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College Students Pitch in on Summer Projects

story and photos by David Abrams, Western Montana Zone

group looking at knapweed

Jim Karamanos of the Butte Field Office teaches the proper identification of knapweed to a crew from the Montana Conservation Corps before they start spraying the noxious weeds at the Beartooth Landing Recreation Site on Holter Lake.
 woman holding noxious weed

Emily Maurer, a Portland, Ore. native, holds up a noxious weed during spraying operations at the Beartooth Landing Recreation Site on Holter Lake. Maurer was part of the Montana Conservation Corps, which assisted the Butte Field Office in a variety of projects this summer.

University of Ohio student Breanna Kahle could have spent her summer vacation lounging by a pool or partying with her friends every night. Instead, she found herself traipsing through the thick underbrush and blow-down in the Deep Creek area south of Anaconda. Clad in work boots and a hard hat, she moved from tree to tree, tacking packets of verbenone, a beetle repellent, to the sides of the evergreens.

“I wanted to work outdoors and get out of academia,” she said, lifting her staple gun and securing another packet. “I certainly got my wish.”

Kahle was just one of dozens of college-age workers who were lending a hand on BLM projects as part of the Montana Conservation Corps, a service-oriented organization in which, according to its website, “young men and women learn practical skills, develop positive attitudes for service and work, and become knowledgeable about the environment and their community.”

For BLM, MCC translates into dozens of pairs of extra hands during an already-busy summer season. This year, nearly 300 MCC workers are spread throughout the state, assisting in a variety of on-going BLM projects.

Under the supervision of Ryan Ferrill, a seasonal forestry technician with the Butte Field Office, Kahle and her crew spent three weeks working in the woods of southwest Montana, thinning trees and spreading more than 7,000 verbenone packets in an effort to combat the devastating effects of the pine beetle.

“The verbenone is an anti-aggregate that signals to other beetles that the area is already populated and to keep flying around, which makes them susceptible to predators,” Kahle said. “We’re under a time-crunch to get this done before the beetles start flying.”

Meanwhile, 100 miles to the northeast, Emily Maurer and her MCC team were waging the perennial war on weeds on the shores of Holter Lake. The green-shirted college-age workers, splattered with blue dye, spent long days in early June spraying the knapweed which dotted the slopes above Beartooth Landing Recreation Site.

Maurer, a Portland, Ore. native, said she was going to school in Delaware, but felt there was something lacking in her life. 

“I wanted to move back to the West and find an outdoor job,” she said, sweeping her spray-wand across another patch of knapweed. “This is ideal out here.”

Like most of the others in the MCC program, Maurer signed on for six months and works four 10-hour days during the summer season. The MCC crews spread their time between several different organizations and agencies, including BLM and the Forest Service. Created in 1991, MCC involves youth in trail work, habitat enhancement, historical restoration, fencing, biological research, and watershed restoration. Along the way, they develop lasting skills and fond memories.

“This is hard work, but everybody out here is really stoked,” Kahle said as she took a break from her forest project at Deep Creek. “I mean, we’d heard of ‘beetle kill’ before, but until you see it first-hand, you don’t really know what it’s like—out of sight, out of mind. But now, being out here, it’s really enlightening and rewarding. We feel like we’re contributing to the world in a tangible way.”



Last updated: 06-28-2012