Apply Now for the Hubbard Fellowship!

We are now accepting applications for the 6th class of Hubbard Fellows with The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska.  Application deadline is September 21, and the position will run from February 2019 through January of 2020.

This has been one of the most satisfying programs I’ve ever been involved with.  The opportunity to supervise and mentor young, bright future conservation leaders is incredibly energizing, and fills me with hope.  If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about the Fellowship, you can click here or just go to the Hubbard Fellowship tab at the top of this blog’s home page.

Current Fellows Alex and Olivia (left), along with TNC staffer Amanda Hefner and former Fellow Katharine Hogan prepare themselves to collect data at The Niobrara Valley Preserve.

The Hubbard Fellowship program is designed to help recent college graduates get comprehensive experience with a conservation organization and give them a big leg up toward their career.  The hope is to bypass the need to spend several years working short-term seasonal jobs to gain a variety of experiences by giving them all those experiences within one position.

Fellows become an integral part of our land management and restoration team – harvesting and planting seeds, killing weeds, clearing trees and brush, fixing fences, helping with bison roundups, and much more.  They also collect data and interact with a number of scientists and research projects.  Beyond that, however, they are also very active in communication and outreach, leading volunteer work days and sandhill crane viewing tours, speaking to various audiences, writing blog posts and newsletter articles, and helping with our social media presence.  They get a chance to learn about and help with fundraising, see how budgeting and financial management works, and become active participants in conservation strategy meetings and discussions.  Fellows attend our statewide board meetings, are active participants in our statewide strategy meetings and workshops, and attend multiple conferences in and out of the state.

On a tour during a statewide conservation conference, Dillon and Jasmine pause to contemplate their futures.

Beyond those experiences, Fellows also develop and implement an independent project that both fits their particular interests and fills a need for our program.  Those projects have included field research, social science research, enhancing our volunteer program, developing educational materials, and more.  Those projects give Fellows in-depth experience within a topic of interest, but also a substantial accomplishment to point to as they move toward graduate school or apply for permanent jobs.

Evan collects insects for a research project being conducted by a visiting scientist from Kansas State University.

We are looking for motivated, future conservation leaders who want to live and work in rural Nebraska and become an integral part of our conservation efforts for a year.  The application process includes a short essay and letter of reference, in addition to a cover letter and resume.  All materials must be submitted by midnight on September 21, 2018.  Housing is provided for the Fellows, right in the middle of our Platte River Prairies, west of Grand Island, Nebraska.

Please pass this on to anyone you think might be interested.  Thanks!

Katharine and Eric explore a waterfall at the Niobrara Valley Preserve during a staff canoe trip down the Niobrara River.

Hubbard Fellowship Blog – Alex’s Work Pants

This post was written by Alex Brechbill, one of our Hubbard Fellows this year.  Alex has a great aptitude and personality for environmental law and policy work, but not to the detriment of his outdoor work ethic – as you’ll see here.  Also – Stay tuned for an announcement very soon about the application period for the next round of our Fellowship.

After graduating college with a degree in political science, I was convinced I was going to dive headfirst into a cubicle. There was something very exciting about it. I would have my own desk, the ability to throw on a sweater because the A/C is just a bit too chilly, and maybe, if I’m lucky, two monitors on my computer. This image was so idyllic because most of my work experience includes me being knee-high in mud (and probably not mud, if we are being honest), saturated in sweat, and consistently covered in perma-dirt, no matter how fancy I get with my laundry.

I was convinced I would have that dream cubicle. I wanted to, and still want to, pursue environmental law in some capacity: paralegal, administrative assistant, research, etc. Despite having plenty of outdoors jobs, I’ve had my fair share of indoor positions, slowly building a collection of slacks, khakis, corduroys, and dress pants for the day that I finally get my name on a desk. However, that collection will have to keep gathering dust, because my favorite pants are my workpants.

They are khaki canvas Dickies, with the classic red patch on the right butt cheek. They are size 32×32, but depending on the day, they would ideally be about two inches snugger and two inches longer. I’ve had them for four years. They were originally intended for my dad, but I intercepted them as they were my size.

Are these pants freshly laundered or have I worked in them for three weeks? You can never really tell by just looking at them.

Workpants are the physical manifestation of how much it takes to keep ecosystems in their desired condition. Without a little elbow grease, most of our prairies would be thickets of Siberian elm, a sea of musk thistles, or thatch dense enough you’d have to Bear Grylls your way out. Growing up, I marveled at how beautiful landscapes could regulate themselves without any intervention. However, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work. It takes folks out in the field every day of the week, not just when it is convenient, but when it’s raining, windy, hot, cold, summer, or winter. It is by no means glamorous work, but it’s rewarding, beautifully messy work. My pants have borne the brunt of that labor, from mud to paint. Every spot, snag, hole, wrinkle, or stain has a story.

In the last seven months, I have conducted a very scientific study regarding the reasons I have washed my workpants. Although the research is ongoing, I have some results that I think are notable for this audience. One might ask, “are most scientific studies done in colored pencil and marker?” The answer is that although it may seem archaic, I assure you it is still very scientific.

Life-long scientific research. Still trying to get it published in Workpants Quarterly.

Some of the preliminary findings are that there has been a lot of poison ivy this year and that I’ve done a lot of chainsaw work, as shown by the lingering smell of two-stroke exhaust. After looking at the raw data and punching some numbers, I found that there is a clear correlation between my pants not fitting and how long I have been chainsawing. On occasion, after I take off my chaps, one may think that I’m wearing a second pair of chaps underneath my chaps, however, that is merely the outline of my sweat from where the chaps were once occupying.

This is the Achilles’ heel of any good pair of pants, the classic backpocket wallet hole. I prefer the hole in my backpocket to be somewhere in between “that’ll be fine” and “I think I lost my wallet in the prairie.
Once upon a time, these pants used to be more of an orange-khaki color, as shown by the color under the cuff. Over the years they’ve been sunbleached and built up a good patina. They get better with time, like a fine wine.
Permadirt and blue stains. Really it’s a match made in heaven.

Although it made a small appearance in the above data, breaking through the ice was one of my favorite experiences. In February, I and the other field staff were preparing for crane season, and one of the objectives was to remove cattails to make a clear view of the roosting cranes on the river. The river was still frozen at this time, but I was still wary of the thickness of ice. From the bank of the river, I removed all the cattails that I could reach. However, there were still cattails out further that were blocking the view of the river from the blind. Thinking of the cranes, I braved the ice. As I reached the outer edge of the cattails, I knew my goose was cooked. I plunged two feet down into the brisk water and got stuck in the muck, the murky water flowing into my boots. Within an instant, the stale winter air became rank with pungent, marinating muck that had not been disturbed for months. The damage was done, my Muck Boots were filled with literal muck, and I wasn’t going anywhere. To my demise, I finished the job, removing the cattails. To exit the icy water, I laid the weedwhacker on ice near the bank and beached-whaled myself out of the mucky water. Like I said, it’s not glamorous work, but it’s rewarding. The science is still ongoing, but if you’d like to contribute to my (very scientific) research, I’d be curious if you have any good stories about your trusty workpants!

Hubbard Fellowship Post – Eric’s Great Plains Tourism Proposal

This post was written by Eric Chien, one of our Hubbard Fellows.  I hope you’ll read and respond to his ideas about a different kind of tourism in the Great Plains.  (Also, please don’t forget to fill out our blog reader survey HERE.)

I get the sense that most of the country mistakes the push they feel as they travel through the Midwest and Great Plains as a force pushing them through and out of the landscape, instead of what could be a push into it. Engine power has let us cross the prairies in a matter of hours. Most of us are resolved to race through the Great Plains, acknowledging it only as a void to be crossed. The wide open spaces almost seem to demand motion, demand a commitment to keep going. This character of movement the prairie inspires is in large part why I think traditional tourism has never taken a firm hold here. It is why I think a tourism economy fit for the Great Plains is one folded into the fabric of the working landscape. It is why I know that the best way to vacation on the prairie is to come out and work in it.

Katharine (Hubbard Fellow) preparing for some chainsaw work on a late summer morning.
Katharine (Hubbard Fellow) preparing for some chainsaw work on a late summer morning.  Photo by Eric Chien.

We rarely consider prairies as vacation destinations. Mountains, lakes, and beaches; these are said to be restorative natural geographies. They are, but so are prairies. I find they differ not in their effect, but only in their mode. A lake invites me to rest beside its shores or in its waters and refill my own reservoirs. A prairie drives sparks into weary legs, and reminds me that my tank is bigger than I thought. This qualitatively different rejuvenation is what sets prairie “recreation” apart, and I think suggests a shape for prairie tourism.

The heart of the Great Plains economy and the focal point of conservation efforts will always be its working lands. The nature of the prairie itself rejects idleness. The innate restlessness the landscape inspires does not mean we cannot find excitement and restoration. It just means it will not be found sitting idly. I would challenge any family to spend a late Spring weekend lopping young cedar trees out of a prairie lush with new grass and early flowers. Share an afternoon rolling old fence in a herd of cattle alive with the energy of new calves. Drift easily to sleep because of healthful work to the sound of an evening prairie brimming with life. Tell me that would not stick longer in the whole family’s mind than even the best iphone picture from some scenic mountaintop. These are real prairie experiences, playing out all over the landscape beyond I-80.

Katharine
Who wouldn’t want to learn how to drive a tractor and spend their vacation working in the prairie?  Photo by Eric Chien.

Recreation and tourism are powerful tools in connecting people and place. It can also be a powerful tool for supporting the integrity of the landscape and the lives of its permanent human inhabitants. The ecosystems that hold lakeshores, mountains slopes, and ocean fronts reap a significant portion of the conservation benefits that admiration and attraction confer. They also are teetering with the weight of recreation development incompatible with the health and character of the landscapes responsible for their very existence. This is not what we want for our Great Plains Prairies.  In the place of development for recreation alone, a working lands tourism model melts into the fabric of contemporary life on the plains. “Work vacations” on working ranches and farms offer re-engagement and appreciation of the landscape. They also offer the people of the prairie a chance to share the richness of life working close to the land. We walk into a head wind by trying to impose traditional tourism on the prairie landscape. However, there is fertile ground for attracting visitors by appealing to the culture of revitalizing work that prairies inspire. Molded thoughtfully, a growing appreciation of our landscape and the part we play in it enriches the integrity of our ecosystems, and the lives of Great Plains citizens and visitors both.

During a 48-hour late December heat wave I rumbled east towards a long day of work on the tractor, kicking up the gravel of Shoemaker Island Road. Skeins of Canada geese traced the air above the nearby Platte River, the mid-morning sun spotlighting their dusky flanks. The corn stalks and grass shined their dry gold against the uniquely blue Great Plains sky. In that moment, I counted all of the people I wished could share in that day. It was a long list. It included family and friends. It also included a nameless many who I have shared so many anonymous, hurried moments with at the Pilot Gas Station off the highway. I hoped they would end their trips here, at the Platte River Prairies. Forgo another trip to the mountains or lakes back East, and join me on a fence line. Not just because I believe their visit will create an actionable impression, or through their additional hands, a greater management capacity.  I know the exertions that prairies inspire to be energizing, self-restorative, and meaningful. What more can we ask out of time spent?

The author cuts down a tree in a prairie, simultaneously providing a treat for cattle at the same site. Photo by Katharine Hogan.
The author cuts down a tree in a prairie, simultaneously providing a treat for cattle at the same site. Photo by Katharine Hogan.

 

Hubbard Fellowship Blog – Inspiration is at Our Feet

This post was written by Katharine Hogan, one of our two current Hubbard Fellows.  The photo is hers as well.  Katharine has shown to be an introspective thinker and writer, in addition to a curious and hard-working member of our conservation team.  I think you will enjoy this and other posts she writes.

After a rigorous morning spent chain sawing trees on the Platte River Prairies, I headed inside to finish a half-completed blog post. It would be nice to get off my feet; I was breaking in my new fire boots acquired for performing prescribed burns, and my feet were a bit sore from the new stiff leather and soles. It would also be great to finish this blog post that had been persistently hanging around in my head. However, to my dismay after working at it for some time, it simply kept falling apart the harder I tried to make it fit together. Finally, I conceded defeat, but was also frustrated in my attempts to settle on an alternative topic. As my frustration grew, I decided to go for a walk in hopes of the remnants of a crisp autumn day yielding some inspiration.

Annoyed for having spent such a chunk of time on nothing that turned into more nothing, I put on my well-worn, much loved hiking boots that have seen me through countless work and pleasure hours across the country. They were more comfortable than the tall, black boots I had taken off earlier, for sure! I decided to walk up into the sand hills south of the house, get a higher perspective on the land, and enjoy another stellar Nebraska sunset against the golds and reds of prairies grasses falling asleep before the advance of winter.

Even if I didn’t come up with any ideas, going for a walk outside is always good, I thought, as I headed out. Never waste time doing something important when there’s a sunset to watch, right? (I got that one from the dusty, back corner shelves of the Internet…). Yet I had barely even gotten into the pasture when I realized something felt different. My old boots suddenly felt different from all the unspoken familiarity with which I had apparently subconsciously come to associate them. Had they always been that sensitive to the terrain on which I was walking? What a distinct texture the inside of the boots had, and how perfectly fitted they were to the shapes of my feet! But no big deal, I said to myself, just keep walking and your feet will adjust and feel normal.

But they didn’t. I was hyper-aware of myriad sensations in my feet with every step through the crispy vegetation. I couldn’t stop being distracted by it. My normal had changed that week to those fire boots, which in my mind are in some strange way the pedestrian version of being inside a tank, fitted with impressive protection and defense features. Changing from that back to something previously familiar had made that familiar new again, and had made me aware of aspects of those old boots that I otherwise would never have noticed.

I never thought I would add footwear to the list of unexpected teachers in my life. Ultimately, good work boots are pivotable to land stewardship and field science, though, so maybe it shouldn't come as such a surprise.
I never thought I would add footwear to the list of unexpected teachers in my life. Ultimately, good work boots are pivotal to land stewardship and field science, though, so maybe it shouldn’t come as such a surprise.

Is this a large part of how humans learn, constantly yet perhaps subconsciously? Do we make retroactive observations and connections about familiar places, people, and concepts best upon exposure to the new and different? This experience reminded me of other observations that I had previously regarded as unconnected, small events. Upon travelling to Missouri I realized the swathes of cottonwood along the Platte River in Nebraska don’t create the same familiar comfort as the hardwood forests of more eastern regions because they are more monocultural woody systems. Comparatively, forests from hardwood regions are symposiums of many tree species with rich myriad canopy hues throughout the growing season.

Conversely, during a recent trip back to Vermont, I had never realized how imbalanced the scattered old fields and open green spaces of the northeast felt; they are scars that the advance of trees (so undesirable here on the prairies) inexorably tries to heal. The resilient grasslands of the Platte and the Niobrara, practically exploding with a diversity of species and habitats to which I was hitherto unaware, allowed me to see ecological challenges of my old home. Prior to my experiences elsewhere in the country, I arguably was assessing these childhood surroundings with rose-tinted glasses (or maybe glasses tinted with the fiery colors of New England autumns). Even after finishing college in Indiana, I had no real comparison as a backdrop.

There are other observations I could list, but suffice it to say I learned a lesson that day, as I found myself simply standing in the middle of the prairie under an orange tinted sky, staring at my feet. Yes, I’ve always been a proponent of learning through new experiences, but it hadn’t occurred to me with such force how much we stand to learn from new experiences about the places we have already been. We become so readily comfortable in our routines that we lose sight of the immediately surrounding world. This is simply how our brains function to avoid constant stimuli overload. But what exciting potential there is for us if we see our new experiences as a sounding board for our old experiences, and not only the other way around!

I never did end up going for the rest of that walk, nor did I see the sun set. Instead, I found myself heading straight back for the house, laughing aloud at myself at my eagerness to write about the unexpected results of simply wearing a new pair of boots for a few days. This wasn’t the type of post I was originally planning to share with you all, but I hope it may give some of you a little excitement about the hidden world of inspiration and discovery that may be right under your feet.

Or on your feet. Who knows? I sure didn’t.

Apply Now to be a Hubbard Fellow

We are now accepting applications to join our 2016-2017 class of Hubbard Fellows.  Please share this with anyone who might be interested.  I’m biased, but I think it’s the best opportunity in the world for a recent college graduate looking for a career in ecology or conservation.

Kim Tri inspects a skunk skull in the prairie while Evan Barrientos looks on. The Nature Conservancy's Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.
Kim Tri and Evan Barrientos are this year’s Hubbard Fellows.  You can be one of the next Fellows – apply now!

The Claire M. Hubbard Fellowship Program bridges the gap between school and career by providing Fellows with a broad set of experiences that supplement their college education.  Fellows are employed for a full year by The Nature Conservancy.  During that year, they spend much of their time doing prairie restoration and management, including invasive species control, prescribed fire, livestock management, equipment maintenance and repair, seed harvest and planting, etc.  In addition, Fellows attend a wide variety of conferences and meetings and gain experience with grant writing, marketing, outreach, research and monitoring, budgeting, conservation planning, and much more.  Each Fellow also designs and carries out an independent project that fits their individual interests.

The Fellowship is based at the Platte River Prairies, west of Grand Island, Nebraska, but Fellows also spend considerable time at the Niobrara Valley Preserve and many other sites.  Click here to see this year’s brochure, which includes much more information and guidance for interested applicants.

The Fellowship is open to graduates (by May 2016) of undergraduate and graduate programs in natural resources, conservation biology, or related subjects.  We are looking for highly-qualified, motivated people with strong leadership and communication skills.  Applications are due January 8 and the Fellowship will begin in early June, 2016.

We are extremely grateful to Anne Hubbard and the Claire M Hubbard Foundation for funding this Fellowship Program. 

Hubbard Fellowship Blog – Plains Pocket Mouse

This post is written by Jasmine Cutter, one of our Hubbard Fellows.  She has been studying the way small mammals use our restored and remnant prairies.

Remember when I said I was going to highlight some more of our small mammal species? Well, at long last, here’s the second installment!

The plains pocket mouse.
The plains pocket mouse (Perognathus flavescens).  So Cute!  Notice the small eyes, small ears, and white dot under the ear.  Top tends to be brown/buff-colored, with a yellowish line along its side and a white underbelly.  Photo by Chris Helzer

Arguably the sleekest and most adorable of the critters I caught, the most distinguishing feature of the plains pocket mouse (Perognathus flavescens) is its fur-lined cheek pouches. Fur-lined cheek pouches!!! Imagine if, when you opened your mouth, on each side there was a little fur-lined pouch that ran all the way back to almost your shoulders! Gives me the heebie jeebies to think about, but pretty awesome if you’re a pocket mouse. The diet of the plains pocket mice is almost entirely grass and weed seeds, and the pouches allow them to carry seeds back to their burrows and cache them.

Based on what I read, it’s thought that the purpose of these pouches being fur-lined is to conserve spit. Pocket mice and their relatives (other pocket mice, kangaroo rats, kangaroo mice) are often associated with arid environments and these critters are all extremely water efficient. The thought is that if pocket mice had a hamster-like pouch, then every time they spit out the seeds they were carrying they’d be wasting precious moisture. If the pouches are fur-lined, then no spit wasted!

fur-lined pockets
Look at those cheek pouches!  Remember, I was only holding this critter for a few seconds before I released it.  only a temporary undignified moment, and then back to the sandhills!

These adaptations help the plains pocket mice go for six weeks without water! Most of the moisture they need is obtained from seeds and their kidneys are extremely efficient. Furthermore, their habits also lend to water conservation; pocket mice spend most of the day underground in burrows where it’s cooler and more humid, they plug their entrance holes to keep in moisture (and keep out predators), and they can change slow their metabolism (enter torpor) when it’s too hot or too cold.

The other crazy thing about the plains pocket mouse is that it is not closely related to any of the other rodents* that I caught. Those other rodents  — northern grasshopper mouse, deer mouse, harvest mouse, voles — all belong to one taxonomic family Cricetidae (which includes true hamsters, voles, lemmings and New World rats and mice), whereas the plains pocket mouse is from the family Heteromyidae. Heteromyidae includes kangaroo rats, kangaroo mice, and pocket mice, though none are technically rats or mice. In fact, the plains pocket mouse is more closely related to pocket gophers than to any other rodent I caught!

This is a very simplified phylogenetic tree of the Order Rodentia. Phylogenetic trees show the inferred evolutionary relationships among species based on similarities/differences in physical and/or genetic characteristics. So whenever two branches come together, it's understood that the join represents the most recent common ancestor. FYI, there are a lot of other critters in the Order Rodentia that are not shown; there are 5 suborders I'm not showing and many branches that diverge from those suborders. Also length of lines is for convenience and doesn't represent any timescale.
This is a very simplified phylogenetic tree of the Order Rodentia. Phylogenetic trees show the inferred evolutionary relationships among species based on similarities/differences in physical and/or genetic characteristics. So whenever two branches come together, it’s understood that the join represents the most recent common ancestor. FYI, there are a lot of other critters in the Order Rodentia that are not shown; there are 5 suborders I’m not showing and many branches that diverge from those suborders. Also length of lines is for convenience and doesn’t represent any timescale.

All this is very interesting, but doesn’t help you identify a plains pocket mouse if you saw it in the field… In my mind, its key identifying features include its small size (usually 7-15 grams, 99-150mm nose to tail tip), small ears usually with a white dot below them, grooved upper incisors (if you hold them by their scruff, you’ll see a line down each upper incisor), and of course, their cheek pouches! They tend to be dark on their back, with a yellowish (“buff-colored”) line on their sides and white/pale underneath.

They are most frequently found in (usually sandy) areas with friable soil. Sandhills are a good bet, as are other fields that have open sandy patches, especially ones that are grazed so they’re more open. In general, plains pocket mice seem to prefer sparsely vegetated areas (hopefully my data will test whether that holds up on our properties).

The author collecting vegetation data for her small mammal research project.
The author collecting vegetation data for her small mammal research project.  Photo by Chris Helzer

In terms of why we care about them, well, they have awesome cheek pouches and barely need any water!!! What else do you want?? Just kidding, there are many more reasons why it’s worth paying attention to them. Most importantly, we still don’t know that much about them. Not a lot is known about their mating or winter habits, and until recently there were sizable gaps in our understanding of their distribution in Nebraska (see Geluso and Wright 2012).

The plains pocket mouse can be found throughout the Great Plains – from Northern Mexico to Minnesota and the Dakotas; yet, it’s local distributions are less well understood. There also seem to be noticeable differences between critters on the western end of their range and the eastern end. So much so, that there are two recognized subspecies of the plains pocket mouse. There is a western subspecies, P. f. flavescens and an eastern subspecies, P. f. perniger.** The eastern subspecies is considered rarer and has been deemed a Tier 1 At-Risk species by the Nebraska Game and Parks Natural Legacy Program.

Look!  A photo of me taking a photo of a pocket mouse!
A photo of me taking a photo of a pocket mouse!

Our Platte River Prairies are right at the edge of the alleged dividing line between the range of the western subspecies and the range of the eastern subspecies, which makes it an especially interesting place to study them. Are we seeing the eastern subspecies, or the western? At this point, the answer seems to be “yes!” Hopefully our population(s) will help the experts to parse the differences between the two subspecies and their range. Trying to define ranges is always tricky, especially because sometimes it’s hard to tell whether a species is actually not in a place, or if people just haven’t looked for it there.

All of this is to say that there’s a lot more work to do! It’s exciting to study a critter that is still fairly enigmatic, and I’m excited to see what future studies discover both in terms of life history knowledge and range/subspecies questions!

* Rodents are from the Order Rodentia, i.e., all the critters I caught except the shrews, the weasel, and the frog.

** The differences between the subspecies are very nuanced and my previous description (and pictures!) should still allow you to identify them as a plains pocket mouse.

2015-2016 Hubbard Fellowship – Apply Now!

We are now accepting applications to join our 2015-2016 class of Hubbard Fellows.  Please share this with anyone who might be interested.

2014-2015 Fellows (and volunteer Sam Sommers) learn plant identification at The Nature Conservancy's Platte River Prairies.
2014-2015 Fellows (and volunteer Sam Sommers) learn plant identification at The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies.

The Claire M. Hubbard Fellowship Program bridges the gap between school and career by providing Fellows with a broad set of experiences that supplement their college education.  Fellows are employed for a full year by The Nature Conservancy.  During that year, they spend much of their time doing prairie restoration and management, including invasive species control, prescribed fire, livestock management, equipment maintenance and repair, seed harvest and planting, etc.  In addition, Fellows attend a wide variety of conferences and meetings and gain experience with grant writing, marketing, outreach, research and monitoring, budgeting, conservation planning, and much more.  Each Fellow also designs and carries out an independent project that fits their individual interests.

The Fellowship is based at the Platte River Prairies, west of Grand Island, Nebraska, but Fellows also spend considerable time at the Niobrara Valley Preserve and many other sites.  Click here to see this year’s brochure, which includes much more information and guidance for interested applicants.

The Fellowship is open to graduates (by May 2015) of undergraduate and graduate programs in natural resources, conservation biology, or related subjects.  We are looking for highly-qualified, motivated people with strong leadership and communication skills.  Applications are due January 9 and the Fellowship will begin in early June, 2015.

We are extremely grateful to Anne Hubbard and the Claire M Hubbard Foundation for funding this Fellowship Program. 

Hubbard Fellowship Post – Dillon the Prairie Doctor

This post is written by Dillon Blankenship, one of our Hubbard Fellows.

Becoming a Prairie Doctor (or Living in a World of Wounds)

Last weekend I drove back to Arkansas to attend a wedding. It is a sizable drive (approximately nine hours from Wood River), but is manageable with a sufficient supply of snacks and music. The trip went smoothly enough and, with the recent honing of my plant identification skills, I was more aware than ever before of the interesting flora to be seen from the interstate. Of course, much of the scenery included corn and soybeans, but there were also many “wild” plants along the way – goldenrod, sunflowers, hoary vervain. Missouri’s I-29 was lined with Illinois bundleflower.

Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) is a native wildflower commonly seen in roadsides this time of year.
Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) is a native wildflower commonly seen in roadsides this time of year.

Unfortunately, there were a lot of sinister plants to be seen too. Musk thistle, drying up now, sloughed its last seeds into the wind. Old stalks of teasel formed highway-side monocultures. Sericea lespedeza engulfed the road edges and outcroppings as I entered the Ozarks and I was welcomed home by a new patch of Queen Anne’s lace beginning its invasion of the field by my house.

I acknowledge that there are some differences of opinion on exactly how invasive or detrimental some of these exotics are, but given the large amounts of time I have devoted to invasive species control thus far in the fellowship, this sea of weeds was a depressing thing to behold.

It made me think of the oft-quoted line from Aldo Leopold’s Round River essay that, “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”

These plants were not new to my journey. They were likely there when I first drove to Wood River to interview for the Hubbard Fellowship in February, and they were certainly there when I drove back to Arkansas in June. The difference is that now I can spot these wounds a mile away (I literally see them in my sleep). When I passed them just a few months ago, I had not yet been educated by my mentors at the Platte River Prairies, nor had I invested so many intimate hours into working with these plants (as I spaded and sprayed their cohorts into oblivion).

I am furthering my ecological education on our prairie in many ways – through mastering species identifications, studying the interactions of fire and grazing, working in restorations, conducting wildlife research, and so much more – yet the ever-present threat of invasives continues to have the most pervasive impact on me. I showed some of my friends around the central Platte recently and found myself saying things like, “…and this,” (with a graceful Vanna White arm swing)  “is all Reed canary grass” or “this pretty flower covering the sandbars to the horizon is the nefarious Purple loosestrife.” (editor’s note – we also have many areas that are not completely overrun with invasives…)

Purple loosestrife and reed canarygrass on the bank of the Platte River.
Purple loosestrife and reed canarygrass on the bank of the Platte River.

Even so, now that I am aware of the damages, I do not think I should shirk away in depression or ignore the problem to save my sanity – this assertion goes beyond the scourge of invasive species to encompass all the other wounds out there.  As Leopold continues, you have to know to see, and then you have to study so you can formulate the best prescriptions possible for healing the natural world.

Wish me luck.

Introducing the New Hubbard Fellows!

We have entered the second year of our Hubbard Fellowship program.  Eliza Perry and Anne Stine completed their Fellowships earlier this season, and we brought in two new Fellows, Jasmine and Dillon, on June 2nd.   They have seen and learned a lot in their first month or so with us, and have agreed to introduce themselves and share some of their early perspectives here in their first of many blog posts.  Dillon’s essay is first, followed by Jasmine’s.

Dillon Blankenship and Jasmine Cutter (with her new hat!) at The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve.

 Dillon Blankenship is an Arkansas native and graduated from Hendrix College in 2012 with a B.A. in Biology and a B.A. in Environmental Studies.  He has studied native pollinators at The Nature Conservancy’s Zumwalt Prairie Preserve in Oregon and has volunteered with TNC in Arkansas where he helped burn and monitor the effects of burning.  He earned a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship in 2012, and spent a year studying honey bees and hive management.  His travel took him to England, Wales, Tanzania, Egypt, India, Russia, and Germany. 

Growing up in northwest Arkansas I was always on the cusp of the Great Plains. My home was definitively in “the woods,” but we shared a property boundary with a neighbor’s herd of bison. I was so close, but I can’t say I had a lot of real contact with prairies until college when I took a summer research position with Oregon State University. They had me chasing native bees in diverse ecosystems across the state, but working on the 33,000 acre Zumwalt Prairie Preserve was, by far, the highlight. I was completely awestruck by the landscape’s expansiveness. Wildflowers stretched to the horizon and I marveled at how, despite the gently undulating hills and absence of trees, it was still possible to lose oneself.

While different from the prairie in eastern Oregon, I have thoroughly enjoyed the last five weeks in Wood River. I identify with the rural-ness out here and am consistently taken by the beauty of our prairie. Stewardship is rewarding work. When I chop a musk thistle or pull up poison hemlock I can see the immediate impact of my effort. I know these actions are a mere drop in the conservation bucket (and that there is often a sad, high possibility of another invader filling the spot I just opened with my spade), but applying my knowledge and skills to real management is something I have been craving for the last few years. I am excited to be in the fray of the conservation profession. Researchers come through with interesting projects, new conservation issues arise for discussion, and I get to be a part of it now. I am excited for all the new experiences and opportunities for professional development that await. Already, I have learned a lot – the depth with which I look across the landscape has probably quintupled. I am recognizing species that were completely foreign when I arrived and am beginning to make inferences about how the land is functioning and responding to the various pressures we place on it.

 

Jasmine and Dillon, along with intrepid volunteer, Sam Sommers (middle) work on some plant identification in the Platte River Prairies.
Jasmine and Dillon, along with intrepid volunteer, Sam Sommers (middle) work on some plant identification in the Platte River Prairies.

Jasmine Cutter grew up in Delaware but is a 2013 graduate of Carleton College in Minnesota.  She has a B.A. in Environmental Studies and most recently was working as a research assistant in the Greater Yellowstone Area, surveying mountain goats and bighorn sheep.  Jasmine has conducted several pollinator surveys as a research assistant, and she has extensive experience as an interpretive educator when she served with Americorps at White Clay State Park in Delaware and with “Kids for Conservation” and the Science Olympiad in Minnesota. 

I first fell in love with prairies in Minnesota. At first I think I liked the novelty – that there could be a landscape that was grass, flowers, and sky – and no trees! As an east-coaster that was pretty crazy. Although there was plenty to see aboveground, I was awed when I first learned that the extent of prairie plants’ roots are often 2-3 times greater than what is visible above. I marveled that these huge root systems allow plants to regrow after fires, and to contribute to the regeneration and retention of nutrients. In addition, I was fascinated by the human aspect of how intentionally-set fires perpetuated the prairies, and how the agricultural productivity of the midwest (and great plains) has been enabled by the rich prairie soils.

For all of these reasons – aesthetic, ecological, cultural – I am excited to be in Nebraska. Already it’s hard to keep track of everything we’ve done. For the most part, we’ve been subduing musk thistles, but we’ve also been catching small mammals (cute photos to follow, I promise), tearing down windmills, learning our plants, cleaning ATVs, meeting TNC people from across the country, building bottomless tanks, hosting a field day, swabbing tadpoles, planting our garden, and learning how TNC functions. I am really excited to build competency in many areas that I currently know nothing about: livestock/grazing, vehicle and tool maintenance, driving large machines, and learning the nitty-gritty of how to plan and assess restoration projects. Although we have big shoes to fill, I’m also looking forward to this blog, and to a chance to hear from all you folks. I greatly value the comments that I have read on previous posts, and I know that they have enhanced my understanding of many topics – so please share your expertise and insights!

 

The Nature Conservancy’s Hubbard Fellowship Program: 2014-2015

Regular readers of this blog are familiar with The Nature Conservancy’s Hubbard Fellowship program.  Our two current Fellows, Eliza and Anne, have been frequent contributors to this blog over the last 6 months.  While they’ll be here in Nebraska for another half year, it’s already time to start finding the next class of Fellows.  If you’re a recent college graduate in a conservation-related field, please consider applying for this opportunity!

Applications for the 2014-15 Hubbard Fellowship are due January 8, 2014.  More information on the Fellowship can be found on our brochure.  To apply, visit http://nature.org/careers and find job #41679.

Anne and Eliza have only been here a little more than 6 months, and have had what seems like several years' worth of experiences.
Anne and Eliza have only been here a little more than 6 months, and have had what seems like several years’ worth of experiences.  Click the photo to see a sharper image.

The Claire M. Hubbard Young Leaders in Conservation Fellowship is a one-year position focused on the ecology and conservation of the Great Plains.  Fellows are full-time salaried employees of The Nature Conservancy, and are exposed to nearly every aspect of working for a conservation organization, including ecology, land management, and ecological restoration, but also marketing, philanthropy, conservation planning, and more.  It’s a great way to transition from college to career by solving that perennial problem for recent graduates: How do you get work experience when you need experience to get work?

To see what this year’s Fellows have been up to, visit the Hubbard Fellowship Page of this blog and read some of their blog posts from the first six months with us.