Imagine the morning sun melting through your tent walls. You gently wake to the song of busy birds, foraging for insects, seeds, or fruits. Looking up through the screen of your uncovered tent, you can see the crown of a mighty Ponderosa pine, its orange trunk swaying lightly in the summer breeze. Somewhere in the distance are the excited yips of a coyote pack. Perhaps they have caught a rabbit and would leave some gnawed bones to bleach in the daylight. As you rise, you see some of your teammates setting up the camp stove to make some tea.
This is what it’s like to volunteer with BMBP. I found myself totally removed from the onslaught of activity and information of the modern world. Instead, I was immersed in the rhythms of nature. BMBP did much more for me than any classroom could; living in these National Forests for three weeks, I really came to know and experience how the plants, animals, and fungi there interact with each other in an ever-changing environment. Moreso, I saw just how delicate these ecosystems are in the face of logging and human industry. I learned a lot from Karen Coulter’s decades of experience living and working in this region, about how business and politics influence human activity in the forests, and what we can do to protect wild spaces. I walked away knowing how to navigate through roadless areas using a map and compass, how to pick out signs of animal activity, how to recognize twelve different bird calls, how to find edible plants and mushrooms, how to identify landscape alterations by weather, fire, livestock grazing, and human interactions, and much more. I was also allowed to attend public collaborative meetings and private negotiations, thus getting a taste of forest advocacy and exposure to a broad range of public needs and ideologies surrounding public lands. I highly recommend everyone spend some time at BMBP – it really brings the intersections of wilderness and civilization to light!
As a transplant from Chicago who moved to become more involved in grassroots environmental organizing, I was immediately interested in BMBP. In 2012, I volunteered as an intern with the project for three months. During this time, my desires to learn more about forest ecology, immerse myself in the wild, and do substantive environmental change work were met beyond all expectation. I not only learned how to identify a large ensemble of plants, animals, and animal signs; I also learned a great deal about logging. From my time in the field, I grasped how to understand first-hand how logging damages our forests. I participated in collaborative meetings and Forest Service project appeals, composed material to be used in litigation, and exercised my photography skills to capture documentation to be used in legal cases.
I also spent a summer with some amazing people, made new friends, and learned about past and present radical environmental movements and actions from the people who spear-headed those movements. I was able to travel across four National Forests, from the moist meadows of Ochoco to the lava-covered Deschutes. I stood downstream from a massive snow topped mountain as freezing river water rushed over my body, and was able to connect to the forest in ways I never have before. It is something truly beautiful when you wake to birdsong “alarm clocks” and your ear becomes so attuned to the peace of the forest that you can tell how far away the winds are by the progressing shivers of leaves.
If it was not for BMBP I would not have been able to have such profound experiences. Volunteering with this project strengthened my resolve to stick with environmental work for the long haul. When I came back to Portland I was able to use the skills I learned to quickly jump into a local group doing very similar work to protect Mount Hood. There is no better way I could have spent that summer and I emphatically look forward to the work I will do with BMBP in the future.
Volunteering with BMBP was an incredible experience for me in so many ways. In my time there I had the opportunity to apply my educational background in the natural sciences, but more than anything it was really an amazing opportunity to learn so much of what’s never taught in a classroom. I spent three seasons watching wildlife and observing and learning to identify the features of healthy forests and watersheds. We spent entire seasons watching for goshawks in the Malhuer National Forest. I’ll never forget the day I watched a goshawk glissade through an old growth forest with a gold mantled ground squirrel in its talons!
During my time there I felt strongly empowered to help protect forests through the legal process of appeals writing and forest monitoring. One of the things I liked most about the project was the dedication of all those involved, their competence and their strong commitment to protect places so often neglected by others.
During my time with BMBP, I learned about different plants and tree species that live in the forests near Bend, Oregon, as well as how to identify different types of birds and other wildlife. I also learned how to navigate through the woods using a compass and Forest Service maps. This was a very useful skill to learn, since I plan on spending a lot of time in the woods off-trail in the future. Another thing I learned was that the Forest Service has many management policies that are destructive to forest ecosystems, and that groups like BMBP are crucial to keeping track of what is going on out in the woods.
The thing I liked the most was spending two weeks out in the woods while learning about the ecosystem I was in. It felt like I was on the coolest ecology field trip ever. I will use the skills I learned to continue doing research and conservation work in the future. I have already used the plant identification skills and navigation skills many times, while hiking and camping.