Who knew 12 months could pass by so fast?!
My time at Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge feels like a short lived one, but it has been an amazing experience. Stepping into this internship I never imagined I would be able to meet so many people within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the community. I also never imagined that I would be part of such a great change on a refuge and national level. In a place like Idaho with a small (but growing) Latinx population, I do not believe I would have been able to accomplish the work I did without staff supporting the Urban Wildlife Conservation Program and personally making it their mission to get the Latinx community more engaged with outdoor spaces.
A quick summary on the Urban Wildlife Conservation Program: this is a nation-wide program created by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to be more inclusive by building strong, meaningful relationships with diverse communities, especially with those who have been historically underserved. Deer Flat made this program its number one priority before I came into my position, but throughout my 12 months here I have been able to work with staff to build this program from the ground up.
At times, it seemed slow and as if no progress was made but looking back, we have been able to learn and grow so much as a refuge. We began by listening to our community, to learn the priorities and barriers that the Latinx community faced. Taking the time to show up to events and consistently showing up demonstrated that we are here to uplift and support the Latinx community. Through this, I have come to realize that community members want to be outdoors, but not in the way we usually see "traditional" outdoor recreation. Hearing some community members share how they would like to see an outdoor fitness class that involves people of all ages dancing outside or even creating a space for healing and wellbeing excites me for the future.
To me this all encompasses a step in the right direction and because of these new connections, as a refuge we are being more welcoming and inclusive to all our community members. We have been able to work with the community to create events for Latino Conservation Week in 2022 and are continuing to do so (and even involve more members and organizations) for 2023. We are working with new partners and co-designing events and programs that will hopefully bring more interest to the refuge and highlight the importance of conservation.
I’m glad I have been able to play a part in this important change and I'm excited to see how the future of the refuge will evolve into something greater.