For me it started when I was 7 or 8 years old. We lived in a new subdivision carved out of farm country, primarily corn fields that blended into a mixture of hardwood forest and a small ridge of rolling hills.
But for me and my pack of 5 like-minded adventurers, the small creek and associated wetlands winding through the woods and fields were the main attraction. The creek was home to crayfish, muskrats, frogs and one particular old snapping turtle. To us, it was the last frontier and if we could have, we would have lived out there year round.
It’s where we fell in love with the outdoors, where we built dams, bridges and tree forts, learned how to ice skate on moving water, collected rocks that in our eyes were gems, chased snakes and hunted for arrowheads. It was a magical place; the playground our imaginations craved. As we grew up and building forts gave way to pheasant hunting and homecoming, we never said it, but we all wished for it, to find a way to make this place, these creatures, this landscape, our life.
This summer, seven interns took one step closer to realizing careers in conservation, working closely with staff at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as part of the St. Croix Wetland Management District (SCWMD) summer intern program.
“I really appreciate how each of us have different backgrounds and different strengths. For example, Will is great with tree identification and can tell you what any tree is. Jessica, Lydia, and I worked at a wetland restoration project and were able to connect with the landowner about his restored prairie. The personal connections I have made with the interns, staff, and locals will stay with me long past this summer. One of my favorite experiences so far has been seed collecting, because I know it will go right back out to enhance a prairie.”
Wildlife Biologist Chris Trosen has overseen the intern program since 2011 and counts it as one of his most rewarding and beneficial responsibilities. This year's crop of interns represented the University of Wisconsin campuses at River Falls and Stevens Point as well as South Dakota State and the University of California, Santa Cruz.
“The goal of the internship program is to provide students with education and experience in the field of conservation that will help build their resumes,” said Trosen. “As a staff, we want to make sure all the students have a really good experience. We schedule a lot of one-on-one time so that we can meet their learning needs and achieve all of our goals for the summer.”
The SCWMD internship program is a stand alone program created as a result of the unique partnership between the District, its Friends group, Friends of the SCWMD and other financial supporters.
Each year the District is able to offer a limited number of internships to a mixture of high school students who have already graduated and college students pursuing studies related to conservation and biology. The number of spots varies each year from three to six depending on available funding.
Students participating in the SCWMD program are classified as volunteers. They receive housing at no cost and an “educational award” at the 6 and 12 week mark of the program.
Students participating through other programs such as the USFWS Pathways Program or as a Directorate Fellow get paid an hourly wage and are responsible for paying rent to stay in government provided housing. Travel expenses are accounted for differently depending on the program.
Completion of an internship can count toward class credits depending on the individual college or university. Trosen works with the student and institution to ensure the student is fulfilling the credit requirements.
Summer programs generally run from May to September but can end in August to accommodate college schedules.
“Working with the interns has been a great experience for me. We all work as a team and they are dedicated to the task. I enjoyed the vegetation surveys we did and seeing everyone was just as passionate about the prairie as I am. My favorite experience was the bat surveys. We had to find locations for the monitors and set them up for collecting acoustic data. Chris, Bridget, and Tracy have all been very supportive and want everyone to succeed. They have worked hard to help further my career with the Fish and Wildlife Service looking out for opportunities for me to gain experience along my career path. Everyone jumps in to help with projects when needed and their passion for conservation is contagious.”
A two week orientation at the beginning of the summer is designed to help familiarize students with the kinds of government equipment they will be using and to introduce them to staff and the specific projects they will be working on.
“It is a competitive program,” said Trosen. “Now that we have housing, we will likely be able to cast a larger net than just students from local universities. Having the ability to house students here and even in New Richmond is fairly expensive. Having the living quarters is a nice benefit.”
Applications are available starting in January and are due to Trosen in March. The District typically receives 10 to 20 applications each year.
“Students are selected based on their qualifications and our needs,” Trosen said. “The program is designed to provide students with a really well rounded experience. Hopefully by the end of the internship, they’ll know if this is something they want to pursue as a career or not.”
“I have really loved working with the other interns this summer. Every day is a blast and everybody really cares about each other. My favorite learning experience this summer has been learning the administrative side of things. I am training for the 0485 Wildlife Refuge Management series, so my Project Leader had me do some things for her that frankly seem a little bigger than me. I've been working a lot on having the confidence to tackle tasks that I previously thought I was not qualified to perform. I also really enjoyed learning to drive the ag tractor and skid steer.”
The smell of hot coffee hangs in the cool morning air. The daily check-in is starting a little later than normal to accommodate the press.
“We meet early each morning with Chris to talk about our plans and what we expect to get done that day,” Kaylee Sadorf, an intern from UW-River Falls, said. “We also make time to come back and relay everything we saw that day that we thought might be important.”
Over the course of the summer interns had the opportunity to work side-by-side with USFWS staff on a wide variety of projects ranging from conducting plant, bird and pollinator surveys to invasive species mapping and removal to water level monitoring and management. Other projects included bat monitoring, habitat assessments and restoration, boundary posting, seed collecting, the installation of information kiosks, and inventorying more than 75 wood duck houses and making repairs or replacements where necessary.
Field work is complemented by working side by side with staff members on projects specific to their specialty as a way to introduce interns to the wide variety of possible career directions available within the USFWS. Interns are expected to be able to work independently of staff and to be able to work together as a team in the field.
For questions or to learn more about an internship with the SCWMD, contact Chris Trosen at firstname.lastname@example.org
To make a donation in support of the SCWMD internship program go to: fscwmd.org