Helping critters in the river and the sky
There were no job openings when I came across the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge. But that didn’t stop me; I decided to jump right in and volunteer with the refuge’s friends group and also helped with tree plantings, trash pick-ups and managing deer hunts.
Eventually, I landed a job as a visitor services specialist through the Pathways program. Visitor services are a crucial part of gaining public support and informing the community of our mission. This is an especially challenging task at the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge, since it is spread out over 362 miles along the Ohio River. I plan, prepare, and carry out educational programs that teach visitors about refuge lands and native wildlife. My main objective is to make sure everyone has a great experience during his or her visit. We stay pretty busy with numerous field trips from schools, camps, scout groups, and many other organizations. Additionally, during the summer we hold youth programs that are open to the public. Two of my personal favorites are “Insect Safari” and “Be a Junior Biologist for a Day.” Our goal is to get children interested in nature at a young age so they can later become good stewards of the land.
The neat thing about my job is that it doesn’t end with public outreach. I gain a broad range of field experience by helping with biological surveys and wildlife management. I was even fortunate enough to do work details at both White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery and Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. I have helped our biologist restock freshwater mussels into the Ohio River in areas that can once again support healthy, diverse populations. Freshwater mussels are one of the key faunal groups that the refuge focuses on protecting. It is amazing to see the significant environmental benefits mussels provide to their ecosystem as a filter feeder.
I also conduct bat surveys on the islands after sunset. During the survey, we collect critical data that will be used to track the diversity of species and long-term population trends, using computer software, GPS, and an ultrasonic receiver. The ultrasonic receiver converts the high frequency sound produced by bats into an audible sound, which identifies the species without capture. This data is being used to quantify the devastating effects that White-Nose Syndrome has on bat populations in North America.
Working at the refuge has definitely been a unique experience. Everyone’s willingness to share their knowledge and skills has shown me the diversity of opportunities within the Service. My experience has given me a once in a lifetime opportunity and I have truly found a career path that I am passionate about and hope to continue.