O’Neil Conservation Stewards Reflect on Their Experience

William C. and Joyce C. O’Neil Stewards 2019

After you launch a multi-year program, it’s important to stop and evaluate outcomes (both qualitative and quantitative) periodically. As we wrap up our fourth year of the William C. and Joyce C. O’Neil Stewards Program and prepare for next year, we thought it important to reach out to some of our past interns. We particularly wanted to ask them to reflect on the value of their time spent with the Land Alliance.

Quantitatively, there have been 15 O’Neil Conservation Stewards since the program began in 2015. Together they have contributed 5,600 volunteer hours to Land Alliance initiatives. All of them have been integral to the Land Alliance’s ability to manage nearly 600 acres of local lands.

But the real impact of the intern program has been qualitative in nature, as evidenced by the following responses:

Abby Bezrutczyk, Conservation Steward Summer 2018

College classes often give the facts and leave application to the imagination, whereas a great internship can provide skills and experience to put that knowledge into context. My internship with North Shore Land Alliance did this and more, as it helped me develop ideas of conservation and stewardship that I will carry with me into the future.

While exploring the preserves and maintaining trails, I learned skills that apply to the environmental side of things: making maps with advanced software, identifying plants and creating a monitoring program for ash trees. However, I learned that conservation is not solely concerned with nature; people are a vital component. We led educational walks, designed and installed an interpretive trail and led children’s programs, all to keep people in the equation.

Before this internship, I would have told you that Long Island was mostly highway– but this internship changed my perspective. I learned that there are indeed some beautiful, diverse and historic natural areas here that feel like discoveries. But I also learned that the land does not have to be pristine and untouched to be valuable. It is the people who come together to hike, to learn about the environment and to steward the land, that give the land value.

I currently do research on invasive plants but want to pursue jobs in restoring natural areas on Long Island. I want to continue the work I started as a stewardship intern: to notice, protect, and enhance the land for the benefit of all.

Emily Manning, Conservation Steward Summer 2018

My summer in the Joyce and William O’Neil Stewards Program was a great opportunity that gave me strong experience and knowledge concerning environmental and land conservation. During this time, I was able to assist in multiple conservation and habitat restoration projects that taught me how to correctly identify and deal with multiple different species of plants. I also gained strong experience in the monitoring and removal of invasive plants and learned the process and importance of conservation easements. Along with this, I really enjoyed creating and leading volunteer events for all ages. Engaging with the community taught me the importance of educating others about environmental conservation and the nature preserves they are surrounded by. My favorite part about this internship was how hands-on it was. Every day, we were out in one of the North Shore Land Alliance’s beautiful nature preserves doing work. This ranged from trail maintenance, species removal or plant identification to leading a nature walk. This internship introduced me to working with GIS, a framework for gathering, managing and analyzing data. The other interns and I were able to create multiple databases and maps that represented the different plant species growing in Humes field and the many ash trees located on all of the nature preserves. This inspired me to gain more knowledge in GIS and I am currently a Geospatial Technician at Continental Mapping. I am hoping to use my skills learned here and transfer them to eventually work for an environmental consulting firm that works to preserve our natural resources using GIS. Overall, this program is a great and enriching opportunity that I would highly recommend to anyone interested in land conservation and stewardship!

Jeanne Wu, Conservation Steward Summer and Fall 2019

Before my position with NSLA, I always wondered who maintained conservation lands and their trails, but now I realize how ignorant and simple my curiosity was. NSLA is a nonprofit land trust, where most of their preserves are donated, and many times, the state of these land parcels is overgrown with invasive plant species. A staple of my duty is to identify these invasive species and to properly remove them to prevent further spread, a duty not as simple as it seems. Fast reproduction, fast growth, high fecundity, and durability are main traits that allow the success of these invasive plants. Therefore, removing the entire plant is essential, including roots, fruits, and seeds. This allows for a healthier preserve with suitable habitats for both native flora and fauna as well as a better hiking experience for people. Often, people ask me why I want to work in an outdoor, insect infested, physical job when I can easily find a better paying, less physical, office job. This is because my work with NSLA is a labor of love. I truly believe my job here with NSLA is making a difference in our environment and community, and that the skills I’ve obtained from NSLA will help me in my next career journey.

Julia Damiano, Conservation Steward Summer 2019

Throughout the summer internship with the North Shore Land Alliance, I was able to further my knowledge in land management and conservation! As a recent graduate from the University of Delaware, where I studied Natural Resources and Wildlife Ecology, I had a solid understanding of the needs of the land and species diversity. My experience with NSLA, however, allowed me to take what I learned during my undergraduate career and pushed me to apply it in a setting that deepened my knowledge and truly tested my skills. Not only did I find my species identification skills improve dramatically throughout the months, but I also was able to discover the needs of the land in a woodland setting and be a better advocate for the proper care of our natural spaces. The work that I did with NSLA helped prepare me for my current position as the Land Stewardship Coordinator with the Emerald Necklace Conservancy and gave me a unique perspective to share with my peers during my graduate career at Northeastern University. Overall, being an O’Neil Steward was the best internship opportunity that I’ve had to date. The support from the NSLA staff (especially Meghan and Jane) allowed me to delve into my passion and make an impact around Long Island!

Our original aim for the O’Neil Stewards Program was to give college students a diverse experience, build their job skills and inspire them to consider careers in conservation. So far, so good!

If you are interested in learning more about the William C. and Joyce C. O’Neil Conservation Stewards Program, please contact the Land Alliance at 516-922-1028 or [email protected].