In the warmer months, The Nature Conservancy (TNC)’s work in the field ramps up. It’s often the right weather and timing for checking in on the land that we take care of and for doing any maintenance needed, like trail clearing or planting. It’s also often when scientists and preserve stewards are out collecting data on animal and plant species.
With this increase in work, more hands in the field are necessary—that’s where seasonal staff come in. They work for TNC for a specific amount of time, often in the spring, summer and/or fall, lending conservation, monitoring and preserve maintenance skills. It’s a great opportunity for anyone looking to get a start in conservation, hoping to hone skills in the field, making a career change or wanting to share their time and energy for the benefit of the planet.
In 2022, TNC in Massachusetts was lucky to have two seasonal stewardship assistants for the busy season: Nicole Kauffman, who helped out the stewardship team in Western Massachusetts for the summer and fall, and Richard Couse, who worked on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket for six months through the end of the year. Though each was at a different point in their career, they agreed that the experience was a great chance to work on conservation projects, broaden their knowledge and spend time outdoors.
What sparked your interest in conservation and led you to this role?
Nicole Kauffman: When I took my first ecology class, I fell in love with learning about the world around me. There are so many incredible places and species that have uniquely adapted to their environments. I’ve worked in a wildlife rehabilitation center, on the Massachusetts Conservation Corps and as part of a burn crew in Georgia with TNC—all of that work brought me to where I am right now.
Rich Couse: My father instilled in me a great love of the outdoors, which fostered my strong connection to nature. However, it wasn’t until I became a birder that I began to understand how fragile our ecological resources are and was inspired to protect creatures who don’t have a voice to advocate for themselves. Throughout my career as a conservation biologist, I have played many roles, but I really enjoy the bigger-picture focus of stewardship—protecting ecologically important spaces, thereby benefiting many species.
What did you work on during your time with TNC?
NK: I worked on a camera trap project to help with our monitoring of endangered bog turtles. I created 20 of them based on designs from a biologist at Virginia Tech—they include a camera attached to the inside of an upside-down bucket with holes that allow the turtles to walk through. We’re using them to get a better sense of where these turtles are in the wetland. I also helped with monitoring and managing our properties and conservation easements, organized volunteer work days, and helped remove invasive plant species, among other projects.
RC: My projects included improving upon and creating new signage to educate and enhance visitors’ experiences at our preserves on Martha’s Vineyard, as well as conducting legal monitoring on all our properties with conservation restrictions. I enjoyed the educational aspect the most because it gave me a chance to learn something about our special areas, especially sandplain grasslands, and pass that knowledge on to others.
What motivates you in your work?
NK: I believe that we are a part of nature, not separate from it, and it’s critical that we develop that connection. There are a lot of concerning issues with the impact we have had on our surroundings. The climate crisis and the decline of biodiversity are huge threats, and I can’t ignore them. It’s my goal to do my part wherever life takes me, and I find it rewarding to facilitate connections between people and nature.
RC: I’m driven by the thought that every day I am doing what I love and striving to make the world a more beautiful and naturally diverse place by observing, learning about and protecting what is most important to me: nature. This is an experience I will take with me into the future.
Beyond the Busy Season
After her six months with TNC in Massachusetts, Nicole is continuing her tenure with the organization, moving to TNC in Missouri to work with their fire and stewardship teams. As he wrapped up his position, Rich secured a full-time position with BiodiversityWorks, a local conservation organization on Martha’s Vineyard with whom TNC has partnered for years and shares an office.
Though the positions are short, the learning and connections extend far into the future. And regardless of the amount of time they have with the organization, they will always be a part of the TNC family. The impact all of our staff have on the future of people and the planet is essential.
Sign Up for Updates
Stay in the know about what's happening in Massachusetts!