Meet Wildlife and Wildlands intern Apollonia Goeckner.
Last August, I left the forests and prairies of Illinois for the Promised Land. I loved backpacking in Illinois’ Southern wildernesses, and I always enjoyed eco-education in the quaint deciduous forests in central Illinois. But I needed something more. I needed to feel the wilderness.
When I was thirteen, I was changed forever. My moment came as quickly and intensely as when Aldo Leopold saw the fierce green fire die in the eyes of the wolf he shot, but my moment came without the carnage. I stepped off of a plane onto the Anchorage runway, and for the first time ever, I saw mountains. As soon as I saw their lush foothills and snow-capped peaks, I knew I could never again live in the flat field that is Illinois. I knew I needed to go West...
I was always sure that my future would be a career in the law. But at the time, I did not know exactly what that would entail, and how I would use my legal expertise to make the world a better place. Appropriately, the year one of the most controversial environmental decisions (Massachusetts v. EPA) was handed down by the Supreme Court, I graduated from high school with the mindset that I would become an environmental lawyer and save the world.
As an undergraduate, my Environmental Politics professor, Robert Pahre, became somewhat of a mentor to me. We both love backpacking and hiking, and we love to explore new places. As one of his research assistants on his yearly trip to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, I was responsible for evaluating controversial policies and discussing them with my fellow students. Through our nightly discussions, my stance on the wolves began to develop, and I found myself on the pro- wolf side of the debate as the weeks passed.
I was fortunate to see a wolf in the wild one afternoon, running along the tree line in the Lamar Valley, and the experience was similar to the first time a child sees fireworks. Encompassed in that wolf was the freedom that the wildernesses of the west stood for. And that freedom is what I too desire. Hearing the wolves howl at night always made me feel like I was in a Clint Eastwood film. And like old westerns, hearing the wolves howl is an experience I hope the future generations get to enjoy as well.
To me, the debate surrounding the wolves dances on the crux of so many other challenging issues we face today. Economics, politics, the law, science, and social beliefs all play such a big role in the unnecessary controversy over wolves. In my opinion, it comes down to a question of values. And I value healthy ecosystems, sustainable outdoor recreation, and the preservation of the last wild places and animals left in America. As an avid backpacker, I value solitude and freedom in nature, and to me, the wolves embody this idea.
But, I also have always had the personal philosophy that extremes are not any way to solve problems. And I understand that there are people who do not agree with the reintroduction of the grey wolf to the West. This issue is so close to my heart because I truly believe that there is a solution that both sides of the issue can agree on. I believe this is one reason I was so drawn to Oregon Wild.
Solving any important conservation issue will take some cooperation on both sides. I grew up in a place where the people do not value their environment as we do in Oregon, so I feel like I have lived on both sides of many environmental issues. Recognizing and understanding the opposite viewpoint is a very important tool for developing working solutions, and I am thrilled to be a part of that.
When I wrote my personal statement for Law School, I described these very sentiments about the wolves. It has been almost three years since I first became interested in the wolves, following the issue as a hobby. In my future, I want to be involved in Wildlife Law, and I want to protect the wild places, plants and animals of the Pacific Northwest.
This is more than just an internship for me. This is a chance for me to step in and directly become involved in the issue closest to my heart.