By Kabyl Utley ’24
This past summer I was given the opportunity of interning for the East Foundation for two months. The East Foundation is an organization that promotes the advancement of land stewardship through ranching, science, and education. They are a working cattle ranch, managing over 217,000 acres in South Texas. Here, scientists and ranchers work side by side to address the problems that are important to wildlife management, rangeland health, and ranch productivity.
I always knew Texas was a huge state, so it was no surprise to me that I would have to drive around six hours from my home in central Texas to the ranch where I would be working. The ranch that I worked at encompassed more than 150,000 acres and was located in the South Texas Sand Sheet. The change of scenery from central Texas to the ranch was absolutely mind blowing. Beautiful flowering cacti and plants dotted the sides of the highways. The plant life there was very pretty, except for the fact that essentially every plant has spines or thorns of some sort.
I’m not originally from Texas, so I haven’t been around cattle ranches that much up until this past summer. Working on the ranch as a “Ranch Ecology Technician” was one of the greatest experiences I have ever had in my life up until this point. The never-ending sandy dunes of the South Texas Sand Sheet, along with the beautiful wildlife that scattered the hundreds of acres were simply amazing to witness. I worked alongside three other interns, along with many other groups of scientists who worked on different research studies around the ranch. I was even lucky enough some days to even go out with some of these different groups to help them out with their research.
My tasks as an intern focused on collecting data for two different research studies. The first research study was determining the amount of preferred and nonpreferred vegetation present around the ranch. We did this by collecting data at about 100 different points at various set locations at the ranch. Our supervisor would then use this data to determine the stocking rates of the cattle for the next few years, along with seeing if the current ranching techniques are sustainable or not. Our second research study focused on the population and habitat quality of the bobwhite quail on the ranch. We did this by visiting 140 set points around the ranch, using various factors such as woody density, bundle grass size/density, and vegetation height, to then determine whether or not bobwhite quails have available quality nesting sites.
My favorite experience from the entire internship was being able to see the wildflowers bloom after a rainstorm one night. Because I live in such an urbanized town, I am not used to seeing native wildflowers and plants bloom after it rains, so being able to witness such a beautiful thing was amazing. Being able to just step outside of headquarters on the ranch and see hundreds of stunning, unique flowers dotting the landscape was truly spectacular and peaceful. It was one of those moments where you kind of just stand there and soak in the beauty that life is and the beauty that it brings with it. It was moments like these that I was grateful to be given the opportunity to intern at a place like the East Foundation.