Let's paint a picture of a world where natural areas and land are pristine, the animals are healthy and unbothered, and humans can respectfully observe the beauty without impacting the ecosystem. Land managers and stewards work towards creating a welcoming space while protecting nature and wildlife.
A diverse ecological system contains many parts, but more specifically, it involves managing human interaction and its impact on the natural world. Ecology deals with the relations of organisms to one another and their physical surroundings. It acknowledges all factors that play a role in the overall health of an environment, including living and non-living organisms.
Exploring different aspects of land management and contributors shows an appreciation for the work done to fulfill this massive role in supporting a thriving environment. Naturalists do much of the work that is deemed necessary for making these connections to the land. Naturalists study the natural world as a whole, attempting to understand species specificity within an environment and their interactions with each other. This work is essential in examining potential genetic links without genetic study. Naturalists spend the majority of their time in the field rather than in labs, observing nature, taking photos, and taking written notes to form analysis about a particular subject.
Recently, I had the opportunity to share a conversation with Jim Kravitz, a naturalist at Aspen Center of Environmental Studies (ACES), who has worked as a naturalist for 25 years. He took the time to share the importance of his occupation and how he works with the natural world. After college, Jim first found his passion through a 3-month naturalist internship at ACES. He found a love for talking to people about natural history and the stories of a place, connecting people to the world around them. He has continued his work with ACES and his studies and mentored students in the internship program to help align them with their passions.
"ACES Naturalists are studying what interests them and figuring out their lever in the world. What they are most passionate about."
Naturalists observe the world from a different lens, creating stories that educate and engage people from a new perspective. Teaching small-scale subjects such as how nitrogen infiltrates the soil or certain beetles' effect on a tree is instrumental in understanding global issues such as climate change. They work to find long-term solutions for big problems and motivate others to take care of the land.
As ACES is in an area with heavy tourist traffic, they see a lot of visitors, and it is crucial to encourage locals and visitors to appreciate the land. One area where they work is North Star Nature Preserve, a popular nature preserve for people to visit and enjoy. The area is beautiful but bares a lot of heavy use throughout the year, and ongoing management is necessary to ensure a healthy environment for the protected plants and wildlife. Many aspects go into managing an area like North Star, which relies on land managers to monitor and survey the land. On the other hand, naturalists spend intimate time with the ecology in that area. They can study the life on the preserve through consistent observation and make connections between the behaviors of certain plants and animals. Naturalists can then express their findings through face-to-face interactions with the public, encourage conversation, answer questions, and instigate further study. Telling a story of the land empowers individuals to take pride in how they leave the area. Jim discusses the responsibility that comes with the great fortune we all have.
"People need to understand the big bummer of some of our challenges, but we need to show the awe of our great gifts so we can do some gift-giving ourselves to allow these things to keep existing."
Tackling these issues on a smaller scale, educating others, using our voices, and being active in our communities is how we will move towards solutions to some of our global issues. Environmental stewards are taking steps in the right direction by impacting their areas and contributing to the scientific community. By connecting people to stories of the land, naturalists inspire and light a fire in others to work towards a healthy, balanced environment.
Learn more about ACES and how to get involved in their community. https://aspennature.org/about/
Want to learn how to become a naturalist? https://www.environmentalscience.org/career/naturalist
Here, learn about environmental stewardship. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_stewardship