The Student Conservation Association (SCA) mission is to build the next generation of conservation leaders by engaging young people in hands-on internship opportunities.
The best part about day-to-day life as a SCA Intern is that you’re never quite sure what you’ll be doing day-to-day.
In some ways, a typical day is anything but typical. I walk into our office at Petro Plaza, still breathing hard from the bike ride in; five minutes later, we could be loading up snow shovels and gaiters, jumping in the park Jeep to go out and shovel snow on the Harding Icefield Trail, or headed out to Exit Glacier to pull weeds or map dandelions. The Kenai Fjords National Park (KEFJ) Exotic Plant Management Team is a busy team composed of a Biological Science Technician (Travis Fulton), two Youth Conservation Corps high school employees (Brandon Moore and Christian Tofson), and myself, a Student Conservation Association Intern.
We don’t waste time. We’re always on the watch for invasive plants, even when we’re just out to hike and flag a trail. And in the office, there’s always GPS data to correct, trail registers to wrangle, and blogs to write.
Life in the field is always exciting—and not always easy. Weather, and wind, and weeds all keep you on your toes. Plans change, schedules shift, and we might be mapping the dandelion invasion along the road one day, then out on the Harding Icefield Trail shoveling snow the next. Sometimes, invasive plant control means hiking through the woods on a beautiful day while wrenching deep-rooted dandelions from the soil. Occasionally, it means sitting in a puddle in the parking lot while pulling bluegrass seedlings in the rain. But I would never even consider trading working outdoors in the park for the shelter of a cubicle.
What do we do? A lot of our work is preventative—flagging and shoveling snow off the Harding Icefield Trail to protect fragile alpine vegetation from the thousands of trampling boots on the trail every year, or checking the spread of isolated backcountry populations of dandelions on the outwash plain. Because KEFJ has so few weeds, we have the luxury of hand-pulling dandelions, common plantain, and bluegrass in the parking lot and on the trails, where they could potentially spread quickly on hiking boots and bear pelts.
Once a year, we get out to the most remote and isolated parts of the KEFJ coast on the park research vessel, the Serac. On this year’s trip, we pulled dandelions, curly dock (Rumex crispus), and annual bluegrass (Poa annua) at the Park’s Public Use Cabins and a couple of remote beaches, and swept several others for potential weeds. Watching Dall’s porpoises surf the boat prow into Morning Cove, sleeping next to an actively calving Aialik Glacier and hearing sheets of ice thunder into the ocean late into the night, and being eaten alive by mosquitoes on the breathtakingly beautiful cliffs of Dinglestadt Glacier are adventures that I will never forget.
I was born and raised on the Big Island of Hawai’i, which probably has the worst problem with invasive species in the country. At Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, where I worked last summer, faya trees and kahili ginger are spreading like wildfire through the last remnants of native alpine rainforest.
So I’m excited to be out here on the front lines working with weeds here at Kenai Fjords National Park, stopping a potential ecological problem in its tracks before it rages out of control. And proud, too, to call Seward my home for the summer, and to help take care of a truly unique place that influenced me and thousands of other visitors and residents. From the mighty power of Exit Glacier to the rocky fjordland coast and the lush temperate rainforests in between, KEFJ has been an incredible place to work and learn.
It’s a powerful experience to gain a sense of stewardship for the land, and deeply satisfying to know that what I’m doing here is making a difference in this corner of the world. I think it’s worth trying to help preserve priceless pieces of the ecosystem like glaciers, and native grasses, and wild bears. I hope that dandelions will never completely take over the Exit Glacier outwash plain understory, or sweet clover take the place of fireweed and geraniums on Seward’s roadsides.
Want to know more about what life in the park is like? Check out my SCA blog at <followme.thesca.org>, and the Kenai Fjords in the Field blog at <http://www.nps.gov/kefj/blogs/Kenai-Fjords-in-the-Field.htm>.
Stacey Torigoe, Kenai Fjords National Park Resource Management SCA Intern