Hello, my name is Brandon Self and I am a member of the Mt. Adams Institute (MAI) team who just joined for a 6-month AmeriCorps internship at the beginning of May. I joined the Public Lands Stewards program because I just recently graduated from Oregon State University in the winter term of 2018 where I earned a B.S. in environmental science and minored in aquatic biology. One of my main motives for joining the AmeriCorps program was to gain experience that pertains to my degree, and to network with different agencies to gain an awareness of how different organizations coordinate projects.
The site that I am currently working at is the West Eugene Wetlands in Eugene, Oregon. I work with an organization called WREN (Willamette Resources and Education Network) where my official title is an environmental education specialist that practices and promotes public land stewardship through education and scientific research. WREN works with schools, conducts field trips with guided tours, and works collaboratively with other organizations such as the Bureau of Land Management and city of Eugene. It is also a part of the Rivers to Ridges Partnership which is dedicated to improving the quality of life for residents in the upper Willamette Valley by working together to protect and enhance the region’s land and water resources and their ecosystem functions and values. The joint efforts by both city and government agencies is to help ensure wetland habitat conservation is being met through the state of Oregon’s first wetland mitigation bank in which companies that build upon parcels of the property must pay extra to help preserve land elsewhere that goes into restoring vacant lots or properties that are being sold.
In the first month of the job at WREN, I have worked with kids at different elementary schools and have conducted presentations that show the significance of wetlands and the ecosystem services that they provide. At WREN, we also give wetland field trips which involves having different elementary schools from around Eugene come out and explore the diversity of the wetland and learn about different species that live upon the property, and what humans have traditionally used wetlands for (agriculture, urban growth, roads, and even airports). WREN has also worked with the Long Tom River Council during a project that involved 9th grade volunteers who assisted in digging a raingarden at the OSU extension office in Eugene.
After graduating from college, I never intended working with grade school children but quickly have found that the significance of kids being outside in nature is a fundamental rule that every parent should follow. The children are the future of environmental health, and what we instill in them now will carry with them for life. I have found joy working with the grade school students because they don’t necessarily care about the lengthy scientific facts that have been instilled in me from college, but they are most impacted by immersing themselves in the tall fescue grasses of the wetland, looking for pacific chorus frogs perched upon a blackberry leaf, and identifying animal tracks as we move along a stream bank.
I have also worked at tabling events in my first month at WREN where we demonstrate the work that is being done at the West Eugene Wetlands. This is where I have met people that share the same common goals of public land stewardship and care about improving environmental conditions. Its rewarding to talk with people that have different ethnic backgrounds, age groups, and professional careers to talk about wetland characteristics and environmental topics that help educate what can be done on our public lands to improve habitat conditions and environmental health. So far, the AmeriCorps experience has been amazing!