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Embracing the Learning Curve

Updated: Apr 13, 2022

As the sun set on my last hitch as a wilderness trail crew leader in Hells Canyon, Idaho, a summer full of learning and exploration came to a bittersweet end. As I reflected on the season, I couldn’t help but wonder: “What’s next?” The answer came while in a sweet spot with cell phone reception – I received the exciting news that the Resource Conservation District of Tehama County (RCDTC) in Red Bluff, California offered me a position to serve as a GrizzlyCorps Fellow.

That moment feels so long ago and simultaneously like it was only yesterday. As the 2021-22 GrizzlyCorps Cohort just surpassed the halfway point in our service year, I’d like to use this opportunity to reflect on my experience as a Fellow so far.

Being from the Midwest, I had never heard of a Resource Conservation District (RCD), or Tehama County, or even visited California before! I was intrigued by the concept of RCDs and specifically the mission of RCDTC: working with the community to manage, conserve, improve, and enjoy the natural resources of Tehama County.

While my academic background is in Geography, I anticipated a fairly steep learning curve regarding regenerative agriculture and forest/fire resilience work. Nevertheless, with an open mind, a desire to assist others and the environment, and the willingness to push myself outside my comfort zone, I felt equipped to undertake the service year.

Fall in Northern California was full of novelty and orienting. From the newness and intricacies of the landscape to meeting lots of friendly people, from the flood of acronyms and local lingo to having a walnut orchard as my backyard, every day was (and still is) a learning opportunity. I spent copious time under the sun during those months, whether I was out doing native restoration planting and seed collection or feeding brush into the chipper for defensible space creation with the RCDTC run TinderSmart Tehama program.

As winter approached and the valley cooled, I had the opportunity to get up into the foothills and mountains to further explore the reaches of Tehama County. Over several trips to the Mendocino National Forest, I helped collect thousands of black oak acorns for a restoration planting project. To the east, I became a docent for public hikes and helped facilitate youth outdoor education field trips with Dye Creek Preserve as part of the RCDTC’s partnership with The Nature Conservancy. I’ve ventured into neighboring counties for various workshops and trainings, including a Healthy Soils Program demonstration project, an introduction to the use of biochar, and most recently, a Wildland Firefighter Type II course.

While I love spending time in the field, I also value the technical skills I’ve gained working in the office. I’ve now dabbled in environmental compliance and permitting, learned about the grant application process, conducted public outreach, attended virtual conferences and special topic webinars, assisted with a virtual film festival, and started coursework towards a GIS Specialization. Throughout these experiences, I’ve found myself drawn to forest health and wildfire prevention and resilience projects, and hope to use future training opportunities – such as obtaining a commercial drone pilot’s license and participating in prescribed burns – towards building local and regional capacity in these fields. Assisting both the planning/logistics side as well as being a pair of the “boots on the ground” brings about a whole new sense of admiration for the dedicated people doing this critical work at RCDs and similar organizations throughout the state.

In addition to the field/office balance, I’ve been able to develop a healthy work/life balance. Whether it’s learning to play disc golf with co-workers or hiking with other Fellows nearby, I’ve appreciated Tehama County as a launching point for outdoor recreation. From the foothills, to the coast with its awe-inspiring redwoods, to the mountains, I’ve had the privilege to visit many of the ecosystems I’ve read about and experience first-hand the places my coworkers have recommended. In the months ahead, I look forward to seeing more of California’s beauty and furthering my relationship with the people and places here.

During my six months with the RCDTC, I’ve witnessed how community based work is powerful and fundamental for climate action. It has been a pleasure to trek down a career path rooted in service, and I’m eager to continue embracing the learning curve of my GrizzlyCorps Fellowship.

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