by Naomi Primero

This summer the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars at NAU have participated in conservation internships across the country. Their blogs give us a peek into what they’ve been up to. Check ’em out!

I came to D.C. at the beginning of the summer both scared and excited.

While I’d been to the capitol of the U.S. several times before, there were multiple differences in this visit: my first time working in the city, the certain atmosphere the current administration had created. This was a landscape completely different from last summer; towering glass buildings replaced red walls of sandstone, sun hats and river shoes by custom tailored suits and heels.

I knew I wanted to be there — this was where change happened! Yet, surrounded by interns working at the World Bank and at the Hill, so far from their project locations and constituents, I felt intimidated and unsure about the effectiveness of the work I was about to undertake.

After showing us around the unexpectedly quiet and laid-back national headquarters of the National Parks Conservation Association , our mentor, Ryan Valdez, introduced Will’s and my project. We were to research the coverage the National Parks Magazine, the publication of NPCA, had done on national parks outside of the United States. It was not only a not-so-subtle response to the nationalist rhetoric of the presidential administration, but also a suggestion to NPCA and the National Park Service to think more globally.

At first, I was bummed; this was not a priority in the protection of the parks. While the Secretary of the Interior was threatening to dissolve all protections for national monuments such as Katahdin and Bears Ears, what would a meta story about the history of stories about non-US parks contribute to the current fight? Every week at the Parks Protection meetings and on social media, fresh horrible news was shared, from newly proposed pipelines that would cross parks and sacred indigenous land to the separation of the Lansen glacier from Antarctica. Visiting the Hill myself one morning, I witnessed Scott Pruitt claiming to be committed to the environmental movement while defending the budget that cut almost all EPA funding. It was difficult to remain focused on my project and on life outside of the office knowing that major decisions that were affecting people and places were being made less than 3 miles away from me.

But out I got and the project done. Throughout my exploration in the district and research in the office, an answer for the significance of my project emerged. In visiting museums, delivering public comments to the DOI, meeting other interns in the city, and all the other adventures I had there, I re-found what I seem to learn over and over again: connection between humans, even and especially across borders, is crucial for our well-being. Our homes, our environments are connected through air, water, creatures and also through culture and art and human experience. As the climate crisis grows more real every day, exacerbated by government and administration, we’ll need to collaborate to save our communities. However, to get there, we’ll need to hear each other’s stories, the places we call dear.

I think that was the power of my experience in D.C.: being neck-deep in a place where people all over the world interacted with each other. I realized that international work is just as important as local work and that each informs the other. I thus left D.C. still excited and scared, but for different reasons: excited for the future, scared that we’ll miss opportunities to connect with one another.

Perhaps the best place to start is by reading about a park across the world, complete with an imagination capable of picturing that place as home.

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