Botany and Ecology Programme in Oregon, USA

In collaboration with the Nature Conservancy in Oregon, USA, volunteers have the opportunity to live and work in remote and beautiful northeastern Oregon on The Nature Conservancy’s Zumwalt Prairie Preserve, the largest remaining fescue-dominated bunchgrass prairie in North America.  Participate in various botany and wildlife research projects for the summer field season.

Interns can join for 8 up to 10 weeks in duration from June to August every year.

Individuals and students doing research welcome.

Cost includes accommodation on the reserve, stipend of $80 per week for food, training & supervision; one off cost of £195.

American BadgerInsect monitoringColumbia Spotted FrogCoyote pups in the PreserveZumwalt Prairie sceneryInterns in actionEpicauta Pennsylvanica in ZumwaltRocky Mountain ElkExquisite flower detail of flowers in ZumwaltCalochortus flower in ZumwaltPhoto of hawk taken by one of our interns, AbigailFritillary butterflyBlister beetle in ZumwaltLadybirds in ZumwaltRed-tailed HawkStaff and interns having a BBQ

The Zumwalt Preserve is one of the last remaining fescue prairies

About the Project

Ecology Field Assistants will help Conservancy staff members with a variety of vegetation inventory, monitoring, research and stewardship projects in support of The Nature Conservancy’s conservation efforts on the Zumwalt Prairie.  Volunteers will learn a variety of field ecology skills and apply them in collecting and analysing data on the Zumwalt Prairie and will have the opportunity to learn about and contribute to on-the-ground conservation work.  Volunteers need to commit to at least 8 weeks (up to weeks). Volunteers will be expected to work for around 35 hours per week, for the duration of the position. Volunteers will be working on rugged terrain and will be learning and applying botany and ecology skills throughout.


  • Familiarise oneself with terrain, vegetation, and ecology and conservation issues of the Zumwalt Prairie
  • Learn basic botany and field ecology skills, including use of maps, global positional systems and other equipment
  • Work as part of a team conducting a variety research and monitoring projects in the field. These include plant inventory and collection, mapping weeds, monitoring of plant communities, rare plants and plant phenology
  • Assist with data entry and quality control.
  • Conduct yourself in a professional and timely manner as you learn foundational skills for future employment in natural resources.

Volunteers Requirements

  • The Zumwalt Preserve spans across Orgeon and is the largest prairie within the stateWillingness to commit to and complete a minimum of 8 weeks of volunteer service; 35 hours a week
  • Must be in good physical condition and able to walk at least 8 miles (13 kms) per day over rough terrain
  • Must be able to tolerate extreme weather conditions of cold, heat and wind while in the field
  • Volunteers must be able to maintain concentration and data collection accuracy under fatigue and strain
  • Must be willing to live in rustic, remote field housing and share housing with other people
  • Previous botany experience is desirable but only a keen interest and solid work ethic is required
  • This position requires a mature, responsible individual who can work independently and as part of team.

Benefits of the Project

  • The chance to work closely with conservation professionals and learn about the ecology, conservation values and threats of the Zumwalt Prairie
  • An opportunity to learn how field studies contribute to real-world conservation work
  • Training and experience using field ecology techniques, especially those relating to vegetation in a biologically rich, beautiful and remote part of Oregon

About The Nature Conservancy

Wildlife at Zumwalt Nature Conservancy Preserve in Oregon

The mission of The Nature Conservancy is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. The Conservancy was founded in 1951 and has offices covering all 50 states and over 30 countries. It is the world’s leading conservation organization. Founded by ecologists, the Conservancy was built upon and retains a strong commitment to science in every action it takes. The Nature Conservancy in Oregon was founded in 1961, manages 45 nature preserves around the state and is supported by more than 70 staff, 700 volunteers, 32,000 members and an active board of trustees. Acting through their ten offices in Oregon, The Nature Conservancy works in partnership with other conservation organisations, governmental entities and private landowners on complex restoration and management issues on some of Oregon’s most sensitive and important natural areas. In the 50 years since volunteers founded The Nature Conservancy’s Oregon chapter, they have protected more than 505,000 acres of land.

Each summer The Nature Conservancy conducts various botanical and ecological studies on its Zumwalt Prairie Preserve in Northeast Oregon. These efforts further our understanding of the unique biological diversity of the Zumwalt Prairie and how human actions affect it.  Volunteers with education and/or skills in botany, biology and other natural resource disciplines are needed to assist Conservancy staff in conducting these studies.

Dates & Costs

Interns research insects in the Zumwalt Prairie Preserve

Volunteers can join for a minimum of 8 weeks, up to 10 weeks maximum between June & August on the following dates:
Monday 3rd June to Friday 26th July (or 9th August 2019) - can be flexible - ONE PLACE AVAILABLE
Volunteers will be required to pay a £195 application fee, and thereafter, lodging costs in the field will be covered for the full 8 weeks (or longer). Volunteers will be reimbursed for food up to 80 USD per week, but will need to cover other personal expenses. The Nature Conservancy will provide transportation to and from the worksite each day and will offer one trip per week to town to purchase food and other supplies.

All volunteers must also arrange and pay for medical and accident/travel insurance.  The Nature Conservancy provides limited accident / emergency medical insurance that is in addition to a personal insurance policy.

Accommodation & Travel

Staff and interns get together for a BBQ

Transport, Food and Accommodation

Accommodation will be shared "dorm style" housing on the Zumwalt Prairie Preserve which includes bathrooms, hot and cold running water, and full kitchens.  Volunteers will need to provide sleeping bags and all-weather work clothes such as sturdy high-top hiking boots, rain jacket and pants, gloves, hats and clothing for both warm and cold weather conditions. All volunteers will be provided with transportation to and from the worksite each day and will have at least one trip per week to town to purchase food and other supplies, do laundry or just enjoy time in town. Food expenses of volunteers will be reimbursed up to $80/week.


Travel to the Project Site

The diverse plantlife of the Zumwalt Preserve in Oregon

You will need to book and cover your own airfare costs to either Portland, Oregon or Idaho’s Boise airport (the nearest airport to the preserves) and transportation to either La Grande or Enterprise, Oregon, where you will be picked up by Conservancy staff and taken to Zumwalt Prairie Preserve.  Greyhound bus trips from Portland to La Grande take between 5-6 hours and cost approximately $50.00 one-way. Greyhound bus trips from Boise to La Grande take between 3-4 hours and cost approximately $40.00 one-way.  Other options (such as carpooling with staff or other interns from Portland) may be possible, but we would not know this until much closer to your arrival date.

Visa Application

With regards to visas, volunteers applying for the Ecology Field Assistant position will have to obtain the necessary tourist visas for the duration of the time that they are on the project, or alternatively they may be able to qualify for the Visa Waiver Program.

Interactive Map & Background

Interactive Map

Background on the Zumwalt Prairie Preserve

Zumwalt Prairie Preserve, with its beautiful views of the Wallowas and Seven Devils mountains, is located on the edge of Hell’s Canyon in the far northeastern corner of Oregon, near the Idaho border. The 160,000-acre Zumwalt Prairie is the largest remaining fescue-The Zumwalt Preserve is home to many rare birds of preydominated bunchgrass prairie in North America.  Abundant ground squirrels and pocket gophers attract a remarkable diversity of birds of prey.  Ferruginous and Swainson’s hawks (on the decline elsewhere in the western United States) thrive here, along with golden eagles, prairie falcons and red-tailed hawks. 

Zumwalt Prairie is also a reintroduction site for the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, extirpated from Oregon in the 1960s. The Conservancy's Zumwalt Prairie Preserve includes 18,000 acres of the native prairie habitat as well as 15,000 acres of canyon lands. Camp Creek and Pine Creek provide habitat for native fishes including the endangered Snake River steelhead. The spring and summer wildflower display includes the rare Spalding’s catchfly (Silene spaldingii). Taken together, the An intern works in the Zumwalt Preserve on this 8 week botanical and ecological internshippreserve’s grasslands, forests, streams and riparian habitats support an estimated 28 at-risk species.

Purchased in October 2000, this is the Conservancy’s largest-ever single purchase of land in Oregon. To create a comprehensive management plan for the preserve, which includes guidelines for visitor use, the Conservancy’s staff ecologists began in 2001 with an inventory of the plants, wildlife and natural communities.  They continue to survey for native species and invasive weeds, study hydrologic and other natural processes that support the prairie ecosystem and identify needs for ecological restoration. The Conservancy seeks to build partnerships with schools, universities, agencies and other landowners and recruits interns to assist with research and restoration efforts at the preserve.

Intern Testimonials

Marina Makri from Greece, joined the project in Summer 2016:

"I worked as volunteer field assistant at the Zumwalt Prairie, in Enterprise, Oregon, USA, for two months. They were two amazing months! The place is stunning and full of energy. During these months, I learned how to work within a group, how to implement many ecological field techniques and how to manage some ecological issues. Every few weeks we had a different project, so it was interesting and enjoyable to spend our time out in that vast prairie!  Even though I don’t have a botanical background, I am sure that some information about all these beautiful plants and flowers are retained in my head.

In our free time, we had the opportunity to explore the area and to observe the wild animals. Furthermore, in the evenings we often relaxed around the campfire, eating, drinking and chatting! I met some beautiful people on the prairie and it was a lovely experience for me. I will return there at the earliest opportunity!"

Below is a group photo of WorkingAbroad interns from our summer 2016 season in Oregon - on top of the truck, standing: Marina Makri, from Athens, Greece. On top of the truck, reclining: Eivind Thomassen, from Norway and on the hood of the truck: Eilidh Stirrup, from Scotland and at the front of the truck: Heidi Schmalz, Zumwalt Ecology Technician and Project Manager

Conservation Interns in Oregon, USA












Denise O’Meara talks about her work as a nature conservationist at our Oregon Nature Conservancy Programme: 

"The area was just so vast: if you left something behind, you’d never again find it. I sometimes came across old ink bottles once lost or discarded by the settlers. My shared accommodation was an old schoolhouse, not vastly different from Little House on the Prairie. I cooked my meals in heavy cast-iron pots and learned how to make sourdough bread. We remained outdoors for hours every evening, conversing about worldly topics that were abstract from where we were seated around the bronze sculpted fire pit, our faces lit by the clear night sky, surrounded by coyote howls."

"The people, the environment, the landscape make Wallowa County a very special place, one I’ll forever wish to return to."

Read the full article here:

Abigail took this photo of Zumwalt when was interned there

Abigail Rumsey writes about her time as an Intern at Zumwalt

Thank you for organising my work placement with The Nature Conservancy in Oregon. I had a fantastic two months there, which flew by, and met some great people. The scenery was stunning with lots of opportunities to go hiking and camping, plus I went to a soapbox derby and a rodeo! I also learnt a great deal both working with the data and helping the team with their fieldwork - I learnt A LOT of new plants

Aileen Devaney writes about her time

I was extremely grateful to be given the opportunity to take part in the internship programme. It was a great experience and I wouldn't hesitate in recommending the internship to anyone.

How to Join the Project

If you are interested to apply to join the Oregon Nature Conservancy Programme this summer, you would need to fill out the online application form, providing 3 references, in addition to sending us your CV/resume, and a covering letter by email. We will also need to contact you by Skype for a suitable interview - we will email you in advance to arrange a suitable time.  An application payment of £195 is also due with your application. If for some reason, we are unable to offer you a place, we would reimburse this fully.

Apply Now

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