Fiona Noonan, BS ‘17, has always loved the great outdoors, and her education in conservation started early.
“I was really lucky to go to a high school that placed a lot of emphasis on place-based experiential education and sustainability,” she said. “We’d go to someplace in the Mount Hood National Forest for a week and pull invasives or build fences.”
But it was her summer internship through the Bill Lane Center for the American West that led her to her calling: restoring lands while balancing the needs of local communities.
Noonan now works with the Deschutes Land Trust in Central Oregon. She credits that summer in Yellowstone National Park with helping her understand how important “place” is to understanding issues that cross the West. Now, she is passing that knowledge on to another Bill Lane Center intern.
Without the experiences she had in Yellowstone, she says, “I’m not sure I would have ended up here.”
At the Farm
Noonan didn’t plan to focus on conservation when she arrived at Stanford, but her first year courses encouraged her to major in earth systems.
“What was most valuable to me was how much in earth systems was experiential,” she said.
Noonan was able to work and study in Cape Town, Hawaii, Yellowstone and Yosemite. In 2015, she also attended the Paris Climate Change Conference with a group of students researching topics central to the Paris Agreement.
Stanford’s “focus on interdisciplinary thinking let me see different opportunities outside of school,” she said. “Pretty much every summer I got to either pursue research or pursue an internship that I was genuinely interested in.”
During her first year, Noonan took the Bill Lane Center’s course on the American West.
“I don’t think I’d ever explored the West as an entity before, despite having lived in the American West my entire life,” she said.
“That began three or four years thinking about place and about where I personally wanted to be and where I could make an impact.”
“I latched onto that idea of the West, and it became a really useful guide for me for thinking about what I cared about.”
Already drawn to earth systems, Noonan’s Bill Lane Center internship in Yellowstone convinced her to pursue a career in conservation.
In the summer of 2014, Noonan worked at the park's Heritage and Research Center cataloging items in the museum’s collection. While learning how the area’s cultural and natural histories intertwined, Noonan saw similar issues at play in Yellowstone as in her home in Oregon.
“Yellowstone’s history is really complicated and emblematic of the greater issues, conflicts, questions and movements that have permeated the history of the West,” she said.
As an avid backpacker and climber, the summer also gave her the opportunity to trek through a different part of the Western United States. Through her work and recreational activities, she started thinking about the interaction between people, ecology and place.
“I started to ask a lot of questions. How do people use and value resources? How do experiences in national parks change the way people behave in the rest of their lives? And what does that mean more broadly for us as part of the West? It was those questions that I would pinpoint as my entry into conservation.”
Noonan’s time in Yellowstone encouraged her to pursue other internships around the West. She spent the following summer in Yosemite National Park, working on environmental education and how experiences in nature can influence other aspects of a person's life.
“I latched onto that idea of the West,” she said, “and it became a really useful guide for me for thinking about what I cared about and what I wanted to explore more.”
Noonan now works as a conservation associate at the Deschutes Land Trust in Bend, Oregon. She spends part of her time visiting properties for potential purchase and working with landowners to meet their conservation goals.
She also works on high-level strategy. Noonan focuses on which geographical areas should be conserved and how those lands might be threatened, particularly by climate change. Though ecology is an important part of her conservation work, she also thinks about local communities and how to integrate human needs with those of the land they live and work on.
Now, she is passing on her knowledge by hosting another Bill Lane Center summer intern. Sophie Boyd-Fliegel got her first taste of working on Western public lands during the Center's 2018 Sophomore College course in Utah. This year, she is working with the Deschutes conservation team to revise the land trust's climate change strategy, implement a sustainability program and complete due diligence for land acquisitions.
“It’s been an honor and a great learning opportunity for me to host an intern and pay forward the amazing summer internships I had as an undergrad,” said Noonan. “I get to share a place and a job I love with someone who wants to be in the same West-focused world, and that’s been an empowering experience for me.”
“I got to do the academic, theoretical side of everything in my classes, but then I also got to spend time learning about parts of Northern California.”
Working and Playing Outdoors
While she works to conserve the environment, natural spaces also play a star role in Noonan’s recreational activities. Two of the things she most appreciated about her time at Stanford were joining the climbing team and acting as a trip leader for Stanford Outdoor Education.
“I got to do the academic, theoretical side of everything in my classes, but then I also got to spend time learning about parts of Northern California I would maybe not have gone to otherwise.”
Noonan continues to lead hikes at Deschutes, and climbs, backpacks and skis around Oregon as much as she can.