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ES Student Profile
Kelly Stoos '04
Rhode Island's First Congressional District
Rhode Island's First Congressional DistrictSummer 2003
In working for Congressman Patrick Kennedy, a democrat representing Rhode Island's first district, I was exposed to the cutthroat atmosphere and intense pace of Capitol Hill. In an office that dealt with issues ranging from healthcare reform and Internet regulations to the war in Iraq and approving the national budget, I gained a new appreciation for the challenges facing progressive environmental policy in the United States. In the office I was able to draft constituent response letters, attend and update the staff on legislative briefings, author portions of the congressman's speeches and work to update the legislative assistants on environmental news and research. I am currently finishing up a report that summarizes major environmental policy developments since the beginning of the Bush administration. With the multitude of issues being debated in Washington D.C. I see now more then ever the importance of citizen involvement and pressure to make environmental protection a top priority on the legislative agenda, to protect our nations resources for future generations.
The month that I spent working as an intern for Sky Island Alliance was nothing short of life changing. The organization, the work that they are doing and the amazing desert wilderness of Arizona taught me lessons that I did not even know I had to learn. The relationships I formed and experiences that I had in Tucson are priceless and will certainly have a lasting impact, not only my academic pursuits but on how I see the world.
The Sky Island Alliance, the organization sponsoring my internship, is working to protect wilderness lands within the sky island region of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. The name of the region is derived from its unique geographic characteristics, "islands" of mountain ranges separated by desert "seas". Mountain ranges are separated from one another by vast desert lands, causing each range to harbor a unique and diverse ecosystem. The Sky Island Alliance is striving to protect fragile wilderness from the threats of sprawl, loss of biological diversity, fire suppression and improper grazing practices. The alliance works to survey and close roads, creating connectivity between wilderness areas, allowing territorial mammals that need large tracts of land to reestablish their populations. Other work by the alliance includes advising public land managers and private landowners on how to create less impact and better manage wilderness areas. One of their new projects, the Wildlife Monitoring Program, puts selected "citizen scientists" through a rigorous training in wildlife tracking techniques. These volunteers then inspect a specific tract of wilderness every six weeks for signs of animal life. Proof and documentation of wildlife in these areas provides a better foundation for defense of these ecosystems. This is just the beginning of their work, the alliance, with only three full time employees supported by a vast network of volunteers, interns and part-time support, has advocacy campaigns on many fronts and has become a reckoning force in the arena of wilderness protection in Arizona.
For the alliance I worked mostly within the realm of public relations. During my time there I developed an extensive media contact sheet, including all of the newspapers, radio and television stations in the area. My next project was to author a press release informing the public of the upcoming Wilderness Monitoring Workshop; included were the program's goals and Sky Island Alliance's mission as a whole. While working on this I also wrote the text for a public service announcement that was to be filmed and aired on the local NBC news station. My final project was to research and author a wilderness fact sheet that would help the public better understand the idea of wilderness and why it is important to preserve undeveloped areas. Also, in my time with Sky Island Alliance, I took part in two field weekends. One of these weekends was spent conducting road surveys in the Gila Mountains along with my supervisor Mr. Trevor Hare and a group of volunteers. Road surveys contribute to one of the alliance's major goals, to map wilderness areas in order to propose roads for closure. The second weekend, several SIA employees and a troupe of volunteers did actual road closures within the Chirychau Mountains. Also in conjunction with my work, I took part in several public meetings concerning wilderness designation with Trevor. These meetings were a steering committee and a scientific advisory committee meeting for the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. I also sat in on a scientific advisory committee meeting for the Ironwood National Monument.
Each facet of my work with Sky Island Alliance provided an education in and of itself. My public relations work taught me just how difficult it can be to inform and convince the public of complex environmental issues, using only simple concepts and terms. I also learned how careful environmental organizations must be in presenting themselves to the public, as to not to offend people or confuse issues. My field weekends taught me the importance of working with the public, in motivating volunteers and citizens to become advocates for the environment. The best way in which to do this is to take them out into these wilderness areas, so they can see, feel, taste and touch the evidence that preserving wide open spaces is necessary not just for scientific, economic and political reasons but for the preservation of the human spirit. Writing the wilderness fact sheet forced me to consider my own concept of wilderness, why I need it in my life and how I can help people to see its value as well.
Possibly the most influential part of my experience was my participation in the public meetings concerning wilderness protection. These meetings forced me to see what wilderness preservation is up against; the economic interests of individuals, political ambitions and, most frightening of all, the ignorance of some individuals of the importance of healthy wilderness ecosystems. A major force opposing wilderness designation in the southwest are the interests of extractive agencies as well as those of ranchers leasing public land to graze cattle. While these opponents, ranchers in particular, share common ground with environmentalists in that they both love the land and want to see it preserved, many of these ranchers were simply ignorant of their impact on these very lands that they love. Their impact on the wildlife that is so sensitive to land misuse. The heated debates carried out at these meetings left such an impact because I was made to see how complex the issues are and that there are no easy solutions. Instead of reading a case study in a textbook, the issues were right before me along with the emotions of all the players involved. I will never read literature on environmental issues the same; the debates and points of view now come alive.
I know now that I want to continue to work with non-profit organizations doing grassroots, hands on work to help the environment. I also have a better grasp on my own skills and how I can apply them to environmental advocacy. This past month gave me the dose of reality and adventure that I needed to get excited about the rest of my life. Thank you so much for your financial support, the funds went towards my plane tickets two and from Arizona, the apartment that I rented and daily food expenses. Thank you again and I would be happy to tell you more about my experience.