Surrounded by natural springs spilling from the hillsides, Susan Sorrelis grew up in a very different Shoshone California than she returned to. As a fourth generation Shoshoen, home called after her beginning her career in Europe as an international relations writer and photographer. Ever since returning, it has been her dream to restore Shoshone’s wetland and desert landscapes back to the pristine ones she grew up in. Living close to the land throughout her childhood, riding horses before she could walk, she has become an adamant supporter of restoring ecosystems. Her soft voice weaves reason into words as she proudly explains that she has always been environmentally committed. She believes that when people destroy their environment they are also destroying their future. By restoring ecosystems in Shoshone she has helped return the endangered Death Valley Pupfish to populations in the thousands. Her success is rooted in ensuring that an entire ecosystem is created, one that is good for all creatures, including humans. On her own property Susan has enthusiastically protected and opened up this place as a conservation model centered in community. She tells us about architect Richard Neutra’s thought that, “When humankind becomes disconnected from nature they begin to lose their humanity.” Enthusiastic and hopeful that there may one day be an Amargosa River National Monument to come visit, she is driven by the successes of this journey. Rooted in place, she has united the community in her drive to help their home thrive.
On a warm afternoon outside the Hyatt Regency Hotel and Spa in Santa Ana Pueblo, Nathan Schroeder stands in blue jeans, a short sleeved button up work shirt, and black sunglasses. As the Restoration Division Manager for Santa Ana Pueblo in south-central New Mexico, Nathan works to restore native ecological systems to the Rio Grande river corridor. After spending his undergraduate years at Bowling Green State University, he earned masters degree in natural resources management from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Having worked for contract restoration firms in Chicago for several years, Nathan moved to New Mexico after the Great Recession. Nathan enjoys living and working in Santa Ana despite numerous obstacles to the restoration he’s tasked with completing, foremost among them the gradual strangling of the river by both the Jemez and Cochiti Dams upstream. Operated by the Army Corps of Engineers, these dams have significantly degraded the Rio Grande to the point where “the river we have now is not the river we had 70-80 years ago.” Nathan’s work day ranges from the annual introduction of the endangered silvery minnow into the Rio Grande to extensive invasive plant removal along the banks. His restoration work is ecologically focused, often opting for more expensive but environmentally friendly options in plant removal and regeneration. Preservation of remaining natural systems is at the core of his work, for “it's hard to work with systems once you destroy them.”
As his truck bumps along the road through a meadow of pine trees, Doug McDaniel smiles and says deliberately, “I’m pumped about what’s going on in my life.” Thinking back, he recalls his two-month stint in dental school, which ended when he decided that it was a waste to be inside on a beautiful day, particularly when elk season was about to open. Doug has lived his whole life in Wallowa County, working as a forester before moving into timber management and industrial engineering. Currently, he works on restoring a length of the Wallow River that cuts through his land. Channeled by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1950s, Doug has taken the initiative to excavate the section and return it to its meandering state. The river now winds through his property, providing habitat for fish, tall grasses, birds, and swaying cottonwoods. He adamantly solicits participation from the community on this project in the form of opinions, suggestions, scrutiny, and criticism. When asked what he likes most about working in the forest, he responds “[my] life is outside…it’s just home.”
By Hannah Trettenero