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.

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. 

The Joy of Being a Mentor

I love giving presentations to school kids, but don’t have the time to do it very often.  However, when a former intern asked me to come talk to her class, it was hard to say no.  As a result, I spent a day last week in Utica, Nebraska talking to the high school biology classes of Centennial Public High School.  Their teacher, Kim (Bontrager) Miller was one of two high school interns I supervised back in 1999.

Our 1999 High School Interns, Jeremy Miller and Kim Bontrager.  Jeremy is now a local farmer and Kim is a high school biology teacher.
Our first two High School Interns in 1999 – Jeremy Miller and Kim Bontrager. Jeremy is now a local farmer and Kim is a high school biology teacher.

Between 1999 and 2006, eight different local high school students spent the summer helping us manage and restore our Platte River Prairies – some of them came back for multiple summers.  Kim was part of the first year of that internship program.  Her brother came along a few years later and worked with us for two summers.

Kim (Bontrager) Miller stands in her Centennial High biology classroom with the class snake.
Kim (Bontrager) Miller stands in her Centennial High biology classroom last week…with the class snake.

It was fun to help Kim teach a new generation of kids about biology and the natural world.  It was also great to see the energy she brings to her classroom, and to watch her enthusiasm rub off on her students.  I’m smart enough not to take credit for the success Kim has found – she’s worked incredibly hard to get herself where she is today.  However, I am proud to have played a small role in the lives of Kim and nearly 70 other interns and seasonal technicians I’ve worked with over  the last 17 years.

Many of those former seasonal staff are now professionals in either conservation or education, but others are farmers, lawyers, and more.  Regardless of their career choice, I hope the time they spent with us helped foster an interest in nature and conservation.  More importantly, I hope they will pass that along to others – just as Kim is doing.

Most of us working in conservation have regular opportunities to interact with students, interns, seasonal technicians, or other young people trying to gain experience and build a career.  It can be tempting to view those people primarily as hired hands who can help us deal with a heavy workload.  However, it’s really important for us to go beyond simply training them to do a task and spend the extra time needed to truly mentor them.  Taking a few minutes out of our day to point out the tracks of an animal, identify a plant, or explain the results of a restoration strategy can mean the world to a young person.  It strengthens their understanding and appreciation of nature, but also helps build a conservation ethic they will keep for the rest of their lives, regardless of career path.

Mentoring is personally rewarding for both mentor and protégé.  More importantly, it’s an essential component of successful conservation.

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.

Hubbard Fellowship Blog – Photos by Eliza

Guest Post by Eliza Perry, one of our 2013-14 Hubbard Fellows (all photos are by Eliza Perry).

The past month has been wild. Instead of writing up a succinct summary, I decided to share a few of my favorite photos I’ve managed to capture in the field (our work is rarely camera-friendly).

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From afar, prairie is a striking landscape with dramatic skies and a vast, quaking floor; up close, however, is a far more interesting view. I had never seen a bird’s nest intentionally woven into grass before working in prairie. This particular nest held five dickcissel eggs. Usually these eggs are accompanied by one or two brown-speckled eggs from a crafty cow bird, who transfer their parental burden onto an unknowing other.

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Invasive species control will always bring up concerns about inadvertent damage. I don’t know the name of this beautiful flower, but I noticed it while spot spraying sericea lespedeza at our property in Rulo. We recently purchased a new backpack sprayer that provides dense, targeted coverage over a plant, but even so, my worry is always in how many neighboring plants unintentionally receive a harmful or fatal dose of herbicide. We could see patches of dead vegetation from last year’s sericea treatment.

During my first few days of spot spraying this season, soaking invasives seemed like a bulletproof plan in light of the natural tendency toward “more is better.” Since then, I’ve learned that this method is not only harmful to the surrounding plant community, but more importantly, it is often counter-productive because it can “burn” the plant past its ability to absorb the chemical. The result is a damaged plant with an intact root system and ability to regrow and flower. This is an ongoing challenge, but I have learned to mitigate some of my impact through application technique. For example, one key is maintaining high pressure in the backpack sprayer pump to avoid drippage between sprays.

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This photo was taken several weeks ago when most of our sensitive briar (Mimosa quadrivalvus) was at an early stage in blooming. The young flowers caught my attention immediately because to me they look like fireworks. I invent names for most of the forbs I don’t recognize until I can get a handle on their proper common names, and I called these “firework flowers” until relatively recently when I finally accepted them as sensitive briar.

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This photo does not adequately capture the plant or structural diversity present in this area. I took it very early on before I understood the significance of either, but as I reviewed the photos I had snapped in the past two months, this one stood out in a different way than it was originally intended to: as an almost comical juxtaposition of cropland and prairie. Of course, agricultural monocultures serve their purpose, but the measures of success and functionality for the two “ecosystems” are so contrary that it makes for an interesting picture to see the two side-by-side. For one, the presence of a “weed” is considered to be the enemy of crop productivity, while prairies are essentially a collection of tenacious (native) weeds. Moreover, monocultures entail the least amount of variety in land management practices by design, while prairies thrive on highly variable land management and substantial disturbance.

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Prairie management involves a lot of equipment and we need to know how to maintain it. Our trailers are particularly important because they allow us to transport heavier equipment like ATVs and skidloaders to properties further away. A few weeks ago, one of our trailers had a small part knocked off. This photo shows Nelson, our land manager, teaching me how to weld it back on. Anne and I are in the process of learning to use all of the exciting hand and power tools in our shop so that we can more effectively help with maintenance and construction projects. Someday I hope we will complete our own.

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Leave it to Anne to find a climbing wall in the middle of a prairie!

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This photo does not do justice to the number of invasive thistles packed into that truck bed. We found a sizeable forest of musk thistles seeding out at the tail end of our thistle season and decided to remove them from the scene entirely because pulling off all of the flowers would have taken a full day. A dumpster brimming with these villains was a satisfying sight after weeks of focusing most of our efforts on eradicating them.

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I have moments every single day in this job when I have to stop what I’m doing to relish the fact that scenes like this are my equivalent to an office. I captured one of these moments one afternoon while scouting our Kelly Tract for Canada thistles. Controlling invasives is a daunting task with some species, and I have found myself feeling defeated to the point of forgetting its importance to our conservation objectives, which has been a good lesson for me. As Chris recently described in a blog post, our goal is to strengthen the overall ecological resilience of our properties, which cannot occur without a resilient plant community.

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We rescued this little lady from the middle of a highway on our way to Niobrara Valley Preserve. There was a stretch of ten or so miles in which we saw a high number of box turtles crossing the road, and virtually none before or after. While she certainly looked on at us indifferently, I thought I could detect a hint of sass in her expression and did my best to capture it here.

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Once Anne had learned how to safely operate this tractor, she proceeded to mow our most recent restoration site for several hours. The key to our success in becoming comfortable using all these new vehicles and tools is, unsurprisingly, practice. Luckily there is no shortage of pastures that need to be mowed, trees that need to be felled, or fences that need to be relocated. Mowing is one of several land management strategies for knocking back invasives by thwarting their growth to prevent or buy time before they seed out. Mowing “burn breaks” is also an essential component of safe prescribed fire burns.

Hubbard Fellowship Blog – Weed Whacking with Konstantin

Guest Post by Anne Stine, one of our 2013-14 Hubbard Fellows:

When one considers that the weed-whacker is the modern incarnation of the scythe, Konstantin Levin’s ecstatic enlightenment while cutting wheat with his peasant tenants in Anna Karenina comes across as a little ridiculous.  It is easy to imagine him, a ruddy-faced and awkward aristocrat, smiling beatifically in the center of a line of serious men going about the business of mowing.

Instead of a wheat field in Russia, this is my work site.
Instead of a wheat field in Russia, this is my work site.  The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

Scythes and weed-whackers use the same efficient, swaying pivot through the body. Back and forth, back and forth, the returning stroke hitting the grass missed in the initial swing.  Such work does provide the opportunity for quiet thoughts.  Unlike Levin, however, I did not achieve enlightenment while weed whacking the grass beneath the 14-gauge wire of an electric fence.  Drifting into the repeating beat of the movement, my mind rippled towards the remarkably competent field technicians I have known.

I have been continuously impressed by the manual aptitude of the technicians I have worked with in my academic career.  If something broke, rather than sitting completely stumped, they had the know-how to wire it together and make it work. I hope to gain a measure of this generalized comfort with mechanical workings during my tenure as a Hubbard Fellow.  I’ve already learned to drive an ATV, a tractor, and a riding mower; and to operate weed-wackers and backpack sprayers.  I’ve set electric fence and helped cut free a calf tangled in wire.  I want to write all of my physically competent colleagues and say “See! I’m learning.”

Similar to on a farm, the summer season in our pastures is the busiest time of year.  We’ve spent most of our hours so far as plant executioners- mowing, spraying, and spading invasives, aggressive natives, and other plants growing where we don’t want them to.  The major difference is that our primary product is a restored and healthy prairie rather than cattle or corn.

Thistle chasing has been our primary objective.  The musk thistle is classified as a noxious weed—this means that we are legally obliged to assist in its eradication.  The musk thistle can grow to be well over a meter high, with multiple fuchsia flower heads.  Their leaves are edged in sharp thorns but no hair, and the undersides of their leaves are green rather than white like the native thistles.  Originating in Europe, it gets its name from the supposedly odiferous roots and vegetation.  We attack them with herbicides and spades.  They are prolific seeders.  Sometimes killing musk thistles can feel like a Quixotic quest, like we are fighting the tide with a bucket.

The enemy (with a grasshopper sparrow sitting on it).
The enemy (with a grasshopper sparrow sitting on it).

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My weapon of choice.
My weapon of choice.

Killing plants and fixing fences is a full time job in the summer growing season.   I have already gained an appreciation for the broad-based knowledge necessary to maintain a working pasture.  I hope to continue to develop my applied skill-set, and I will keep saying to the world: “See! I’m learning.”

New Fellowship Positions Available: Platte River Prairies, Nebraska

Attention recent college graduates from Natural Resources and Conservation programs…

I am excited to announce the new Claire M. Hubbard Young Leaders in Conservation Fellowship Program.  The program will fund two Fellowship positions with The Nature Conservancy of Nebraska.  Fellows will be based here in the Platte River Prairies, but will also spend significant time at other sites around the state and region.

Join us on the Platte River Prairies for a year you'll never forget.
Join us on the Platte River Prairies for a year you’ll never forget.

The Hubbard Fellowship is designed to give recent college graduates the breadth of experience they need to qualify for a fulfilling conservation career.  As opposed to the typical post-graduate experience of bouncing from seasonal job to seasonal job for several years or more, this paid Fellowship position provides comprehensive experience across multiple facets of conservation work- all in a single year.  Fellows will participate in activities ranging from prairie restoration and prescribed fire to fundraising and marketing.  However, the Fellowship will also be individually designed to emphasize the experiences each Fellow wants or needs to prepare them for the career they want.

The Fellowship is open to graduates 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 March 8, 2013 and the position will begin June 1.

If you or someone you know is interested in this opportunity, please click on the links below to learn more:

Hubbard Fellowship Brochure

Official Job Description

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

Volunteer Opportunities – Platte River Prairies, Nebraska

The following is an unpaid advertisement by The Prairie Ecologist…

Need to build experience for a career in conservation?  Looking for a summer get-away that allows you to give back to the world?  Want to increase your knowledge of prairie ecology or natural history?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, consider volunteering with The Nature Conservancy at the Platte River Prairies in Nebraska!  We are looking for a few dedicated people who are willing to give a month or more of their time between May and October, 2012.  You can assist us with seed harvesting, native plant nursery work, invasive species control, fence repair and maintenance, research data collection, and inventory/monitoring of plant and animal populations.  In most cases, we can provide housing during your stay, so your primary expenses would be limited to travel to our prairies and food while you’re here.

Join our team and get experience with seed harvest and many other conservation activities.

We can tailor your experience to fit your individual needs and preferences.  If you’re a student looking for practical job experience, we will make sure you get hands on practice with a wide variety of tools and techniques and can network with our partner organizations.  If you’re more interested in some components of our work than others, we’ll do what we can to accomodate that.  We can also help set up individual research or other projects if you want something more in-depth or need something like that for college credit.

Anyone interested in volunteering with us can contact Mardell Jasnowski at our office (402-694-4191) or by email (mjasnowski@tnc.org) for more information.  We will ask for a resume and references, and will sort through applicants to find a slate of volunteers who match up well with our needs and capacity to provide a good experience for both parties.  There is no deadline for applications – we will begin evaluating them as they come in.