Water Wednesday ‘Careers in Conservation’

Today we hosted students and teachers who are participating in an innovative four-week program called “Careers in Conservation.” The venture is a product of a vibrant collaboration between Springfield Public Schools, Springfield, MO and Wonders of Wildlife that seeks to introduce 8th grade students to potential careers in conservation and the work it entails. Not only did students have an opportunity to learn from our staff, interns, and volunteers about their respective paths into the field of conservation but they also, and perhaps more importantly, had the chance to do some meaningful conservation work in the field, a cold field today.Wielding heavy hammers and wedges, and braving the weather, we tasked the students to split nearly 30 cedar trees, felled as part of our ongoing restoration efforts, to be used as fencing to protect some of our site’s sensitive areas from disturbance. They worked wonderfully as a team, seamlessly really, everyone sharing an equal load. Trading 5lb wedges, analyzing tricky lines around limb knots and wood-splits, the Careers in Conservation students made what had been a difficult project with other groups look easy. And their teamwork really got me thinking about our area’s ecological needs and the real nature of a career in conservation.

Our site, Valley Water Mill Park, is situated within what has been called the urban-wildland interface. As such a site it has been subjected to the ecological threats that accompany habitat fragmentation in our area, such as an influx of non-native invasive species, aggressive cedar encroachment of glades, fire suppression, and pollution. These are deeply troubling issues. And, yet, while the park is certainly threatened by the ever-increasing urbanization of the area, we, and our partners, believe in this land and we work hard, together, to secure its future; our youth do too.

While it would be more than tempting to concede our interface areas, and much of southwest Missouri, to the domain of an “ecological train wreck” beyond the point redeeming, Springfield Public Schools, Wonders of Wildlife, and the partner organization of the Careers program (MDC, Springfield Greene County Park Board, City of Springfield, WCO) see an opportunity through a partnership between community and conservation—people and restoration—leveraging that which threatens our most critical natural habitat, encroaching urbanization of natural communities, as a means of healing the land and educating the people who inhabit it. At the end of the day the real essence of conservation is to be found in teamwork, collaboration, and communication.

And, so, the work accomplished today at Valley Water Mill Park by the nearly 30 excited Careers in Conservation students signals that the partnerships forged in our city are strong, and that conservation is clearly happening. And, while they may not yet receive the humble compensation associated with our profession, the teamwork on display today proves that these students are very much already conservationists in a real and meaningful way. The future for our city, and for conservation of public lands rests in good hands, hands capable of teaching others how to split a cedar rail when the ones they made today eventually need replacing.

-Caleb Sanders, Watershed Conservation Corps Manager