Ogallala Commons: Community, the Commons, and Ecosystem Services

OC Community Internship Wrap-Up

As the weather is starting to get cooler, my internship with Ogallala Commons is coming to a close. It has been a wonderful experience over the last six months getting to travel for community outreach in the Southern High Plains and Panhandle region. Being able to help the next generation of young people get involved and immersed in wildlife and the natural world is something that I am especially passionate about. I set three goals at the beginning of my internship relating to communication, leadership, and professional networking, and through this structured goal-setting, I was able to become a more effective scientific communicator, prepare myself for an officer position in my graduate student organization, and expand my professional network with several organizations, businesses, and agencies through outreach events. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to take part in a nonprofit internship whose mission is aligned so closely with my personal values. For my final blog post, I wanted to detail some of the underlying themes of my community presentations.

The Commons

As a graduate student studying wildlife and natural resources management, the concept of the commons has come up many times throughout my time spent in higher education. The commons, or natural resources that are freely available to all members of society, are anything from natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon to something as necessary as clean water. Ogallala Commons, as the name implies, is focused in part on reinvigorating the commonwealth of rural communities in the Great Plains. Wildlife and the natural world are components of the 12 commonwealth assets that are an integral part of rural communities.

Ecosystem Services

A topic that I have focused heavily on during my time doing community outreach has been how our natural resources provide for us in the form of ecosystem services, or benefits that are freely available to us from properly functioning ecosystems. Not only has this been a theme of my presentations but is also a key aspect of my research on amphibian communities in playa wetlands. When functioning properly, playa wetlands are optimal habitat for aquatic and aquatic-dependent organisms. Additionally, they provide stopover sites for migratory birds traveling along the Central Flyway. Immediately following a heavy rainfall event, healthy playas act as recharge zones for the Ogallala Aquifer. This is primarily due to the underlying Randall clay layer that forms large cracks during dry periods allowing water to seep down into the aquifer. If the rain event is large enough, these cracks begin to swell, effectively sealing off the clay layer and allowing water to begin pooling on the surface. It is then that playas begin to come to life with breeding amphibians, macroinvertebrates, waterfowl, and hydric vegetation.

Why is this important?

The Ogallala Aquifer acts as a lifeline for humans inhabiting the Great Plains region. Water is a direct necessity for our day-to-day lives, but also feeds into every other commonwealth asset. Most notably, our foodshed, human health, biodiversity, and economic stability would be critically impacted in the absence of plentiful groundwater resources in the region. The future success of our rural communities is fundamentally linked to the conservation of our groundwater and recharge zones. It is because of this that the mission of Ogallala Commons is important to me as a lifelong resident of the Southern High Plains. I want to do my part in my community by encouraging sustainable use and effective management of our natural resources, and Ogallala Commons has been an such a positive outlet for this long-term goal. As I move forward in my career, I hope to carry with me the sense of community involvement and civic duty that I have been able to foster through this internship.

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