Q and A with Jennifer Wheeler: 2019 Champion of the Year
Jennifer Wheeler is a Botanist with the Bureau of Land Management. Jennifer is a 21CSC Champion of the Year for 2019. This Award recognizes individuals from agencies and organizations that partner with 21CSC programs to help engage the next generation of conservation and community leaders in service, education and training.
The 2019 Champions of the Year will be recognized at the annual Partnership for the 21CSC Meeting, happening February 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. This event is part of The Corps Network National Conference.
Tell us about your current role.
As a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) botanist my role is to know plants and their ecological roles, implement and monitor recovery actions for native, rare and endangered plant species, and to ensure sustainable, working natural landscapes that support local communities and the general public. As such I am responsible for Native Plant Development, Threatened and Endangered Species, Livestock Grazing, and Invasive Weed programs. Within BLM I apply for and secure funds, and support and administer cooperative assistance agreement partnerships with conservation service corps such as the California Conservation Corps. Under a cooperative assistance agreements, I serve as a project sponsor and collaborate and coordinate work in the field, monitor project field results, and report out on project accomplishments and success. I regularly meet with crew leaders and corps members to provide project and management area background and objectives, information regarding the species being conserved, and natural processes the project would be positively affecting. I answer any questions corps members may have.
Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you get started in conservation/land and water management?
I grew up in the Santa Cruz mountains, exploring the diverse landscapes of redwood forests, oak woodlands, chaparral, and beaches. I hiked and mountain-biked all over, often alone. I’ve always been aware of my innate reverence for the natural world. Additionally, throughout my youth my Dad always took the time to call attention to identities and differences in species of trees, wildflowers, grasses, soil types and impacts that activities had on the landscape.
My senior year in high school I took a drama class and thought I wanted to be an actress. Following high school, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue that fantasy career…which turned out to be a very bad, but life-instructive, nightmare. Ha ha. By the end of that same summer, I’d enrolled at Cabrillo College with new clarity for paths I didn’t want to take with my life.
Between a my cultural anthropology and history of western civilization classes, I’d learned how important soil fertility and top soil were to the foundation and health of sustainable civilizations. I thought that conservation of soils relative to human land use practices was worth further investigation, and perhaps the direction I would take my professional career.
I discovered the School For Field Studies (SFS) when I came upon a course catalog in the college Career Center. This led to my studying Game Ranching, Wildlife Management, and the role of fire in grassland conservation with SFS in Kenya, Africa in the summer of 1989. Following this experience, I was certain I wanted to manage sustainable, working natural landscapes as a career and found Humboldt State University’s Range Management program. I loved it.
I graduated in 1993 with a B.S. degree in Rangeland Resources Science and a minor in Botany, as well two summers of work experience with the Bureau of Land Management in Lakeview, Oregon in range and botany programs. I’ve been professionally managing natural and working landscapes since 1991.
Tell us about how you have engaged with Service and Conservation Corps.
Through Cooperative Agreements between the Bureau of Land Management and the California Conservation Corps, I’ve been an engaged project sponsor continuously and to date, since 1995. These projects have contributed to the professional development and life experience of thousands of young adult corps members.
I’ve also been a mentor to Chicago Botanic Garden Conservation Land Management interns continuously from about 1998 through 2017. These were annual internships and lasted from between 5 to 10 months.
What advice would you offer to other employees from land/water management agencies and nonprofits that are interested in partnering with 21CSC programs (What to expect, etc.)?
I would point out to others contemplating partnership with conservation services corps that these programs often (and should) include professional and personal development programs for young adults. For many of these young adults, a service corps may be the ticket to the vital, life-structure they need, providing an alternate path forward following their high school experience. Often it’s their first time away from an urban culture and environment and into a rural culture and natural landscape. This can be an exciting time for them, with new relationships, perspectives, and self-discovery. They discover through hard work and training just how capable they are. Self-confidence grows and new dreams and goals develop. It’s important that conservation service programs weave-in safety training, academic development, and opportunities to grow and develop personal and career skills. This means that as a service corps partner and project sponsor, understanding, support and scheduling flexibility are key. As a partner, we can still meet project objectives while accommodating service corps member development activities. Through partnership support, we help prepare young adults for their futures, and foster their life-long sense of caring and/or responsibility to contribute to long-term natural resource stewardship.
What are the most beneficial aspects of partnering with a 21CSC Program?
• Employing and developing skill-sets in caring, young adults through natural resource conservation work.
• Educating the next generation of adults, and fostering their often new relationships with nature that supports long-term, natural resource conservation stewardship.
• Using people, with excellent target specificity, instead of deleterious chemicals for weed control.
• Economic stimulation in the rural communities in which service corps work.
• Providing a meaningful, life-development path following high school beside college or military.
• Meeting on-the-ground natural resource conservation project objectives.
• Service corps are cost-effective, in that they aren’t profit-driven; and they benefit a segment of society that needs a greater diversity of work and training opportunities.
What advice would you offer to young people in 21CSC programs who are interested in careers in conservation and land/water management?
• Pondering a 21CSC program?
Try it! It may lead to your most memorable life experience thus far! It will expand your comfort zone, strengthen your tenacity and endurance, and boost your self-confidence and overall fitness and well-being. You’ll see and do things you never thought you would, or could. You’ll have ample time for reflection, as you encounter new people and places, learn, grow, and form new experiences and life plans. You’ll make life-long friends. It may be the greatest opportunity to spend time outside that you’ll ever have again in your working, adult life. You’re young! Go for it! You’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain!
• Interested in a career in conservation and land/water management?
Be willing to take an entry-level job anywhere, even in the middle-of-nowhere-Nevada. You can always transfer later. Getting your foot in the door and gaining job experience is essential.
If interested in federal positions, please look at Office of Personnel Management (OPM) job series education and experience requirements so that you craft your college curriculum to maximize your chances to meet desired job series qualifications.
Copy and paste in browser: Follow links to various natural resource job series descriptions and classification requirements under Natural Resources 0400.
Try internships! Minorities in Agriculture, Nature Resources, and Related Sciences (MANNRS), American Conservation Experience (ACE), The Great Basin Institute (GBI) and the Chicago Botanic Garden (CBG) Conservation Land Management program are some examples offered to undergraduates and recent graduations worth checking out!
Confidence: Have it. You CAN do it!
Purposeful work in natural resource conservation is a career that can have high job satisfaction. And as the saying goes, ‘do you what you love and never work a day in your life!’
Finally, with populations continuing to grow, and people continuing to need and seek natural areas for a variety of purposes, recreation, food, commercial products, development, spiritual renewal, etc.; Natural areas continue to be used, fragmented, and impacted. Responsible resource use management and urban development, resource conservation planning and management, and landscape and wildlife conservation efforts are vital to healthy communities, natural landscapes with a diversity of wildlife, and overall, long-term resilience and survival. Landscape stewards, biologists, educators, planners and political leaders are needed in a variety of roles, driven by a passion to create or maintain environments conducive for a sustainable diversity of life. It’s a wonderful field of challenge, opportunity and reward – join us!