Serving with the Cape Cod National Seashore (Caco)
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m currently serving with Americorps Cape Cod and with the Cape Cod National Seashore. Specifically, I’m serving (working, whatever) as a member of the Americorps Fire Crew that was started just this year. The Americorps Cape Cod program has been in existence for the past 14 years and during that time they’ve made connections with just about every conservation organization on the Cape. The Cape Cod National Seashore is one such organization.
In previous years only one or two Americorps members would serve with the Seashore. That approach worked well, but the powers that be decided that it would be even better to have a dedicated group of individuals working ‘only’ as a fire crew throughout the entire service year. All 11 months / 1700 hours of it.
(I’m still pleased as all get out that I have a contract that lasts 11 whole months!)
It apparently took awhile to get the necessary grants together, but as of September of this year all the ducks were finally lined up and we were taken on in a flurry of applications and interviews.
Since this is the Fire Crew’s first year in existence, quite a bit of our purpose is still up in the air. Clearly we’re meant to help the Cape Cod National Seashore with their ongoing prescribed burning of their own holdings, but there’s some question as to how far afield we can travel with them if they get called to an incident elsewhere in the country.
Obviously, Cape Cod is not known for its large scale Wildfires, however most of the Cape’s forests are dominated by Pitch Pines, a very fire tolerant species of tree that burns readily (read: at the drop of a hat). The Parks Service Fire crew splits their time alternating between travelling around the country working on wildland fires elsewhere and enacting prescribed burns on Cape Cod itself.
While on the Cape our tasks more often involve fuel reduction (physically cutting down and removing dead trees and brush) with occasional prescribed burns. Both of which are aimed at promoting a desired ecology by recycling nutrients, removing non-desired plant species, and creating habitat for animal species.
For instance. Below is a picture of Wing Island in Brewster Massachusetts. Wing Island is typically mowed once a year in order to promote early succession species — grasses, shrubs, and the like. Normally, that mowing treatment is carried out during the winter, when the cold weather freezes enough of the marsh surrounding the island to allow a tractor access. Unfortunately, it never got quite cold enough last year to provide the tractor with safe passage. Because of that, there was a massive spike in the number of woody plant species growing in the area. In the picture below we’re pre-treating the area in preparation for a burn there this coming Spring/Summer.
By cutting down the grasses and shrubs that have grown up over the fields on the island we’re creating a continuous horizontal fuel layer, which will burn more readily than had we simply left things in state.
This sort of work constitutes a large portion of what we’ve been doing for the past few months. This fall was uncommonly wet, which unfortunately prevented us from lighting as many prescribed burns as our managers would have liked. However, although these projects aren’t as exciting as the burns tend to be, the naturalist part of me still finds them (if not engaging) satisfying.