By Stratton Taylor
Last Summer, stepping to the office of the Montana Conservation Corp with all the new crew members was a bit nerve wracking. Like a freshmen in high school I had to navigate through different people, personalities and share my desire for environmental stewardship. The season passed like wildfire and before I knew it, it was back to school and sleeping inside. I wanted to continue my work with MCC and have been under the wing of Mario, the Wildlands Restoration Team supervisor. For the past few months I have learned the amount of preparation that goes into getting ready for coordinating four crew leaders and around 25 crew members. From receiving an application to conducting an interview with the final touch of accepting a person for hire. Lots of thought goes into many aspects when selecting a member for MCC such as experience outdoors, passion for the work, dealing with diverse people and probably the most important, being able to live (somewhat) comfortably outside for days at a time. The work is hard and the rewards are worth it. Crew Leaders go through an even more stringent hiring process, where after they are hired they must attend a three month leadership development training program. I have taken on the role of assisting in reference checks, developing maps and GIS programs for future and past projects. While some of the duties can be more traditional for an intern (running errands, organizing and repairing gear), the program and field coordinators have made it a priority for me to learn intellectual and technical skills that are essential to running a program like MCC. I am currently working with Milltown State Park to start a mapping project of invasive weeds, building a new tool shed from the ground up and assisting in data collection for Invasive Species Management for North Carolina State University who has partnered with MCC. Many projects can take months or even years to start, partnering with government agencies like the USFS, BLM and Montana State Parks can be a challenge to meet the needs of MCC while taking account of the agencies responsibilities to the public. Only through the process of developing partnerships and creating social networks are we able to do the fun part of working and camping outside for a living.
The Wilderness and Civilization program centered on the idea that we are living in a time where the ideas of environmental stewardship and land management are shifting. A focus on collaboration is a relatively new idea in terms of the wilderness and civilization concept. In order to understand the challenges we are facing today with land rights and management, environmentalism and the ever increasing divide between science and society, it’s critical to try and understand views of another’s perspective. These ideas are shared by MCC, there mission statement being “Inspiring young people through hands-on conservation service to be leaders, stewards of the land, and engaged citizens who improve their communities.” The University of Montana, the Wilderness and Civilization Program, MCC and the state of Montana I believe all share the ideal of improving their communities, and it starts with getting outside of your comfort zone and seeing a new side of life, just like I did as I walked into office that first day.