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New Ethnically and Racially Diverse Coalition Launches to Transform National Monuments in the U.S.

On October 20th, 2021, National organizations unite to launch a new ethnically and racially diverse coalition as a stakeholder in the National Monument narrative.

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Hispanic Access Applauds Action Restoring Protections for Critical Cultural Heritage Monuments

Today, President Joe Biden took executive action to restore protections for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monuments. In response to the order, Hispanic Access Foundation’s President and CEO Maite Arce released the following statement:

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Our Heritage, Our Planet Film Week Announces 2021 Films

Films Will Highlight the Intersection of People of Color, Culture and the Environment    

Today, Hispanic Access Foundation announced the full selection of films being shown during Our Heritage, Our Planet Film Week. Featuring 29 films, the virtual festival will celebrate life through the stories of Latino, Black, Indigenous and other people of color with roots in nature – learning, experiencing, and uplifting the nexus between human communities and the lands, waterways, and ocean we call home. It will be held in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, following Indigenous People’s Day from Tuesday, October 12 to Friday, October 15, 2021, with FREE tickets available at https://bit.ly/OHOPRegister

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Intertwined Passions – MANO Alumni Finds a Future Career with the USFS

“I believe in prioritizing making space for diversity in the workforce.” 

While looking for internships, Izabel Castellano found herself debating where she wanted to head in her career. She had a deep passion for visual art and graphic design, but she also knew she wanted to make meaningful change through her work. 

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Latest Blog

Forest Management When Disaster Strikes

When Tropical Storm Fred made landfall on the Florida panhandle in mid-August of this year, I never imagined it would be a major threat where I’m currently stationed in Western North Carolina. Being someone who was raised on the coast of Florida, I’ve weathered my fair share of hurricanes and tropical storms over the years. And I’m familiar with the threats associated with those storm incidents – flash flooding, storm surges, wind damage, tornado activity, etc. So, as TS Fred crawled across the Southeastern U.S. and slowly edged into North Carolina, I expected the impacts to be relatively mild. I wasn’t prepared for the damage that would ensue when, in a 48-hour period, over 10 inches of rain accumulated in many parts of the Pisgah Forest and surrounding counties.

Rain pouring over the mountains triggered immense landslides, wiping out segments of underlying infrastructure. As water drained into swelling creeks and rivers, water levels rose several feet to record heights, causing flash floods that swept away trees, automobiles, and mobile homes. In some spots, the surge of rushing water was powerful enough to wash out bridges and roads. When the water began to subside, the human cost of the flooding became a reality as reports of at least six deaths and dozens of missing persons streamed in from local communities like Cruso and Canton.

In the days and weeks following the incident, my colleagues at the USFS Pisgah and Appalachian Ranger districts managed emergency response operations within the hardest hit portions of Forest Service land. Local district staff members and an interdisciplinary incident response team spent countless hours surveying and documenting roads, trails, bridges, and recreation areas for storm damage. Waterways and recreation areas where erosion and debris threatened public safety were closed off and monitored to prevent injury.

On a two-week emergency detail to the Pisgah district, I worked with heritage professionals to help survey badly damaged bridges, trails, roads, and archaeological sites throughout the district. We worked with NC Department of Transportation officials to identify, monitor, and preserve heritage sites while planning and implementation of repairs. During my details, our team was able to provide specialized feedback to state engineers, which allowed us to coordinate repairs to damaged infrastructure without destroying neighboring archaeological sites.

I’m glad I had an opportunity as a Resource Assistant to see Forest Service employees working with the state and local communities to help rebuild piece by piece in the wake of a natural disaster. It’s likely that the millions of dollars of damaged caused by TS Fred will take years to fully assess and repair. And the funding and resources required for recovery can be stretched thin as the other Forests deal with emergencies like wildfires and hurricanes striking other parts of the nation. While the looming threat of climate change makes the challenge of dealing these types of incidents even more daunting, it’s also heartening to see local residents, state officials, and federal agencies working together to support affected communities.

Kitten Rescue

Starting a new job is always a combination of exciting and scary. Especially when it’s somewhere you’ve never been before. I’ve learned to expect the unexpected… and I sure did not expect the surprise my first week had in store for me.

Osceola National Forest is a lovely location filled with memorable sites like Ocean Pond and Olustee Battlefield, and keystone species such as the endangered red cockaded woodpecker and gopher tortoise.

kittens 1 ocean pond

View of Ocean Pond

These sites are great for visitors and, since I am in the recreation department, they are my focus. However, what I am truly passionate about is wildlife, and sometimes the visitors and wildlife don’t mesh well.

Some visitors to the forest have been known to abandon pets here. People have left cats, dogs, pigs, and my coworker Kenny has even seen a mule left in the woods! Not only is it inhumane to leave domesticated animals to fend for themselves in a harsh unforgiving environments, but it also hurts the native species the Forest Service is trying to protect.

Wild boars run rampant in Florida forests, rutting up the ground and killing native species, and their presence here originated from people leaving them in the woods. On St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge, where I just worked, the boars would destroy endangered sea turtle nests. Since coming to Osceola National Forest, I’ve seen damage at Hog Pen Landing campground from them rutting up the ground.

kittens 2 sign

Ocean Pond Campground Info Board

Personally, I’ve seen several cats at Ocean Pond Campground running around. These feral cats struggle to eat to survive and are a real threat to many bird species. Cats have contributed to multiple extinctions worldwide, and with Osceola being home to the endangered Red Cockaded Woodpecker, it is crucial that we remove them.

Many of the camp hosts take it upon themselves to leave out traps to catch the feral cats. Once caught, usually a Forest Service employee takes the cat to the humane society. Ideally these cats would find a welcoming home where they no longer have to scrounge for food, but that is not often the reality. Most of the cats become too feral to ever be a pet again, and they must be put down. Others carry a feline upper respiratory infection that cause discharge from their eyes. Since this could infect other cats in the shelter, they are put down to prevent the infection from spreading.

Having grown up on a farm with barn cats, I am familiar with this condition. Many kittens have it, but we just wipe away the discharge with a damp rag and sometimes give them penicillin. The kittens usually get better. However, the humane society won’t take that risk.

kittens 3 cage

Trap used to catch feral cats

            My first-time visiting Ocean Pond Campground I spotted a pregnant cat sneaking through the site. The second time I visited, two days later, there was a litter of three kittens mewling in one of the traps. My heart hurt for the kittens, as the camp host, Mark, explained how they heard them crying the night before.

            He found them under a bush. The one crying the loudest was twisted in Spanish moss, struggling to breath with it wrapped around his neck. Mark had saved the kitten, and put them all in the cage to protect them from the predators. Everyone had been looking out for the mother, but no one had seen her since.  It is likely that she left, because she didn’t believe she could feed them and also survive herself. Two concerned visitors, Cindy Bell and Tony Angelo, came over to listen, and we all went to check on the kittens.

kittens 4 snuggling

The litter of kittens snuggling

            Less than a day-old kittens were resting on a blanket, and it was hard to tell if they were okay. It was late in the day, and no one was sure the kittens could make it another night. The hypothermia, starvation, and predators were all too real threats for these kittens. Newborn kittens should be drinking milk every two hours, and these kittens hadn’t had any milk all day. We all wanted to help the kittens, but there was only so much we could do.

            The forest service takes cats that are caught on site to the humane society, but the humane society wasn’t a certain haven. The kittens could have the upper respiratory infection that would result in them being put down. However, the infection itself wasn’t a death sentence. I’ve had many cats who used to have it as a kitten. I was tempted to take the kittens myself, but working a full time job would prevent me from caring for them properly. I didn’t want to risk the kittens going hungry while I was gone for eleven hours every day.

            Luckily the kittens found a home. Cindy and Tony have been caring for them. Everyday the kittens get stronger. They run around, climb, purr almost every time they drink milk, and one kitten has even started opening his eyes!

kittens 5 Cindykittens 6 Tony

                                                                                                       Cindy with a kitten            Tony with a kitten whose eyes are open!

I’ve gone over to Cindy and Tony’s twice after work to help feed the kittens. It’s the wrong direction to go home, but completely worth it. Cindy and Tony saved these kittens lives, and this experience has not only led to our friendship, but it has shown me that though some people do behave selfishly, there are also people like Cindy and Tony who are kind and will go out of their way to help those in need.

kittens 7 feeding

Cindy and I feeding a kitten

            I am not going to ignore the actions of those who abandoned these kittens’ mother, that is the best way to repeat history. However, I am also choosing to focus on the heroic actions of Cindy and Tony. The news mostly reports on the bad, and while it is newsworthy, I believe this has led some to view all of humanity through this lens. The story of these kittens isn’t all happy, but it does inspire me to not only see the good in others, but to also strive to be the type of person who does good. Whenever, I feel bummed or tired at work I’m going to think of the rescue of these kittens, and I’m going to push myself to do as much good as I can while I’m in the Resource Assistant Program. I hope to use this opportunity to better myself, and to help the Forest Service and everyone who visits Osceola National Forest, whether it’s by working to repopulate an endangered species, maintaining a recreation site, or by saving kittens.

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Me playing with the kittens

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Sleeping Kittens

Agency: U.S Forest Service

Program: Resource Assistant Program (RAP)

Location: Osceola National Forest

Alaska: All-Around Amazing

I’m back with more about Alaska!

As a Communications Fellow, I am proud to work with the National Park Service – Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program (NPS-RTCA), via the Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF). In September 2021, I travelled to The Last Frontier for a team trip with my coworker Alisson Vera, the other HAF Communications Fellow in my office.

The day after landing, we connected with Zach Babb, the Program Manager for the Alaska Region of NPS-RTCA. He was our supervisor and an awesome guide throughout the state! Heading east from Anchorage for three hours to grab lunch in Glennallen, two hours later was Valdez to the south. Although it drizzled, the rain did not put a damper on the afternoon because of the first up-close wildlife sighting, sea lions!

1. valdez

Sea lions hunting for salmon near the Solomon Gulch Hatchery in Valdez.

Three hours north of Glennallen, Delta Junction was the destination the following day. As its name suggests, the city is not far from where the Delta River and the Tanana River join together. The team met with the Delta Junction Trails Association (DJTA), a nonprofit dedicated to improving the trail system and green spaces in the area to link the community and to enrich the lives of residents. Exploring the Liewer Community Trail, the upcoming Delta River Walk Park and the Bluff Cabin Trail were also sights to behold. For almost a decade, the partnership has seen NPS-RTCA put forth a great effort to help DJTA engage with locals to outline the future of many trails.

2. delta junction

Here with Zach hiking the Bluff Cabin Trail near Delta Junction.

Day three of the drive was east for three and a half hours to the Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark, deep in the heart of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. In the early 20th Century, copper ore was extracted from the mines in the mountains, and the mill town processed it. Almost $200 million worth of copper was processed overall. Nowadays the General Store and Post Office have exhibits and the short film “The Kennecott Mill” to learn about the extensive operation. Luckily the shuttle to and from the landmark was functioning, since it was the final day of the tourist season.

3. kennecott

Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.

Walking and biking around Anchorage over the weekend, there were plenty of places to find delicious food and drink, including tasty salmon chowder and flavorful wild blueberry soda. Good spots to pause along the coast are Earthquake Park and near the airport to watch airplanes take off and land. Animals were abundant such as belugas, and in Whittier there was Dall’s porpoise and a personal favorite, sea otters!

4. anchorage skyline

View of the Anchorage skyline from Earthquake Park along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.

Stay tuned for the next post, focused on Week Two when the team journeyed to Homer!

Bye for now,

David

Agency: National Park Service

Program: Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Program (COR)

Location: Rivers, Trails Conservation Assistance Program - DC Field Office

Developing Schoolyard Habitats in LA

I cannot believe that I am already nearly halfway through my fellowship! It has been such a privilege to develop my skills and learn more about the community resiliency work that the National Park Service is doing. 

As part of our fellowship duties with the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program, we support the full-time staff with assigned technical assistance projects. One of my favorites of these projects is the Urban Refuge Partnership Outdoor Learning Access Program, a collaborative project between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, the Los Angeles Audobon Society, and the Friends of the Los Angeles River.

The project is developing a schoolyard habitat at Dayton Height Elementary School, located in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, a predominantly Latine and economically disadvantaged community. In addition to establishing a permanent schoolyard habitat in one of the most park-poor regions in Los Angeles, the partnership is also developing classroom instruction, field trips, and providing paid internships for community members. As the child of two elementary school teachers, I was immediately drawn to the project when I was given my options, and I am so excited that it is finally moving forward!

The Dayton Heights schoolyard habitat will be third in the LA region. In August, we were privileged enough to explore one of the previously established schoolyard habitats at Esperanza Elementary School, located near McArthur Park. Even though we visited before schools were back in session, you could feel how transformative the schoolyard habitat was for the school site and the community.

Amado Urban Refuge

Esperanza Elementary School is located in one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the country. Many of the students who attend the school face housing and food insecurity. The schoolyard habitat serves as a gateway for students to experience nature in a way that would not be accessible elsewhere. 

During our tour with the Urban Refuge partners, Esperanza's principal Brad Rumble beamed with pride. He shared how his students learned to identify all the different types of birds that visit their refuge and how ecstatic they all were when they discovered a burrowing owl there one morning. Not only does the schoolyard habitat promote ecological restoration and educational instruction, but it also strengthens environmental resiliency; the act of removing asphalt and growing drought-resistant native plants helps mitigate the urban heat island effect. 

Amado Esperanza     Intheheights

Esperanza's Schoolyard Habitat                         Dayton Height's Future Schoolyard Habitat 

After our trip to Esperanza, we were all inspired and excited to move forward with the new schoolyard habitat. We finally got the chance to visit Dayton Heights with our project partners on September 17th. Kate and I helped take measurements of all the amenities and barriers in the proposed habitat area for my mentor Carlos' master sketch. It was fantastic to see a landscape architect in action and support the work necessary to transform the space from an underused slab of asphalt to an urban refuge. I cannot wait for this project to progress forward and hope that I will get to see it reach completion before the end of my fellowship!

Agency: National Park Service

Program: Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Program (COR)

Location: Alaska Office of Law Enforcement

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