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Removing Russian Olive Trees: Collaborative Trainings in Escalante, UT

Monday, March 18th, 2019

Training 56 Youth in Conservation & Safety

Canyon Country Youth Corps (CCYC) is a youth Conservation Corps that trains up to 56 individuals every year on various conservation and restoration techniques. CCYC works across Utah completing projects that help the restoration of riparian areas and pinyon-juniper forests. In a collaborative effort to remove Russian Olive (an invasive tree) along the Escalante river, CCYC works with a Watershed Partnership and three other Conservation Corps of the Four Corners region. This collaboration has been in place for the past 8 years.

picture of team to remove russian olive

For 8 years, CCYC has collaborated with other corps to equip individuals for this conservation work

Invasive Russian Olive Trees

Russian Olive was originally introduced to the region as a riverbank stabilizer; it does the job well, too well. Unfortunately, it became an invasive species to the area, particularly on rivers. This means it was able to out compete native plant species. As a result of Russian Olive establishment, the river banks have become super-stabilized. This is not good for a healthy, moving river which is supposed to have bends, curves, braiding, slow parts, and fast parts that change over time.

Russian Olive also shades the river. This extra shade along an entire river, especially a small river like the Escalante, results in significant water temperature cooling. This is detrimental to native fish populations who require a specific temperature range for mating and spawning. With all the negative effects of Russian Olive and no forseason circumstance of Russian Olive being outcompeted by native plant species, mechanical and chemical removal has become necessary. This is where four Conservation Corps working together comes into play.

Remote Backcountry Work

The four Conservation Corps have divided and conquered Russian Olive all along the Escalante River. The Escalante River has some pretty remote sections requiring crews to work in the backcountry.

Teams often travel to extremely remote locations

This work can be a toll on the Crew Members and Leaders throughout the season as they work 8 days in the backcountry every other week cutting down thorny Russian Olive trees with chainsaws in the chilly fall weather. Running several Conservation Corps crews in the backcountry for several months requires an extensive training period.

Safety First

Safety is always the number one concern. The four Conservation Corps go through first aid training and become familiar with their first aid kits, chainsaw training, and herbicide application training. Crews also go through an emergency response training which includes meeting a heli-tech crew and talking about the process of a heli-evac and the requirements for clearing out a landing pad for a helicopter.

Emergency response training includes understanding heli-evac processes

The hope is an emergency evacuation will never be necessary. However, the extensive trainings aid the crews in feeling more prepared for safe living and working in the backcountry. They are given advise on how to stay positive and supportive with each other through a long season. And on a technical level they learn valuable skills on chainsaw work, herbicide application, riparian restoration techniques, and backcountry evacuation procedures.

8 Years of Conservation & Friendships

8 years later the large collaboration between the Watershed Partnership and the four Conservation Corps is coming to a close. This was a long, slow process, but fortunately the Escalante River has gone through initial treatment of Russian Olive. Following years will be dedicated to re-sprout treatment. Sadly, it means this year was the very last cross-Corps training. The work will slow down significantly and all four Conservation Corps will no longer be needed. It is a bittersweet end to a large collaboration where the Conservation Corps of the region where able to gain a network of friends, colleagues, and fellow explorers.

Written by Natalya Walker

Gasoline Geysering on the San Juan River, UT

Friday, January 11th, 2019

Spring of 2018, Canyon Country Youth Corps (CCYC) was asked to work with the Bureau of Land Management on remote sections of the San Juan River, removing and treating the invasive Tamarisk and Russian Olive. The remote work location required CCYC to break out rafting gear and hire a river guide to ensure the CCYC crew could float the lower San Juan safely with all the chainsaw gear, gasoline, and herbicide needed.

Gasoline Geysering

The Southwest gets very hot during the spring, especially with several days without cloud cover. This can create difficulties when working with machines and flammable fuels. Gasoline evaporates as it heats up, which creates pressure in a closed fuel tank, even when mixed with two-stroke engine oil. This pressure buildup in a hot chainsaw has caused a problem known as “geysering.” This is where a literal geyser, or small fountain, of gasoline shoots out of a chainsaw when pressure is released, like when removing the fuel tank cap. This gasoline geysering is exactly what happened while CCYC was working remotely on the San Juan River, a day down river from the put in, and a four day paddle to the take out.

Gas in His Eyes

It was the morning of the second day of work when a Crew Leader walked over to the Field Coordinator and Field Boss and calmly explained, “Will has gas in his eyes and says it’s hard to breathe.” The Crew Leader was advised to inform the River Guide, who was Wilderness First Responder trained.

The field staff grabbed their water bottles and hurried over to Will, who was found shirtless, leaning over a rock and splashing river water over his chest, shoulders, face, and mouth. He claimed his shirt was soaked with gasoline, his skin was tingling, and his eyes were burning severely. When his chainsaw geysered, he was wearing safety eye protection, but the gasoline reached his eyes anyway.

The Field Boss told Will to stand and put his head back, and they started pouring clean water over his eyes and eyelids. Another Crew Leader was advised to retrieve the large Adventure Medical Kit, knowing it contained a large irrigation syringe and eye drops. The Field boss continued pouring clean water over Will’s eyes and eyelids. Just moments later, the River Guide arrived with the Adventure Medical Kit and took over.

The River Guide used the large irrigation syringe to squirt clean water over and directly into Will’s eyes in an effort to wash out all traces of gasoline. Will said his skin was still tingling, especially in the direct sunlight, but his eyes remained the first priority. The CCYC backcountry communication device was on hold, ready to send an evacuation request. CCYC protocol is if loss of life, limb, or eyesight are at risk, an emergency evacuation is organized, which, on a remote section of river, would require a helicopter.

30 Minutes & 2.5 Liters

The rest of the crew waited anxiously; they rinsed Will’s shirt, they checked the chainsaw, and they waited for updates. To many people’s surprise, it took about 30 minutes and 2.5 liters of water for Will to claim the stinging was still present but less severe and his vision was not blurry. The whole crew breathed a sigh of relief. The River Guide advised Will to hold off on work the rest of the evening, to wash his skin with soapy water, and to sit in the shade.

Will rinsed his eyes again after dinner, and then applied saline eye drops. Will confirmed he was feeling better after the end of the day, and an emergency evacuation was not necessary. Thank goodness for the Adventure Medical Kit and for the River Guide who took over when necessary!

The entire crew was surprised at the amount of water and time necessary for Will to feel relief in his eyes. It was an adrenaline-filled morning; however, the entire crew learned a valuable lesson on the dangers of gasoline geysering and how to respond if geysering occurred again. The biggest lesson learned was how to prevent gasoline geysering and injury. Gasoline containers and chainsaws must be placed and stored in the shade when not in use. A STIHL chainsaw fuel tank can be checked through the translucent sides. If a tank is over ½ full do NOT open the tank. Instead, wait for the chainsaw to cool down, then open the fuel tank. When opening a fuel tank, a sawyer must not stand or lean directly over the fuel tank and must instead face away until pressure is released.

Thankfully, Will recovered just fine after the gasoline geysering incident, and the entire crew was able to continue their work on the San Juan River and enjoy floating to the take out. Without a doubt this was one of the most memorable trips for the CCYC spring season.

About Canyon Country Youth Corps

Canyon Country Youth Corps (CCYC) is a youth conservation Corps that trains up to 56 individuals every year on various conservation and restoration techniques. CCYC works across Utah completing projects primarily on riparian restoration removing Russian Olive and Tamarisk, which are common invasive species in Utah that crowd and destroy river banks.

As a result of Tamarisk and Russian Olive establishment, the river banks have become super-stabilized. This is not good for a healthy, moving river, which are supposed to have bends, curves, braiding, slow parts, and fast parts that change over time.

Tamarisk and Russian Olive also shade the river. This extra shade along an entire river results in significant water temperature cooling. This is detrimental to native fish populations that require a specific temperature range for mating and spawning.

With all the negative effects of Russian Olive and no foreseen circumstance of Tamarisk or Russian Olive being outcompeted by native plant species, mechanical and chemical removal has become necessary. This is where Canyon Country Youth Corps comes into play. Throughout the spring and fall seasons, CCYC works along various rivers using chainsaws, hand tools, and herbicide to remove and treat Tamarisk and Russian Olive.

Written by Natalya Walker

Anatomy of an Adventure: Solo Crossing the African Great Lakes

Monday, January 8th, 2018

This January, adventurer, biologist, and photographer Ross Exler will embark on the first ever human-powered solo-crossing of the African Great Lakes system in support of The Nature Conservancy. His journey will include approximately 1,000 miles of paddling across the lakes with 600 miles of biking between the lakes and will take him through remote parts of Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda. We’re excited to support Ross as he seeks to raise awareness about the lakes and support conservation efforts. Below, Ross shared with us about his decision to make this journey and his plans for safety. – Adventure® Medical Kits

For many years now, I’ve been driven to go out and explore wild places around the world. In 2015, I paddled an inflatable kayak 1,000 kilometers through the Ecuadorian and Peruvian Amazon, staying each night in small villages. When I hit the Amazon River, I had a small motorized canoe built, which I navigated a couple thousand more kilometers through Peru, Colombia, and Brazil. To date, I’ve spent about 2 years of my life traveling in Africa, mostly solo expeditions, and have visited dozens of wilderness areas in East and Southern Africa.

My next expedition, which will commence in January 2018, will be the first entirely human-powered, solo-crossing of the African Great Lakes system. I will attempt to paddle a kayak across Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika, and Lake Victoria, traveling between the lakes via bicycle and along with all of my equipment. The journey will be over 1,600 miles and will take me through remote parts of Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda. I’ll be doing the trip alone, and every mile will be earned through the fair means of paddling or bicycling.

When I tell people about this expedition, they usually ask me one of two questions:

  1. What are the African Great Lakes?
  2. How do you stay safe?

I find that first question to be rather tragic, serving as further motivation for my trip, while the second question certainly deserves considerable thought. I’ll try to briefly answer both.

What are the African Great Lakes?

I was first introduced to the African Great Lakes when I worked in a college lab studying several species of fish from Lake Tanganyika. I soon found out that these lakes have some amazing distinctions: Lake Tanganyika is the longest lake in the world, the second deepest (over 4,800 feet deep), and the second largest lake in the world by volume. Lake Victoria is the largest tropical lake in the world by surface area, and the second largest overall. Lake Malawi is the fourth largest freshwater lake in the world by volume. Altogether, the lakes comprise nearly 25% of the world’s unfrozen freshwater.

Further, the lakes are remarkably important for biodiversity. They contain thousands of species of fish, with as much as 10% of the world’s species of fish living in these three lakes alone. By some estimates, Lake Malawi holds the largest number of fish species of any lake in the world. Additionally, the shores of Lake Tanganyika include the Mahale Mountains and Gombe Stream, both known for their populations of chimpanzees.

Unfortunately, the lakes are under threat due to overfishing, invasive species, climate change, and pollution inputs from deforestation and other human activities. These impacts are all contributing to ecological degradation of the lakes. One estimate suggests that over 200 species of cichlids found only in Lake Victoria have gone extinct in the past 30 years alone. These environmental issues also endanger the millions of people who live along the shores of these vast lakes.

After having visited the African Great Lakes region and completing my solo Amazon expedition, I came up with the idea of enchaining the three largest of the African Great Lakes by kayak and bicycle. As I planned the expedition, one of my goals was to team up with a conservation non-profit who works within the region, to help increase awareness.

That’s when I came across the work of The Nature Conservancy’s Tuungane Project, which operates along the Tanzanian section of Lake Tanganyika. The Tuungane Project brings a multidisciplinary approach to conservation and addressing the extreme poverty that is the underpinning of environmental degradation in the region. Their efforts include introducing fisheries education and management, terrestrial conservation, healthcare, and women’s health services and education, agricultural training, and other efforts to increase the quality of life and understanding on how human activities impact the very resources that the local people depend on for survival. Without the buy-in of local communities, efforts to conserve this incredible region will likely be unsuccessful.

How Do I Stay Safe?

The answer to this question is a fairly straight forward product of preparation and experience with regards to the different dangers and threats I am likely to face.

Animals & Weather

As someone with a background in biology and having spent a lot of time in the African bush, I’m well aware of the animals which may be present, their habitat preferences, and behaviors. Much like traveling in bear country, simple behaviors such as keeping a clean camp, traveling only during the day, avoiding likely habitats, knowing the behaviors of species (such as predatory or territorial), and maintaining constant vigilance can go a long way.

The lakes themselves are often referred to as inland seas, where storms and large waves can be a threat. So, I will rely on my years of experience on the water and travel prepared with the right equipment: an extremely seaworthy folding sea kayak and a securely fastened PFD.

Criminal

People can also be a threat to safety, but in my experience people are generally good and welcoming, and some common sense, vigilance, and interaction with local people should keep me safe. I’ve talked with local people and asked about crime and threats to safety, and their advice is generally good. On the whole, the areas that I am visiting are mostly populated with small rural villages, which are generally extremely safe. I will have to be more vigilant around larger towns or cities, or if someone points out a specific threat.

Diseases & Injuries

The final threat to my safety on this trip is wilderness health. This poses a unique challenge on my trip because I will be traveling alone in regions that suffer from endemic tropical disease and have little or no medical infrastructure. Similarly to other threats, a combination of education, preparation, and a having a plan in place can diminish or neutralize most of these health dangers.

First, it is important to understand the diseases that pose a health threat and understand transmission, recognizing symptoms, and treatment. Prevention of infection is the single most important thing that I can do. Before I leave home, I will identify all diseases for which there is an option for immunization or prophylaxis and make sure to diligently follow through. To prevent infection from ingested diseases, I will only drink verifiably treated water and only eat thoroughly cooked or reputably packaged food. I use UV and filter treatment for water, always have the ability to boil water as a backup, and generally cook my own food.

The main routes of transmission for parasites in the region where I will be traveling include exposure to contaminated water (Schistosoma) and being bitten by insects which carry diseases (Malaria and African Sleeping Sickness). To prevent this, I will take Malaria prophylaxis, insist on wearing clothes that are treated with insect repellent chemicals, such as permethrin, use insect repellents such as Ben’s 100 DEET and Natrapel Picaridin, and attempt to keep my skin covered as well as possible. To prevent exposure to Schistosoma, I shall avoid contact with the water, especially near shore and around villages and vegetation. It is advisable to know what types of areas have a higher density of the insects, and what part of the day they are active, and avoid both if possible.

If I do fall ill or am injured, it’s important to know how to deal with it and be prepared with the necessary medicine and medical supplies to do so. I recommend taking a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course, and doing as much research as possible into first aid and tropical disease (or whatever diseases exist in the area where you are traveling). Another excellent resource that I always bring is a small wilderness medicine book, such as A Comprehensive Guide to Wilderness & Travel Medicine by Eric Weiss, MD. I always carry a full range of medications so that I have some ability to respond to illness in the field. I am also packing a well-equipped first aid kit, in this case an Adventure® Medical Kits Mountain Series Guide Kit, which has supplies to cover situations including wound care, musculoskeletal injuries, cuts, bleeding, and over the counter medications.

Emergency Evacuation Plan

Finally, I utilize a satellite telephone and medical evacuation service in case of emergency. This service provides me with a final layer of protection, should the worst happen. I can call them and speak with a doctor who can talk me through diagnosis and treatment, and if necessary, they will extract me from the field and take me to a medical facility.

So, my advice to any adventurers or people of adventurous spirit is to seize the day and go out there, but make sure to be safe by going educated and going prepared

– Ross Exler

Picture Credits: Ross Exler Photography

Helping Save the Colorado River Watershed from Invasive Species

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

Canyon Country Youth Corps members rafting downriver to provide conservation work

The Colorado River Watershed begins high in the snowcapped Rocky Mountains, providing a vital water source for cities across the Southwestern United States from Las Vegas to Grand Junction to Los Angeles and San Diego. This watershed also provides vital water to California farmers in the “world’s breadbasket.”

Clogged Waterways & Lost Habitats

Invasive tamarisk and Russian olive trees have clogged these waterways, destroying native habitats, wasting an important water supply, and making recreational activities difficult. Adventure® Medical Kits supports youth crews in removing these invasive species through their donation of medical and first aid kits to the Canyon Country Youth Corps.

Overgrowth and brush from invasive species have clogged the Colorado River Watershed

Overgrowth and brush from invasive species have clogged the Colorado River Watershed

Restoration & Conservation Work

Canyon Country Youth Corps has been working with its partners on an intensive removal effort along the Dolores and Escalante Rivers for over the last five years. These two rivers have been chosen because they are major arteries into the Colorado River. If tamarisk and Russian olive are removed from these and other arteries, seeds will stop flowing into the Colorado River, thus protecting the larger watershed from the further spreading of these invasive trees.

Rafting down the river

Rafting down the river to reach areas that need clearing out

Removal efforts require Canyon County Youth Corps members to raft far into the remote backcountry on these rivers for up to 10 days at a time. When pulling together a work trip along these rivers, things can become challenging. Crews need to carry chainsaws, fuel, hand tools, and herbicides. Sections of these rivers are remote. The Canyon Country Youth Corps often uses horses to reach the Escalante River. The Dolores River goes from wild whitewater to a trickle within a few miles, making the rafting experience an adventure.

The breathtaking beauty of the Colorado River Watershed

At the beginning of a recent trip on the Dolores River, a scout raft was funneled into a boulder and three of its occupants were launched into the river. Luckily no one was hurt, but the crews were prepared if there had been an injury because of the medical kits they had from Adventure® Medical Kits.

Camping along the river edge for the night

Camping along the river edge for the night

Conservation: A Team Effort

These important efforts to remove invasive species involve a number of different groups. The Tamarisk Coalition, Escalante River Watershed Partners, Dolores River Restoration Partnership, Western Colorado Conservation Corps, Southwest Conservation Corps, and public lands agencies from the affected states and federal government work together to complete this effort. Often, these trips require authorization from wildlife biologists or environmental clearance because crews go into sensitive areas with endangered birds or delicate ecosystems.

Big thanks to Adventure® Medical Kits for their support of this work. They are helping make our waterways healthy and sustainable.

About Canyon Country Youth Corps

 

The 2017 Canyon Country Youth Corp crew

For over 30 years, Four Corners School of Outdoor Education has created learning experiences about the Colorado Plateau through programs like the Canyon Country Youth Corps. This program hires young adults to complete conservation and other service projects on public lands in order to support the health and accessibility of these lands.

Adventure® Medical Kits is proud to have supported the work of Four Corners School’s for over 20 years.