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Oregon

ACT VI: The Inside Story

"I’m eager to share my discoveries with you, through my keyboard and my camera.”

Savannah Naffziger, ACT VI member and marketing specialist

by Savannah Naffziger

Through rain, sun, poison oak, and countless job interviews, the AmeriCorps Conservation Team has come from all over the country to work to conserve Oregon’s great places. 

Our thirteen-person team convened back in January, beginning with training in the Portland area before spreading out to all corners of the state. As we spent a week on the banks of the Sandy River, I learned about my teammates. I was in a room filled with a dedicated bunch: M.A.-holders, returning members, and people who have been living and breathing conservation for the better part of a decade; all of whom have devoted a year to working full-time for The Nature Conservancy while living on a (very) frugal stipend. 

It’s intimidating, to be sure, to be surrounded by so many impressive people, but thinking about what our team will achieve over the year is inspiring. 

Oh the places we’ve
(already) been 

The Conservancy in Oregon has had an AmeriCorps team for the past five years, and in this sixth year (ACT VI), we’re aiming high with our goals. We will be collectively contributing 22,100 hours of service, restoring 1,600 acres, and working with 400 volunteers. And I have some amazing people to work with. 

Teresa Fernandez, for instance, has returned to the Medford office for her second year as the Southwest Oregon program assistant (and third year as an AmeriCorps volunteer!). Originally from Chicago, with a stint in Louisiana, Teresa is sticking around for many reasons, but a major one is the people. “I especially enjoy giving other environmentally minded community members an opportunity to get dirty and do real work,” she says. “They’re all special, kind people that I learn from and look forward to working with often.” 

In addition to recruiting volunteers, monitoring plants, and engaging the public, Teresa works with Medford’s Thursday Crew. This group meets once a week to work on large projects, from collecting sections of tree stumps for research, to removing fencing and invasive species at Camp White, a former World War II training camp on Upper Table Rock. 

Nathan Reiss, a graduate of Whitman College, has a background in restoration (with forays into goat herding and traditional Botswana fishing). As the Oregon Coast and marine assistant, he’s been splitting his time between the Conservancy’s multiple preserves and projects along the Pacific. In his first months, he partnered with the North Coast Land Conservancy and 20 volunteers to prepare and plant over 2,000 Sitka spruce and cedar, supplied beavers with wood to repair a dam on Thompson Creek, and co-led a three-day trip in Blind Slough Swamp Preserve, among other projects. 

Just this week, Nathan returned to Thompson Creek, and was excited to find the beavers had completely repaired their dam, and the surrounding pond and wetlands had been restored, demonstrating how his work can have an immediate effect on wildlife. 

Christina deVillier, stewardship and volunteer assistant in the Enterprise office, has been exploring the 33,000-acre Zumwalt Prairie Preserve. A graduate of Reed College in Portland, she’s originally from La Grande and is returning to northeastern Oregon for the Conservancy. While her work involves the expected amounts of research (particularly on the interaction between fire and grazing) and inventorying native seeds and plants, it also requires a surprising amount of historical investigation. 

To understand how the Zumwalt land has been used throughout recent history, Christina’s been digging through old records of homesteader stories and deciphering handwritten notes in the margins of original cadastral surveys from as far back as 1866. Her findings will help to improve current land management. 

And as for me? I have a pretty fantastic job, as well. I get to hear everyone’s stories, and I get to tell them, too. There are great places and exciting initiatives all over this state, and I’m eager to share my discoveries with you, through my keyboard and my camera.

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