Working Lands

Learning in the Field

Audubon intern Sylvine Hill paddles through a swamp and talks with landowners to learn lessons in conservation

Were you ever that young kid, fresh out of college, didn’t know what you wanted to do? You had a love for nature and the outdoors but you didn’t know how to get started? Then you were just like me. I was that person. Fortunately, I landed a summer position as Audubon’s Women in Conservation intern.

My first travel assignment was exhilarating. I had the opportunity to understand the dynamics of wildlife and land conservation at the “Woods for Wildlife” conference in both Carthage and Whiteville, where Audubon was invited to present the principles of bird-friendly forestry. The one-day workshop provides foresters with the resources to balance the economic objectives of forest owners with wildlife management goals.

It opened my eyes to conservation issues involving land ownership and wildlife protection, including specific topics like the threatened wetlands of the Gopher Frog and North Carolina’s Venus Flytrap poaching problem. I also learned how controlled fires and other forest restoration practices can actually benefit birds and other wildlife. For example, controlled burns help maintain and strengthen soil, allowing healthier vegetation to reemerge and creating new bird habitat.

Best of all, I had the chance to network with other colleagues and environmental and governmental organizations, including the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Wild Turkey Federation, and many more.

My next intern adventure would be a field trip. The moment I heard that I was going kayaking in the Three Sisters Swamp down the Black River, I experienced a mix of emotions. I let out a squeal of excitement even as a wave of fear swept over me. I never kayaked before, let alone on a tandem kayak.

This was an opportunity of a lifetime. How often do you hear about a black woman kayaking in an old swamp surrounded by bugs for six hours in humid North Carolina weather? This is a wild area—an ancient cypress swamp in Bladen County–that many North Carolinians have likely never heard of.

The tour guide informed us about the potential for the area to become a state park. We spent the day adventuring through the beautiful, clean, and copper-colored water and experiencing the ancient Bald Cypress trees up close, including a 2,000-plus-year-old tree named Methuselah. Decisions around the future status of the swamp revolve around questions of how recreation can coexist with a protected natural landscape.

I would delve into similar questions about the public’s relationship with natural areas at a completely different venue, later in my internship. I went to the Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA) community meeting in Hillsborough to discuss concerns the local residents had with the organization’s land practices. Overall, the locals were frustrated and wanted expert advice on land conservation and for OWASA to better communicate with the town before implementing any environmental actions.

I believe that’s where Audubon comes into play. Several people told me that they appreciated Audubon's presence and wanted to learn more about our organization. At that moment I realized why people value Audubon. Audubon might have been founded to protect birds, but it has grown into something far bigger and greater.

When people want to learn more about better ways of taking care of their land and wildlife, Audubon is there. When people need environmental experts for additional resources, Audubon is there. When people want to understand how studying birds can actually help them learn more about plant life and botany, Audubon is there. When a local environmentalist wants to apply her love for nature through an internship, in turn discovering new things about nature and herself, Audubon is there.  

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