Whitman Mission Environmental Assessment
For this internship I worked with the Whitman Mission National Historic Site and Roger Trick, the head National Park Ranger at the Mission. Each week I helped draft an Environmental Assessment, in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, for a project which the staff at the Mission were undertaking. This project involved Doan Creek (now channelized into an irrigation ditch) which flows through the Mission and carries water to two downstream irrigators. Every year the Park Service spends thousands of dollars keeping the channel free of vegetation and debris so that the water flow will not be inhibited and water rights can be satisfied. In order to divorce themselves from the time and money sink which maintaining the ditch represents, the Mission was looking for a solution to their problem. Because any action had the potential to affect the environment, the staff must write an EA for the project. I was charged with helping draft this document.
The internship was largely divided into two parts. During the beginning of the semester I would drive the eighteen miles to the Mission once a week so that Roger and I could brainstorm and work closely together. During these sessions, I was introduced to the process of writing an EA and the issues associated with this particular project. After developing a contextual understanding of the situation, I began to help Roger think of different ways in which the Mission could reduce its maintenance cost for the Doan Creek while still fulfilling the legal obligations of maintaining water supply to downstream irrigators. In the end we came up with five courses of action which could be taken. It then became my job to evaluate the different environmental impacts that undertaking each of these would have on the environment.
After determining our five alternatives, the logistics of my internship changed. Instead of driving out to the Mission each week, I was able to remain on campus while I wrote individual sections for the EA document. I would then email these sections of the document to Roger for review. After making any necessary changes I would move on to the next portion of the draft. The remainder of my internship was spent doing this.
I volunteered for this assignment so that I could get some first-hand experience of what it means to comply with and go through environmental policy measures. I wanted a chance to work through one of the documents that serves as the backbone of environmental protection in this country, and I got to do just that. The process was more straightforward than I thought it would be. The National Park Service puts out a pamphlet which basically serves to hold your hand through the process, so there isn’t much creativity involved. This made the work tedious at times. Another thing I hoped to do with this internship was gain experience working with members of the community to solve an environmental issue. Unfortunately, the process of writing an EA didn’t allow for this. Once the document has been drafted there will be a public comment period, but this is still several months away, as the draft still must go through several revisions. Not being able to see the project through to completion was a point of frustration for me. Obviously, after spending so much time writing the EA I would like to see the fruits of my labor.
In the end, I would definitely recommend an internship like this one to students interested in environmental policy. I feel as though the experience has taught me something of significance in terms of understanding what it means to create such a document. One recommendation I would have, however, is to look for a situation involving private industry. This could provide a more dynamic situation than that which is offered at the Mission.