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Ben Smith

Featured Volunteer

Ben Smith, a student at Humboldt State College, came to the Conservancy’s Independence Lake Preserve to volunteer for a week to help with data collection for our ongoing scientific research, and he ended up staying the whole summer. Now, he shares with us his experiences and how the Conservancy has sparked new interests for his future.


How did you develop your appreciation of nature?


Growing up on a farm outside of Davis, CA and living in the outdoors sparked an insatiable love of the outdoors . My life has revolved around the outdoors since I was too young to remember. When I turned 16, I finally convinced my dad to buy me a shotgun, and the neighbors took me pheasant hunting for the first time. I was hooked. My favorite outdoor activity was fishing, though. When I went to Humboldt State to study wildlife, it just refined a lifelong love of the wild.


How did you end up working as an intern at Independence Lake with The Nature Conservancy? Were you already familiar with the project?


I didn’t know a thing about the Conservancy or Independence Lake, but I had several failed fishing quests to other lakes. I met Jim Gaither [Lead Scientist for the Independence Lake Project] when he was visiting a mutual friend to make some canned tuna. We got to talking and it became clear that whatever happened, I NEEDED to visit this place. It was calling me.

I offered to be a volunteer just so I could come up there and see what the Conservancy was about. I was a volunteer for a week and then became an intern once we found there was a good fit.


What are some of your hobbies when you aren’t working at Independence Lake?


I spend a lot of time volunteering at my local fire department as a Fire Captain and am a competitive bass fisherman. I placed second in my last tournament and am going to the regional finals on the FLW (Forrest L. Wood) College Tour.


Has working up at Independence Lake changed how you think about conservation and your area of study?


I discovered that I am really interested in ecology and stewardship; they are what make the conservation world go around. I am a wildlife major, but was surprised that it really wasn’t related to my work at the lake. The basic biology classes helped me a lot in the field, but “wildlife studies” seems too narrow to describe what I was doing. The Nature Conservancy showed me how to make myself applicable to an ecology-oriented world.


What was the best thing about your internship/your favorite memory?


I got to know about the Conservancy and meet some of the people who make it work. I had previously worked for government agencies and didn’t know that there were alternatives to it. I liked meeting everybody, asking them about what they did and how it fit into the grand scheme. Other than that, I caught (and released) tons of huge fish in a beautiful place and made great friends. I couldn’t ask for more.


What would you tell someone about Independence Lake who has never visited before?


If you dream of peaceful places and serene mountain lakes, this place is for you.

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