Montana/Dakotas

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Campfire Brainstorm Sparks New Partnership

by Craig Flentie, Lewistown District Office

students and park rangers prepare for river patrol 

Preparing for patrol on the Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River, (left to right) SKC student Benny Everett; Park Ranger Steve Swanson; SKC student Josh McGreevey; and park rangers Marian Ekweogwu and Jim Barrowman.
 

two students on break at Square Butte

Benny Everett and Josh McGreevey take a break during a trip to Square Butte. Benny and Josh were the first two students to participate in BLM's Educational Outreach Partnership.

Some of our best ideas come from the most casual of settings.

Not long ago several BLMers (Gene Terland, Stan Benes, Gary Slagel, Mark Schaefer, and Wade Brown) went on an overnight site visit along the Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River. The evening campfire conversation was typical of such a setting and included weighty topics related to river management and recreation. 

Midway through the evening, Lewistown District Manager Stan Benes asked how we could better expose Native American students to the work BLM does along the river, and inform them of the career opportunities that kind of work can provide. The question drew considerable thought and all were advocates of the concept. 

They all agreed that this program would have to be a partnership between or among the BLM and tribal colleges in the region; that it would require clearly defined roles, responsibilities and benefits for all involved; and that it would have to provide hands-on learning, entry level compensation and college credits for participants, and on-the-ground workload assistance for BLM. 

The task of developing the concept fell to Mark Schaefer. It wasn’t easy, but though persistence and contacts, he completed a draft plan. 

As with many new concepts, however, funding became the biggest obstacle to implementation.

That’s when Sara Romero-Minkoff, MSO equal employment opportunity manager, became involved. Her knowledge of Washington Office grants and programs involving diversity issues proved invaluable. After multiple meetings and discussions with Mark, she opted to submit a funding application to the WO Educational Outreach Division.  The project’s potential merits competed very well with other applications and the partnership was selected for funding. 

Thanks in large part to persistent efforts from Mark and Sara, the educational outreach partnership idea was designed, funded and ready to present to potential partners.    
 
Salish Kootenai College Signs On 

Salish Kootenai College (SKC) on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Pablo, Mont.,  is experienced with working with federal agency programs and quickly recognized the potential of this Educational Outreach Partnership. This spring, the SKC became the first tribal college to formalize an agreement with the BLM. 

The SKC is contributing by developing a Wildland Recreation Management practicum that includes classes featuring wildland recreation, facilities planning and maintenance, monitoring, restoration and public education. Each topic will include lectures by SKC faculty and BLM resource specialists. 

Students will benefit by completing college credits, gaining hands-on experience, acquiring additional exposure to diverse natural resource-related projects, and earning compensation while working summers for BLM.  Additionally, the program may be a gateway to a BLM career in resource management.   

The BLM will benefit from additional outreach to under-represented minority groups, a more diverse workforce, and potential job recruitment and assistance with numerous tasks such as river patrols, launch site and interpretive center staffing, and on-the-ground work projects.

Not long after the BLM and SKC had agreed to this partnership, its first two participants were enrolled and ready to report for duty. Benny Everett and Josh McGreevey, both second year forestry majors at SKC, arrived at the Fort Benton River Management Station somewhat curious about what their roles would be. 

Josh and Benny spent their first couple of days steeped in the standard orientation sessions required for seasonal park rangers. The topics included equipment issue and familiarization, driver training, watercraft familiarization, hazards, safety and ethics. Orientation time also included open discussions regarding the objectives of this educational outreach partnership and the students’ expectations, responsibilities and duty schedules. 

With information overload weighing heavily in their minds, Benny and Josh soon found solace working on the river with the guidance of a great mentor. Paired up with Jim Barrowman, a third year seasonal river ranger, Josh and Benny progressed smoothly into their recreation-based responsibilities.   

From that point on, the summer work season passed quickly. Throughout the summer, Benny and Josh found themselves involved with and learning from everyone on the river staff as well as a wide variety of BLM resource specialists. Each of these BLMers served as a great tutor for topics including riparian management, invasive weeds, archeology, rangeland management and forestry.  

By the end of the summer, both students had developed a good working knowledge about the BLM’s multiple programs and lauded the BLM staff’s knowledge, professionalism and work ethic. Both Benny and Josh enjoyed the experience. They felt it was a summer well spent with the most satisfying portion being the time spent on the river. Josh summed it up when asked if he had any advice for future students.  “I would tell them to be ready to camp and paddle (canoes),” he said with a smile. 

“Overall, I thought the partnership was a huge success,” observed Mark Schaefer. “I think we met 90 percent of our objectives and everyone involved is quite satisfied with the fledgling program. As with many new undertakings, there is always room for improvement and we have a feel for what BLM can do to make this educational partnership better.   We will be working with BLM resource specialists this winter to further refine the work experiences and lessons available with the partnership.”

The BLM looks forward to continuing this program and has already started a dialogue with faculty members from other tribal colleges to inform them of its potential. 

“This partnership could not have gotten off the ground without a great team effort from the BLM at every level, Schaefer added. “Gene Terland, Stan Benes and Gary Slagel all lent their full support, and Sara Romero-Minkoff’s perseverance and knowledge of funding mechanisms in the Washington Office were absolutely critical to the successful outcome.”

This educational outreach partnership is an example of an out-of-the-box idea that has the potential to provide real dividends. 

Perhaps BLM should schedule more discussions around a campfire.