Alumni Name: Leonie Walderich
Dates Served: 07/26-12/05; 04/05-08/29
What roles was Leonie in: crew member pacific west; ACE EPIC wildlife technician (USFS)
Location: South Lake Tahoe, Ridgecrest; Tahoe National Forest – American River Ranger District
Q: What were you doing before ACE?
A: I had graduated from my undergrad in 2019 with a degree in Molecular Environmental Biology and was looking for opportunities to gain hands-on field experience in conservation before potentially applying to graduate school. I had originally planned on attempting a long-distance hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2020 but then covid canceled those plans and instead I later got to work on the PCT with an amazing ACE trail crew!
Q: How did you hear about ACE?
A: I was searching for conservation internships and jobs with a lot of field work and came across ACE on an online job board.
Q: Walk me through your time at ACE – What was your favorite aspect of being an ACE EPIC member?
A: There are so many highlights from my time at ACE that it’s really difficult to choose the best aspect. I first started on a trail crew based out of South Lake Tahoe, CA and was introduced to backcountry trail work in Desolation Wilderness. My first crew, the “Granite Lizards”, was a mixture of incredible people from all over the country and living and working with them was a blast. I joined two other amazing crews that season, one working near Muir Woods, CA and another one in Ventana Wilderness. I met so many welcoming, kind, adventurous and badass people in a very short time. After the ACE crew, I completed an ACE EPIC term as a wildlife technician with the US Forest Service on the Tahoe National Forest, CA. We conducted spotted owl and northern goshawk surveys, worked at night and during the day, encountered around 20 black bears, built wetlands for endangered red-legged frogs and helped catch bats with mist nets. I worked on a smaller crew with two crew leads and two technicians. I think being out in the forest all day, bushwacking and getting to experience wildlife up close were some of the best parts. I had large spotted owls silently fly right past my head multiple times and a black bear (false) charged at me and my coworker for some extra adrenaline. It was amazing. I also got to work closely with our wildlife biologist supervisor and learned how Forest Service projects are executed. Overall, I would say the people, the beautiful locations and many wildlife encounters were my favorite aspects.
Q: What was it like living in your term location? Any favorite activities? Hikes? What did you do on your off days?
A: I’m a huge fan of communal living so I really enjoyed sharing rooms and houses with ACE people. In South Lake Tahoe, we would bike to the lake and go swimming, hike to the top of Mount Tallac or go mountain biking. There is also a lot of good climbing in the area. With 6 days off in between work hitches there is enough time to go backpacking, explore some hot springs and visit Yosemite NP or road trip to the coast. Every set of off days was filled with activities and there were always people excited to join. But there was also always an option to take some alone time and recover from the work week. I really enjoyed playing volleyball with sometimes up to 20 ACErs and joining ACE basketball games.
During my EPIC term I lived in a small town on the edge of a river canyon and we often went swimming in the river after work and on the weekends. I was living with an ACE timber crew and archaeology crew in a big house. We went backpacking and camping together, played volleyball and had a 4th of July barbecue. I had 3 days off every week and was able to explore other National Forests, backpack in Granite Chief Wilderness and Lassen National Park, meet friends from old ACE crews in Yosemite or join them for a day on the John Muir Trail.
Q: Did you have a favorite project? Why?
A: I think on the trail crew it’s a tie between two backcountry projects, one in Desolation Wilderness where we camped by a beautiful lake and hiked to our work site with the sunrise every morning. We built rock steps and walls and it was like a giant puzzle in a very beautiful area. The other project was in Ventana Wilderness where we camped on the bluff overlooking the ocean before hiking into Los Padres National Forest for 10 miles to set up camp among coastal redwoods. Both projects involved improving trails to allow for recreation while mitigating negative effects such as erosion.
During my EPIC term, my favorite project was conducting Spotted Owl surveys. I loved calling owls at night and being able to see them up close during the day. If they didn’t trust us, we sometimes just had to hang out with them while they observed us and vice versa. It was great to see their fluffy offspring and gain understanding of their habitat preferences. It felt meaningful to document where the owls were nesting to ensure that these areas remain protected from timber harvest projects.
Q: In what ways did ACE shape your life personally and professionally?
A: I didn’t expect to make so many meaningful and lasting friendships in such a short time frame. The people I crossed paths with were supportive, inspiring and just really fun to be around. The environment I experienced at ACE made it easy for me to feel like I could just be myself. I became more spontaneous and learned to let go of having to plan everything. At the intersection of personal and professional development, I think ACE has helped me narrow down what I am passionate about and what I want to spend my time working on. I was able to connect with project partners from state and federal agencies, meet biologists from other national forests and learn how the Forest Service operates. After working with a wildlife crew, I decided to continue building a career in wildlife conservation. I now have a network of people who care about conservation and are trying to support me wherever they can.
Q: How long have you been an ACE Alumni? Where are you now?
A: My EPIC season ended in late August 2021. I moved to Oregon and am currently applying to graduate school programs in conservation biology and molecular ecology. I am hoping to continue with some wildlife field work before starting school again next year.
Q: What are some of your favorite extracurricular activities?
A: backpacking, basketball, mountain biking, martial arts, and I just started bouldering which has been a very humbling experience
Q: What excites you most about becoming an ACE Alumni Ambassador?
A: I had such an amazing time with ACE and I want everyone who is open to such experiences to get the opportunity to learn about what ACE has to offer. I’m looking forward to talking to prospective members and getting them excited about conservation work. I think it can be overwhelming to think about finding a clear career path in the conservation field because there are so many different options. As an ACE Alumni Ambassador I can at least provide prospective members with an overview of how ACE can help them get a foot in the door with agencies such as the US Forest Service and find a place to start.
Q: If a prospective ACE member were to ask you what the benefits of joining ACE are, what would you say?
A: ACE provides you with a community of people from all different backgrounds who share a passion for conservation and spending time outside. The work can be challenging but the people you work and live with, the project outcomes and the locations make it so worth it. The EPIC program offers a wide variety of internships that are great for networking and getting exposure to different types of projects to help decide what works best for you. There is always ACE staff around, a crew leader, person of contact or housing manager, who care and want to make the experience as beneficial as possible. Sharing living space with so many people is a great way to improve social skills and set personal boundaries. Many of the skills you acquire and the things you learn about yourself while working with ACE translate to all other aspects of life, not just a professional career path. You don’t have to have an extensive background in backpacking or bushwhacking, you just have to be open to new experiences and people will help you learn everything you need to know.