bridge to nature
Growing up in Boston, the topic of conservation didn’t come up much in Ashley Castillo’s daily life.
“In most cases, the “nature” I saw was trees planted on sidewalks. “Over time, the street trees started to disappear as well,” she said.
It wasn’t until later, when she was spending time away from the city, that she started to find her passion for nature. Today, she passes that passion on to others as an intern with Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts, where she develops and leads educational programs for youth summer camps in Springfield and Hartford. There, she teaches budding nature lovers all about adaptation to wildlife, food webs, and the importance of trees—including those planted on sidewalks.
With the US Fish and Wildlife Service, I am able to see all the outreach that is being made to build a bridge to connect these urban communities to conservation and nature,” Ashley said.
Building these bridges is a priority for each of our interns this year, with all of their field stations based in or near major cities – places that are historically underrepresented when it comes to conservation efforts. People of color and low-income communities in urban areas are among those most affected by the lack of access to outdoor spaces and environmental challenges. It’s in these areas where the service is cultivating relationships through conservation efforts focused on the community.
Giving back to the community
Dillani Martinez, another of our intern, is staying close to home this summer as she works with Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership in Providence, Rhode Island. The daughter of Guatemalan immigrants with a goal of becoming a science teacher, Deliannie’s work has focused on bringing environmental learning beyond the classroom.
So far, it fills you up from taking kids in salt pans, tying geese, and driving Let’s go fishing! Take me fishing! A bilingual event that provides children and families with everything they need to go out and fish in their community.
Deliannie’s experience working with service in her home city gave her a new appreciation for nature right outside her door—a lesson she is sure to follow into her classroom one day.
“Conservation of wildlife begins with acknowledgment that it is all around us, Dilliani said. “I’ve learned the importance of sharing with my Latinx community the beauty of simplicity when it comes to nature.”
Opening doors for future leaders
according to 2022 Census Bureau press releaseThe Hispanic population is one of the fastest growing demographics in the country. Unfortunately, many sectors of business in America – including conservation – have not caught up with this statistic. Recognizing these challenges, the service is collaborating with partners such as the Hispanic Access Foundation to promote more equitable opportunities for people of color and create a workforce that better reflects the diversity of the audience it serves.
“Our work is about the next generation of leaders,” said Michelle Neuschwander, director of the Hispanic Access Foundation’s MANO Project Internship Program. “This unique experience provides extensive training, mentoring, and professional development to ensure that students have the tools and knowledge necessary to excel in their fellowship and conservation work.”
Earlier this summer, the group got a glimpse of service leadership when they met in Washington, D.C., with Sean Sanchez, vice president of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Sanchez shared his success story as a Latino who rose through the ranks to leadership – happy to recount his adventures while working in shelters across the country, but careful not to overlook the challenges he faced as a person of color in a predominantly white field.
Much progress has been made since he first joined the service, Sanchez explained – even by the fact that they have come together – but there is still a lot of work to be done. He likened the change within the service to the guidance of an aircraft carrier; It takes patience and a lot of coordination to make things happen effectively. “We don’t want to lose anyone by flipping the ship too quickly and leaning too much to one side.”
Rest assured, if anyone is going to change the world of conservation for the better, it will start with these individuals and the talent and passion they bring to the table every day.