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State teams help Salmon Center with restoration

Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

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In the first week of his new job, Nich Drinkall was already doing hard manual labor. The Las Vegas native and four other members of his team spent 10 hours a day for eight days during two weeks loading logs on a come-along zip line and shooting them down a steep ravine above a creek, then dragging the logs into place to create pools.

The ecology and restoration work is hard, taxing and cumbersome. The team had to repeatedly climb the hillside, awkwardly lift logs and remain vigilant.

But Drinkall loved it.

"When I graduated, I had no idea what I wanted to do," he said. "A buddy of mine said he worked outside, and I thought that would be so cool."

Last year, Drinkall applied for and was accepted into the Washington Conservation Corps program, an AmeriCorps program dedicated to environmental and disaster services around the state.

During the next year, the team will be stationed in Mason County, hosted by the Belfair-based Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group.

"Not only is this a service for us, but they're getting a foothold in the natural resources industry," said Tamara Cowles, natural resource projects assistant for the Salmon Center. "They're meeting different groups and people, and gaining really job skills."

The program is open to people ages 18 through 25 who have either attended college or plan to attend college. Participants receive a $5,000 stipend for each program in which they participate, which goes toward tuition or student loan debt.

Throughout the state, more than 700 crewmembers will work on projects to improve the educational, environmental, health and public safety needs of the community they live in.

The Salmon Enhancement Group in Belfair applied to host a six-person team — five crewmembers and one supervisor — through the conservation corps program to work on restoration projects for the area.

"These kinds of programs are really important to us," Cowles said. "We have a lot of interns or students working or volunteering at the center. We're really passionate about paying it forward."

The North Mason Regional Fire Authority, Sound Learning and North Mason School District elementary schools are also hosting teams through the program.


The Salmon Center already has a slew of projects lined up for the group, Cowles said.

Most of these include removing invasive knotweed and planting native species of plants, but the group's first project was their most difficult.

For its first project, the group helped Sarah Heerhartz, project manager for the Salmon Center, build natural dams in Little Anderson Creek in Kitsap County.

Many years ago, the Salmon Center and other conservation groups in the area noticed large amounts of silt at the mouth of Little Anderson Creek. The Salmon Center investigated, finding that the creek was washing most of the creek bed and debris out each year. This made it hard for salmon to find slow-moving pools to lay eggs and hatch young.

Heerhartz and the conservation corps volunteers transferred hundreds of logs down the steep hillside to the creek bed, where they arranged the logs as though they had fallen naturally.

Heerhartz said the goal was for silt and other debris to build up along the logs, which will help the creek pool up in certain places next spring, giving juvenile salmon a calm pool of water to hatch and grow in.

Heerhartz said the conservation corps team was perfect for the job because it was a group of strong, able-bodied people who were trained in conservation work.

"It's possible we could have asked volunteers to help with the project, but it was a really difficult one because of how steep the hill was and how heavy the logs were," Heerhartz said. "It would have taken a lot longer."

Heerhartz said the work was incredibly challenging for the group's first project, but that she was impressed with their dedication and teamwork.

"We had some problem solving to do, but they got in here and got the job done," she said.

In the spring, Heerhartz said she plans to bring the group back to the creek to show them the pooling effect and the impact of their hard work.

The Salmon Center has used Washington Conservation Corps teams from other organizations in the past, but has never had a team of its own for a full year. Heerhartz said she thinks the team will make a big impact for the Salmon Center and restoration in the area.

Other Mason County organizations are able to "sponsor" the team for any amount of time to complete other area projects.

The sponsorship costs a fee and gives the organization access to the team for days or weeks for projects such as biological monitoring, data collection, forestry work and infrastructure improvements.

The Salmon Center has some sponsorship spots available. Interested organizations can contact Cowles at 275-3575, ext. 24, or email


Even though their first project was physically demanding, it's not all hard labor according to crew leader Brennan Moores.

"It's not just back-breaking work," he said. "The experience they gain is invaluable. They learn a lot and it really transfers to the real world."

In addition to gaining on-the-job conservation training and networking in the industry, the Washington Conservation Corps provides opportunities for program participants to job shadow anyone in any career field they may be interested in and gain certification in areas such as rigging and disaster response.

In addition, crewmembers can take after-hours training throughout the year that teach skills such as resume-building and interview tactics.

Moores, who worked as a crewmem-ber and assistant crew leader before training to become a crew leader for the program, said he was impressed with how the team did on their first job, noting members' teamwork and communication developed quickly.

"I think we'll be able to draw on this for the rest of the year," Moores said. "No matter what we do, we'll be able to say, Yes, this is challenging. But as a team, we got this.' "

"It's not just back-breaking work. The experience they gain is invaluable. They learn a lot and it really transfers to the real world."

Brennan Moores, Washington Conservation Corps crew leader, Mason County team

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Original Publication Date: October 29, 2015

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