Conservation Has Never Been a Straight Forward Path for Me

Conservation Has Never Been a Straight Forward Path for Me

Growing up in rural Nevada, it was easy to access mountains, fields of sage and wild lilacs, and view the milky way in all its glory every single night. Back then, I didn’t understand the importance or why there was so much public land in Nevada, I just enjoyed it.

As I got older, my interest and love for all things outdoors never wavered, but in college, I was unsure how to pursue this passion. I started out as an Environmental Studies major but, in the end, wound up with a Journalism major with a minor in Photography. While pursuing my degree, I spent a few summers doing seasonal work for the USFS; pit tagging frogs and working on timber crews trying to curve the spread of the pine beetle. After graduation,  I enrolled in AmeriCorps, and found myself again working with the USFS, on a multitude of projects, from restoring old pit mines and working on the fire crew, to designing and installing interpretive signage.

Designing interpretive signs overlapped my college-honed expertise in design, photography, and layout. This combination and my work experience with the USFS had unknowingly made me well-suited for the unique niche of environmental communication and design. The key project in the portfolio I presented to Cedar Breaks National Monument ended up being the interpretive signage I created for the USFS White Sulfur Office in the Monongahela National Forest. Upon seeing my portfolio, I was appointed, as Cedar Breaks’ Visual Information Specialist (VIS) for two years, and another two years as the VIS for Little Bighorn National Monument until my term position was unexpectedly cut short.

After leaving the national park service at Little Big Horn, I was hired as an Outreach Coordinator for the Montana Wildlife Federation (MWF). It was in this position that my eyes were opened to the work required by conservation to achieve and preserve all that I had as a kid taken for granted.

While immersing myself at MWF, I finished a Masters of Science in Environmental Studies with an emphasis in Environmental Communication, which has cemented my belief that the art of storytelling can bridge the gap between science and the public sphere. Every issue MWF works on, from public access, climate change, sage grouse, public access, and more, all boils down to being able to tell a story that engages the mind and pulls on the heartstrings. A story that is factual and emotional. Each issue stands on the shoulders of the giants that came before us, but it is impossible to ignore the absence of women in these stories; either in being featured or in telling these important stories.

It is for this reason that the National Wildlife Federation’s Women in Conservation Leadership Summit is so important. The Summit provides a wonderful opportunity to elevate and embolden not only the women advancing in conservation, but also their stories. It allows for attendees to define conservation for themselves and thus expand on the range and diversity of stories available to be told. The ability to tell one’s story and to learn from other’s who are just beginning their career or nearing the end, is an incredible opportunity to gain insight, new friendships, and contacts. The Summit is a wonderful opportunity and I look forward to building stronger conservation.

About the Author

Sonya Smith is the Outreach Coordinator for the Montana Wildlife Federation. She achieved her M.S. in Environmental Studies with an emphasis in Environmental Communication last May. Her applied professional project focused on visual strategies to advocate for nature and place-based connections.