Think you've got weeds? Imagine Katie VinZant's task: clearing nonnative plant species, 48 of them, from the sprawling, 640,000-acre Angeles National Forest in Southern California.
As detailed in this Los Angeles Times article and accompanying video, VinZant, a botanist with the U.S. Forest Service, is attempting to purge the fire-damaged Angeles National Forest of weeds and invasive plants—intruders that, 2 years after a massive inferno, have established dense colonies and are bullying native vegetation to the point of obliteration. It is a dizzying undertaking that reporter Louis Sahagun describes as "weeding on a Herculean scale."
For anyone not familiar with the Angeles National Forest:
1. It encompasses the rugged San Gabriel Mountains, with formidable peaks that rise above northern Los Angeles County and provide the dramatic, made-for-television backdrop for the Rose Bowl each January.
2. It is the site of Los Angeles County's all-time largest wildfire, the 2009 Station Fire, which scorched approximately 161,000 acres.
The article describes the significant effort required by VinZant and her small posse of forest service staffers and volunteers to extract the root system of just one tenacious invader, Spanish broom. The infestation goes on for miles. Yet VinZant, recipient of the 2010 National Forest System Invasive Species Program Award, is determined uproot each plant one by one, if that's what it takes to restore the forest's native character.
Amazing. I've pitched in on a fair share of wilderness repair and restoration projects, but VinZant's ambition leaves me slack-jawed in admiration.
The goal of this post, therefore, is to shine a spotlight on the good work VinZant and, in particular, her volunteer supporters are doing. "Volunteers are the lifeblood of this project," VinZant said. Last week I reported on a couple who have dedicated their retirement years to serving nearly full time as volunteers at Mount Rainier National Park. The examples of such giving people make look at myself and wonder what I and others can do to lend a hand to such huge, worthwhile endeavors. Outdoor volunteers are people I think of as librarians and nurses of the wilderness—good-hearted, self-sacrificing people willing to do whatever they can to help make another person's situation better.
At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, I'll mention here that REI periodically supports projects in the Southern California that are similar to VinZant's efforts. On National Public Lands Day (Sept. 24), REI and the nonprofit National Forest Foundation co-hosted the first Friends of the Forest Day, bringing volunteers to Big Tujunga Canyon to pick up trash and dismantle artificial dams (used to form swimming holes) that disrupted spawning and feeding sites used by reptiles, amphibians and fish. (The NFF considers the Angeles one of its Treasured Landscapes restoration sites.) A year earlier REI volunteers hauled a foosball table out of the area. How does that stuff get in there?
Want to volunteer and join the ranks of the do-gooders? Contact an REI store to see if any future projects are being organized in your area.
Other options: Take a look at volunteer-inquiry sites offered by the National Park Service or Volunteer.gov. The National Forest Federation offers a site that provides info on volunteer opportunities across the nation. See if your company organizes volunteer outdoor restoration projects, or ask your boss if you could organize one yourself and mobilize your coworkers. (They'd probably love you for dreaming up a way to get them out of the office for an afternoon.) Last month REI sent a crew of more than 100 people from our headquarters campus for a cleanup project in one of Seattle's most picturesque waterfront parks. It felt good to take part.
For the Angeles National Forest in Southern California specifically, VinZant invites any interested person or party to contact her directly: email@example.com. "We would really love to see more volunteers," she says. The Angeles National Forest also outlines details for pitching in assorted projects on its volunteeering page. Plus, a group known as Friends of the Angeles will eventually list volunteer opportunities at a Yahoo! groups site it recently created.
Volunteers are needed just about everywhere coast-to-coast. So go and take out a weed for the good of the land. It'll probably do your heart some good, too.
Photos: Top 2 photos above, one of which is also shown in an enlarged format below: Scenes from Katie VinZant's work parties, courtesy of Katie VinZant; third photo from the top: a volunteer at the REI/National Forest Federation clean-up project in Southern California's Big Tujunga Canyon on National Public Lands Day, by Jean Lim; fourth photo from the top: volunteers at work during an REI community service project in Seattle, by T.D. Wood.