A podcast that made its debut in October already offers insights on endangered wetlands and other environmental concerns in northeast Indiana.

Freya Berntson is the voice of and creative force behind Midwestoration, easily accessed at midwestoration.com.

Berntson takes on responsibility for researching the information, lining up the environmental experts, conducting the interviews, adding the introduction and closing remarks to the interview and transferring it to the website for publishing. She’s an environmental authority herself, but prefers to bring in other voices who can provide different perspectives on each subject.

“Every guest offers something very different,” Berntson said. “Ultimately I hope it gets listeners thinking about the natural areas around them and what ecological restoration might be happening there. If they are inspired to visit new places or talk about what they’ve heard, then that’s wonderful. That’s the goal of the podcast.”

She got her first taste of environmental issues when working at Merry Lea Environmental Center near Wolf Lake in Noble County during the summers. “Working there made a big impression on me,” she said. “I was a high school student in Albion at the time and my experiences there were instrumental in my choosing natural resources as my career path.”

She served as a desert ecology research intern with the U.S. Geological Survey in Nevada, was an environmental center volunteer at the University of Colorado Environmental Center while attending Colorado State University and spent time helping at the Maui Bird Conservation Center in Hawaii. She also worked as a naturalist at Lindenwood Nature Preserve and was employed as a preserves and programs coordinator for the Little River Wetlands Project in Fort Wayne. “I also worked 5 years in Science Central’s education department where I gained an understanding of informal education, community engagement, and collaboration while developing a love of science communication,” she said.

Doing the podcasts is a “labor of love,” Berntson said. “Working full time as an ecological restoration field technician for PlantWise Restoration based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, keeps me pretty busy,” she said.

“They take about 10 hours to produce. I’ve only published eight podcasts so far,” she said in early February. “The initial one was posted on the internet last October. I’ve received a lot of encouraging feedback. The plan is to produce two shows a month.”

Berntson said she’s not sure she would categorize herself as an environmentalist or an environmental activist, but she actively supports organizations that promote a stewardship approach to the world. “For instance,” she said, “I currently serve as the stewardship committee chairperson for the Northeast Chapter of the Indiana Native Plant Society. In this capacity I’m able to get involved in promoting native plants. Native plants, in the long run, can’t exist without active ecosystems and healthy ecosystems can’t exist without active stewardship. In addition to the ecological restoration work I do professionally, I also volunteer as much as I can to help with invasive plant species management. I guess you could call me an intentional steward.”

“As far as the podcast is concerned, I realized when talking with friends and family about what I was studying and what I do professionally, it often sounded counterintuitive to the idea of ‘healing the land.’ For instance,” she explained, “prescribed fire is hugely important to many ecosystems right here in the Midwest, but many people believe that fire is only destructive.

“So, I thought I could amplify some of the voices of the people who are doing similar work by creating the podcast. It really goes back to my science education and communication days, trying to share something important with folks who would like to know more. I’ll focus editions of the podcast on ecological restoration to include land preservation, invasive species management, prescribed fire and other related topics. I’ll also highlight the importance of the human component is to these subjects. It simply comes down to the fact that ecological restoration is entirely powered by people willing to do some incredibly difficult work.”

Berntson completed a master of natural resource stewardship with a focus on ecological restoration through Colorado State University in May 2020, and holds a bachelor’s degree in general studies from Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

Midwestoration also can be found on Facebook and Instagram or through a podcast app.

On Oct. 21, Midwestoration debuted with a study of Loblolly Marsh Nature Preserve in Jay County, including interviews with Indiana DNR East Central Regional Ecologist Taylor Lehman.

On Nov. 8, Berntson returned to Fort Wayne to Eagle Marsh to interview Little River Wetland Project Director of Preserves and Programs Betsy Yankowiak. So far she also has explored Rose Avenue with Abigail King; Hague Nature Area with Bill Ward; Fogwell Forest, with Reena Ramos; Fox Island with Natalie Haley; Merry Lea with Bill Minter; and Cooper Farm with John Taylor.

The most recent episode, Whistler Hare Woods with Bob Easter, stewardship director at NICHES Land Trust, is available now.

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