Just sitting outside: A chronology of my love for the desert

This post was originally published on this site

By Halle Kohn, Acquisitions Coordinator, Mojave Desert Land Trust

Two afternoons ago, I was on my way over to my parent’s house in 29 Palms for dinner. (My dad claims that I only visit for the two L’s: Laundry and Leon. It’s not true. My mom’s cooking is also really good). I let my mom know that I was about to head over, and I received a response from her that read, “just sitting outside watching teeny bb quail.”


Why do I do this work? It’s as simple as the happiness that my mom experiences living in a place where she can watch quail chicks gather under the canopy of a large creosote in the backyard.

The desert is so full of life. The only prerequisite to seeing it is a curious and open mind. And what desert animal is perhaps the most synonymous with elusive, iconic wildlife?

I fell in love with turtles and tortoises as a small child. At my K-8 school, I was known as “turtle girl”: I had checked out all the turtle and tortoise books from the library by the time I entered fourth grade, and people signed my yearbook with drawings of turtles. I grew up with a desert tortoise in my suburban backyard in Long Beach, California. Our tortoise’s name was Frisky. She was given to us by our next-door neighbors, who had found her wandering down the street.

Frisky the tortoise

Nearly two decades later, I would receive my Master’s degree in Social Science: Environment and Community from Humboldt State University. I conducted research on the socio-political and socio-cultural significance of the Mojave Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) for my thesis. I presented my findings at the 2018 Desert Tortoise Council Symposium, and I found myself on the Council’s Board of Directors that following April.

My mom watching a desert tortoise that we came across in Wonder Valley

Preserving the lands on which these animals live is one of the most effective ways of ensuring their survival.

I was excited to continue my career in conservation as a full-time employee at the Mojave Desert Land Trust in November 2018. I remember driving past the old office as a kid when my folks took us out to our homestead cabin in Wonder Valley on the weekends. If I could have chosen to do anything, it would be exactly what I’m doing right now.

As a member of the busy Acquisitions Team, I help purchase lands that are managed as conservation lands or conveyed to the Bureau of Land Management or the National Park Service.

The on-the-ground impacts of a land trust are compelling. I frequently think of the wildlife existing on the properties we acquire.

I recently attended a National Parks Conservation Association centennial birthday celebration and annual lobby day in Washington, DC. We asked our desert representatives to preserve the National Park Service’s historic and cultural resources, and to fix park infrastructure without compromising environmental protections.

It was a chance to see first-hand how national policy affects the conservation lands in our desert.

(Left to right) Me, Chris Clarke of the National Park Conservation Association, Congressman Raul Ruiz, and fellow NPCA lobby day volunteer Marv Heinze

Back home, I have the privilege of walking into work every day knowing that I play an integral role in keeping these wild places wild.

The other day, when I was leaving the office for lunch, I saw a roadrunner with a lifeless lizard in its beak galloping across the street. Every day, I feel lucky to live in a place as wild and ecologically intact as the California desert.

All this to say — you can find me in the desert, just sitting outside watching the teeny baby quail.

Want to find out more about our acquisitions program? Through our Land Acquisition Process, MDLT purchases lands that have strategic conservation values and works to ensure that all acquired land is properly stewarded and maintained. Every land transaction supports the vision of a Mojave Desert with interconnected, permanently protected scenic and natural areas hosting a diversity of native plants and wildlife.

Read more here: https://www.mdlt.org/lands/land-acquisition/