Prairie grasslands, Alberta (Photo by River Run Photography)

Prairie grasslands, Alberta (Photo by River Run Photography)

Prairie fire

Megan Jensen and Ashlyn Herron (Photo courtesy Ashlyn Herron/NCC staff)

Megan Jensen and Ashlyn Herron (Photo courtesy Ashlyn Herron/NCC staff)

Ashlyn Herron was the 2019 conservation intern for the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) Alberta’s southeast prairie grassland region. She is currently studying renewable resource management at Lethbridge College. Ashlyn loves all wildlife and is passionate about conserving Canadian’s wild heritage for current and future generations to enjoy.

Most kids who grow up in a small prairie community count down the days until they can leave it. They all want to spread their wings and see the world. I was no different from my friends, and all I wanted was to see my hometown in that rearview mirror. I wasn’t interested in the Prairies — they were old news to me. I’d been there and seen that.

It’s said that you never know the value of something until it becomes a memory. In 2017, my family made the decision to sell our farm. I felt a part of my heart and my identity remain alongside those acres of land when we left.

My 2019 summer conservation intern position with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is the first field job I’ve had. I figured we would be working exclusively in the forested Cypress Hills, so I was a bit confused that I would be based out of Medicine Hat for the summer. I honestly never considered that a career in conservation would include the Prairies.

Prairie grassland (Photo by Ashlyn Herron/NCC staff)

Prairie grassland (Photo by Ashlyn Herron/NCC staff)

I don’t think I will ever forget my first field day. The property we visited was a textbook prairie landscape: dry, endless and as flat as they come. Some people could pass through this beautiful place and not even bat an eye, but I didn’t see it that way. I felt like I was home for the first time in almost two years, and I could breathe again.

The warm winds greeted me like an old friend and swirled through my hair the same way it did when I was a child. The spicy-sweet smell of sage brought me back to sitting in the middle seat of a dusty old Ford truck, while I was checking cattle with my dad and grandpa. Hearing the rich melody of western meadowlark in the distance sent me back to our farm’s deck, with my old golden retriever, to watch the setting sun as it lit the open sky ablaze.

This field season has sparked a fire within me that had been extinguished for some time. I realized being on the Prairies is what sets my soul on fire. I have fallen, head over heels, back in love with our prairie grasslands.

My eyes have been opened to the struggle to save and protect this ecological treasure. I fiercely want to protect our native prairie, and work with landowners to conserve it for generations to come. Our grasslands are the most endangered ecosystems in Alberta. I encourage everyone to go and see how absolutely breathtaking our grasslands truly are.

Ashlyn and Michelle (Photo courtesy Ashlyn Herron)

Ashlyn and Michelle (Photo courtesy Ashlyn Herron)

I can’t turn back time and re-live the days I got to spend on the farm growing up, but now I will steer my future toward blending my love of conservation with my deep-rooted agricultural values and upbringing.

I am so thankful that I have the opportunity to work with NCC and Megan Jensen, the natural area manager, in southeastern Alberta this summer. Alongside the priceless experiences that will help me shape my future, NCC has reconnected me to the land and helped me discover my passion.  I may no longer live on the Prairies, but I will always be a prairie girl.

Take it from someone who knows first-hand: our prairie grasslands are not to be taken for granted.

­­The Conservation Internship Program is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Summer Work Experience program.

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