Intern Stories: First Time in the Pines

My name is Estefani Moyers, and I’m from Cananea, Sonora — a mining town just south of the Arizona border. And this is a bit of what my first experience was like as a wildlife and conservation intern at Sky Island Alliance. In late May, I went on a field trip to the nearby Sierra Los Ajos with one of SIA’s wildlife specialists, a fellow intern, a classmate of mine at the Universidad de la Sierra, and two very helpful rangers who take care of the land. Our plan was to conduct a survey of the area’s amazing plant and bird diversity and to see how they were doing after previous wildfires.

I can see the mountains from my home but had never been up into them to explore. It was the first time in my life that I had ever seen a pine tree up close. They are so big and beautiful — from the moment you enter the mountains, and getting better the deeper you go in.

I had the opportunity to see trees that were in a younger stage due to the fires that had previously occurred. A large amount of vegetation in the understory was gone, but signs of new growth were everywhere.

One thing that surprised me is that the pines in particular have a special way of protecting themselves from burning entirely. They try to save the bottom of their trunks and the upper part of their tops where they get sunlight. This is why when we look at them from above everything looks full and lush. But when you are down and inside the forest, many trees are burned and often without limbs.

Although I didn’t have much experience doing this kind of scientific survey — taking measurements and classifying different kinds of trees by species, height, diameter, and burn level —  it was fun to learn things I didn’t yet know. Also to realize that these kinds of problems exist and why we have to take care of our forests.

Through our survey, we observed some severe impacts from previous fires. Mature trees have been lost, along with some species diversity. But we also noted many young and medium-aged trees making a strong recovery — and along with them, many birds and wildflowers are coming back.

Just this summer, the Sierra Los Ajos burned once again, underlining the importance of this work and protecting our forests. My hope is to be able to return sometime soon — since it’s so full of life and so much to explore.

Estefani Moyers is a wildlife and conservation intern with Sky Island Alliance and is currently studying biology at the Universidad de la Sierra in Moctezuma, Sonora.