Public Lands Stewards: Making the Planet a Little Better

by | Land Stewards

It is now about two months into my internship at the Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge and it has definitely been a drastic change from my home in Alabama. I skipped my college graduation (which I had been searching for a good reason to do) because I was riding in a car with most of my possessions to the other side of the country to train for this position. Previous to this I was an environmental science major, anthropology minor, at Jacksonville State University in Alabama. I lived in a house with four other roommates, where we took turns hand washing the dishes, cooking dinner for each other, and taking the house’s laundry to the local 24 hour laundro-mat. When I was able to see the bunkhouse at Conboy it was a dream come true; a washer and dryer, a dishwasher, and only one person and some occasional guests to share them with, and that’s not even the best part about this job.

I’ve stayed in lots of different housing across the Southeast on internships, from college campuses that spared us a few dorms to the new solar powered facility at the Weeks Bay Nature Preservation, but Conboy’s bunkhouse is hard to beat. The beds have actual mattresses on them and not the green plastic prison mattress roles my lack of lumbar support has become all too familiar with. There are also so many rooms that you don’t have to worry about sharing one with your bunkmate. The view from the back porch is beautiful and the birds always seem to be singing out there. Plus Conboy buys all of your necessities for you! (i.e. toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent, dish soap, light bulbs, dishwasher detergent, etc.) What’s most important is to make Conboy your home! We can’t hang anything up but you have a really big window, windowsill, and a nightstand or two that are ripe for the decorating. Home is wherever you make it, so if you’re worried about being somewhere new, make it familiar! As far as a budget goes you might be pleased to hear there is no state income tax in Washington and no sales tax in Oregon! Huzzah! You will also be allotted close to $200 in food stamps every month which helps more than you think it does.

The local community is also incredibly friendly! The supervisors are wonderful too and really want to help you in your personal development and also just see who you are for the summer. They get new interns every year, but you still get the feeling that they are invested in you as an individual person and not another frog-catcher. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions! Trevor and Sarah can identify almost anything out on the refuge and are more than happy to help you or even repeat themselves if you have forgotten. Sarah will take you on a range of different animal surveys too, it’s not all frogs and fish! So far we have done elk surveys, Mardon butterfly surveys, and Flammulated Owl surveys. We have also had the joy of caring for an abandoned duckling or two, as well as a baby red-tailed hawk! However, don’t expect this to be your average 9-5 and be off work at a predictable time every day because that is far from the truth! Sometimes you will have to work from seven in the morning until three in the afternoon and be back up and ready by nine or ten that night to do a bullfrog hunt, meaning if you don’t love fieldwork this might not be for you! It is important to recognize opportunities such as these as times to reconnect with the natural world and to see the way your hand can truly change the land, it is not a vacation. That being said there are still tons of local places you can camp and hike during your off time on the weekends, including the ice caves, Multnomah Falls, or even just the used book store Artifacts in Hood River!

The work can become tedious after the first few days of excitement of counting thousands of dead fish wears off, however it’s important to realize that even the most menial and repetitive tasks make a difference! Every time we remove the catfish and bullfrogs from this area the native habitat thrives a little more, every time we are careful to return a spotted frog from our nets their population has a better chance, and every time people take the opportunity to volunteer for a chance to make the planet a little better, no matter how tedious the job, the planet gets a little better.