The summer before graduation or right after graduation is a typical time for students to apply for internships in their field of study. My experience is no exception, and this spring I sent out around 15-20 applications for internships all over the United States. I was lucky enough to be hired right here in Minnesota by the Department of Natural Resources! I am absolutely thrilled to be working for Whitewater State Park as one of their 2 Naturalist Corps Interns.
The Naturalist Corps is a government internship program that was created from funds generated by the Legacy Amendment that Minnesotans voted for in 2008. The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment (aka the Legacy Amendment) to the Minnesota Constitution was a tax increase that is used “to protect drinking water sources; to protect, enhance, and restore wetlands, prairies, forests, and fish, game, and wildlife habitat; to preserve arts and cultural heritage; to support parks and trails; and to protect, enhance, and restore lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater.” I feel compelled to personally thank anyone reading this who is from Minnesota, because you are providing me with this amazing opportunity!
So being a Naturalist is, hands down, the best work experience of my entire life. My normal activities at the office include things like feeding birds and snakes, taking data on the Whitewater River, typing up program schedules and releasing them to the local media, walking the grounds (of oak-savanna bluff land [which harbors the highest concentration of biodiversity in Minnesota[) to deliver and post program schedules and talk to campers, leading educational presentations for local school field trips, campers staying in the State Park, and locals, about topics including fossils, wildflowers, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, wild edibles, invasive species, and local history, creating my own original interpretive program for the park, and any other random, menial things the interns normally do.
And then there’s days like this where our amazing Park Manager sends the interns on adventures. The morning task of the day? Join the crew of the Midwest Peregrine Society up to the nesting site of Whitewater’s pair of Peregrine Falcons to observe the banding of their 3 week old chicks. (!!!!!!!!!)
So, a little back story is in order here before I continue.
Natural History of the Peregrine Falcon
Falco peregrinus, Latin for “wandering falcon”, is a bird found on every single continent, except in polar regions. Peregrines are the fastest species of animal on the planet, being clocked traveling at speeds over 200 mph during a dive!
Sadly, this falcon became an endangered species in many areas around the 1950s and 60s. It was discovered that because of pesticides, specifically DDT, the shells of their eggs thinned, leading to an increase in mortality. A well-known book, “Silent Spring” by biologist Rachel Carson, was written about the topic. This book (along with other classics like Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac” and Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden Pond”) catalyzed a grassroots environmentalist movement which significantly effected the public opinion of Americans. As a result, national public policy changed; it is credited for spurring the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a ban on DDT and other pesticides in the 1970s.
Which is kind cool in and of itself on another level for me. I’ve got this tattoo on my forearm of a quill writing the word “resilient” across my wrist. The tip of the feather dissipates into birds. I got it to represent my education, so the quill symbolizes scholarship and a passion for knowledge. The birds remind me of Rachel Carson. Rachel Carson was such a badass; a felmale scientist in a male-dominated field, shakin’ up the system, ushering in a new status-quo, all with poetically articulated, evidence-based criticisms of the norm. The woman is an icon for putting environmentalism on the map, and as a female environmentalist, you might say I’d give her mad props. I mean, just check out some quotes:
“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”
“Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth, are never alone or weary of life.”
“The human race is challenged more than ever before to demonstrate our mastery, not over nature but of ourselves.”
“As crude a weapon as the cave man’s club, the chemical barrage has been hurled against the fabric of life – a fabric on the one hand delicate and destructible, on the other miraculously tough and resilient, and capable of striking back in unexpected ways. These extraordinary capacities of life have been ignored by the practitioners of chemical control who have brought to their task no “high-minded orientation,” no humility before the vast forces with which they tamper.”
“It is the public that is being asked to assume the risks…the public must decide whether it wishes to continue on the present road and it can only do so when in full possession of the facts…”
“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road / the one less traveled by / offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”
So to get to said chicks in said cliff face, there needed to be a rock climber. Most Peregrine bandings involve someone going someplace risky, because that is the preferred habitat of the birds, be it natural places like cliffs (as seen in Whitewater), or man-made places like tall buildings (as seen at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester), or high smoke stack towers (as seen at Xcel Energy along Hwy 52).