April is Earth Month: Professionals reflect on nature’s transformative power

The savanna in Kenya. This site was located at the Masai Mara, near Tanzania. (Jonas Wright)

Ahead of Earth Day, outdoor professionals shared how nature has positively impacted their lives.

Kassandra Christensen, a forestry technician and river ranger on the Bridger-Teton National Forest, grew up in Utah along the Wasatch Front. She said she grew up hiking, camping, going out to the lake, doing camping trips up American Fork Canyon, rock climbing in Rock Canyon and skiing at Sundance. Instead of going on a vacation to Disney World, they would go to Moab.

She said she believes the outdoors are important for people’s mental health and that people are naturally meant to be outside, as they need fresh air, vitamin D and endorphins.

“Because I made it a point to spend so much of my time outside, I prioritize that. When I have free time, I go, ‘Where do I go? Where can I get a permit? What can I do?'” she said.

A BYU student enjoys nature as part of his BYU experiential learning. This photo was taken in Guatemala. (Jonas Wright)

Dallin Leota, a BYU employee, lives and works remotely on the Lytle Ranch Preserve in Southern Utah, working closely with Native American tribes to restore indigenous sites and involve students in conservation projects.

Coming from a Samoan background, Leota said the earth and land have played a large role in his life, apart from serving local Native American tribes.

“I think I have a very very deep and meaningful and spiritual attachment to the land. And I’ve always had that, you know, but my understanding of what they have is more just aligned with that I already believe in my core … they’re very much in touch with who they are in terms of the land being a part of them and my deepest belief is that the land is not owned by any one person,” he said.

Ian McDonnell, a National Parks forestry technician working in Duluth, Minnesota, helps manage land and timber use, replanting and the climate. He said that as human beings, we are all part of the environment.

“You’re part of the ecosystem, you might as well keep it healthy and good,” he said. “If you go on a hike, find a beautiful area and like 20 years down the line … can you still go to that same place and have it exactly the same as it was when you went there the first time?”

Locally, Becky Wilson has responsibilities as a chapter lead for the Grow the Flow organization. As an interdisciplinary humanities major at BYU, she took a class from professors Chip Oscarson and Ben Abbott, where she developed a relationship with the Great Salt Lake and a desire to preserve it.

Grow the Flow’s main goal is to get water to the Great Salt Lake, which has lost a significant amount of its water volume, she said. When the lake bed is exposed, dust storms contribute to poor air quality and health issues and. The group works with policymakers and researchers to get more water to the lake.

“The more I think about the earth, the more I see how much it gives. For example … even just going to the library and checking out a book … like ‘Wow I’m holding trees!’ or sending a text to a friend on a phone … that phone has been made with minerals,” she said.

The Great Salt Lake is located near Salt Lake City, in Utah. Pictured are the Bonneville Salt Flats, located near the Great Salt Lake. (Jonas Wright)

Wilson said there are 15 million premature deaths per year because of pollution. She said engaging in efforts to conserve the environment is about much more than polarizing political movements but about helping each other. While it’s easy to be discouraged by individual actions, they do make a difference.

“We’ve got to see the bigger picture where we are caring for God’s creations, including ourselves,” she said.

This photo shows a natural Guatemalan landscape. BYU student Becky Wilson said focusing on the bigger picture helps people understand nature’s importance. (Jonas Wright)

Leota said he wants visitors to the Lytle Ranch Preserve to realize the importance of taking care of the land.

“Doing practices that would help this land to thrive and what it is now, but also prepare it for our future generations to come so they can enjoy the land as well,” he said.

Christensen invited others to reconnect with nature and take advantage of its benefits.

“Reconnect with the land and with the nature … reconnect with yourself … being outdoors lets you take a breath,” she said.

McDonell said some of his best memories growing up were made from going outside, which led him to pursue a career in the outdoors.

“When you go out, turn your brain off, turn your phone off, and just kind of relax. That’s what’s important to me,” McDonnell said.

McDonnell said those who want to learn about their own environment should read the signs and ask questions. People can also learn more about the Grow the Flow organization here.

A glacier dominates the landscape. This photo, taken in Alaska, shows nature’s diversity and beauty. (Jonas Wright)
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