Start the Saws!
Hello readers! Once again SCA Alaska Corps Team 1 has moved to another location to start a different type of work. After three weeks of traveling from location to location, we have finally settled into our last project in the Chugach National Forest. We have taken it a step up from pulling invasive plants and are now planted in the backcountry, just off of the Devil’s Creek Trail for our last hurrah. This is one of much bigger proportions, as we are now finally using our saw skills that we learned back in July. That’s right, the crew is chopping down trees for the next three weeks! We have said our last goodbyes to the wonderful and exciting world of invasive management and now move on to the noisy one of chainsaws and Kevlar chaps.
“Hold on!” you say. “What does chopping down trees have to do with conservation? I thought you were a bunch of tree huggers!” That would be a very legitimate question and assumption, as we are a conservation association, and we do love our trees. The Forest Service has recruited our dashing team in order to clear multiple aspen stands in the Devil’s Creek area, which serves multiple purposes. First, it allows new forest to grow in the area that the aspens once stood. Secondly, and the primary reason, is to bring in more moose, who love to chomp on the now more accessible food. The moose population in the area has been faltering recently, and we hope that by making food more accessible, our large, furry friends will now be able to increase in numbers, which helps both them and the subsistence hunters in the area increase their chances of success in obtaining food for their livelihoods.
Another change that comes with this project is we are now working longer days. Instead of five eight-hour days, we are now working four ten-hour days. This means waking up earlier, and going later into the day. However, we now get three day weekends! As saws require a lot of maintenance, we use this extra time at the end of the day to clean them up in order to ensure they perform optimally. At the end of every day, we march back to camp to spend some time cleaning them out and sharpening the chains. As for our work each day, it is quite simple. We suit up with all of the proper PPE (personal protective equipment), which includes leather boots and gloves, eye protection, helmets, ear protection, and Kevlar chaps. The chaps are there to protect our legs in case the chain should happen to find its way down there while it’s running. A chain that can cut through a tree in a matter of seconds is not exactly one that we want hitting our skin as you can imagine! Then we hike over to our worksites, the multitude of aspen stands which are in the area. We then get to cutting. Yells of “face-cut!” and “falling!” can be heard from a distance as we communicate to each other what we are doing with our saw and what is going on with the trees. Any tree taller than you and less than 12 inches in diameter gets the saw (those bigger than 12” get “girdled”, which means the cambium layer is exposed to prevent the tree from growing any further). The small aspens make for easy and quick cutting. We work in teams of two, one sawyer and one swamper, who assists the sawyer in spotting trees and moving them after they have fallen if need be. Our first three days of cutting we were visited by three different experienced Forest Service sawyers who gave us some helpful tips and tricks in order to better our sawing abilities. They were all very much impressed with our work and gave us good words of encouragement for the future, both in our project and future sawing endeavors.
Well, that’s really it for our days. The month of August has been quite rainy down in the Kenai Peninsula, and we attempt to stay dry, which is proving to be nearly impossible. We now just embrace the wetness and dry our clothes and lounge on our off days. Corps Team 1 has just two weeks left before our Alaskan adventure ends and we move onto other things. Stay tuned!