Final Thoughts

Coming from the fringes of punk-rock and beat-the-system movements, I did not expect that I would find a job working for the federal government so fulfilling, but this is precisely what I discovered as a CLM intern with the BLM. I enjoyed the hands-on work, assisting other staff and agencies, and even the politics. Above all else, I want to work as a public servant, which I believe is at the core of government work.

Beyond establishing my interest in working for the federal government, the most I gained from this internship is confidence.  This internship required that I work independently, which means I had to rely on my judgment and expertise to accomplish many new tasks. With this confidence, I have relaxed about my career prospects.  I now know I have a good head on my shoulders and that I will find a career I enjoy.  Thanks to everyone who made this internship possible.

There are several big changes in my life following this internship.  First, I will drive back from California to the east coast. This is big because I have lived in Cali for a year now and thought I would be here longer.  Second, I will be traveling to Nepal and South Korea for three months.  This is a trip I have been planning and saving for since the beginning of college, and I am thrilled that it is finally happening. I will be visiting a Nepali friend and Peace Corps volunteers. Visiting PC volunteers in a new addition my journey thanks to my internship: my BLM co-worker and cubicle-mate, who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, encouraged me to check out the PC while traveling.  Third, when I return to the states, I will be pursuing a government job.  I have been stalking USAjobs regularly and applying frequently.

Fingers crossed,

Stephanie Wilson

Arcata BLM Field Office

Arcata, CA

IMGP1779Rockin’ a banana slug outfit with Ranger Julie

How To Choose A Career

This is a guide to how to choose a career. More specifically, this guide is about the beginning stages of how I figured out what a “fulfilling” career means to me. This guide is beneficial for people that likely embody the following characteristics. First, you believe that work can be fulfilling and are seeking work of this nature.  Second, you do not have any clear idea of what you want to be when you grow up. If you wanted to be a police officer since age 2 ½, this guide is useless. Alternatively, you may have had a clear idea of what you wanted to be when you grew up, but are now disenchanted. You now know that being a vet does not mean you get to hold fluffy puppies all day, but instead involves a lot of sick animals and poop. Third, you are not drowning in debt and are willing to make temporary monetary sacrifices, perhaps with parents there as a safety net. To follow this guide, you will have to work temp jobs and internships that don’t pay the best and don’t have benefits. You will have to put thoughts of retirement and owning a house on hold. You might have to donate a large portion of your stuff to Goodwill so that your belongings can fit in your two-door Toyota Echo.

After graduating, I had no idea what jobs even existed, especially because the college I attended focused on teaching critical thinking instead of how to get a job. I was aimless. First, I had to view this position as an advantage. I have incredible amounts of freedom right now with little responsibilities and that allows me to be mobile and explore, which is a freedom I will have to sacrifice when I do have a more permanent career.  I took advantage of that freedom and embraced this opportunity to explore career paths rather than blindly attending graduate school or accepting any job I could get.

Second, I accepted that I truly had no idea what career I was interested in and that that was okay. Ironically, I learned this through reading the book What Color Is Your Parachute. This classic helps reader figure out what his/her ideal job is based on his/her specific skills and preferences.  As guided by the book, I created a map that outlined my preferences for all aspects of a job: salary, work environment, location, etc. At the end, what I held in my hands was a map full of vague descriptions that outlined this one fact: I had absolutely no idea what my preferences were. I needed to explore careers more in order to know them.

Third, I changed how I thought about a career.  This is the most important step I took. I had always focused on what “job” I wanted, as in what I wanted to do day to day and what career title, such as “biologist” or “botanist, I wanted. However, I was missing the context that this job fits in. A biologist does different tasks day to day depending on the organization s/he works for.  I shifted my focus, then, to the context. With some guidance from my father, I concluded that there were largely four different contexts that organizations with paying jobs fit in: for-profit, non-profit, governmental, and academic (note: academic organizations aren’t really its own category, since many are non-profits, but professorship is such a unique experience that I counted it as separate context). I focused on deciding which larger context, rather than the specific job, was the best fit for me.

Fourth, I worked for organizations in each of these different contexts as an intern or temp. I tried to remain unbiased by judging my experience based on the values and structure of the organization. For example, I found that even though non-profits are not pursuing profit, there is still a strong focus on making enough money to stay in business. This influences the culture of the work-place, and I had to decide if this was an aspect I preferred and weigh how important this aspect was in light of others.  I focused on weighing the values and traits of the context rather than on more personal reasons, such as how much I liked my fellow co-workers and supervisors. I will focus on the personal aspects more now that I have decided which context I want to work in and as I refine what work I find meaningful.

I feel very satisfied with the process I have taken and the context I have chosen. Perhaps this will help others, too. Best of luck!

Stephanie Wilson

Arcata BLM Field Office

Arcata, CA

A destination to journey to

While in college, my professors encouraged me to pursue a career in academia.  I felt heavily swayed by this encouragement, despite the fact that it never felt like a good fit.  After college and freshly direction-less, I was determined to use this period of career exploration to work for a menagerie of organizations: non-profit, academic, business, and, finally, government.  It’s about the journey  . . .  right?

The goal of this internship, for me, is to help me decide if I want to work for the federal government. Once I arrived at the BLM office, I scratched this goal in the front of my notebook and began asking my co-workers and supervisors about their careers.  Naturally, my co-workers both enthused and complained about their jobs, but I was careful to be more objective this time and not be persuaded heavily either way.   I wanted to gain a complete picture of what it would be like to be a federal employee before making a decision.

Ocean Day was the event that confirmed that a position in the federal government is a career I want to pursue.  For this event, the BLM partnered with Friends of the Dunes, neighboring schools, the CCC, and many, many volunteers to bring 700 children to the South Spit to pull invasive beach grass.  I enjoyed the role that we, the BLM, played in the event: logistics and oversight.

In the end, I want to be a public servant.  I want to help people do what they need and want to do, as long as it does not harm the environment or others, ideally.  Sure, the government isn’t perfect.  There are still instances of corruption, power struggles, exploitation, and extreme bureaucracy heaviness. However, the government is here to protect and bring people together, and that is the government I have found in my office.

This period of confusion has been fun, but exhausting and insecure.   After drifting for two years, I wasn’t sure that I would ever find something I wanted to work towards.  Simply, I am relieved that I have found a direction. Sure, it’s about the journey, not the destination. But it’s awfully nice to have a destination to journey to.


Ocean Day


Stephanie Wilson

Arcata BLM Field Office

Arcata, CA

Engaging an Attention Span of 12 Minutes

This month, I have been researching outdoor education opportunities to do after my CLM internship.  I decided that I should first get my feet wet in the field by assisting Park Ranger Julie on a trip to Headwaters Forest Reserve for students from a local elementary school.  The two major goals of the outdoor education program that I had recently applied for echoed in my head as the school bus arrived:  first, help the kids relate to each other and, second, help the kids respect their environment.  The bus parked and out poured forty excited, talking, running, climbing kids.  One girl came up to me and told me that a person’s attention span is their age, plus two.  At the age of 10, her attention span was 12 minutes.  She asked my age.  23 years old.  My attention span is 25 minutes, she told me.  Several kids told me that I look like I am 16.  Maybe my attention is really 18 minutes. Accomplishing the goals might be easier said than done considering those stats.

Amid all the chaos, Ranger Julie managed to corral the kids together and focus their attention as she told them about Headwaters.  She has 12 minutes, I thought.  Our lessons along the trail lasted this amount of time or less, as well.  Underneath the canopy of old growth redwood trees, I would pick up a feathery needle cast and explain that it was a clue that redwoods were near.  I showed them the hilt shape of the base of a fern leaflet, a clue that it was a sword fern.  I would pluck a redwood sorrel leaf, hand it to the kids, and then instruct them to rip it in a half, hand it to their neighbor, thank nature for the gift, and then eat it.  Savor the sour taste.  Despite my attempts, though, I struggled to maintain their focus for even 2 minutes, let alone 12.  By the end of the day, the constant complaints from the kids made the three mile hike seem more like a forced death march.  My lessons were drowned out by endless, scattered, children chatter.

Were the goals of the hike met?  Perhaps not to the extent that I expected, and the experience taught me how little I know about teaching kids about the outdoors.  However, I did eavesdrop on a conversation between two students, Shawna and Cole, and noticed how much they related to each other as the conversation passed back and forth easily between them. Their 12 minute attention spans were fully engaged.  At the end of the hike, Shawna approached me and, in her hand, was a piece of redwood feather.  “This is from a redwood tree, right?” She respectfully returned it to the forest floor.  On a small scale, perhaps, the goals were met after all.


What were they thinking?!

               This month I have considered the following:  present land management decisions based on past measures that are best for the future.  Differing opinions and politics surface because of the predictive requirements of land management decisions. The Arcata field office handles these expertly, respectfully addressing and discussing different points of view both amongst the public and within the office.  However, these decisions are complex and intricate, and the best ones are often obscured, demonstrating that predicting the future, indeed, is a difficult feat.

                The first scenario where I was exposed to the tension of past and future management decisions was during a field day with geologist Sam and fisheries biologist AJ at Baker Creek, a small tributary that feeds into the Mattole River.  Baker Creek serves as important spawning habitat for coho salmon, which are facing extirpation from the Mattole Watershed.  In the late 1970s, BLMers removed fallen redwood logs from the tributary to increase water flow.  Our reaction, today, to that decision: What were they thinking?! The logs are crucial for creating salmon habitat because the wood dams up water, creating pools that are banquets of aquatic invertebrates for coho to feast on and fills the groundwater in the surrounding floodplain, which is a crucial water source for the tributary during the dry season.  Last year, the Arcata BLM felled and dragged small trees into the creek to correct the management decision of the 70s.

                The second scenario is an on-going discussion in the office about how to respond to Sudden Oak Death, a rapidly-spreading phytophthora that destroys the tanoak populations and threatens the forest ecosystems in Northern California and much of the west coast.  It is difficult to gauge the threat of SOD, recalling the predictive nature of land management decisions.  Some argue that the BLM should aggressively eradicate the disease through pesticide application and removal of whole infected tree stands. Others argue that we should proceed cautiously, focusing efforts on forest health by selective thinning and monitoring.  Since “heavy-handed approaches” have not been effective in the past and the office wants to avoid future errors, we currently implement a cautious approach.  The conversation continues.

                Whether its building coho salmon habitat or planning a SOD response, the BLM is both assertively correcting past mistakes and cautiously preparing for future scenarios.  Of course, predicting the future and criticizing the past are futile. Instead, we focus on making careful decisions based on current information learned from past mistakes so that, in the future, the phrase “what were they thinking!?” is uttered even less frequently then it is now.

Mattole Channelized

Baker Creek after the logs were removed and before restoration.  Notice the channelization of the stream. (Curtesy of the Sanoma Land Trust)

April Blog Baker

Baker Creek after restoration, logs in place.


Did you catch my Bill Nye reference?

Going Rogue

The Conservation Land Management internship has been a fortunate change in career directions for me.  Because of this internship, I have veered off of an academic, research-based path that I had been following for the past 5 years.  Though my research experiences have allowed me to study many interesting ecological questions, I am now immersed in work that I find especially fulfilling because I’m not just studying the problems.  I’m solving them.

My supervisor and I often talk about the careful balance that the BLM must maintain between allowing and limiting public access to BLM land. The BLM limits access in order to conserve habitats and resources.  Sometimes, though, public use and conservation goals are in parallel.  This is apparent in an interesting relationship between the ATV users and the endangered beach layia, Layia carnosa Nutt., in the Samoa sand dunes.  The native plant species of the sand dunes, including layia, rely on a disturbed habitat to thrive.  The word “disturbed” conjures negative connotations of weedy, degraded habitats choked by invasives.  The dunes habitat, however, has historically been constantly disturbed because of the fierce wind and ruckus waves that beat the northern California coast.  Invasive beach grass, Ammophila arenaria L., and ice plant, Carpobortus edulis L., have stabilized the dunes, rooting the shifting sands in place and outcompeting natives like layia.

In parts of the dunes, the BLM allows people to ride ATVs across them, treading sand in their wake.  The BLM created some permanent paths that the ATVers now maintain and are barren.  However, the ATVers also create rogue paths all on their own, clearing the frozen dunes from invasives and introducing disturbance back into the habitat.  Monitoring that I have completed this week indicates that beach layia and other rare natives can now grow in these cleared paths.  These paths aren’t permanent, so the natives can establish themselves without immediately being torn up by the ATVs.

I feel a little like these ATVers: leaving the strict academic path I was once on to travel a more rogue path that is benefiting both me and the native plants I am conserving.

A rogue ATV path off from a maintained one.

A rogue ATV path off from a maintained one.  Notice the natives plants growing in the rogue path.

Native plants growing in disturbed sand.

Native plants growing in disturbed sands.