Home Living Outdoors Lesson One: Don’t Kick Mysterious Objects in Old Mine Fields

Lesson One: Don’t Kick Mysterious Objects in Old Mine Fields

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“You’re going to want to kick it. That’s what humans do when we come across things we aren’t familiar with. Don’t do it.”

Amy Tippery, supervisor of the wetlands crew of which I am a part, was leading unexploded ordnance training for all seasonal employees hired by the Center for the Environmental Management of Military Lands (CEMML) on Fort Wainwright.

Most introductory trainings are pretty straightforward but it’s best to get beaten over the head with it now so we remember later. When out in the middle of who-knows-where military land with just one other individual, it’s considerably more comforting to know both parties won’t act rash.

Instead of kicking any mysterious ballistic-looking items, we are to take a picture if we safely can, record a GPS point, leave the vicinity, and cover a wide range around it with flagging tape. Later, someone who actually knows dangerous pieces of metal from harmless ones will take a look and decide whether or not to call in a fancy, military-grade cleaning crew.

The vast majority of the time we don’t see anything and if we do it’s harmless, think extra-large shotgun shell casing.

lindsey parkinson 02On top of this UXO training, we’ve received aviation safety, intro to ATV use, bear behavior and safety, shot gun, and first aid/CPR training. We commute to some of our sites via helicopter or ATV from a base camp, so those two trainings will get quick use but hopefully the others stay primarily a mental exercise.

In between all the certifications, Tippery and our field leader, Dave Wesolowski, had to teach the five of us new field technicians our jobs as well.

As a member of the wetlands field team I’m essentially the first wave of a survey crew before construction. Fort Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base have development projects on their wish lists but many of the lands they wish to use are full of wetlands protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

The military can build over the wetlands regardless, but will have to pay large fees for environmental remediation if they do. It’s considerably cheaper to send a few 20-somethings to survey the plants, hydrology, and soils of the region.

To that end we’ve been training on plant identification, use of resources if we don’t know the plant straight away, and how to properly dig out, read, and color a soil profile. The data we collect — combined with aerial imagery — map CWA protected areas, hopefully to find a course with the least amount of wetlands damage.

Everyone wins this way – it’s easier to build on dry ground in the first place, doesn’t impact federally protected water bodies (the CWA protects navigable waters used in trade. In our case that’s often in relation to the Tanana or Chena Rivers), and the increased diversity found around wetlands is protected.

Between now and the end of the season there are at least six stints of field work, eight days on; six off. But I think any shortcomings will be diagnosed and remedied within the first days of the first stint.

We just need to be able to identify nearly any vascular plant in interior Alaska while also maintaining bear awareness and not touching pretty much anything metal. No problem.

Lindsey Parkinson grew up in the Seattle suburbs but has been thrilled to call Alaska home since 2014. Come September she'll begin a master's at the University of Alaska Fairbanks studying lichens in the boreal forest.

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