My time as a CLM intern has been nothing if not a learning experience. Some lessons are easy to learn and some are hard, but each one was valuable.
Lesson 1: Collaboration is an integral component to creating a well-oiled, functional machine. This is true in any job, but it may be particularly applicable when government agencies work with communities and non-profits to improve environments and save species. When individuals and groups work together, then the whole becomes greater than the sum of its independent collaborators. In the face of an uncertain future, collaboration between bodies interested in protecting the environment will be to conservation what biodiversity will be to ecosystem resilience – one cannot exist without the other.
Lesson 2: A coffee addiction is no joke and is really expensive. Starting in May, my co-intern and I spent three days every other week sampling hummingbirds with the BLM and USFS wildlife biologists, Terry Tolbert and Lisa Young, for the Hummingbird Monitoring Network. The Network’s protocol dictates that the sampling sessions begin within half an hour of sunrise and continue for five hours. The three study sites included the Escalante Visitor Center, Calf Creek Campground (half an hour from Escalante), and the Wildcat Visitor Center (an hour from Escalante). Getting to the latter two sites within 30 minutes of sunrise meant that we needed to be up and on the road at some unfortunate hour. Coffee, in those instances, became a sort of a lifeline.
Lesson 3: SOS is a multi-faceted, comprehensive program that is going to be invaluable should the worst of climate predictions come true. As the world journeys to the cross-roads of an uncertain future where the only sure things will be death, taxes, and stochasticity, advanced planning now will be one of the best self-preservation acts that humans can perform. Working within this program has been an immense honor for me because my work has encouraged me to embrace the long-term view of resilient conservation practices.
Lesson 4: A good mentor is worth their weight in gold. I cannot speak highly enough of Terry Tolbert as a mentor and it is difficult to construct a paragraph to his credit without resorting to superlatives. Terry is a Wildlife Biologist with the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, but boy howdy – that man knows his plants. His knowledge on the local floral diversity and location, in addition to his knowledge of previous SOS teams’ work and BLM land boundaries and treatments, have been invaluable. In addition to helping our team to make sense of the vast seed collection opportunities on the Monument, Terry also introduced my co-intern and me to wildlife biology and taught us how to conduct good surveys. On top of being a first-rate mentor in exposing us to the scientific aspects of the Monument and working within the BLM, Terry was never hesitant to give us history lessons, show us fossil dinosaur prints that only locals know about, teach us about the (confusing) sedimentary structures and layers, take us to see historic dwellings of ancient peoples, and show us pictographs and petroglyphs in order to help us gain a more complete understanding of where we were working. Working with Terry was, simply put, a joy.
Lesson 5: Wildlife biology is rad. Not only did I get to learn the practical skills of what it takes to study wild animals like hummingbirds, bats, and lizards, but I experienced a personal scientific reawakening. My affinity for animal biology in how it relates to conservation biology was raised from its slumber and I have a desire to pursue wildlife field work in the future in addition to building upon my hard earned plant knowledge.
Lesson 6: Escalante is one heck of a beautiful place and if you have never been there, then get thee there soon. Public lands are something that I took for granted until I moved to Escalante and discovered that there are new paths to be found every day and that I am free to wander when and where I please. It is an incomparable feeling to be amidst the desert scrub and know that I am alone. It’s choice.
Lesson 7: Monsoons can put a real damper on seed collecting and driving dirt roads for hours. My co-intern and I learned this the hard way after our seed bags threatened to tear because they were so wet, the lightning struck close to our populations one too many times for comfort, and we slipped and slid back home as we raced the rain.
There you have it. Six months in seven lessons. In the spirit of Bilbo Baggins,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.
– The Hobbit
Elise, Escalante Field Office