From Field Work in Rural Africa to Policy Work in Washington, D.C
Conservation Careers Blogger Christine Pereira interviews Aaron Weil – Federal Conservation Advocate for Environment America – about his fascinating career story…
Why do you work in conservation?
As a child, I didn’t really have much opportunity to enjoy nature as I would have liked, so I spent many of my summers at a camp where I was in nature. I had to travel thousands of miles to get there. I remember growing up being very confused as to why I had to go so far to have the opportunity to be out in nature. As a result, it really shaped my passion and interest for trying to conserve the environment and be involved in conservation as an adult.
What are the main activities of your work?
I do quite a bit of federal lobbying, which is getting legislatures to make smart environmental decisions on our public lands-both national and state parks. I spend a lot of my time writing, whether it be making grant proposals or creating template materials that we can share with our state-based groups. Often times, the strategy and wording that we use to message our campaigns will be developed here in our Washington D.C. office.
Do you ever wish you were working on the field?
My background is in field work. I’ve spent about 10 years working professionally in Africa on community-based, natural resource projects. I was working in rural, African communities to try to implement conservation programs where community based management of the resources was used as a way of incentivizing people to live more harmoniously with wildlife. I’ve spent a long time living in tents in the middle of nowhere with no electricity and no running water.
But, I must say that I do miss the interaction. I miss being in the field, making sure that things are going smoothly and that all is being accomplished and implemented the way it should be. But, I don’t miss the rugged nature of it, nor the challenge it can bring to relationships. There are two sides to everything.
What is the best part of your job?
Seeing things through. Having the opportunity to be involved in actual policy making that has a strong impact on the environment all across the country, whether it be by getting legislation passed or by ensuring that we hold our legislatures accountable if they make poor environment decisions. It’s really exciting and encouraging to be part of that process. I love being able to get things put into law, so as to ensure long-term sustainability and protection of our public lands.
What is the worst part of your job?
I hate writing. It’s just not my strength. I am a far better communicator through conversation than through writing. I do have to spend an extensive amount of my time writing, so it probably takes me longer to accomplish something than it would take a more skilled writer. I went to school for a master’s degree that requires me to do far more writing than I’d like and I’d hope I’d moved away from that part of my life but it’s definitely still a huge piece of it.
What was your master’s degree in?
Sustainable international development, with a focus in human wildlife conflict.
What are you most proud of achieving through your work?
I would say that I am most proud of the fact that I was able to get a grant funded for a rural community in North East Namibia. It was for implementing new strategies for community based conservation efforts and using that fund to allow them to develop new financial opportunities, new community development opportunities and seeing the joy and sense of satisfaction they got when they realized that their ideas had been funded and that they had been supported. That’s definitely the thing I’m most proud of.
What advice would you give someone wishing to follow in your footsteps?
Stick with your passion. If it’s something you care enough about and you’re willing to travel for and put yourself into environments that are maybe not the most pleasant-stick with it. It’s worth it. It’s an opportunity that takes a lot of effort, but it’s unbelievably rewarding.
Be comfortable in your own skin. Be willing to travel outside of what you’re accustomed to. There is no better way to learn and connect with this than in the field. Take advantage of internship opportunities as much as possible. It’s always great to get paid for a job, but it’s always really good to get your foot in the door, as you can use it as a way to show how irreplaceable you are and how your unique skills can be useful down the line. As a result, it just may turn into a job.
And, to conclude…What is your favorite song?
“8 Steps to Perfection” by Company Flow. Look it up!
About the author
Christine Pereira graduated from the University of Ottawa in International Studies and Modern Languages. She currently lives and works in Korea, exploring the rural areas and oceans on her time off. She is particularly interested in marine conservation and World Heritage site conservation.