*Mostly half truths and outright lies.
1. In order to be a Land Stewardship fellow, you have to apply with a very specific background and set of skills.
For instance, I applied a little over a year after earning a BS in Geoscience. I could not tell a bur oak from a red oak, a drip torch from a dripline, or a large-flowered beardtongue from a dotted horsemint. I swear on a first edition of A Sand County Almanac.
2. Wisconsin is flyover country for good reason – it’s pretty boring ecologically. If you can weed some carrots and put out some seed for the chickadees, you’re already a top notch land steward by Midwest standards.
The land cared for by the Aldo Leopold Foundation staff and fellows contains a little bit of everything. I count it among the most beautiful places in the United States. Like other sites that may come to mind – the Kaibab Plateau, the Santa Lucia Range, the Wind River Mountains, or the Niobrara River valley – when I think of all the plant and animal species on the Leopold lands, and their myriad connections to each other and the climate, geomorphology, hydrology, and soils, or “collectively, the land,” it’s enough to make my head spin. This beauty will become your outdoor office, classroom, library, grocery store, heat supply, and more. What’s out there? There is the floodplain of the Wisconsin River (sand flats threaded with sloughs) which is home to globally rare floodplain savannas dominated by swamp white oak; stands of white pine and red oak taking on old growth characteristics; one of the oldest reconstructed (planted) prairies in the world; and groves of red and white pine planted by Aldo Leopold and his family, friends and students during the 1930s and ’40s. As a land stewardship fellow caring for all of this complexity, you will ignite towering flames in prairies and creeping fires in oak woodlands, sharpen a chain saw in the field, see thousands of sandhill cranes staging for migration, monitor the outcomes of previous and ongoing management, sleep in a National Historic Landmark, mix herbicides, stumble across green dragons and spotted fawns, canoe the Wisconsin River, and more. That’s just scratching the surface of land stewards’ work and enjoyment in this iconic place.
3. You’ll often find yourself thinking, “When will I ever use this?”
Short answer – pretty much everywhere.
You will be practicing skills needed in many different conservation career paths: to write prescribed burn plans; to make a presentation for scientists, funders, or colleagues; to confidently explain why you need to clean the air filter on your chainsaw; to hop on a tractor and mow a trail or plant a prairie; or to sample plants or mammals or insects for a graduate study or monitoring project. You’ll be connected to a network of former fellows and other professionals who you will be calling and emailing for advice, ideas, or new collaborations.
4. You won’t get a job with this on your resume.
Like 90 percent of land stewardship fellows, my current work is directly related to experience gained at the Aldo Leopold Foundation. Today, I help connect prescribed fire practitioners in the eastern tallgrass prairie and oak savanna region with information they can use in management plans, burn plans, and fire operations. I help plan and lead field trips, conferences, and webinars that share the latest practitioner observations and research from scientists at universities and agencies. I need working knowledge of prescribed fire and other management tools, understanding of regional conservation goals (as well as land management objectives and challenges), and I need to be able to work with a diverse array of land managers, ecologists, and scientists. Turns out you can teach a geologist new tricks.
5. Don’t apply for this fellowship. Former fellows will be extremely envious of you.
It’s a deeply meaningful and transformative experience for many. Good luck to all who apply! The network of former fellows is extremely supportive and many work to help introduce fellows to their networks and cutting-edge projects. They’ll be cheering for you.
Check for fellowship opportunities on our employment page.