The end of a chapter. I hate to see it come because that means ending something that has been so impactful and beneficial, but at the same time I am taking with me, my experiences and new networks to further my career in the conservation world. It can be hard to capture emotions with words and summarize impactful experiences in paragraphs but I will try my best to describe the Huron Pines AmeriCorps (HPA) program and Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) have done for me. More importantly what it has done for Michigan’s wildlife, habitat and natural resources.
Quality habitat is disappearing, invasive species are moving in, our hunting heritage is declining and certain species are being threatened. I wanted to help, I needed to help. There were a couple of things I knew about myself and my career before coming to this program. One being that I love to educate others about our natural resources and how hunting, fishing and trapping can benefit you as a conservationist. Two being that I was lacking in hands-on field experience and how to lead and organize groups, meetings or events. I was slightly discouraged because I felt that my inexperience in those areas limited my ability to get a job in the conservation career field. Enter the unsung hero, MUCC and the HPA program.
Last Fall, the HPA program recruited 29 members for the 2019 10-month service term to partner with 29 conservation organizations and natural resource agencies across the state. I was partnered with MUCC as their Engagement Specialist. My 10-month service term was from January to November.
There is nothing more imperative than communication in the office or out in the field and that is exactly what I received when serving under my supervisor and MUCC Education Director Shaun McKeon. During my first week, we had several meetings to map out exactly how I would fit into this position and what I was looking to gain. As their Engagement Specialist, I primarily served alongside the OTG Coordinator and the OTG program helping lead and organize projects. As soon as the On the Water (OTW) program launched this summer, I jumped on board with that program as well. To throw some numbers at you, during my 10-month service term with the OTG & OTW program I have…
- Helped enhance 457.8 acres of wildlife habitat on public land by attending 21 OTG projects, 8 of which were getting school kids outside with the OTG Jr. program and 2 of which directly benefited access trails
- Removed 960 pounds of trash by attending 4 OTW projects
- Traveled to and Impacted 11 different State Game Areas, 3 State Forests, 1 State Park, 1 City Park and 1 National Forest
- Engaged 681 volunteers in being active conservationists for their public lands and waters
I had made goals for myself before starting my journey at MUCC and one that makes me laugh is my sticky note that read, “Engage 30 volunteers” in which I drew a stick figure that said, “Yippee, conservation.” “Yippee” is right, Mr. stick figure. We crushed our goal by 2,170%. Not to mention that I was able to make connections across the state by working with DNR Wildlife Biologists/Technicians, sportsmen & women and naturalists. I also tackled one of my hurdles, gaining hands-on field experience by using and facilitating habitat tools. Behind the scenes, Shaun, OTG Coordinator Makhayla LaButte and OTW Coordinator Emma Nehan included me in the administrative side of planning for projects and events. Besides having knowledge out in the field when it comes to habitat management, the administrative side of facilitating a project or event is critical if you want to be successful and make an impact on the public. However, on a personal note, the field stuff was pretty fun, especially when I went from never touching a chainsaw to cutting down my first tree (yes, I went through the proper training).
When I was not in the field battling invasive species and building wildlife habitat on public lands, I was at outreach events geared for both kids and adults. My passion lies with educating adults and I was able to do so by speaking with several land-owners and Cooperative leaders on how to become better leaders in the field. The Wildlife Cooperatives Coordinator, Morgan Jennings, and I planned a webinar series aimed towards educating landowners about Michigan’s deer herd. There is more to come from her program and although it hasn’t dropped yet, get ready, because this girl knows how to work hard and she is determined to make a difference for Michigan’s Cooperatives. Working down the age ladder to school kids, I traveled the state to youth-targeted outreach events to educate about Michigan’s wildlife and habitat. What I enjoyed the most about this was seeing how much fun kids had when identifying a bufflehead duck or shooting archery for the first time. In total, I spoke to over 600 kids during my time here at MUCC.
Outside of my duties at MUCC, the HPA program offered several trainings across the state in various topics. Some of the trainings were what I like to call, “adulting” trainings where we learned how to give an effective presentation or how to define a problem before finding a successful solution. Others included river surveys, wildland fire training and becoming certified in education programs like Project Learning Tree & Project Wild.
Wow, I can’t believe how fast my time here flew by. There is loads more that I could dive into about my time here with MUCC and the HPA program. Thank you Shaun, the most supportive and constructive supervisor there is. Thank you to the field team (Morgan, Emma, Makhayla) for continuing to make a difference by directly impacting public and private lands and engaging thousands of volunteers and private landowners. Thank you Nick Green for continuously tearing apart my writing assignments, you made me grow as a writer and I cannot thank you enough for that, oh, and for bringing in your dogs (bonus). Thank you Max Bass for being a constant ball of positive energy for the kids down at camp and for inviting me to teach your campers how to hunt turkeys. Thank you Ian FitzGerald and Amy Trotter for constantly fighting for our members’ policies. I have learned a lot through your tenacity and passion for representing Michigan’s hunters, anglers and trappers. Thank you Sue Pride for being the first smiling face I see in the morning as I walk in the door, this place literally can’t function without you. Thank you Sarah Topp for coordinating this whole experience with AmeriCorps, because all of us are walking away better conservation leaders and we owe it to your leadership and Huron Pines.
Thank you to everyone I have met while on my 10-month journey. I can honestly say that what made this whole experience worth it (beyond furthering my career) is seeing how connected we all are as hunters, anglers, trappers, conservationists, naturalists, birders, hikers, kayakers, you name it. This journey reassured me that I made the right choice in this career path because of all the positive and hardworking people I met along the way. I know that Michigan is in good hands.
With that being said, I am happy to announce that I have accepted a temporary full-time position with MUCC as their new Club Administrator. A position created by Amy and Shaun to help further our engagement with our members and affiliates. Stay tuned MUCC members, I promise I won’t let you down.
“In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught” – Baba Dioum