Wildlife Conservation Jobs –
A nearly 500-acre spot in Florida known as the D Ranch Preserve is where Lillian Dinkins and Papa Gueye hope to kickstart their careers in land conservation. The two are the first fellows chosen for a national Scholars for Conservation Leadership Program.
The program is a partnership between the Land Trust Alliance and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service and aims to expand opportunities for students to pursue careers in natural resource management and conservation. The fellowships are paid and the emphasis is on reaching students of underrepresented and minority backgrounds.
“It’s a fairly well-known fact that in the natural resources management field and the conservation field, there’s a significant lack of diversity,” says Karena Mahung, program manager and a consultant at Indufor North America.
As noted in a Green 2.0 report card from 2019, “The mainstream environmental movement’s … lack of diverse leadership has been a core strategic disadvantage, undercutting both the professional opportunities for environmental professionals of color, and the ability of the movement to solve the most urgent crises of our time.”
Traci Deen, Conservation Florida’s executive director and CEO, adds: “At the end of the day, we believe that there is power and positivity in having a diversity of thought.”
The new fellows, Dinkins and Gueye, will be creating a management and community outreach plan for D Ranch, Conservation Florida’s first preserve, located near Orlando.
The 476-acre preserve isn’t open to the public right now, but it’s future use will largely be determined by the plan the fellows put together. To craft it in the next four months, they’ll be getting to know the plants and wildlife that call the preserve home. The goal is to create a long-term plan that will best suit the land and keep it healthy.
The plan is to open D Ranch to the public in the next 12 months to activities like hiking and low-key camping along with horseback riding and mountain biking.
Deen says the land is special and worth protecting for many reasons.
It served as a ranch and cow operation for decades and was under immense development pressure. It also borders the 7,487-acre Lake Monroe Conservation Area, overseen by the St. Johns River Water Management District. That means the preserve expands on a “conservation corridor” of wildlife habitat and also helps protect the local watershed.
Dinkins, who graduated with a degree in environmental science from Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama, says she thinks there’s not enough awareness among people of color about opportunities in environmental fields. “It’s really an education thing. A lot of people just don’t know that these are actual jobs that people have.”
Mahung, the consultant, adds: “When you don’t see people who look like you in leadership positions, modeling what these careers look like, it’s very difficult to imagine yourself doing these careers.”
Dinkins dreams of being the director of the U.S. Forest Service some day.
Gueye, who graduated with a degree in agronomy from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee, Florida, sees the fellowship as a good kick start to a professional career, although he’s still not sure what kind of job he wants to pursue. The fellowship will allow him to explore the field and see where he wants to go.
While Dinkins and Gueye are the program’s first two fellows, the intent is to take it nationwide, with fellows at land trusts throughout the United States.
The Land Trust Alliance, a partner in the Scholars for Conservation Leadership effort, represents more than 1,000 land trusts across the country.
The first two fellows were chosen from 10 undergrads brought together for a National Land Conservation Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2019. The program plans to recruit its next cohort of 20 college students in February 2021. Students who want more information can sign up online.
“I’m in a space here where I really feel like it’s really important to go back into my community and encourage people to get into spaces and opportunities like this,” Dinkins said.
Gueye adds: “It’s a good thing that people, young people, see Black people in this field. Maybe they can think they can actually do it too. We are leaders. We are the first ones to do it, so we have to make sure we do it well.”
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