for six project weeks.
To re-establish the Bunker Creek Trail post-fire, the new tread was created initially with a dozer and then smoothed out with hand tools by the crew. The dozer created multiple reroutes which resulted in approximately four miles of trail that the crews completed in June 2018. Another crew returned in August 2018 to complete .6 miles of trail that connected to the top end of the North Bunker Trail as well.
The Bunker Creek Trail is located just down the road from Cedar Breaks National Monument and features beautiful views of light-colored volcanic rock as well as bright pink cliffs. The ACE crews were privileged to work in this beautiful area in partnership with the US Forest Service with the Cedar City Ranger District.
ACE is looking forward to continuing to partner with the Dixie National Forest in restoring and enhancing safe recreational trail access in 2019.
A 10 person ACE Southwest crew completed a project in the Coronado National Forest with the goal of protecting the fire-weakened forest from potential bark beetle invasion. Over the course of three months, the crew learned some serious orienteering skills and tree identification.
Crews deployed pheromone caps across 550+ acres. The areas that were treated were identified by the Forest Service as Mt Graham Red Squirrel habitats. ACE crews helped the Forest Service confirm locations of this endangered animal. At last count, there were only 35 remaining in the wild!
Two different types of pheromone caps were used. MCH and Verbenone. They are anti-aggregate pheromones that essentially tell a bark beetle that is searching for a place to lay their eggs that the tree is full and to keep on flying. The bark beetle then flies to the next tree and is told the same thing “sorry the inn is full! No vacancies!” Eventually the bark beetle gets too tired to continue to fly and dies.
The MCH packets protect Douglas firs and Verbenone protects southwestern white pines from bark beetle attack. This was a unique restoration project for our ACE’rs and we are so proud of the contribution made by our team.
Summer 2017 was a tremendously busy season for ACE’s Crew Program. ACE Southwest teams had the opportunity to work on a two-month project in the Pecos Wilderness just outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, on the Borrego Trail. ACE is proud to offer our corps members a wide range of training on different types of equipment and a variety of of tools. This project called for our teams to use the classic crosscut saw.
The use of crosscut saws dates back to the 15th century, and they are still in use today with very little change in their design. “It’s really cool to be using these saws that have been used for centuries”, explained crew member, Emily Merlo. These saws are used to cut against the wood grain of trees. The crew is using them to “buck up” already down trees. Bucking is a term that refers to the cutting up of already down trees.
A bucking saw generally has a straighter back and less of a pronounced curve on its cutting surface. Since bucking saws are more often used on trees that are already downed, the greater stiffness and weight aids swift cutting, and allows two-man saws to also be used by one person, pushing as well as pulling.
There are several reasons why crosscut saws are preferred over chainsaws, on certain projects. First, crosscut saws are lighter which makes it easier for crews to carry in to remote locations as most ACE crews backpack in all of their camping gear, food, and tools. This particular crew hiked over ten miles into the forest to reach the project site. The weight of chainsaws and fuel make crosscuts saws a better choice for these long hikes in. Additionally, many areas of the National Forests of the United States are designated as Wilderness Areas and as such the use of mechanized and motorized equipment is prohibited, except by special circumstance, as the noise chainsaws have the potential to disturb wildlife.
ACE crew leader, Kaitlin Egan led the project for the entire duration. The primary objective of this project was to clear downed trees that blocked the trail. The crews worked in two-person teams with the crosscut saw requiring one person on each side. Prior to beginning the work the team starts by assessing each tree, then decides on an approach based on how the tree fell from flooding and wind, where there is tension on the tree, and which way the log will roll once it is cut. And last, the decision is made as to who will take the saw when the cut is complete. It’s a very calculated process to ensure the safety of our crews and that the proper technique is utilized.
This project is the second year of work on the Borrego Trail for ACE. On this particular project the crews cleared the first four miles of trail where they set up camp in the backcountry of the Pecos Wilderness. As they worked their way up the trail, they eventually made it to the campsite at mile ten. Within the first month the crew was able to clear fourteen miles of trail from fallen trees.
ACE is proud to be able to provide our teams with backcountry and wilderness skills to allow our corps members to be a part of improving access to this beautiful trail. We’d like to thank our partners at Pecos Wilderness and the USFS for your guidance and partnership as well as our ACE Southwest Crew for your hard work and dedication on this project.
ACE Arizona is continuing work on an 18-week forest-thinning project in the Dry Lake Hills region of Coconino National Forest, just outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. ACE is partnering with the City of Flagstaff Fire Department and the US Forest Service to complete this hand-thinning project.
Fire is a natural part of the ecosystem in this region. Historically, wildfires would burn across the forest floor, clearing out the dead and lower branches of trees, making way for a diverse understory of grasses, sedges, and forbs. After a century of fire suppression, logging and grazing, thick ground fuels and a ladder of dead branches have resulted in increased risks of crown fires. Numerous studies based on Forest Service data show that 90% of the trees on Southwestern forests are 12 inches in diameter and smaller. It is the high density of these small trees that represents the greatest fire risk.
In 2010, the Schultz fire burned 15,000 acres and caused between $133 and $147 million in economic damages to the Flagstaff community. The Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project (FWPP) conducted a study that concluded that post-fire flood impacts in the Dry Lake Hills region have the potential to result in significant damage to downstream watersheds. Catastrophic wildfires cause severe floods when they burn the vegetation that would normally absorb the rainfall, leaving the ground charred, barren, and unable to absorb water.
The Forest Service silviculturist has written prescriptions for five sections of the 100-acre area being thinned by the eight person ACE crew. The crew will be felling trees that are 9 inch diameter and smaller. After felling and bucking up the trees, the crew will be building piles for future prescribed fire operations. City of Flagstaff Fire Department Operations Specialist, Matt Millar, and ACE crew leader, Katherine Dickey, are overseeing this project. ACE is honored to participate in this effort to create a healthier ponderosa pine forest for the residents of Flagstaff.
Over the course of seven weeks, ACE Asheville worked with the North Carolina High Peaks Trail Association, Mount Mitchell State Park and Pisgah National Forest to repair and restore Mount Mitchell Trail. At 6,684 feet, Mount Mitchell is the highest point east of the Mississippi River. The vegetation varies greatly along the 5 ½ miles to the dramatic summit and features spectacular stands of Red Spruce old-growth.
The ACE trail crew was led by Zak Beyersdoerfer for the duration of the project. The work involved repairing tread, structures and the overall sustainability of the Mount Mitchell Trail by improving drainage, repairing switchbacks and removing obtrusive rocks where necessary. The crew reconstructed multiple wooden staircases along the trail, carrying the large, heavy wooden steps up the steep trail with a backpack.
Using grip hoists and rockbars the crew also moved boulders from the trail and to flagged areas to prevent the creation of new social trails. “Trail work is a lot of psychology,” explained Josh Burt, ACE Southeast Fields Operation Manager. “It’s not enough to make a physical obstacle to prevent social trails, you also have to make visual barriers.” Josh explained that having a rock in place to prevent a hiker from going off trail is not enough; the hiker is always looking ahead and planning their route beforehand. Following this advice, the crew also put in place eye level barriers such as dead branches to deter hikers from cutting across a switchback.
The work completed by the ACE crew and its partners will certainly help to make this trail, in one of our nation’s first state parks, capable of supporting many more visitors for years to come.
ACE Arizona is assisting with an important effort to thin the fire-prone forest in northern Arizona’s Coconino National Forest. The ACE crew is being led by Matt Donaldson and is working in partnership with the Flagstaff Ranger District.
A century of fire suppression has resulted in dangerously overstocked forests, leaving the forests across the Southwest in a very vulnerable state. Increasing temperatures and decreasing water availability due to climate change has exacerbated this even further.
Fire disturbance is a critical part of the natural cycle and plays a vital role in supporting a diverse complement of plant species and structure. Under ideal conditions forest fires clear the dead and lower branches in the forest allowing sunlight to reach the forest floor. In contrast, historic fire suppression has resulted in a surplus of fuels at the lower levels of the forest, which quickly spreads to the canopy, destroying entire forests.
The goal of this project is to manage the overgrown areas in the Coconino National Forest to prevent these fires from turning catastrophic. The crew is working with the Forest Service’s silviculturist who is writing prescriptions for each area of the forest. The prescriptions are written based on tree size, health and grouping. Part of the work entails remarking previously marked trees as well as marking by these new prescriptions. If you are out hiking in these areas, please note that the trees that are marked are the ones that will not be cut during the forest thinning.
ACE corps members are gaining a thorough understanding of a variety of resource objectives related to wildlife, fire and fuels, timber, recreation, archeology, and soil hydrology. They are also learning how these multifaceted issues all play into the development of prescriptions and the layout of cutting unit boundaries. This project will be continuing though the end of the summer.
Late March our ACE Arizona crews continued trail maintenance in Sedona, AZ in Oak Creek Canyon. The crew was working with the Red Rocks Ranger District branch of the US Forest Service. The crew that was lead by senior crew leader John Donovan was working on the A.B Young Trail. The trail was reconstructed in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps under the supervision of A.B. Young. “The trail was once a cattle trail that was used to transport produce up to the main wagon roads”, explained John Donovan.
The goal of this project was general trail maintenance. The crew was primarily brushing the trail. They also spent time building a small retaining wall and they cleared debris to provide proper trail drainage.
ACE has been working with the Red Rocks Ranger District since the beginning of the year and our corps members are very fortunate to be apart of the conservation efforts of the area. This is the first of two projects that will be working on the AB Young trail.