Natural Perspectives: Corp members get to know critters

January 19, 2011|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray
  • Crew of new hires from the Orange County Conservation Corps visits Bolsa Chica to perform a wildlife survey and learn about wetlands.
Crew of new hires from the Orange County Conservation… (HB Independent )

Last week, I enjoyed a pleasant walk around the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in the company of a rather large crew of new recruits from the Orange County Conservation Corps. Normally, my classes have eight to 10 young adults in them. This crew numbered 23, a record large class of new hires. Vic joined us for lunch.

I joked to Javier Cabrera, my supervisor, that if I had known the class was going to be that large, I would have called in sick. In the past, I've found that classes of new corps members as large as 17 or 18 people are unmanageable. I have to tell you, I had my concerns about how the day would go.

Keep in mind that corps members are generally male high school dropouts aged 18 to 24 and that many have gang affiliations or have been in trouble with the law. Some have behavioral issues that kept them from succeeding in regular high school. It can take them a while to settle in at the corps. I get them the first week that they're with us, so they're about as wild as they get. I actually enjoy their enthusiasm and free spirits, but I prefer my challenges in small doses.


I needn't have worried. This group was delightful. No problem at all. We had a great time doing our wildlife survey of Bolsa Chica and filling out worksheets later in the classroom at the Bolsa Chica Conservancy. This group particularly enjoyed handling the king snakes and coastal rosy boa at the conservancy. But for me, the highlight of the day was finding an unusual critter at Bolsa Chica. I'll tell you about that rare find later.

I started the morning with a short safety lecture about dehydration, mountain lions and rattlesnakes. These are some of the hazards that the corps members may face if they're on a crew working along the roads after wildfires or on restoration projects.

But these days, many of our corps members work on green job projects, weatherizing houses to save energy for homeowners. Others work in retail sales while they're with us, or on recycling crews. Sometimes their only exposure to nature is what they get in my day with them. So I try to make the experience memorable.

They say that people won't save what they don't love, and they won't love what they don't know. I try, in one day, to instill a love of the environment in these mostly inner-city kids. I think the day they spend at Bolsa Chica has a positive impact on them.

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