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Wisconsin program fosters diversity in the next generation of conservationists

 a young man with green sunglasses and dark hair plants a young tree
Don Behm
Jaeden Carrasquillo plants a shagbark hickory tree in Havenwoods State Forest

Jaeden Carrasquillo has spent his summer avoiding snake poop and wild parsnip sap.

“It hurts so bad, but the flowers are so pretty,” said Carrasquillo, a sophomore at UW-Milwaukee majoring in environmental science. “I know they’re invasive, but they’re kind of cute.”

Under the sun, wild parsnip sap can cause severe rashes and blisters. Armed with gloves and long sleeves and pants, Carrasquillo battled the invasive plant as an urban conservation and storytelling intern with the Nature Conservancy’s Milwaukee program. (As for the snake poop, he has participated in snake surveys at Hopkin’s Hollow, where the garter snake population is a useful indicator of ecological restoration progress there.)

A program of the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, the Diversity in Conservation Internship is fostering diversity in the next generation of conservationists, like Carrasquillo, a native Milwaukeean who wants to pursue work in habitat restoration after he graduates. While environmental issues affect everyone, they don’t affect everyone equally. People of color and Indigenous communities are hit especially hard by climate change, but the environmental movement lacks diversity.

The program, which doesn’t require any prior background or experience in conservation, places students from Wisconsin universities into summer internships with partners like the Aldo Leopold Nature Center or the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Students get hands-on experience and learn about career options in the field, from nonprofits to state agencies.

Through the internship, Carrasquillo discovered Havenwoods State Forest. He spent an afternoon photographing his favorite spots there and plans to write a story about the park, which is Wisconsin’s only urban state forest.

“I grew up 20 minutes away and never knew it existed,” Carrasquillo said. “Looking at it, you’d think you were at Baraboo Hills or Mukwonago or somewhere two hours away."

Carrasquillo is eager to spread the word and teach more people in his community about Havenwoods and Milwaukee’s green spaces. With more outreach, he hopes more people will care about these natural resources.

The environmental space has long been white-dominated — something “everybody’s kind of aware” of, Carrasquillo said. He was thrilled to meet so many other young people of color in his intern cohort. “It’s always going to be an ongoing process.”


Lina is a WUWM news reporter.
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