SANTA FE ― The Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF) seeks youth to develop who are 18 years of age or older, and interested in natural resource protection.
In exchange, students will acquire potential life-changing experiences that can lead to life-long careers.
The SFNF, in partnership with the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, will take approximately 15 students on a week-long learning adventure in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee, August 5 to 12.
“The goal is to expand their horizons and show how other forests manage their resources, which can be in very different ways,” Daryl Ratajczak, SFNF wildlife biologist said. “Since the program covers all student expenses, it can really benefit those in underserved communities, particularly on tribal lands.”
The Student Wildlands Adventure Program (SWAP) is the program name and “brainchild” of Ratajczak. After moving to New Mexico in early 2016, he partnered with long-time friend Robert Brewer, a wildlife professor at Cleveland State Community College in Tennessee where Ratajczak lived prior to his move. They both brought 14 wildlife students from the small, rural school to New Mexico in the spring of 2017.
“The goal was to not only teach them about western ecosystems and forest management, but to change their lives,” Ratajczak said. “The kids (from Tennessee) experienced things they only dreamed of, and it solidified their choice of career. They went back to Tennessee fully committed to get their degree and pursue a life in natural resource management.”
This year, the students will “return the favor” by guiding a student crew from New Mexico on the August trip to help ensure they receive the same life-changing opportunities. The students will partake in numerous field trips throughout the Cherokee National Forest in the Southern Appalachians.
“Hence, the carefully chosen nickname and acronym SWAP”, Ratajczak said. “The organization’s ultimate goal is to develop the program to alternately swap students from year-to-year between Eastern U.S. forests and Northern New Mexico forests. “Water is a primary focus this year, and the participants will see and experience first-hand how other forests manage their water resources.”
The deadline to apply is June 15. Any New Mexico student age 18 or older can apply.