Excel as a High-Performing Agency

Student interns experience life in the Wild West

NEVADA As part of the Conservation and Land Management Internship Program, the Humboldt-Toiyabe National hosted two interns from the eastern part of the United States during the 2017 summer season. The program gave the students an opportunity to experience working for a federal land management agency and life in the Wild West.

The Conservation and Land Management Internship Program is run by the Chicago Botanic Garden and matches interns with partners in participating federal land management agencies and several state and local agencies. The program provides students with hands-on experience in botany and wildlife-related fields for the next generation of conservationists.

Interns Alyssa Hay, from Pennsylvania, and Payton Kraus, from Ohio, were part of Seeds of Success, a partnership between federal agencies and state and nonprofit partners that works to ensure a stable and economical supply of native plant materials for restorations and rehabilitation efforts on public lands.

For their work on the forest, Hay and Kraus collected seeds from 80 target native species, but first, they needed to learn how to identify the unfamiliar western plants.

“We learned to be adaptable,” said Kraus. The two created cheat sheets with the species’ phenology and geographic distribution, using the University of Nevada, Reno herbaria for their research.

For their seed collections, the interns needed to follow strict protocol in order to collect enough material while not disturbing the natural seed bank. Each collection must result in a minimum of 10,000 seeds from at least 50 individual plants in order to be useful.

In order to collect the necessary seeds, the interns spent a great deal of time out in the field, working in remote lands in Nevada and portions of eastern California. “My favorite part of the job was seeing places that most people do not see,” said Kraus.

“This experience gave me the idea of what remote actually is,” said Hay. The two had to learn how to navigate without phone service, drive through different types of terrain, and work in the backcountry.

In order to access these remote locations, a large part of their job was also dedicated to driving. “The most challenging part of the job was having to sit in a car for the entire day sometimes,” said Kraus.

Hay agreed, noting that the sheer distances between towns came as a surprise to her. “That and how Wild West the towns can actually be,” she said.

Due to the extensive amount of driving and field time, the two also gained a great deal of safety training and knowledge, learning about first aid, CPR, defensive driving, radio and GPS communications, and wilderness first aid.

“Safety was stressed as the most important component of our job,” said Hay.

In addition to seed collection, the interns were also able to gain experience in other areas such as forestry, wildlife biology and media training.

“Alyssa and I both have gained extensive experience and knowledge from this internship past our wildest expectations,” said Kraus. “We have greatly benefitted from this internship and hope many others are able to follow in our footsteps.”

After a successful season, Hay and Kraus have returned to the East in search of other opportunities. They both agree though, there are certain things they will be missing — mainly the mountains and the sunsets.

Photo: A young man and woman in bright safety vests walk through a field of high grasses.
As part of the Conservation and Land Management Internship Program, the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest hosted two interns from the eastern part of the United States during the 2017 summer season. Forest Service photo by Dirk Netz.