My Internship Experience, by Maria Vaca

My Internship Experience, by Maria Vaca

For five weeks in May and June, Cowiche Canyon Conservancy partnered with Heritage University to organize an internship for two EAGLES scholars in the Environmental Science department at Heritage University. The program provided two students, Maria Vaca and Jeff Brannon, with opportunities to learn a variety of skills in an immersive setting. The program helped to build skills in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and applications, environmental health survey and analysis methodologies, botany fundamentals, and science communications. We asked Maria and Jeff to write a short blog piece about their experience. Below is Maria’s.

Throughout my internship with Cowiche Canyon Conservancy, I learned about the diversity of, and found a new appreciation for, the Yakima Valley. All the small and big experiences my team and I went through were fun, exciting, and new for me. Hiking throughout Cowiche Canyon, driving up to the top of Snow Mountain Ranch, and wading through the river are all experiences I hope to never forget. From the hot sunny days to the hail and rain, thrashing through rose bushes and thistles, to feeling the cold rush of the river around my waders.

While our internship lasted only five weeks, I got firsthand experience as to how to gather data out in the field, and I grew a newfound respect for the Conservancy and their efforts for protecting the Riparian Forest and shrub-steppe land we have. Though much may not be left, preserving the land around us is crucial for the beauty of the natural resources that our valley provides. We may only be guests passing through the wonder that nature provides to us here, but many species big and small, from deer to birds, to the smallest insects and the abundance of species of plants found in these areas, call it home.

I learned many things throughout my internship, but by far the most exciting was being able to identify a small number of species on my own. Botany was always something I wanted to learn, and even though I may only be able to properly identify a small handful of plants, I am glad that we took the time to do this. I learned that there is a vast diversity of species of shrubs, flowers, and trees … I may still not know every little thing about them, but I began to understand how to view the valley differently. I learned that the health of the cryptobiotic crust is an important factor in the health of the ecosystem. And I learned that cheatgrass is very dangerous for these environments and that it thrives off wildfires.

The view that I got from the top of Snow Mountain Ranch was what really made me view our valley differently. We were able to see striations of basalt across fields of grass. Hopping from rock to rock to avoid the cryptobiotic crust, we saw the birds and rabbits that call this place home. I saw how the crust supported so many different colors of wildflowers – yellow, purple, red and pink.

I am very glad that I was able to be part of this internship, and for my team being kind, patient, and always keeping a fun and upbeat attitude. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this.



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