Dear Environment for the Americas,

I can’t thank you enough for the incredible experience I had in San Diego. I met a bunch of people my age that all shared similar values and a similar enough background that we just clicked. I learned how to identify birds in such a fashion that I can’t unlearn. I learned from experts in the workforce and developed a better understanding of my own direction within my interests. I still have months left in a sure to amazing trip, and I have already found it a rewarding experience.

20160227_102406I learned how to lead a bird walk. It was a largely new activity for me. Which meant it was a skill that has already translated into leadership of groups in general. I learned all about positions in agencies that sat at the perfect nexus between international relations and environmental conservation. I learned about educational programs from conversation with fellow interns and how to find the kind of jobs with the federal government that I will someday define a career with. I can’t thank you enough for the soft and hard skills training. I can’t possibly list them all. I walked out of San Diego prepared for my trip, and energized in the path to find my niche in the workforce. I hope to stay in contact with everyone I met for the rest of my life.20160309_132748_HDR

I’m writing this now from Los Banos. If you ask anyone what there is to do in this town, they’ll tell you there is nothing to do. Every young person in town tells me that the only thing worth doing is the Starbucks I’m in as I write this. When I tell them, “What about the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, they have some cool elk and birds” they don’t even know where it is. Then I know why I’m here. I can’t say thank you enough for the experience.


San Luis/San Juan River/Merced National Wildlife Refuge

20160309_110913After getting stuck in the gorgeous Corrizo Plain’s mud, we skipped Piedras Blancas and headed straight for San Luis National Wildlife Refuge. The staff their wasn’t expecting us for another day, but were so welcoming. They spent the next two days touring us at San Luis NWR, San Jaun River NWR, and Merced NWR. We saw so many of our favorite migratory birds! And large mammals too! We would learn over the next two days how committed and passionate the staff is in protecting a habitat local and migrating birds are so dependent on.

At San Luis NWR we got to see huge Elk before checking in to the bunkhouse. there were also more Great Egrets than I could count. The next morning Tim Mateo took us over to San Juan River NWR. We got a chance to help them count collared Cackling Aluetian Geese. The species has made an enormous rebound, and tracking their migrating patterns is of large interest to biologists. It’s a tough squinting act, even with a scope, getting the three digits on a collar. Luckily, we got about 40 collar numbers staring into three different groups of thousands of geese. We also got to know the other challenges the staff face maintaining a National Wildlife Refuge.

Think about it. The staff here at these sites have to maintain relations with private owners, state authorities, and local visitors. They have to manage water levels with imported water in the midst of California’s drought. They have to maintain their infrastructure and deal with the leftover problems of land they have acquired (always through willing sellers.) Invasive species like water hyacinth, duck weed, and hemlock plug up their water access and run rampant over their land both choking native vegetation and covering visitor access roads. They have to get solid counts and readings on a wide variety of species. They have to maintain services for visitors. They have to mow tons of land. I’ll stop now. In short, they have more to do than manhours to do the tasks with.

Each and everyone of those above mentioned, among many other problems, comes with it’s own laundry list of risk/reward choices. Then on top of that they have an aging workforce in a time when hiring is dramatically slowing down and funding is drying up. In the past they had enough employees to take care of the vast majority of their problems. Now, you can hear them always coming back to what is the highest priority because there are only so many hours in a day. Never a complaint, just a steong attitude of getting the most important things done. We were blown away by the species we saw, but we were ten times more impressed by the committed and passionate work of the hands on their local staff in making their presence possible. We can only thank them for taking the time to talk to us. Hopefully our trip will encourage others to volunteer or push our government to return to funding them properly.
Thank you everyone we met at San Luis, San Juaquin, and Mercet National Wildlife Refuges. Spending time with school children, meeting your staff and Lucky (the office cat!), and seeing shore birds again after missing them in Carizzo was an awesome experience. I’ll certainly never forget how impressed I was with hos much work your staff is responsible for.

Christian McWilliams

Christian studied International Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University with an interest in global environmental conservation, and has lived most of his life between Spain and the United States. Internship experiences during his studies have taken him up and down the East Coast of the US, and had him spend over a year in Mumbai. He enjoys keeping up with global and domestic news, volunteering, and a well made cup of coffee.

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