Western Adventures Continue for Former NEC Intern

October, 2016

This time two years ago, I was most likely updating my spreadsheet of extraordinary Humboldt County Coastal Cleanup Day volunteers. Today, I’m more likely to be keying out a wetland wildflower or reading up on climate change science. Still, I think and speak about my time living, studying, and working on the North Coast nearly every day, and am truly grateful for time spent with former coworkers and friends at the Northcoast Environmental Center. I felt more at home under the redwoods than any place before, and it was a difficult decision to depart from such a supportive community after graduating from HSU in 2014 with a B.S. in Environmental Management and Protection. 

Originally from rural Connecticut, I was determined to continue traveling around the Western U.S. and hopefully broaden my perspective on landscape ecology, environmental science, and conservation. To this end, I began my first real adult job hunt from my godmother’s apartment in the exotic Bay Area. But, I wouldn’t stay long. 

Approximately three months into my student loan grace period, after thousands of online searches, dozens of cover letter rewrites, and a few interviews, I found a great fit working as a scientific technician with a conservation non-profit in Olympia, Washington. I eagerly drove north and began helping to assess habitat quality on the beautiful, blooming prairies of South Puget Sound. I spent most days identifying plants on conservation lands in various states of restoration with a view of Mt. Rainier. I thoroughly enjoyed botanizing and learning about the blend of traditional and modern methods used to manage this landscape through time. After all the prairie plants had shriveled and senesced, I was offered another seasonal position with the same organization leading riparian restoration efforts in the Chehalis River Basin of southwest Washington. On the most trying of days, I would attempt to beat back acres of highly invasive, nearly impenetrable walls of destructive shrubbery. On the best of days, I kayaked down crystal clear rivers mapping invasive species distribution alongside spawning salmon. 

 I wanted to stay in Washington, but winter environmental work is scarce for a recent college grad up north. So, in January 2016, I jumped at the chance to join the restoration program at the San Bernardino National Forest through the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Conservation and Land Management Internship program. Once at Big Bear Lake, I delighted in prickly pear cactus growing up through the snow behind my government barracks. The botanical wonders didn’t cease to amaze over my  five month stay. High in the mountains of Southern California between the Mojave Desert and the southern coastal metropolis, I learned from some of the most knowledgeable, kind, and thoughtful natural resource managers imaginable. I helped to operate a beautiful native plant nursery, co-authored a guide to pollinator habitat enhancement, and traversed incredibly diverse vegetation communities to aid in restoration monitoring. On weekends I hiked a bit of Joshua Tree National Park, and was fortunate to witness Death Valley during the “Superbloom.”

While I was offered more seasonal work down south, I decided instead to once again embrace restlessness and move someplace new. This past May, I found work assisting researchers at Oregon State University and the U.S. Geological Survey to assess sea-level rise impacts on West Coast estuarine habitats. I’ve helped to implement experiments and collect data on plant species’ tolerance to salinity, sediment accretion, and water quality. I’ve had the opportunity to boat in SF Bay, the Carquinez Strait, and up the Delta to gauge how the watershed may shift with the climate. Now, once again, as my seasonal position comes to a close, I am excited to pursue more work in the natural resources field, and am entertaining the idea of graduate school somewhere in the Northwest. If you have any good leads do let me know! Until then, I look forward to meandering my way northwards, including a visit to Humboldt, my former home. 

My experience as a work-study intern at the NEC certainly provided a foundation for my resume and helped me to qualify for employment since leaving Humboldt. But, more importantly, I had the opportunity to learn from a talented group of environmental professionals that took a genuine interest in my education and development. The team I worked with for nearly three years gently pushed me to assume increasing responsibility, provided the guidance and freedom I needed to succeed, and even flew me over the majority of Humboldt County’s inspirational coastline in a tiny plane! Thankful for the mentorship and the wild ride!