Growing a New Perspective

Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s Website!

Bami_W2_picAs I washed my hands, trying to get every bit of soil out from under my fingernails, I recollected my amazing day with InternQuest. All the knowledge and insight that I gained was only amplified by the activities that we did at the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. This week, the interns had the most hands-on experience helping Ms. Emily Howe with a habitat restoration project.

My day started as I entered the lobby of the Institute of Conservation Research building located in Escondido, CA. After everyone arrived to the Institute, the interns were introduced to Ms. Howe, who is the Research Coordinator for Plant Conservation. Ms. Howe’s tranquil demeanor permeated through the room instantly. Her calm manner was almost symbolic of the life that she works with everyday. After introductions, the interns got straight to business.

Ms. Howe led us to a large, quiet meeting room before we all sat down at the first of many brown, round tables in the dark room. Ms. Howe began by discussing her current habitat restoration project at Lake Hodges, located just south of Escondido, CA. Lake Hodges, which has recently fallen victim to two successive fires, is currently losing native grasses and shrubs to invasive plant species. Ms. Howe’s goal is to restore 25 different native plants species to the region. So far, she and her team have restored over 25 acres within two years. Ms. Howe looks forward to growing and introducing more native species in order to create a large impact on San Diego County’s ecosystem. Ms. Howe then shifted the discussion to her background, and how she got to the position she has now. She explained to the interns how being raised on a ranch drove her curiosity for plants. Ms. Howe’s story is not only fascinating, but also shows how life can take us in different directions as we grow.

As the day continued, Ms. Howe took the interns to the shade house located just outside of the Institute. This is where she and her team propagate native shrubs and grasses before transplanting them at Lake Hodges. The sun beamed down on the thin black netting that covered what seemed like thousands of young plants. The shade house provides a comfortable environment for the growing plants while protecting them from the harsh weather. We entered the shade house before being assigned the task of helping Ms. Howe with her habitat restoration project. For about an hour, we helped her transport coyote bush (baccharis pilularis) from small cones to larger pots. Doing this for the plants eases the transition from living under the shade house to being able to survive when they are transplanted to Lake Hodges. The interns started off by dislodging the roots of each plant from the cone before putting the plants into new, larger pots. We repeated this process until a total of about a hundred plants were transferred.

As our day winded down, Ms. Howe took us back to the meeting room where she concluded her presentation. The interns learned a lot about Ms. Howe during this time. Ms. Howe currently has a home garden consisting a variety of different species including native cacti, a sage bush, and other indigenous species. When asked how the average person can help with native plant conservation, she answered that planting native plants in a small area can make a huge difference. Our time with Ms. Howe at the Institute really opened my eyes as I gained a new outlook on the diversity of plant life in San Diego.

Bami, Real World Team
Week Two, Fall 2015