Both Work and Fun: Watershed Conservation in Alaska

This week, Ambassador Tait Stevenson tells us how he spent his summer in Alaska, supporting watershed conservation with creativity. 

By Tait Stevenson ’20, Biological Sciences (Evolutionary Biology and Ecology Concentration)

My name is Tait Stevenson and I am a biological sciences major concentrating in ecology and evolutionary biology. I was lucky enough to get to spend this past summer in Alaska, as an invasive species intern for the Kenai Watershed Forum. The Kenai Watershed Forum is a non-profit organization with the goal of protecting the watersheds of the Kenai Peninsula through education, restoration, and research.

Getting ready for the Kenai River Festival! This annual community event, hosted in the town of Soldotna, includes numerous local musicians and vendors. It draws people from all over Alaska in celebration of the Kenai River and the community’s goal of protecting it.

Through the internship, I was able to gain a wide range of invaluable experiences relevant to what I’m studying; I learned management techniques for dealing with invasive plants and animals, assisted in hydrological research, helped in conducting wetland surveys, and engaged in various community outreach projects. I was able to gain some unique, once-in-a-lifetime experiences such as visiting the Native Alaskan villages of Port Graham and Nanwalek, which are accessible only by boat or small plane. There, I helped to educate people on the invasive plants of their villages and the potential steps they could take to manage them.

I was able to do a ride along with an Alaska State Fish and Game warden on the Kenai River, in order to witness the law enforcement aspect of conservation.

While I was in Alaska, I lived in a yurt on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, outside of the town of Soldotna, though I traveled all over the Kenai Peninsula for various projects. On my time off of work, I soaked up as much of what Alaska had to offer as I possibly could by going on hiking, canoeing, fishing, and camping trips. I was able to witness incredible wildlife and experience the breathtaking landscapes.

A large part of my summer was spent doing surveys on various Kenai Peninsula lakes for an invasive, aquatic plant called elodea. I was also able to enjoy some incredible scenery while on the job.

In Alaska, I was able to apply the concepts I have been learning in classroom at Cornell to real world issues. This experience gave me a newfound perspective on the challenges faced in the area of conservation and how to overcome these challenges through creative solutions, such as community engagement.

I am excited to be back in Ithaca for another great semester. I can’t wait to see where Cornell takes me next!