My Summer Experience at the Coronado National Forest

By Irvin Ortega

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In the summer of 2013, my sister Leticia participated in the Student Conservation Association’s (SCA) National Crew Program, where she traveled to Maine, and loved it! Ever since then, I knew I wanted to do this program too.

Getting Started

In the summer of 2017, I decided to participate in SCA’s Community Crew Program. For this program, I didn’t get to travel out of state, but stayed in Houston instead. Through this program I had the opportunity to work with several nonprofit organizations as well as local, regional and federal agencies.

Having this experience under my belt, I decided to go ahead and apply for the National Crew Program in February 2018. Shortly after, I was informed by SCA Houston’s program manager that I was in. I was one of three students offered this opportunity in Houston, and the only one that was offered the paid internship because I opted to do the six-week program instead of the two to three-week one.

Off I Go

In the summer of 2018, I was off to work with the U.S Department of Agriculture Forest Service. I was sent to the Coronado National Forest, which is 1.78 million acres that spreads throughout mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico.

My first week, I hiked a total of four to six miles a day and built trails on the mountains. The following week, the crew of 10 students I was assigned to took down one-mile of old rusty barbed wire fence and put up a new one up.

My third week in was fire week, my favorite! I took an all-day firefighting course and a 50-question test. Since we passed the test, we were able to work with firefighters to build fire lines that help prevent future fires from spreading. I also got to take the S-130 firefighter training course that provides entry-level firefighter skills. I was taught how to navigate in the wild and how to use a compass to find the longitude and latitude of our location. We also learned how someone who has had an incident in the Forrest is located and how they evacuate them to a hospital.

The fourth week was biology week. My crew and I got to remove an invasive species from a pond because it was preventing birds from drinking water and was taking up too much oxygen from the water, which was killing the ecosystem inside of it. During week five, we restored an old adobe building and rearranged fallen tree trunks in a fence surrounding the house to keep cattle out.

The sixth and final week I got to learn how to use tools such as the Forestry Laser Rangefinder/Hypsometer which is used to measure the location and height of an object. I also learned about all the native and non-native trees in Arizona, and how to properly identify them.

Life-changing Experience

Thanks to this trip I realized how much I truly care about the environment, and that I want to do something to help maintain it. I want to inform others not only about the impact they have on the environment but also what they can personally do to help it. I also learned that I love being outside and, in the future, I do not want to work in an office setting. I want to be out in the field. I am curious by nature and seek out adventure.

For those students who are thinking about pursuing a career in the environmental field, I would highly recommend that they participate in this program. Summer 2018 was the first time that the U.S Department of Agriculture and SCA partnered up to offer this program. There are limited spots so I would recommend applying as soon as possible. The application deadline is March 4, 2019. You can visit to learn more about the National Crew program and to apply.

About the Author:

Irvin Ortega is currently in 11th grade at YES Prep Southeast. Ortega is active an active member in Student Council. With a passion for environmental issues, Ortega is also an active member of the Student Conservation Association here in Houston. Ortega would like to pursue a major in Environmental Studies post high school graduation.

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