Tristan Peter-Contesse
6 December 2001
EnvS 120
Intern Report

Final Internship Report

Eleven weeks of working with the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) led me to the near completion of the Lower Snake River Juvenile Salmon Migration Feasibility Study Administrative Database. Each week I put in a total of approximately four hours of work; Wednesdays from 10 AM to 12 PM and Thursdays from 1 to 3 PM. Work from day to day was monotonous, but productive and meaningful nonetheless.

From day to day, there was little variety in my internship. After checking in with security at the front of the Corps building, I generally dropped by the Office of Counsel to ask Keri, my immediate supervisor, if there was anything besides the usual that needed to get done that day. Normally there wasnít, so I headed up to my second floor cubicle and began searching through documents. The documents were all part of the Lower Snake River Juvenile Salmon Migration Feasibility Study (LSR), a massive study on the state of salmon in the Snake River containing over 3,000 pieces of research, newspaper clippings, etc. My job was to go through the final 2,000 documents of this study, and locate and fix errors in spelling, labeling, and content.

Typically I spent the two hours of work searching through these documents, at the rate of approximately 50 per hour. Errors that I either didnít know how to fix or didnít have the capacity to fix were compiled on a list which will be checked over later by Keri, or possibly one of the lawyers in the Office of Counsel. I also collected a list of documents of possible interest to me, and received copies of nearly all of these during my final days of work.

Over the course of my 11 weeks at the USACE, I discovered that my original goals and objectives needed to be slightly modified. In the first few weeks, it became clear that some goals could not be met; however, several new ones adequately filled their places. My main goal, to gain a greater understanding of the issues surrounding Snake River salmon and dams, was undoubtedly achieved. I perused hundreds of documents while searching through the LSR, some of which I read in their entirety, noted, and received copies of. I feel that some of these documents could be useful in preparation for my senior thesis, or at least interesting to read in full for no other purpose than personal enjoyment. Several other goals, namely my hope to get a view into the workings of environmental law, were never really readily achievable. My workspace was spatially separated from the Office of Counsel, and I had very little contact with the lawyers. This is something I could not have known in advance, and I am not bothered by it. The chance to have made a strong addition to my resume, to have seen the dams/salmon issue from a very different perspective than usual, and to have read over material I would not have otherwise seen more than compensates for this small disappointment. Additionally, obtaining copies of both documents from the database and the final report and environmental impact statement resulting from the database are invaluable for personal future research opportunities.

Undoubtedly, my internship was menial with little or no work in the field. It certainly was not exciting or glamorous, but I do feel that the study on which I worked will be valuable once it is in final form. As it is extremely comprehensive, I imagine it will be referenced in legal cases and ideally will be made available to the public. Helping to make this study complete, then, is of some value to the community and has meaning despite its monotony!

I encountered very few problems throughout the duration of this internship. After the terrorist incidents back East in September, there definitely was some heightened security at the Corps building and I was required to be escorted throughout the building. Employees in fact, confronted me on one occasion for walking between the Office of Counsel and my second floor office without an escort. After that, security at the front desk marked my visitorís badge with ďStudent Aid-No Escort,Ē and there were no issues after that. Problems with the database, similarly, were few and far between. There was some miscommunication between Keri and I over an aspect of document labeling, which ended up making me lose about a day going back through documents I had already checked, but that really was not a big deal at all.

As I have mentioned, my immediate supervisor was Keri, a paralegal with the Army Corps of Engineers Office of Counsel. Janet Smith, main counsel assigned to the LSR, was ultimately in charge of the nature and amount of work I did. I met and talked to several other Office of Counsel employees, and a biologist who worked in the cubicle next to mine. The conversation I had with the biologist (Bill) was particularly interesting, as I found that he was in favor of taking out the four Snake River dams, primarily for economic reasons. From conversations like that with Bill and through my database searching, I was forced to reconsider my previous bias that the Army Corps of Engineers is completely opposed to dam breaching. Additionally, I rethought my belief that employees in nearly all cases take on the values of their organization. Certainly, work with contacts like Keri, Janet, and Bill gave a valuable perspective on an issue that I have primarily seen from the side of liberal environmentalists.

Final Recommendations/Reflections

My main accomplishment, resulting from 40-45 hours of work, was the near-completion of the LSR Administrative Database. Documents included in the database are correctly labeled for easy and efficient access, and items with similar content are often grouped closely together. The initiation of further work, both on the database itself and on outside projects referencing the database, is now possible and able to be undertaken with relative ease.

Now that a timetable has been set for determining whether or not Snake River salmon are responding to management practices currently in place, the USACE must be prepared to do whatever the conclusions of the study period indicate is the best way to restore viable stocks of these fish. The Administrative Database should be kept in mind when making resolutions, as it represents an extensive compilation of scientific data and expertise, technical data and diagrams, and public opinion. Ideally, all these aspects should be taken into consideration when making a final determination in order to ensure the most effective, and hopefully the most agreeable, outcome. The USACE is going to face some difficult decisions in the upcoming years, especially in regards to the potential for dam removal. The LSR Administrative Database provides an invaluable point of reference for decision-making on a politically charged issue in an often sharply divided region of the country.

Future internships with the USACE Office of Counsel should come with more clearly defined work decisions and expectations. In all honesty, if I knew in September that I was getting into several months of work exclusively entailing the search for and correction of database errors, Iím not sure I would have preferenced this internship first on my list. My idea of the internship, perhaps a bit idealistic, but for which I believe there was some rationale in the original description, involved more work with lawyers in the Office of Counsel on legal issues surrounding the arguments for and against breaching Snake River dams. Since this was not part of what I ended up doing, I was a bit disappointed. This is not, however, to say that my internship did not have some value; documents and studies obtained from work on the database will undoubtedly be helpful in future research, and the fact that the database is now in near-final form makes it an important resource for reference in policy and decision-making. However, I would have appreciated a more candid description of internship responsibilities from the beginning.

Working again with the USACE next semester remains a possibility for me. Keri mentioned that it is very likely that more work will need to be done with the LSR Database well into the future, and that I could almost certainly stay on next semester if I wanted to. I am seriously considering accepting their offer, given that my work will include more than just database correction. All in all, it seems that this semesterís internship provided a good foundation for future research, future summer work, and possibly even future permanent employment.