For those budding conservationists in high school or college in the U.S., or those with just a passing curiosity in the topic, I highlight an organization that helped to shape my interest and career in environmental stewardship, the Student Conservation Association, that you might want to consider. The SCA is not an environmental advocacy or lobby group – they do something more important. They help place young professionals in key internship opportunities that enable them to pursue an interest in environmental stewardship and conservation.
I first learned of this organization in 1988 when I was studying for a degree in wildlife management at the University of Maine Orono. After applying, I was offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work as a conservation intern for the National Park Service in Yellowstone National Park to participate in a predator-prey study leading up to the reintroduction of the wolves in Yellowstone. Here I am, all of 147 pounds on Druid Peak, with Mount Norris in the background in the Lamar Valley area of the Park after a long day of tracking elk (with a can of bear spray on my hip). My team and I spent several months tracking 50 yearling around the Park documenting and researching predation rates and causes, including black bear, grizzly, and coyote kills. That’s Bert Harting, my boss that summer, to the left, with his radio telemetry equipment, searching for a signal of our elk. Bert, who taught me so much about conservation and the environment, spent the early part of his career studying the Grizzly population in and around Yellowstone, and then relocated to a warmer climate in Hawaii to study the endangered Monk Seal. As if chasing elk around the Park and eluding grizzlies wasn’t enough excitement, it was also the summer of the great fires, 235 of them to be exact, that burned 36 percent of the Park to the ground. As a nascent policy-nerd, probably the most important take away for me that summer was 80 years of misguided national policy of fire management and suppression – sorry Smokey – and our lack of understanding the science of ecosystem succession and the creation of huge amounts of tinder on the forest floor that caused such massive, intense, and destructive fires. But I digress. Please consider the incredible opportunities offered by SCA and their list of the current conservation opportunities.