The idea of reconnecting with nature and understanding it better in order to restore it is pure and selfless. It is also something I didn’t fully understand until recently when I started working with the Pullman-based, conservation organization called the Phoenix Conservancy. I am f
resh into the world of ecology and field work, so you can imagine my enthusiasm when I received the opportunity to work with this young, budding, non-profit devoted to preserving biodiversity through restoration and preservation of ecosystems.
While my internship lasted the entirety of the summer my experience definitely peaked during our trip to the Black Hills. In the middle of July, we headed East and trekked through three states to reach our destination of Sand Creek, Wyoming. For the next two weeks we worked with the US Forest Service on projects dedicated to restoring native habitats. Our group consisted of five young adults with nothing but camping gear, a car undercarriage stuffed with snacks and a lot of excitement. We were all eager to get to work and escape from the metropolitan hustle and bustle that was the town of Pullman.
As I pitched my tent for the very first time in Sand Creek, I was struck by how surreal everything was. You could experience nature all around from watching the birds bumble past, listening to the sounds of the rushing river and feeling the breeze of the wind as it whistled through the trees. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California with minimal exposure to the great outdoors, so this was like a culture shock (turns out camping isn’t like that show Lost at all?).
Since this was my first time camping trip, I was confronted with a lot of new experiences. I won’t lie, I cried when I saw my first firefly our first night at the campsite. One thing that quickly became apparent to me however was how little I knew about the great outdoors in comparison to my peers. It felt as though I had a completely different perspective of what this trip would be relative to the rest of the crew. But, this didn’t curb my zeal for doing this kind of work. In fact, I think what really linked a ‘city girl’ like me to the rest of this rag-tag gang of biologists was our mutual passion for this work. It seemed that our enthusiasm for the restoration work being done overcame any differences generated by our ages, backgrounds, and cultures. Whether it was hauling buckthorn or putting together a buck-and-rail fence, I enjoyed the time because the atmosphere was always full of laughter and friendship.
During this trip, I got to take part in a multitude of projects from invasive removal to habitat protection to wildlife surveys. Invasive buckthorn choked out native species, restricting their nutrient and water intake. We were able to successfully rip it out and restore their access to a nearby creek. We also built a buck-and-rail fence to protect a 30-acre plot of land from being trampled by cattle to allow it to return to its original wetland state. The work was tiring, tough, and tedious-but we did it faster than what was expected. We even were able to participate in a late night bat survey, assisting fish and wildlife agents with mist netting. The fervor and work ethic that our group had and applied to all of these projects was really the key to such a tremendous experience.
I took a chance and went on a trip to a place I had never been before, with people I wasn’t close with and to do things I wasn’t familiar with. At the end of all of this, I am still no expert on what it means to be an ecologist, but I feel like I am a step closer. If I learned anything from this trip it’s to make like Nike and ‘just do it’. With Phoenix, I took a chance, literally taking the road less travelled all the way to Wyoming and it truly made all the difference. The experiences I had have renewed my passion for this earth and drive to do something good in it. All this is to say, regardless of who you are, where you come from, or what you believe in, be passionate.