Diversity in the Environmental Movement

“Pueden contestar en Español” a burst of hands go up as suddenly, students who were too shy to participate, began to raise their hands in excitement. I felt so proud to see so many children proud and enthusiastic about speaking Spanish. At the end of our program Lily and I handed out pamphlets about the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge in both Spanish and English. So many of the students asked for the pamphlet in Spanish that we actually ran out!

Learning how to do the Furs and Skulls lesson...after we had already taught it six times!

Learning how to do the Furs and Skulls lesson…after we had already taught it six times!

Going to these classes and teaching in both languages really warmed my heart. Growing up, I had a hard time in school because I didn’t speak English very well. I felt a lot of pressure to assimilate, and began to be a little ashamed of my culture and heritage. It’s been a long process to shake that feeling and be proud of myself and all the hard work my parents went through to be where I am now. Therefore, I was so relieved and thankful that the teachers at Harvey Scott work with such diverse students and encourage understanding about different cultures.

I’ve also had the great fortune to meet members of EPOC (Environmental Professionals of Color.) It is important, across different movements, for people of color (POC) to have a space to meet and talk. When I was in Los Angeles, I was involved in a group called LAFemmesofColor that shared similar sentiments about needing a space that was just for them. It is such an amazing experience  to be able to meet other people who share your same interests, understand some of your struggles, and have a similar cultural background, to work on problems in our communities.

I’m immensely grateful to be a part of these conversations. Meeting everyone has inspired me to continue thinking about how race and culture intersect with, and affect our relationships in the environmental movement.

Be the leader that you are

Robert G. Stanton, former Director of the National Park Service, came to speak at the University of Colorado. Mr Stanton grew up during the civil rights era of the 60’s. He was the first African-American National Parks Service Director. He went on to do many great things for the National Park Service, the American public, and in many ways, paved the road for people of color in the environmental field. He delivered a motivational talk on the history of the park services, the importance of the preservation of our parks and the importance of a diverse group of future stewards. He is what many would call a natural born leader and he knows exactly who he is. I am also very fortunate to know who I am. That is a strange thing to say, but at the same time how many of us can answered that with full clarity. On Wednesday morning I drove down to Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver, where I attended a workshop hosted by the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education and the Denver Foundation on inclusiveness in non-profits. The workshop was to be run by an Angela Park, founder of Mission Critical (look her up when you get the chance), advisor in some sense for the white house, and someone that looked like she knew her stuff, yet I didn’t know what to expect.

2013 EFTA Intern Michelle Mendieta (Left) 2015 EFTA Intern Carlos Lerma (Right)

2013 EFTA Intern Michelle Mendieta (Left) 2015 EFTA Intern Carlos Lerma (Right) at the CAEE and Denver Foundation workshop on non-profit inclusiveness.

The reason I share this with you is because of what I learned on that Wednesday at that workshop, that helped me shift my perspective. Angela Park opened her wonderful workshop with a very important message, consider yourself a leader in this field of inclusiveness. That’s it! I want to make sure that very single being, no matter what color, gender, age, orientation, belief or what, is in one way or another involved in conserving their beautiful earth and the creatures that live on it. Now that’s some inspiration! She added that we could not be effective leaders without “answering the why” and what she meant was, why is it important to your organization to become diverse (in all sense of the word), why is it to you. We all chuckled as she gave us some comedic renditions of previous environ groups she’s worked with struggling to answered the simple question of why; many of them not being able to conjure a reason that didn’t seem self-interested, but she said it’s okay if it’s a selfish reason as long as it’s YOUR reason. See that is what is most important; you can’t be inclusive because it is “the right thing to do,” while it is totally the right thing to do there has to be a clear, concrete reason that will guide your organization to inclusiveness. She continued on to talk about identity, as an individual, group, organization and so on. Now this is were I felt that a lot of us could learn more,  because the topic of identity is so complex and convoluted, I don’t think half of us even know what to call ourselves and others. That’s the thing about people, we can’t help but just label everything, and this was my problem. I Identify as Latino, very proud of it, and that’s how every person of any background should be, proud of it. The problem is when you let your group identity become your individual identity and maybe I had let my group identity slip a little into who I am as and individual. That’s why when Angela reminded us that while in some ways we might associate with the subordinate group, in others we might be part of an oppressive dominant group, whether conscious of it or not. Yes I am Latino, but I’m also a male and heterosexual, which give me big time privilege when it comes to certain things in life.

It is crucial for us moving forward that we all understand that we have some privilege in on way or another. I can’t disproportionately say that I am at a disadvantage because I am Latino, I have advantages in so many other ways. Mr. Stanton was an African-American student at Huston-Tillston University when he first started working for the Park Service, during arguably one of the most difficult times to be a person of color. Yet we can see now 50 years later, that back then he embraced his privilege and decided to be a leader; to know who he truly is and not let himself be defined as someone who is disadvantaged, but instead someone who through hard work and perseverance is a reminder, just like a monument is or a state park, to all of  us that we can all be leaders in the field of inclusiveness as long as we are willing to acknowledge and accept all the parts of who we are.

Going South for the Winter

My time in Newport has come to an end, but thanks to Environment for the Americas my adventure in Oregon is still on the horizon. I was invited to work under the auspices of Klamath Bird Observatory to band birds during the Fall migration. Within the world of ornithology, KBBO is a powerhouse of scientific data purposed for the conservation of migratory bird species. Research coming out of the center contributes to understanding the habitat needs of wildlife, resulting in the publication of bird databases, the development of policy suggestions for documents like the upcoming State of the Birds report, the founding of citizen science projects, and the creation of education programs. Knowing their dedication to a higher caliber of science, I’m incredibly happy to be involved with KBBO projects on migratory birds. The Shorebird surveys of the EFTA Internship was a great segue into learning about the biology of birds through field research with KBBO. It is humbling to know that both EFTA and KBBO have confidence in my birding experience and skills to take on the task of catching and banding birds. Packing my bags in Newport was done with much anticipation for what lied ahead.

Bolting from the coast to the land they call “Southern Oregon” was a trip, to say the least; as soon as I passed the Cascades it was hard to believe that I was still in the same state, let alone the same continent. Within thirty minutes the landscape changed drastically. In place of lush temperate rain forests, violently windblown headlands, and the lingering scent of wet mud were conifers sparsely clinging to towering cliff sides, scrub and bush sucking the land dry, and the haze of dust getting flung up by pick-up trucks zipping down highway 97. Coming from D.C., where the humidity stubbornly reminds nature’s conquerors of the swamplands it once derived from, my body craves moisture. In Newport, as wet as it is, I already felt the strain of a dryer climate on my skin, leading me to immediately invest in a bottle of heavy duty moisturizer. Now that I’m in Klamath I realize that I am a wimp–the additional three bottles of Cocoa Butter in my shopping cart last week confirms that I am indeed in a new, much dryer, place and there’s a lot of new things yet to learn and discover about Oregon.

We didn’t spare any time. En route to Klamath Falls my friend and I stopped by Bend, Oregon to hike in Smith Rock State Park. It seemed too easy to not take advantage of. The route between Newport and Klamath practically invited us to take the mountainous detour; we would only be 45 minutes away. The park was epic, with lots of scenic views and trails for all sorts of recreational activities. In one path alone we crossed paths with birders, rock climbers, mountaineers, tourists, photographers, and adrenaline junkies hurling themselves off of the cliff side with a harnessed pulley system. The last of these outdoorist groups kindly dared us to take a leap. Cautiously scanning the drop from Smith Rock to the hiking trails [what seemed like] thousands of feet below, I decided against the impulsive temptation: I had places to go and birds to band.

The destination was a U.S. Fish & Wildlife cabin tucked away in mountainous forest alongside a big lake. I imagine a real estate agent would describe the place as “rustic.” It’s made of all wood, with cute little windows, picnic tables outside in the yard, and a back porch. Inside there is aged furniture to lounge on and an abundance of birding books, everywhere! It’s practically a birder’s dream here. There’s all sorts of cool birds that I’ve never seen before that hang out right outside our windows and all of the resources you can imagine available to you to identify them. On the drive in I already saw six species that were new to me. Little did I know what the next week would bring…

To be continued. Maybe there will be some bird pictures, maybe some videos…I hope the anticipation doesn’t kill you. Tune in soon.

Bird on!

Blanca Wetlands Blitz Pt.I

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The other week I had the awesome opportunity to travel down to the San Luis Valley to shadow the two EFTA interns working at the Blanca Wetlands with the BLM.  What a fun week!  I arrived to Alamosa on a Tuesday evening and spent the night with Deisy at the BLM bunkhouse where herself along with two other BLM seasonals (one is involved with grassland management and the other fire management).  I had not seen Deisy since this past February during the EFTA “Celebrate Shorebirds” training, so it was great to spend the evening catching up with her!

The next morning, Mianna met us at the BLM offices in La Jara so we could all drive together to the Blanca Wetlands (which is about 20 minutes away) to go duck banding!  We met Mike and Rachel, who are private contractors with a wetlands ecological team, who showed us the ropes on their season of duck banding…they band the ducks on the Blanca Wetlands ponds every day over a span of six weeks.  The purpose of the duck banding is to obtain data and knowledge on the Cinnamon Teal populations at the Blanca Wetlands.  Throughout the morning we saw Cinnamon Teals, Green-Winged Teals, Ruddy Duck, Coots, and Mallards.We were to collect ducks from a total of seven ponds and at the end of the day we would band them all together.  The first pond was quite the experience!  We put on our thigh-high waders and stomped through the muck and mud of the pond to reach the duck traps that are placed in the middle of the pond…Desiy demonstrated the correct way to loose balance while trudging through the muck and she fell multiple throughout the day!  Collecting the ducks from the trap was by far my favorite part of the trip.  Once all the ducks were collecting (around 60 total) we brought them all to a central pond where students from Western State met us and helped us in banding the ducks.  We  spent the rest of the afternoon learning how to handle the ducks, venting the ducks (determining the sex), and placing bands on the ducks.  After a long morning and afternoon of collecting and banding ducks, we shifted to another pond to see a mock macro-invertebrate survey demonstrated by Portland and Anjelica (2013 EFTA Blanca Wetlands interns).  After spending a day in the field we ended the day by going around the town of Alamosa to place fliers around to advertise the family event Deisy and Mianna are hosting in a couple of weeks (Good Luck!).

More to come about my Blanca Wetlands Blitz!

Departing Alaska, My Unforgettable Experience

It is still hard for me to believe that I spent 5 months in Alaska, and that my internship has come to an end.. As a recent graduate undergraduate fresh out of college, this internship experience was a dream come true. Being part of Environment for the Americas and the USDA Forest Service allowed me to take my B.S. degree in Wildlife Conservation Biology and apply to the “real world”!

Not just any world, but only one of the wildest places in the United States, ALASKA!

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Each month was so distinct and memorable. I was always working on something new. Whether it was preparing for shorebird surveys or traveling to an island to work on a fish pass. I always had the opportunity to learn a new skill or apply a skill had learned in school or on my own. For example, painting! I really enjoy painting and as a minor in Art in college I learned various techniques. Yet, I had never painted on windows! I had the opportunity to do in Cordova, for the Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival. I also helped the Girl Scout’s earn their art badge by painting shorebirds too!IMG_1407

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During the month of May I surveyed shorebirds for 3 consecutive weeks. Each day was also full of new surprises! Whether it was spotting my first black bellied plover or seeing the change from 100 to 2,000 shorebirds over night! Each day I felt thankful for the opportunity to witness the stopover of such amazing travelers.

 

I have a lot of great memories, and experiences which I could write about for days. I am sure you have read my previous blogs which reflect on those experiences. So I thank you for reading my blog! I have decided to summarize my internship experience with a few of my photographs that I took during my term in Alaska.

Thank You!

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Alaska is a very beautiful place. Which I hope continues to be conserved, appreciated, and protected for the wild place that it is.