A Valuable Internship

By: Edgar Medina

The morning of January 16th, 2018, I embarked on a five hour drive from my hometown in Reedley, CA to South Lake Tahoe, CA; to begin a new job with the USDA Forest Service. I accepted the job in December and almost changed my mind due to housing issues. South Lake Tahoe is a highly visited tourist area, therefore affordable housing is very difficult to find. Thankfully with the help of Hispanic Access Foundation and Co-workers whom I had not yet met, I was able to find a place to live.

I am a Conservation Education Resource Assistant for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU). I have been at my position with the LTBMU for six months now, and I have to say it has been a wonderful learning experience, working with my mentors and supervisors, Joy Barney and Megan Dee and also my fellow co-workers in the Interpretive Services department. 

I have learned how to engage students and spark their interests in environmental protection, natural resources careers, and to use our public lands for recreation with family and friends. As an environmental educator at Lake Tahoe, I had to do a lot of reading to familiarize myself with this beautiful location. I learned the importance of protecting Lake Tahoe and the efforts that it takes from many different agencies and organizations to KEEP TAHOE BLUE.

This past winter I helped with the Winter Trek program, a fifth-grade snow shoeing adventure at Heavenly Mountain Resort (the local ski resort). Fifth-grade students learned the importance of wildlife, wildlife habitat through the seasons, hibernation, watershed ecology, Lake Tahoe geology, the difference between a healthy and unhealthy forest and water conservation.

Throughout the rest of the school year, my co-workers and I worked with the South Tahoe Environmental Education Coalition (STEEC). STEEC is a coalition of many different agencies and organizations that includes: The League to Save Lake Tahoe, UC Cal Fresh Nutrition Education Program, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, South Tahoe Public Utility District, the local hospital Barton Health and others. We all work together to plan and prepare educational school field trips, in accordance with California State Standards, to the outdoors with the Lake Tahoe Unified School District. We reach all grade level students from K-12.

Not only do we have a coalition, but we also oversee a program called Generation Green of Lake Tahoe. Generation Green (GG) of Lake Tahoe is a ninth through twelfth grade program sponsored by the Central California Consortium (CCC). The program provides environmental education and leadership opportunities to underserved rural and urban youth. GG provides role models/mentors, career training, and encouragement for higher education; while exposing high school students to Forest Service careers in natural resources. The CCC prides itself on building future leaders of tomorrow by encouraging community involvement and focusing on personal growth.

GG includes a high school student club and a middle school Generation Green JR club with on-campus Forest Service representatives, who organize club meetings and events, provide environmental education, and serve as mentors/role models for students.

Through the Generation Green program and the Youth Conservation Corps, we are able to provide a paid internship of eight weeks for high school youth ages 15-18 to work on LTBMU projects every summer. This summer we had three different crews with six students in each crew. Two were local crews, with a diverse group of students from South Tahoe High School and one was a residential crew, which was comprised of students from outside the Tahoe Basin. This was the first year that our forest arranged a Youth Conservation Corps Residential crew. These six students came from Iowa, Massachusetts, California, and Nevada. We were able to provide them with housing, food, and transportation throughout their four weeks of meaningful work here at Lake Tahoe. 

It was a great experience being the crew leader of the residential crew. Because I was also working out of the Tahoe Basin, we were able to experience our first summer at Lake Tahoe together which included backpacking in Desolation Wilderness, hiking on trails that I had not hiked before, and getting to know one another and the places that we come from. Every student had a story to tell about themselves but we all had one thing in common, and that is wanting to work in the Natural Resources field to protect our public lands and educate our communities.

The three crews worked closely together throughout the entire summer. They gained valuable work experience in Engineering, Biology, Aquatics, Vegetation Management, Trails/Wilderness Erosion Control, and Interpretive Services. Every crew member had the honor to meet and be recognized by United States representatives including Senators Dianne Feinstein and Catherine Cortez Masto, and Congressman John Garamendi for their efforts to protect Lake Tahoe during the 22nd Annual Lake Tahoe Summit.

After four weeks as a crew leader, I went back to providing information services to the public at the front desk of our Supervisor’s Office and the Taylor Creek Visitor Center. To provide the most helpful duties at the front desk and visitor center, I had to take and pass a Collections Officer test. Becoming a Forest Service Collections Officer means I am able to sell interagency passes, issue Desolation Wilderness backpacking permits, and issue fuel wood permits (a permit issued to people who wants to cut and collect fire-wood from our forest.)

Partnerships are a very important factor in environmental education. We all have a common goal, to protect our public lands, and help protect Lake Tahoe. Working together to educate our community is in our hearts. Thanks to this new partnership with Hispanic Access Foundation and the USDA-Forest Service I am able to work at this location for one year and help the LTBMU bring Conservation Education to the Latino community at Lake Tahoe. 

It has been very rewarding working in Conservation Education. Seeing the smiles of all the students that we reach, enjoying the great outdoors instead of sitting in a classroom. The part I enjoy the most is working with our high school summer interns. Our internships give students that hands-on experience they need in Natural Resource careers. I began my career with the Forest Service with one of those summer internships in 2014, and I am now thankful for this opportunity that has allowed me to gain more valuable experience.

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