Natural Resource Education intern, Kira Miller, shares her parting thoughts as she reflects on her time with us at Sierra Institute.
“Once you learn to read the land, I have no fear of what you will do to it, or with it. And I know many pleasant things it will do to you.” – Aldo Leopold
I studied biology and chemistry in college, as I had originally been set on entering the medical field. This equated to more courses focused on animal physiology, genetics, and biochemistry rather than ecology and wildlife. Later in my college career, as I started to spend more personal time out in the backcountry hiking through magnificent ecosystems and sleeping beneath the stars, I felt more drawn to the environment and the wilderness. After working to support Outward Bound California’s backpacking courses and witnessing the transformative experiences these students had during their time outdoors, I decided I wanted to become more involved in environmental education.
As a result, I found myself in Taylorsville, California with a natural resource education internship at Sierra Institute. I had – and wanted – to learn about forests and wildlife from scratch.
My first day at Sierra Institute couldn’t have been a more idyllic introduction: we drifted stand-up paddleboards out on Lake Almanor and floated in the low-light of the (partial) solar eclipse. I met the staff with wet, sandy feet and joined this group of people who enjoyed the outdoors in diverse ways. This set the tone perfectly for my time in the Northern Sierra.
Over the next few months, I supported a 3-day residential “wildlife camp” for local 7th grade students. I prepared a high school team for a statewide forestry competition. I shaped fire ecology curriculum for the high school natural resources class, and even got to teach a lesson about plant adaptations in fire-prone environments. I went on field visits in the Plumas National Forest and learned about work being done to assess the endangered Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog. I helped organize a two-day all-school learning program focused on sustainability as it pertains to the local community.
As I worked with Greenville High School students to identify local tree species and discuss forest composition, I also found myself naming the trees that lined my own hikes through Lakes Basin and Lassen National Park. I hopped on a raft during a whitewater festival on the Feather River, and later worked to develop watershed lesson plans about those very same waters. I camped out beneath the stars with a group of 7th grade students, who plunged into Crystal Lake with me in the cold morning hours. We talked about the wolves who were slowly making their way back into Lassen and Plumas counties, and I heard murmurings of their sightings in the valley where I lived.
As time rolled on, the intertwining of exploratory time outdoors and my work in natural resource education continued to complement each other, giving me a stronger appreciation for this place and its community.
I learned about the historical Maidu presence in Indian Valley and looked in awe at the places where Maidu had managed the forest. I surveyed streams with Sierra Institute board member Ken Roby, who told me about old Forest Service “k-tags,” which denoted location by township and range; suddenly I started spotting them on unsuspecting trees as I ran and rode my bike through Taylorsville. After I learned to identify wildlife tracks common to the region, I noticed fresh bear and mountain lion prints in the snow atop Spanish Peak. I tromped into the forest in search of serotinous Baker cypress cones with science teacher all-star Travis Rubke, while simultaneously learning about the many ways plants survive and propagate through fire. As I dove deeper into fire ecology lesson plans, I recognized the severity of the Moonlight Fire around me and viewed the speckled hillsides with stronger empathy.
The more work I put into the natural resource education program, the more I was able to learn about the landscapes and ecosystems I encountered on my own. I began to see glimpses of the intricate relationships between people and land, and between land and wildlife. Now, as my time at Sierra Institute is coming to an end, I reflect back on these six months with incredible appreciation. I feel encouraged knowing that my work and play complement each other so well, and that my adventures promote personal learning and development. I’m especially thankful for such a beautiful landscape to experience and learn from, especially right outside my door.