Sky-high conservation and other unique internship experiences this summer

Logan Salm and Breanna Silversides taking a pre-flight selfie (Photo by NCC)

Logan Salm and Breanna Silversides taking a pre-flight selfie (Photo by NCC)

September 15, 2018 | by Breanna Silversides

The Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) summer internship provides an incredible opportunity to experience and learn hands-on about Saskatchewan’s unique and beautiful landscape. This summer, as a geographical information systems intern, I learned so much — things I never even thought about, like how many different types of grasses can grow in just one square metre. I thought grass was just grass. Now I know that there are dozens of different types of grasses, each with its own characteristics and life cycle. Whether it was grasses, animals or ecosystems, there was always something new to learn.

One of the most memorable and unique experiences I took away from my internship was viewing Saskatchewan from the air. I enjoyed the rollercoaster stomach-drop feeling, which made me the ideal co-pilot during the annual aerial monitoring routes.

There are many properties in NCC’s Saskatchewan Region to monitor, and aerial monitoring allows conservation staff to cover more ground than they would on the ground. The photos were taken from a small three-seater plane at about 1,828 metres above the ground.

Being the co-pilot was my favourite part of the aerial monitoring experience (Photo by NCC)

Being the co-pilot was my favourite part of the aerial monitoring experience (Photo by NCC)

Over the course of three days, I think I spent 20 hours in the air. It was a lot of fun. Everyone in the aerial monitoring crew played an important role. I was both the photographer and the co-pilot. I definitely enjoyed taking the photos, looking out the window and seeing the amazing prairies and plots of land. However, I enjoyed being co-pilot the most. I ran the GPS and instructed the pilot on where to go. It was so cool to have to give directions to the pilot based on a flight plan and having the plane respond. It wasn’t all fun and games though. While we were having fun, we were also collecting important data that informs conservation actions on NCC properties.

Logan and I on the aerial monitoring flight (Photo by NCC)

Logan and I on the aerial monitoring flight (Photo by NCC)

I gained a whole new appreciation for what NCC does. I looked out the window and saw the quilt-like landscape of crops, and although it was beautiful, it was also a reminder of how important conservation efforts are because, from above, you can see how human interaction has forever changed the broader landscape.

What surprised me the most was although we were fairly high up, when we reached Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area, I could spot some of the bison below! They were very small, but the pilot reassured me that they were in fact bison due to their-two toned colour.

Aerial monitoring was very different from any other work I have done in the field. It was truly a once-in–a-lifetime opportunity. Seeing so many different parts of Saskatchewan in three days was incredible. Also, who knew that there were so many small towns with grass runways and selling plane fuel! It was a whole new lifestyle to get a peek at.

This is only one of the many amazing experiences that I had while working at NCC. Other memories were more intimate. For example, the first time I correctly recognized a plant using a plant identification manual or the morning I woke up before the sunrise to release banded birds. I am also no longer as terrified of cows as I was at the beginning of the summer. These are moments that I will remember for the rest of my life.

I am so grateful that I was given the chance to try such a diverse range of work this summer. I have another year of school ahead of me and I am still trying to determine what type of environmental work I would like to do.

NCC has shown me the incredible benefits and needs for conservation efforts. Getting the chance to try things like aerial monitoring has informed my future career decisions. Thank you to everyone who made my summer wonderful, and I hope to see my NCC family again one day in the field or maybe from the sky.

By Breanna Silversides, as told by Logan Salm.

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

Breanna Silversides

About the Author

Breanna Silversides is a GIS summer intern with the Nature Conservancy of Canada's Saskatchewan region.

Read more about Breanna Silversides.

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