By Dianne L. Anderson
“Since my early years of high school, I have always been passionate about the environment,” stated Amber Diaz in her application for a scholarship stipend to volunteer for a week doing environmental conservation work at the Cascade Head Nature Conservancy in Oregon. “With very little money to spare” while saving money for college tuition and books, this sophomore Environmental Studies major was deeply grateful to the Casey Feldman Memorial Foundation for the $575 stipend which covered the expenses of her Alternative Spring Break trip.
Amber’s passion for the environment began as a high school freshman when she and a dozen other students packed themselves into a van and drove to Baja, Mexico to work at a sea turtle reserve in an area where the locals had previously captured and sold the turtles on the black market. While there, Amber helped to rehabilitate and return sea turtles to the wild that had been caught in fishermen’s nets. Amber cleaned the pools, scrubbed the turtles’ shells and helped build a roof over the pools to give the turtles some shade from the hot sun. The operator of the reserve was native to the area and provided jobs to other locals which centered on ecotourism activities such as whale watching in an area where the endangered grey whales can also be found. This was most exciting for Amber who stated, “It was surprising to see the incredible change in attitudes of the locals towards their native wildlife, and to see them using their diverse wildlife to make a living. The trip inspired me to believe that people don’t always have to destroy the environment to be successful, they can live alongside it.”
Back in Colorado Amber volunteers with the Colorado Reptile Humane Society after becoming interested in the exotic pet trade and the impact on local wildlife stemming from the abandonment of exotic pets. The shelter takes in iguanas, snakes, and other reptiles, many of whom suffer from health problems due to neglect. “Seeing these animals, who would have died without the humane society’s intervention, survive and find good homes made me realize not only how negative attitudes towards reptiles can affect the environment and harm animals, but also how proper education can significantly better the lives of reptiles kept as pets, and in turn keep those pets from being abandoned and become invasive species in our habitats,” stated Amber.
The environmental significance of Amber’s volunteer work on her Alternative Spring Break trip to Oregon was of a different sort. The variety of ecosystems at Cascade Head, which include forests, several prairie headlands and the Salmon River are home to more than 350 species of wildlife and rare wildflowers. The spotted owl, marbled murrelet, coho salmon, and the Oregon silver spot butterfly are all federally listed endangered species which either use or inhabit the area. Because of its ecological significance, Cascade Head Preserve and the surrounding national forest and other lands have won recognition as a National Scenic Research Area and a United Nations Biosphere Reserve.
Amber’s service at Cascade Head focused primarily on digging up and removing invasive Himalayan blackberry bushes from the grassland community, which negatively impact the rare wildflowers and wildlife naturally found there. “It sounds easy, but the roots were usually really deep and branched out in every direction it seemed,” reported Amber. Amber and her fellow student volunteers also worked on trail preservation of hiking trails that had become damaged and difficult to navigate after the rainy season. “Sometimes the work seemed tedious and we didn’t see our results immediately, but I know that the work we did during our week in Oregon has contributed to preserving the grasslands in this spectacular coastal headland which is a true natural gem”.
[Donate to the Casey Feldman Memorial Foundation to help provide other students with scholarship opportuities]
Related Links and Posts:
- Helping our children experience the gift of helping others, article in the Fall CU Parent Newsletter by Casey Feldman’s parents, Joel Feldman and Dianne in which they discuss the establishment of the Alternative Spring Break scholarships in Casey’s memory.
- Casey Feldman Inspiration video , produced by CU Boulder broadcast journalism student Kylie Bearse and which aired on CU Boulder TV News, concerning the Alternative Spring Break program and the scholarships established in Casey’s memory.
- University of Colorado – Boulder Volunteer Resource Center , volunteer office at CU which organizes the Alternative Spring Break trips
-Casey Feldman Memorial Foundation News and Updates – University of Colorado/ Alternative Spring Break, all of the Foundation articles concerning the Alternative Spring Break scholarship program