National Hispanic Heritage Month 2012: Minority Student Leaders in Nature
Larry Telles may be a fisheries biologist, but he can spot a great mentoring opportunity with the eyes of an eagle.
When the 32-year veteran of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service learned that National Hispanic Environmental Council President Roger Rivera needed conservation professionals to serve as youth role models during the 4th annual California Minority Youth Environmental Training Institute, Telles jumped at the chance.
The Institute is an intensive, six-day residential and science-based environmental education and career program for Latino and other minority students aged 16-19 with high GPAs and a strong interest in the environment. The students conduct field work and learn about environmental issues from conservation professionals that use natural areas in and around Ventura, CA, as living laboratories.
Telles is the Chief of Fisheries Operations for the Pacific Region Fishery Resources Program, which covers the Pacific Northwest and Hawaiian Islands. He's also Hispanic and originally from New Mexico, where he received a degree in Fisheries Science from New Mexico State University.
"I had fished as kid with family and friends all my life, but the concept of "sport" fishing or "sport" hunting was pretty alien to my family. Hunting and fishing were for subsistence, not for sport," said Telles. "But the understanding that resources must be conserved to assure a healthy population of animals was a concept that was easy for me to embrace as federal fishery biologist."
This August, Telles and fellow Pacific Region employee Bob Flores, Refuge Supervisor for Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, joined five biologists from the Service's Southwest Region (California and Nevada) and 28 students selected competitively from both high schools and colleges in California, Arizona, and Nevada.
Using high-tech, professional grade science equipment, the students shadowed their "role model" mentors and spent five days hiking and conducting of increasingly sophisticated field surveys and species monitoring, culminating in studies of California condors on Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge. On day six, the students gave presentations on what they had learned.
Programs like the Institute--and its students--defy misconceptions that Hispanics and other minority groups don't place as high a value on the environment and natural resources. A 2012 nationwide study conducted by the Sierra Club and the National Council of La Raza found that 91 percent of Hispanic voters viewed outdoor activities as part of a community's way of life (see study link below).
For Telles, who nearly gave up biology to pursue a career in music, and Lena Chang, a young Service biologist in the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, helping talented minority students to connect with nature is both inspiring and rewarding.
"I was impressed with the caliber of students chosen to participate in this program," said Chang. "It was wonderful to spend the day with such a bright, enthusiastic, and diverse group of students and instructors. This was a very enriching experience for all of us, and I was happy to have had an opportunity to share my story of the path I followed that led me to a career in conservation."
VISIT THESE SITES FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: