When Anya Beale ’18 and Sara Lucas ’17 traveled to the Francis Marion National Forest for a biology field course offered by prof. Valorie Titus last spring, they had no idea the trip would lead to summer jobs.
Anya and Sara were part of an eight-student contingent that spent spring break in the South Carolina forest, working with biologists from the Southeastern Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (SEPARC), the U.S. Forest Service, and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. The group, part of Valorie’s “Southeastern Ecology Field Trip” class, participated in a week-long search for herpetological fauna.
The students must have made a big impression because when SEPARC needed help over the summer they remembered the group from GMC.
“Right at the end of the semester they called me up and said ‘we need you here right now to fill the space,’” recalls Anya, who had a job lined up to work on Vermont’s Long Trail. “An employee was leaving, so I went straight down.”
The agency Anya and Sara worked with spent a lot of time in the pinewoods of Francis Marion National Forest radio-tracking diamondback rattlesnakes. They monitored populations of many other amphibians and reptiles as well some of them “species of concern” (species that could be saved with concentrated conservation actions).
Sara and Anya worked as a team, traveling up to 60 miles a day checking the traps. It was arduous work. The pair checked drift fence arrays in the morning before radio tracking snakes. The arrays were constructed from four, 100-foot lengths of aluminum flashing, meeting in the center to form an “X.” Species that passed through the habitat were blocked by the fence and led along its edge to be captured in pitfalls or wire funnels.
“The illegal pet trade is a big problem,” Sara said. “People will poach common snakes and sell them, leading to a reduction in the breeding population and the genetic diversity of the species.”
The two researchers also got an education in proactive land management for wild species. They learned how controlled fire can be used as a conservation tool to burn away leaf litter on the forest floor, exposing food sources and providing basking habitat for snakes.
Both natural resource management students, Anya and Sara received a hands-on education in wildlife habitat management and valuable connections for their future careers. Sara is currently completing an internship with the Champlain Valley Native Plant Nursery located on the GMC campus. Anya, also a botany work study student who assists prof. Jim Graves (biology) in planning, planting and maintaining native species gardens on campus, hopes to work with the endangered Wood Turtles next summer.
Megan Healey ’17