Diversifying the Future of Conservation

By Steven Hammerich – Wildlife Specialist

Over the past four years I have had the privilege of seeing our next generation of scientists in action. It all started in the Fall of 2017. I had gotten fairly used to my mostly solitary work routine: I spent about half of my time performing field work and the other half processing data on the Wildlife Picture Index. Of course, I occasionally team up with other Pepperwood staff on certain projects, but for the most part I worked alone. Then one day, I was asked to oversee the Conservation Science Internship (CSI) program and a great deal changed.

Since that time I have had the privilege of working with nineteen different interns, and each of them has brought something unique to the project. Probably the most difficult thing has been the selection process of looking through all of the applicant CV’s and resumes. I am often quite impressed with how much they have already achieved by the time they are applying for the position. Their diversity in ethnicity, experiences, and career paths thus far is what makes them perfectly suited to the world of conservation science.

I’m quite fond of all my interns. I wish I had enough space to share more stories but I’ll make the best of the space I have. To that end, I’ve selected a couple that have really inspired me. Gonzalo came to Pepperwood from the Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) – Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program, and he was part of my very first cohort of interns in the Fall of 2017. A physics major at the time, Gonzalo ended up changing his major to biology after participating in the internship. He completed three semesters as an intern and it was clear that exposure to science through our CSI program at Pepperwood made a lifelong impact on him.

In his words – Gonzalo tells his story here.

Makayla was studying at Sonoma State University (SSU). She did an amazing job as an intern and then sought to return to the preserve with a research team from UC Berkeley to monitor our forests. Then she worked with our Preserve Ecologist, Michelle Halbur to assist with springtime grassland monitoring and she will continue on with us through the summer helping Michelle with data entry and other tasks. Most recently, Makayla has been selected as a Grizzly Corps Fellow! In this role she will be joining Pepperwood’s staff in September to advance climate and fire resilience.

Although most interns move on to continue their education at other places, some keep coming back. Like Makayla and Gonzalo, I was once an intern here at the preserve too. I was a returning student at the age of 41, studying at the SRJC and SSU. Like many of my interns, I encountered several challenges and overcame adversity to be where I am today. The Wildlife Picture Index project was a bridge into the amazing world of conservation science for me as well as it was for Gonzalo and Makayla through the CSI program. It is a tremendous gift to work with the future generation of conservation leaders, and it is your generous support that keeps programs like these going, so thank you!

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