Shaping Conservation Careers One Young Person at a Time


Andrea Johnson and refuge seasonal biological technician Bryce Ahlers conduct a perimeter check at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge. Johnson, a Costanoan Indian, was a Student Conservation Association tribal intern at the southeastern Wyoming refuge in 2011. Credit: Kolby Magee /USFWS

Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

By Bill O’Brian

Andrea Johnson is 22. Thanks to the Student Conservation Association’s Tribal College Internship Program, she has her sights set on a dream job.

“I want to go to FLETC for training and be a [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] law enforcement officer and an archaeologist on the side – a dual function kind of thing,” she says, referring to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. “We really have only one Earth. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Enforcement is key.”

Johnson, a Costanoan Indian and rising senior at California State University–Stanislaus, fed her yearning for a conservation career as an intern last summer at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming. She is just one of the 1,097 youth the Service hired in 2011 with the help of more than 70 third–party partnerships. Those partner youth worked almost 340,000 hours last year on more than 300 Service units, most of them refuges.

The Service offers many in–house programs for youth, such as SCEP (Student Career Experience Program), STEP (Student Temporary Employment Program) and YCC (Youth Conservation Corps). The partnerships discussed here go beyond those internal programs. Almost half of the youth who work on Service–related projects are hired by third parties under cooperative agreements with field stations and regional or national offices, according to a Service 2011 employment report, Youth in the Great Outdoors: Experiences of a Lifetime.

The third–party partners usually handle recruiting, pay and other administrative tasks so Service staff can concentrate on providing youth with meaningful conservation opportunities.

The partnerships offer young people “practical skills, training and mentoring that hopefully will lead to some kind of employment in a conservation–related field, whether it’s with us or others,” says National Wildlife Refuge System Washington office visitor services chief Kevin Kilcullen, who notes that “there are a lot of people with their fingers in this pie that help shape these youth employment programs.”

Two highly visible partners are The Corps Network—which represents more than 150 local conservation corps across the country—and the Student Conservation Association (SCA).

Workforce Diversity

Two SCA entities—the tribal intern program and the Career Discovery Internship Program (CDIP)—help address Conserving the Future recommendation 22: “Within the next 10 years, make our workforce match the diversity in the civilian labor workforce. Recruit and retain a workforce that reflects the ethnic, age, socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, and language diversity of contemporary America.”

The CDIP, founded in 2008 under the leadership of Northeast Region assistant refuge supervisor Lamar Gore, introduces culturally and ethnically diverse college freshman and sophomores to conservation.

Alyssa Rooks, a rising junior at Atlanta’s Spelman College and a CDIP intern last summer at Monomoy Refuge in Massachusetts, says, “it definitely shaped my career path. Even if I don’t end up pursuing [a conservation career], it’s something that will be in the back of my head that I carry with me.”

Rooks, an English major with journalism/communications concentration, says she’ll never forget the passion of everyone associated with Monomoy Refuge and how she was pressed into duty “outside her comfort zone” to help wildlife biologists with common tern and piping plover fieldwork.

And Johnson, an anthropology major minoring in criminal justice and environment studies, says she’ll always treasure Seedskadee Refuge’s riparian, wetland and upland shrub habitat “especially when the sun is coming up or going down.”

“It’s nice and peaceful,” the 2011 tribal intern says. “I don’t know really how to explain it. I enjoyed the scenery just knowing that it was my backyard for the whole summer.”

Student Conservation Association