Out West Blog

Notes, photos and updates from the Center's student researchers and summer interns working at organizations across the region.


Fogust at its Finest



Image: While harbor seals dive right in the water, elephant seals always look back.

By Jaclyn Marcatili
B.A., International Relations, 2016
Historic Preservation Intern at Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

Fogust is for real. I’m grateful that I conducted most of my field work in June and July so that I could use this foggiest of months to work mostly on recording and processing the data that I’ve gathered. The data includes photographs, UTM coordinates, sketches, and measurements of a multitude of anti-aircraft positions around the park. While the ambiguity that I discussed in my last blog post absolutely remains, I think I have learned to find a joy in that challenge rather than being entirely frustrated by it as I was at the start of this internship. I am leaving behind for my colleagues a report on all of the sites that I’ve visited, fruitful or not, to highlight all of the ambiguity involved. I’m also suggesting the sites that I think could be great examples for the interpretation team to tackle so that park-goers can learn the context of these structures that they stumble across on almost every trail.

Even though my job involves hiking in one of the most breathtaking areas of the bay area, working on a single project can become tiresome. Luckily, I’ve had many days that break the monotony. On one of those days, I accompanied my supervisor on a surveying mission. There will be some reconstruction done on the torpedo wharf between Crissy Field and Fort Point soon, which meant it was time to call in the archeologists to see if there’s anything that the construction crews should avoid. We hired some contractors to see whether anything at the bottom of the bay around the wharf was made of metal, which would indicate the need to handle it carefully. I was glad to have an excuse to be on a boat in the bay for the first time! While doing a million figure eights and going back and forth in choppy waters to cover as much surface area around the wharf as possible was not necessarily the most comfortable for me, the beautiful trip to and from Sausalito made it worth it.

Another day off from my main project was when I accompanied our neighbors, the Marine Mammal Center, to Point Reyes for a seal release. They released four harbor seals and two elephant seals on a small beach near an elephant seal rookery. It was all over in about five minutes, but still a heart-warming afternoon (see photo above for proof).

Finally, there was the day we held a seminar with students from Chico State who have been examining the bones that were found at Fort Mason half a year ago in the midst of a lead remediation project. The students presented on the forensic aspects of the bones, including calculations that they’ve done on the minimum number of individuals represented in the collection, the most likely number of individuals, how they conducted pair matching, how much pathology was present in the bones, etc. My colleagues presented on the historical research they’ve done on the who/what/when/why there was a pit of seemingly random bones outside what used to be the hospital at Fort Mason. Right now they have a compelling story that still sounds a little speculative to me, so I won’t relay it here. I’ll let your imagination run wild instead.

And just like that, the summer is over! I’m going to take a long walk this afternoon and then bid good-bye to the Headlands for a little while. After watching friends travel the globe and lounge by the pool following graduation, I’m ready for my post-summer break now, just in time for some warmer weather in San Francisco. Perfect timing if you ask me.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

I'll Be Back



Image: Rachel Lam in front of three descriptions she wrote for the 2016 exhibit Why Yosemite Collects

By Rachel Lam
B.A., Undeclared, 2016
Museum Intern at Yosemite National Park

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

I closed the door to my house in El Portal for the last time on the 20th of August. There was no sadness. Well, that might be misleading. What I mean to say is that I felt nothing walking away from my nominal residence of two and a half months. For my actual home of two and a half months, Yosemite National Park, I feel many emotions. I feel gratefulness, nostalgia, and awe. The day before I had driven out of Yosemite for the last time and I was all awe. As my little white Hyundai Sonata tumbled along Highway 140, I gawked at the scenery like I had on my first drive in. The Valley is impressive. It plays tricks on your eyes. The Merced River races the asphalt through giant cliffs beside giant trees – trees so towering that the cliffs, one hundred times larger, seem unrealistic and impossible.

The beauty of Yosemite will most likely dot my dreams for a long time. I’m grateful for the break I found this summer in its waterfalls and boulders, but I’m mostly grateful that I didn’t just appreciate the area. My job at the Yosemite Museum gave me a base of history and culture with which I thought about the area. A place is much more than what it looks like. A place is its past, its people, and at least a little different for each individual.

For me, Yosemite is many things. It’s where many wonderful, hilarious, and kind people work. It has a complicated history between the park service and its local tribes and groups. It knows my sweat, laughter, and annoyance with tourist traffic. It’s helped me understand myself in a work environment. I now know that I don’t like to do the same task for a long period of time unless it’s reading or writing. I can confidently say that I love analyzing things - objects, ideas, or people. I think I better understand the connection between liking what you do and liking why you do - in other words, working for a purpose is empowering and the park service has an inspiring mission of preservation and protection.

I feel blessed to have had this experience and I am already nostalgic for this summer. However, I did not and I will not say goodbye to Yosemite. I know that I'll be back.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

La La Land



Image: Benito Juárez Park

By Caroline Spears
B.S., Atmosphere and Energy Engineering, 2017
Climate-Smart Cities Intern at The Trust for Public Land

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve loved LA, and I’ve heard a lot of people say that too – yeah, the traffic we could do without , but there’s character in a way that you don’t expect in a sprawling metropolis.

For example:

Expectation: Faceless, steel-and-glass skyscrapers, new-and-shiny, vaguely similar homes.
Reality: A historical smorgasbord of architectural styles.

Expectation: Car-hopping between vast parking lots and massive box stores.
Reality: Not enough parking, but lots of tiny, unique-and-strange places popping up all throughout the city. And, crazily enough, the public transit’s pretty good.

The self-aware, intensively instagrammed trendiness of the Melrose district + the orchestratedly carefree vibe of Venice give a breadth to the city that defies both boredom and whatever expectation you had when you came here. Walking around each neighborhood, the tree-lined skyline pulses with the question: what makes a place a place? Like a real one, one with traditions and history and community and weird myths and quirks? How did LA get this weird, performative vibe – where even the classic LA palm trees aren’t from LA at all, but imports from Spain? How many rhetorical questions can I ask before you stop reading this blog post?

The difference between expectations and reality here in LA has got me thinking about the anchoring, centering power than unique places have. While it pains me to see things like mountaintop removal for ecological and social reasons (The people living downstream! The animals!), what gets me even more is the erasure of location, the flattening and washing away of what was once An Individual Place. It’s the same when lawns don’t use native landscaping: Where are we when we use the same 18 plant species in every single lawn in North America? How can we know where we are?

My internship this summer at the Trust for Public Land has gotten me thinking about these questions from a solutions-oriented standpoint. At TPL, I’ve seen parks created with beauty and community in mind. It’s not a rush to stamp as many cookie-cutter parks as possible into the fabric of a city – instead, it’s a longer, slower, more deliberate process. Community members write poetry and design murals that are inscribed on the parks’ walls. Artists create giant mosaic dragons and creative, unique play spaces. At the end, each space has its own character, with the imprint of the community in its design. These parks, and the wilderness areas that TPL conserves, make Los Angeles richer, more diverse, and more uniquely fascinating. They are places that help people send down roots, holding the city steady and strengthening its foundation.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

Getting Down, Getting Out



Image: Be a good intern, and you'll get a cupcake.

By Iain Espey
B.A., Philosophy, 2018
Sales and Marketing at Heyday

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

Before the end of spring quarter, each Bill Lane intern was asked to fill out a “learning plan” for the summer. In mine, I was flippant. Plan what I’m going to learn? Um, doesn’t that seem kind of contrary to actual learning? I figured anything of real value that I’d learn wouldn’t be the sort of thing I could pin down before having learned it. You don’t walk in and shake hands with life lessons; they sneak up on you.

So, what did I plan on learning in my internship? About publishing, that’s what. And what would I do with my time outside of work? I claimed I would visit every coffee shop in Berkeley and create a psychogeographic representation of the city based on that. (I have a BOSP Overseas Seminar/beach vacation on the Croatian coast to thank for that post-Marxist malarkey.) The former I did do, but (surprise!) the second I never got around to.

The first thing I had to learn is that I’d have to learn what I’d have to learn: a confusing, not particularly comfortable position. For example, sometime during my first week on the job, my boss asked me to make an events e-blast that would be sent out to Heyday’s thousands of newsletter subscribers. “You’ve used HTML, right?” Well, no, I hadn’t used HTML before, and I couldn’t help but wonder, Should I have? I’m twenty years old and I don’t even really know what HTML is; did I screw up somewhere along the line?

As the summer went on, I began to get a sense of what jobs took what skills, what kind of experience it takes to advance from mailing postcards and carrying boxes to doing a job where you’re actually in charge of something, and what skills I lacked that I should probably get on developing. This, I now realize, is an important kind of learning, one I never really considered having to do, and one that I now foresee spending much of my twenties doing.

Of many most important parts of my experience at Heyday, perhaps the most-most important was the informational interviews with the staff. Most of the time, these interviews started out with a question to me and my fellow intern, Kate: What do you want to know? And our response can be summed up in two subsequent questions: What do you do, and how did you get your job? These, for me, were and are the big questions. This may come as a surprise to those of you who have been adults for a while, but it’s been difficult for me to imagine what life in the working world actually feels like, how it feels and what it even means to do a job.

Two moments have stuck with me most from these interviews. The first was when Heyday’s sales manager, Christopher, said that it takes a year to learn to do any job. I thought on that comment for days afterward. I felt there was some significance in it that I couldn’t quite grasp, until finally I understood. A year is a long time for anyone, but it is a hell of a lot longer for a twenty-year-old. I have trouble even staying focused on a single Youtube conspiracy theory video for more than four minutes (I watch them on 1.25 speed so I can move on quicker); to spend a full year learning a single job is unfathomable to me. I hadn’t understood the scale of time involved in adult life until then.

And then there was my interview with Steve Wasserman, Heyday’s incoming publisher. “What did you learn in college that most helped you when you started working?” I asked. Without hesitation, he said, “How to type.” Perfectly reasonable for a man who graduated in the early seventies, I thought, but sort of unhelpful to a millennial. He may have adopted the computer, but I was born to use it. My generation was typing before we could speak, flexing our texting thumbs while floating in the womb. The comment stayed with me, and again it took time for me to unravel its importance. Yes, there are skills that I lack that I want to develop, but the other side of the coin is the realization that I already have the basic skills necessary to do many jobs. There’s knowing how to use database programs or write copy or create a sell sheet, but there’s another, less demonstrable kind of knowledge that comes having applied those skills in different ways, in different contexts. That, I have come to think, is what “job experience” really consists of.

Now, as I wrap up my final day in the Heyday office, there is a lot I can take away from this experience. Some of it is easy to put into words, some of it, not so much. I know exactly what some of it means, while some of it may only come to “mean” something in the light of years to come. Whatever lies ahead of me, I greet it, as always, with a side-eye and a healthy dose of suspicion.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

Landscapes Aren’t the Only Resilient Thing at SFEI



Image: Photographing historical documents at the Society of California Pioneers.

By Kate Roberts
B.S. Earth Systems, 2017
Resilient Landscapes Intern at the San Francisco Estuary Institute

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

In terms of academics and career, I can fully say that I’ve learned so much more than I could have imagined at the beginning of the summer. In my learning plan, I wrote that I wanted to do different things than what I’d studied in class, and I most definitely have. From learning how to skim captain’s journals from the 1890s (cursive back then was crazy, let me tell ya), to creating graphics for sediment placement plans, to interviewing businesses over the phone on their experience with native landscaping, to writing introductory paragraphs for reports, to teaching myself GIS, I branched out in so many ways than I had before.

This was due in huge part to the incredible people I worked with this summer. Even though I had almost no experience with the tools and techniques I’d be using on several of these projects, my coworkers had an incredible amount of trust in my ability, and this allowed me to try so many new things. They gave me a ton of freedom in shaping the direction of these projects, and that seemed pretty rare to me. Their kindness and accessibility gave me the confidence to speak my mind, try new ideas, and really explore the projects that I was enjoying. These people worked long hours to meet project deadlines, planned extensively to meet budgets, and are extremely passionate about the work that they do. If I had worked with another set of individuals, I might have had a less exciting and less beneficial summer. There were several stages in projects I worked on where they could have been handed off to a more experienced person, but they allowed me to experiment with the data and material on my own. This definitely pushed me to grow a lot and think beyond what I already knew.

Coming into this summer, I really didn’t know what types of projects I would be working on. I could not have imagined the vast number of different types of projects that are worked on at SFEI. It completely opened my eyes to all the possibilities that exist in these types of organizations. From water quality to historical ecology to human health to climate change, I witnessed a seemingly endless number of combinations, making each project unique. It also made me realize that I can be happy working on many different kinds of projects. I saw how possible it is to create a niche for yourself in this work environment, how you can find projects that really interest you in all types of programs and subjects.

Most importantly, I’ve realized just how much of a role the people I work with play in my experience. The people at SFEI had a tremendous impact on my summer and made my time here truly wonderful. From trivia night to group lunches to long car rides to chatting in the kitchen, the people I worked with this summer made me laugh, pushed me to think independently, gave me life advice, helped me grow, and in the end, make me sad to leave SFEI.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

The Summit After Freshman Year



Image: A photo from the top of Cloud's Rest (9,930 feet from the ground).

By Rachel Lam
Undeclared, 2019
Museum Intern at Yosemite National Park

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

I am nineteen years old. Last June I finished my first year at Stanford University and then promptly began an internship at Yosemite National Park. I work in Yosemite Valley at the park’s museum. Over 5 million natural and cultural objects make up our collections – including paintings and prints by Thomas Hill and Chiura Obata, negatives and photographs by Carleton Watkins and Ansel Adams, Paiute and Miwok basketry, native herbarium, native biological and geological specimens, and other Yosemite artifacts like historic park ranger gear.

Though I’m not exactly sure what I will major in or what jobs I’ll hold in the future, last winter I decided that this summer I would work in a museum. Three interests of mine intersect in museums: art, history, and anthropology. I wanted to see if museum work was something I might want to do as a career. So I applied to a few internships and decided to work in the museum at Yosemite.

So far my work has comprised of inventorying, cataloging, rehousing, researching, and writing descriptions for exhibits. I like the latter two tasks the most. The first three are interesting because I get to handle fascinating objects, but the actual tasks are a bit too repetitive for my tastes. I like how when I research or write, every word I read or make is new. My internship allows for a special project which I create and complete myself. I’ve decided to research the park service’s relationship with the seven American Indian tribes traditionally associated with the Yosemite area. I hope to revise several web pages on the official Yosemite National Park website and perhaps lay the groundwork for a future exhibit. It’s a very complex topic with a lot of conflict. I have been reading books on the subject and was able to attend the 14th Annual All Tribes Meeting - where Yosemite National Park Service leaders meet with leaders from the local native communities. I’ve learned a lot of the history of their relations and some of it is quite sad, for example the last native eviction by the park service was in 1969 and involved burning native homes. However, the meeting gave me a sense of hope. All of the people in attendance were very respectful of each other. It seems like today’s park service and tribal leaders have begun to forge better relationships. They are attempting to work together to care for area they all love immensely.

After a busy (and sometimes very stressful) year at Stanford, this internship feels a bit like a retreat. I have a lot of time to think, hike, read, swim, draw, adventure, and journal. All activities I love, but didn’t really do as much as I’d have liked this school year. One of my favorite hikes so far has been Cloud’s Rest. It’s a challenging hike - 14.4 miles round trip. It leads to one of the best views in the park. I’ve never been able to see so far in all directions before. From that vantage, the earth seems to want to impress upon her viewers a sense of adventure, appreciation, and acceptance. The summit of Cloud’s Rest feels a bit like my internship at Yosemite and this summer in general. I can see how far I’ve come in nineteen years of life. I can see the many directions in which one can go. I’m not sure what I will do in the future, but somehow I know that it'll be okay.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

Farewell to Life in Ashton



Image: Pictured left to right: Justin, Jack (graduate intern), Sam (W&L intern at Flat Ranch), Reid (W&L intern at HFF), and Melissa (research associate), atop Mount Borah

By Justin Appleby
B.S., Civil & Environmental Engineering, 2017
Environmental Modeling Intern at Henry's Fork Foundation

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

On March 8, I found out I’d be spending my summer in a small town of just over one thousand people, called Ashton, Idaho and practically jumped for joy in the back of a classroom. I texted my parents and friends and group chats, and I started to plan all I would do during my most adventurous summer yet. On June 9, I left Stanford, buzzing for all of the outdoors opportunities the weekends would provide, yet cautiously optimistic about my ability to accomplish the project that had been set out for me. And now, nine and a half weeks into my internship, with three days in the office left to go, I look back on what has turned out to be an unforgettable summer. I saw so much of this geologically and visually stunning area, and I learned so much from my work on the project given to me. Through my project, which has seemingly grown every week, and helped to set up the Foundation for long term success in water quality studies along the Henry’s Fork, I have learned so much about web development, data management, legal issues with water rights, self-teaching, and the non-profit environment. Living out here has helped me grow in so many ways and I feel ready for the next step: applying what I learned here to my future and making sure I set myself up for the long-term.

Project Update

It became clear as I undertook this project, that I would only be able to touch the tip of the iceberg. The end goal for this project is a fully functioning web app displaying live data from twelve sondes in a variety of interactive ways, certainly not a project one single intern can spend one summer finishing. What I can present at the end of the summer, however, is a simple web app with the framework in place for another incoming tech-savvy intern to make extensions to functionality, extensive research and notes on automatic data transmission and continuous monitoring, a single deployed data logger transmitting data from one site to the office on an hourly or bihourly basis, and notes on how to ensure the longevity of this web app, as data files increase from one or two years in size to upwards of ten or twenty years.

I can’t say how long it will take to reach the finished product, but I can say that the way forward is paved, and I am excited to see what Melissa, our new research associate Bryce, and future interns can accomplish with the foundation I have built for this project. It was a pleasure showing Melissa and Bryce my progress today, going almost line-by-line and remembering how many hours I spent trying to make certain lines work. Lately I have been hitting roadblocks that would take longer and longer – the most recent one taking two days – to surmount. It was fun to flashback a few weeks and remember how far I have come.

The Weekends

In my last blog post, I talked about reaching higher elevations each time I took a trip into the mountains, with the highest being Buck Mountain in the Tetons, just shy of twelve thousand feet. Since then, I have hiked to the state high-points in both Montana and Idaho, Granite Peak and Mount Borah, both well above twelve thousand. Accompanying me on the trip to Mount Borah were Reid and Jack, both interns who left last weekend, and Melissa. It was a memorable trip and a culmination of all the bonding we got to do over the course of the summer.

Both mountains were incredible in completely different ways. To reach Granite Peak, my Stanford friend and I had to trek through a dozen miles of total wilderness, with hardly a trail in sight. We plunged in near-freezing lakes and took shelter from afternoon storms in total isolation. To reach Mount Borah’s summit required a mile of elevation gain in just under four miles of trail that sometimes felt closer to a dirty Stairmaster than a hiking trail. And you could see the parking lot from the summit. I also took a one-night trip to City of Rocks National Reserve, in southern Idaho, a playground of spires, boulders, and towers, a climber’s paradise.

Leaving Ashton

Living out here, as fun and fascinating as it’s been, has not been completely easy. Eight months since Christmas make this the longest time I have been away from home in my life, and that number will grow to nine before I see Massachusetts again. Sometimes the cell service falters for entire evenings at a time, disrupting plans I have to call home or talk to the people I miss. It has gotten lonely out here ever since the rest of the interns moved on, but that has given me time to contemplate and narrow down decisions about my long-term future, and mentally compile all that has happened, good and bad, this summer and this past year. I may not have another time in the near future or in my life where I can pause and reflect like this and that has no doubt been a good thing.

Looking Ahead

I will be starting my Senior year at Stanford in about a month, and I plan to finish my Civil Engineering degree and pursue a masters at Stanford as well. The two fields I am considering within the Civil and Environmental Engineering department are “Atmosphere & Energy” and “Structural Engineering & Geomechanics.” Hopefully some of my coursework in the fall will help me decide before the application deadline in early January. Before then, a week from today will be the climax of my climbing summer, as I attempt to summit the Grand Teton. The day after, I leave the Greater Yellowstone Area for good on what promises to be an epic road trip to Southern Utah’s canyon country with my sister. All of this has been planned to ensure I arrive on campus in time for the Stanford Football home opener against Kansas State, September 2.

I cannot wait for everything that is to come. Another year at Stanford, another football season, an epic road trip, and surely more adventures and stories to tell. I have no plans for next summer, but I can’t imagine having a more incredible summer than this one, one where I learned so much, saw even more, grew in so many ways, put to shame those who didn’t think Idaho would be fun, and had some of the best and most important ten weeks I can remember.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

Adventures On and Off the Pacific Northwest Trail



Image: Sunset on the Pacific Northwest Trail in the Kettle Range

By Courtney Pal
B.S., Earth Systems: Anthrosphere and B.A., Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, 2018
Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail Intern in Colville, Washington

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

When I think back on these past two months in Colville, Washington, what stands out to me the most is the breathtaking places that I’ve seen and the interesting people that I’ve met. Take last night, for example. I spent the evening sitting on the porch of Snow Peak Cabin, a little shelter nestled high in the Kettle Crest. Pouring through the trail registers for the past few years, it was easy to see the growth in popularity of the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail (PNT), the trail on which the cabin sits—and the trail I’ve spent the past two months studying.

“7-23-10,” one entry is dated. “Greetings to whomever. We, I believe, are two of only one or two other PNT hikers currently on the trail.” Then, jump ahead a few years—now it’s 2015, and another set of thru-hikers have made an entry. “We wish we had gotten here at 5:30pm rather than 9:30am,” this one says. It doesn’t mention that there will be somewhere close to 20 additional thru-hikers coming through that same summer. The trail isn’t crowded now by any means, but it’s not as rare to spot a PNT thru-hiker these days. As I found out, you can ask almost any business owner in either of the three trail towns that I've worked with-- Metaline Falls, Northport, and Republic. The hikers are coming through now more and more regularly, bringing with them the opportunity for towns to develop a sustainable recreation economy.

Off the trail, my main task has been hosting community meetings in each of the three trail towns located in Northeastern Washington. Prior to these meetings, I had spent time going door-to-door in towns talking to local business owners and residents about the economic opportunities the trail offered. I was excited that the meetings would offer the opportunity for an even greater segment of the public to get involved in planning how their community could grow around the trail. Indeed, some of the most insightful comments that I heard dealt not singularly with business or recreation, but the intersections between enhancing those opportunities and also highlighting community history, encouraging healthier lifestyles, and growing a sense of town pride. While much of the opposition to the trail that I had encountered in my position came from a fear that it would change traditional rural ways of life, at these meetings people came together to brainstorm ways in which it could preserve tradition and uplift it. I was especially enthusiastic to hear ideas in Northport about allowing hikers to use amenities at a newly planned local museum and visitor’s center. There is no shortage of great ideas in these towns to utilize the opportunities that the PNT provides.

Looking back on my plans for this summer, there are some things that I was not able to do—while I promised myself I’d learn how to bake three different huckleberry recipes, the huckleberry muffins that I made were so delicious I didn’t have the heart to make anything else after. Also, I may have found that I have a slight preference for wild raspberries… although that’s blasphemy to say around here, so I keep quiet about it! Other goals for my internship have definitely been fulfilled. Working with both the US Forest Service and Tri County Economic Development District has allowed me to sample the same interdisciplinary fields that I study in class, in the real world. I’ve enjoyed my adventures this summer – both the ones on and off the trail – so much, and learned so much from them as well.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

The Future is Local, and So is Our Environment



Image: Walking tour with TPL colleagues in the Tenderloin neighborhood, SF.

By Sarah Flamm
M.P.P. 2016
Grants and Government Affairs Intern at the Trust for Public Land

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

This summer at the Trust for Public Land (TPL) in San Francisco, I have had my first official exposure to environmental policy. I see how TPL’s goals in securing people’s access to the outdoors is a critical piece in the puzzle of improving people’s life quality and helping meet their basic needs. Going forward I expect to incorporate this experience into future public policy and community development work.

As my final week wraps up with the Grant and Government Affairs teams, I reflect upon my experience and have several random takeaways:

  • Environmental conservation is inherently a local, grass roots effort. There is no way around it; you have to know the community and the land in order to be able to effectively help transform it into a usable park or thoroughfare. Working with the affected community is paramount to successful policy outcomes. TPL staff members regularly travel to their work sites to see the landscape first hand and meet with community members. For example, I enjoyed going on a walking tour of the Tenderloin neighborhood to better understand the community and its history.
     
  • Perhaps this is obvious, but I have been impressed by the amount of work and variety of skill sets that go into preserving land here at TPL. There are many teams: lawyers to deal with angry residents who do not like how their space has been transformed; designers to construct parks, green alleyways, and trails; marketers to promote TPL’s projects and garner support for new plans; philanthropists to help keep the lights on via donors; grant writers to secure government funding; policy outreach to promote sound enviro-friendly initiatives—it really is a full shop. The bigger an organization gets, the more bases need to be covered, multiplied by the geographic space in which it works.
     
  • Environmental policy bureaucracy in California is complex, especially when it comes to water and transportation. In my investigations into funding sources I have come across various, often overlapping authorities. For example, there are Nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards and 48 Integrated Regional Water Management Groups, both of which are tasked with slightly different, yet related missions. This complexity may reflect the sensitivity and battle to control water issues in the state.
     

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

Making Parks for People a Reality



Image: A day in the office with supervisors Kat and Eva

By Sarah Flamm
Master's in Public Policy, 2016
Grants and Government Affairs Intern at the Trust for Public Land

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

The future is urban. But if you are an outdoors enthusiast like me who is happiest in a redwood forest or a grassy field, this may be cause for concern. The Trust for Public Land (TPL) aims to ameliorate the challenges posed by increasing urbanization by ensuring everyone in the United States, especially those in cities, live within a 10-minute walk of safe parks and outdoor spaces.

TPL is motivated by the belief that natural spaces should be a part of our daily lives, whether it is commuting to work through a green alleyway or a bike trail along the bay; taking lunch in a neighborhood park; or getting away for a weekend in the woods. TPL’s work is expansive; I am constantly learning about new initiatives to preserve habitats, open spaces, regional trails, farmlands, rural economies, and more. The focus is on nature, but not nature in a faraway place, rather enabling human-outdoor interaction.

I am working for the California grants and government affairs teams at TPL headquarters in San Francisco. TPL is a national non-profit organization with over 30 offices nationwide and over 400 employees. Our main goal on the grants team is to design, fund and implement environmental projects. It helps that the health and economic benefits associated with parks and public spaces are easily defensible. So far, I have organized meetings with TPL staff and state representatives from Los Angeles to support a park initiative; supported TPL grant applications; investigated new funding sources for potential projects; and helped plan and conceptualize an upcoming conference on Green Infrastructure and Climate Change in the Bay Area. I have learned a lot about local land projects, California state politics, and how TPL operates as a large successful non-profit. I look forward to visiting Sacramento next month to witness TPL’s lobbying efforts.

TPL often provides parks in disadvantaged communities, giving all kids a safe place to play. TPL uses a participatory model in developing and implementing its projects, working with the community at stake to meet their needs and desires. With these benefits also come challenges: parks drive up property values and can force out low-income residents. The difficulty lies in countering the displacement that is a byproduct of creating a pleasant, healthful urban space. I look forward to exploring this issue further and figuring out what policy measures might be taken to mitigate this problem.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

When Looking Forward Requires Looking Back: Historical Ecology at the San Francisco Estuary Institute



Image: Cattails at dawn in Big Break Park. Taken on a photo assignment in the San Joaquin Delta earlier this summer.

By Kate Roberts
B.S., Earth Systems, 2017
Resilient Landscapes Intern at the San Francisco Estuary Institute

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

The pages feel fragile in my hands, browned and brittle with age, as I carefully leaf through them. Flyers from the Sebastopol Apple Festival, postcards from Santa Rosa, newspapers from Petaluma, each carefully inspected and skimmed before moving onto the next. Every once in a while, something will grab my eye, a sentence about flooding, soil, or irrigation, and I’ll snap a picture of the page, before moving on to the next piece of history. It’s my third day at the San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI), and I already feel deeply immersed in the history of the Petaluma River, buried deep in the stacks of Sonoma State University.

I’m working with SFEI’s Resilient Landscapes Program this summer on a number of projects. In order to restore a landscape or ecosystem, scientists need to know what a “restored” ecosystem would look like, and how it would function. One way that SFEI decided do this is through Historical Ecology (Check out more info in this this New York Times article). It involves digging through dozens of archives and historical documents. Sentences here and there are compiled with maps and other pieces of data to create an image of both how the landscape looked, and also of the important ecosystem functions that could help this region adapt to climate change. One such project is the Petaluma River, and I’ve been working on collecting data from archives, book searches and online databases on everything from the river itself to its tributaries and marshes.

The program also works with many other organizations to combine modern data with advanced tools and cultural knowledge to reshape other landscapes around the bay. One such project is a plan to plant Oak trees in Santa Clara County, once a vast Oak Savannah, now a bustling city. I’ve been helping collect and compile data on the species that would be impacted by bringing the Oaks back. Oaks are incredibly important for biodiversity, hosting hundreds of native species from birds to mammals to butterflies. I’ve been using online databases like GBIF and Vertnet to find data to map how the species’ populations have shifted over the past years. Later on, we will use GIS to create visual maps of the species’ shifts, to better inform the planting of the Oaks. My typical day here varies from data analysis, transcribing and finding historical data, managing images for an upcoming report, getting lost in different libraries and archives, and sitting in on meetings with all sorts of different organizations around the bay. One day I even got to go out and take pictures for hours throughout the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta (see picture above)!

As an environmental scientist, I’ve found that I’m constantly looking ahead, thinking about climate change, development, invasive species, sea level rise, etc. But at SFEI, they’ve realized that sometimes the best way of preparing for the future is by studying the past. This is a totally different approach than I’ve ever thought about taking, and each day I feel like I’m learning more and more how important understanding the past is for making important environmental change for the future.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

50 Nifty United States...and 127 Ballot Measures (and counting)



Image: Cheesman Park sits right outside my window and it is truly beautiful as the sun sets. Also, all the runners make me guilty enough to run.

By Princess Umodu
Political Science Major, C/O 2017
Elections Intern at the National Conference of State Legislatures

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

My time in Denver started almost immediately after three months studying abroad in Madrid, Spain. Needless to say, I am eternally grateful for the week that I had at home to re-acclimate myself to life in the US. Though I spent much of that time sleeping at strange hours and bemoaning the lack of good bread and cheese, I also used that time to prepare for my internship in Denver with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

To be honest, I had not researched much about the organization. I only knew that I would be working primarily on ballot measures, specifically NCSL’s ballot measures database which is updated every year. All this is to say, I had no idea what I would be walking into the first day in the office. Having been to Colorado Springs, but never Denver, I arrived two days early to acclimate myself and figure out what I was going to do for the next two months. Thankfully, being from Southern California allowed me some insight into (and some enjoyment of) the warm weather. I soon learned, through direct observation and experience, that frequent afternoon rain and thunderstorms would also become an intrinsic part of my time in Denver. Still, I was excited. On my first day of work, I woke up early, put on the outfit I had set out the night before and set off to the office.

Previously, I had imagined something akin to my last internship in Taipei, Taiwan, a smaller office crammed between an army recruitment post and a 7-11. About twenty people worked as full-time staff on the second floor, whereas I and the full-time, year-round interns made our home on the third floor. My mental construction of what my workspace and environment would be shattered as I approached my building. It was a very big building, three floors, some enormous amount of square footage, revolving doors, and a lobby, not to mention, a staff of over 100 people, not including the DC office. At that moment, I realized this would not be an internship where I sat around waiting to fetch coffee. This was a real job with real deadlines and real people relying on the work that I was doing.

Like I stated above, my job was (and is) to gather the ballot measures from all 50 states as they become qualified. Feel free to check out the 2016 ballot measures here. Along with keeping the measure database updated, I track and circulate news about ballot measures to various members of my department, compile talking points for my direct supervisor when she gets information requests or interviewed by the press, search for and record new legislation regarding the initiative and referendum process (only available in 24 states and particularly popular in the Western United States), and whatever else needs to be done on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis. Overall, I am NCSL’s primary stop for ballot measure knowledge, a role I never in my life would have thought to fill. This upcoming week, I will be working on a presentation for my supervisor regarding the big trends in ballot measures this year, to be given at NCSL’s annual Legislative Summit. As Wendy, my supervisor, says, I’ll never be bored at work.

Outside of work, inspired by Colorado’s reputation for the great outdoors and the park that resides just outside my window, I have taken up running and general working out, which to anyone who knows me is an absolutely incredible and almost unbelievable notion. Though I have spent the majority of the last month indoors and studying for the LSAT, I hope to do some of Colorado’s more fun (read: easy) hikes and some water sports as well. Looking back on the last month shows me how much I have accomplished, but as I feel time race ever forward, I know Denver has so much more for me to see, eat, and do.

Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns » 

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