Brown property (Photo by Brent Calver)

Brown property (Photo by Brent Calver)

The day we tried to keep up with a field intern

Jackie Bastianon (Courtesy of Jackie Bastianon)

Jackie Bastianon (Courtesy of Jackie Bastianon)

Jackie Bastianon was the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) 2018 communications intern for the Alberta Region. She is currently studying journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa and hopes to use her writing skills this summer to compel people to care about the environment as much as she does.

Every summer, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) hires a handful of conservation technicians, or interns, in each province. Each intern reports to a natural area manager (NAM), and over the summer their jobs entail helping out with monitoring and stewardship tasks on secured properties.

But what exactly do their jobs consist of day to day?

My supervisor, Carys Richards, and I made up the communications team for the Alberta Region for the 2018 summer. We both worked out of NCC’s Edmonton office and we spent 95 per cent of our time at our desks. So, when we were invited to spend some time in the field with one of NCC’s conservation interns, Daniel Ripmeester, we jumped at the chance to get outside.

We left bright and early and headed out to Gambling Lake, which is an NCC property located in the Beaver Hills, close to Miquelon Lake Provincial Park and the town of Tofield. The sun was already beating down on us when we arrived, and the temperature was inching its way up the thermometer, where it eventually hovered around 29 degrees. 

This property is quite special and is currently being used as the site for several NCC projects to try to improve the native pollinator population. Native plant species have been planted on select sections of the property, but if left unattended these areas will be quickly overrun by invasive species, such as thistle.

As we pulled on work gloves and grabbed buckets and shovels from the truck, Daniel explained that our job for the day was to weed the thistle from the area in and around these sections of the property to allow native species to have access to more space and resources. 

When I first glanced at the section he brought us over to, I couldn't spot one thistle, and I made the mistake of thinking this wouldn’t be a particularly difficult task.

I soon discovered that one of the (many) downsides of thistle is that once you get down on your hands and knees to wrestle the prickly weed and its entire spiraled root from the unwilling dirt, when you look up they are absolutely everywhere.

As we got to work, Carys yelled at me from across the field, "Once you see them, you can't unsee them!"

Oh man, was she right.

Canada thistle (Photo by NCC)

Canada thistle (Photo by NCC)

Every time I stood up, thinking I’d successfully cleared an area, I’d look back and see a whole other patch that seemed to have materialized before my very eyes.

It’s clear that the job of conservation technician isn't always glamorous. Interns like Daniel spend four out of five days per week out in the field and he jokes good-naturedly that, "Most of my job is swatting bugs and bushwhacking.” However, the work done by the NAMs and their conservation interns is crucial to helping maintain NCC-conserved properties.

Daniel explained that each day as a conservation technician consists of visiting new properties and being assigned new tasks. He even admitted that even though the summer was half gone, this was his first day spent pulling weeds. You wouldn’t have guessed it by the way he was working: pulling up those thistles quickly and efficiently without ever breaking a sweat. Regardless of his past weed-pulling experience, he had come much better prepared, physically and mentally, for the task at hand.

As we worked, Daniel said that he's really been enjoying his time as a conservation intern, and that, if the opportunity arises, he would like to stay on part-time for a few months once he returns for his last year of school in the fall. He likes being outside, and he says that once he graduates he hopes to find a job doing field work similar to what he's being assigned with NCC this summer.

The communications team returned home that day somewhat worse for the wear — suffering from sunburn and heatstroke. Daniel, meanwhile, made his way back to his house completely unscathed, ready to prep for his next morning back outside.

For us, it was a day of physical labour in scorching temperatures, but for Daniel it was just another day out in the field.

Thistles: 1
Communications team: 0

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

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