Volunteer Stories – Sam Dexter


When and how did start with volunteering with WEN?

“I first moved here for grad school in the fall of 2013. My background is as a political economist, by training. I did economic modeling for international financing, but my minor in college and most of what I did post-college was in natural resource consulting because of my economic background.

A good portion of that was field tech work and biology work, that kind of rolled itself into an MS degree [at the University of Montana in Environmental Studies] and work with WEN. I focus on natural resources management schemes, particularly market-based management schemes, largely on the international landscape. I like to get the agency experience and non-profit experience and see that they inform one another. Obviously with natural resources management , there is no one size fits all model. If you are able to dip your toes in the non-profit world and government world, and private world I think you can get the greatest perspective for best management of natural resources.

Currently I have been interning for about a year with the DNRC. I work for the Trust Land Management Division, so all the land entrusted to the state by the federal government. We have two primary goals, one is to turn a profit and to pump that money into the school system and the flip side of that is we also have to manage for ecological conditions. We are essentially the Forest Service at the state level. The work that I do at the DNRC involves water and fisheries management and in fact a lot of the same parameters that I measure on a daily basis there are similar to what I measure with WEN. It’s a lot of the same technical skills but its applied differently and there is the communication and education component with the community. The DNRC has to communicate that way but I just communicate internally. So I am much more of a technician in that role as opposed to being a teacher when I’m in my WEN role. Even though it’s the same suite of roles, it’s packaged differently.”

How does volunteering with WEN connect with your interests?

“I am interested in watershed management and I do a lot of technical work with a state agency, in my position with the DNRC and what WEN lets me do is connect that with citizen science initiatives. What I find most compelling about that is that the quality of data you can get out of citizen science initiative with proper training can actually be as good as having agency technicians come in and institute monitoring and evaluation protocols.

My connection with WEN is two fold, one, that just I like the concept in that it fits in well with my studies and technical knowledge and expertise and in that it is also fun! You get a group of people who are maybe new to the science world going out to collect data that is just as good as any state or federal agency produces.”

What is the importance of people understanding what WEN teaches?

“That’s a good question. You can look at it philosophically, a big part of the degradation of our natural resources has to deal with people losing their connection to natural places. I think this is a cool way to get involved, but also understand it on more than a visceral level. You can easily look at a watershed and say, “oh that looks pretty,” when in reality there are all sorts of sedimentation issues, toxicology issues, going on in the water. So I think that getting people to understanding that helps connect them to some of those processes, without having to be a PhD to do it. So it makes it accessible. It makes it fun but it also rebuilds that connection to a place, particularly with WEN working in these local watersheds. The Missoula area is a place that is really ripe to connect people in that way because we have such a connection to local community, local places.”

What are you getting out of Volunteering with WEN?

“There is a strong communication barrier between disciplines. You have field ecologists, conservation biologists who are not able to communicate with lay people. Largely, these people are left out of decision making processes because they are considered technicians.

So what WEN has allowed me to do is learn how to communicate my technical background, within a teaching environment to the local community and in this case WEN volunteers.”

What kind of data are you collecting as apart of the Stream Team?

“Right now our focus is on collecting post fire data, largely data of sediment in order to supplement DEQ data as well as supplement Lolo Watershed Group data for future studies.”

Do you have a favorite experience with WEN?

“Everyday is pretty goofy out with the stream team. We do the protocol, I think we do it well, but we make sure no one takes it too seriously. We take the data seriously, but we take the experience less seriously. We like to goof around in the water. Everyday is tromping around in a stream bed with a bunch of good people. And good old Juniper the Stream Team dog likes to lend a hand and get everybody wet on the car ride home.”

What do you want to see from WEN in the future?

“Developing volunteer retention and developing standardized protocol [for monitoring] so that the longevity of these programs exist. WEN has done a fantastic job of championing a lot of watershed issues, particularly watershed education components, but you can’t just rely on a single champion. You really need institutions to exist within a community. WEN has some staying power within the community and that the water they educate in is still there, still safe in 20 years.”

Sam adds:

“Water is sweet! Protect water!”