Leiding Taylor '15

In early June of 2014 I drove through 10 states in 3 days. I started the drive in Spartanburg, South Carolina, headed through the middle of America comprised of our nation's "fly-over states", and finished by driving up through the Badlands of the Dakotas. This journey had led me to Idaho where I was to begin my Knight internship with the Nature Conservancy. I was living with two other Washington and Lee students, Trevor Gordon ('15) and Blair Tynes ('15), and we were all ready to see what a summer working out West had to offer us.
For the record, Idaho itself does not exactly fall in line with its stereotypes. Yes, potato farming certainly exists there in large quantities and it is certainly one of the most conservative red states in the United States today, but Idaho also had an unexpectedly wild quality to it. Not many people know that it is home to some of the most coveted skiing, hiking and fly fishing sites in the country. Not to mention one of the four entrances into the iconic Yellowstone National Park was just 30 miles down the road from our house in Island Park, Idaho. So in order to get the most out of Idaho in the summer, we took to the river and wilderness whenever we could.
When I wasn't exploring trailheads and fly fishing the Henry's Fork or Yellowstone River with my adventurous housemates, I was working long days at the Flat Ranch Nature Preserve, which boasts 1,750 acres that have been owned and cared for by the Nature Conservancy for 20 years. It served as a large-scale cattle operation before this point, and the land had become extremely unhealthy by the time the Nature Conservancy purchased it and placed it under conservation easement in 1993. It since then has regenerated itself back to its normal state based on the tenets of the Nature Conservancy to promote the growth of native species and sustainable conservation practices. My job as an intern through the Knight Program at W&L was to assist with the day-to-day needs of the ranch and with a few long-term summer projects as well. Summer was the only time that real work could be done in this part of the world, for the winters register an average of 215 in of snowfall per year with an average temperature of 5.6 degrees Celsius during the winter months.
To keep track of the overall health of the 1,750 acres, I would traverse the expansive property by ATV or a vehicle with 4-wheel drive and monitor every living thing I saw. I did countless numbers of surveying and data entry on species ranging from aspen trees, insects, and amphibians. My boss and manager of the Flat Ranch, Matthew Ward, explained to me that collecting and adding accurate data to the phenological records of the Flat Ranch would strengthen our understanding of the ecology of the area and could even provide invaluable knowledge in future years that could end up saving this wildly unique place. After observing grizzly bears, moose with their calves, and rare birds of prey on the property, I couldn't agree more that this job was, indeed, important for the flora and fauna as well as for the future generations of people that would travel from every corner of the world to see them. Right here in rural Idaho.