Sharing a passion for wildlife

Mitch Hartley is a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Mitch Hartley is a migratory bird biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Yesterday we heard from Tesia Lin, a college student who participated in a wildlife techniques course taught in part by employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Today we get a glimpse from the other perspective as Mitch Hartley, a migratory bird biologist with the Service, shares his experience teaching the class and why it means more than just imparting knowledge.

 

Each year I look forward to my drive to Castleton State College in Vermont, anticipating the adventure of working with wildlife biology students from around the United States. For the past seven years, my U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service colleagues and I have “volunteered” our time as instructors in a two-week wildlife techniques course offered by the Northeast Chapter of The Wildlife Society.

Migratory bird conservation is one aspect of the wildlife techniques course. This student observes a tufted titmouse as Mitch supervises. Photo credit: Bennett Gould

The annual course enrolls about 20 passionate and eager students, with aspirations for a career in natural resources. The expertise that I contribute to the course curriculum is focused on migratory bird conservation.  In my current job I don’t get out into the field as much as I used to, so working with students in the course gives me a chance to get outside, watch birds and other wildlife, and reconnect with the experiences, both personally and professionally, that initially drew me to a career in wildlife biology.

Mitch and his colleague Randy Dettmers teach students how to handle blue jays while gathering important biological information. Photo credit: Bennett Gould

Mitch and his colleague Randy Dettmers teach students how to handle blue jays while gathering important biological information. Photo credit: Bennett Gould

As part of the course, we take small groups of students on early morning walks, instructing them on common bird survey skills and techniques. We teach them bird identification by sight and song, and demonstrate how to set-up mist nests to safely capture and band songbirds.

Spending time with these students reminds me of the earnest desire and ambition I had as a young person, desperately wanting to be a wildlife biologist. The students are highly motivated, determined, and focused on their goals of a career in natural resources.

Students work together to learn about fish sampling. Photo credit: Bennett Gould

Students work together to learn about fish sampling. Photo credit: Bennett Gould

Within just 48 hours of working with the students I am always surprised at how well I get to know them and learn about their passion for wanting to make a positive difference in the world. In the process of sharing my own perspective and experiences with these students, I realize again what makes me enthusiastic about my own career, and how lucky I am to have a job that I love.

Tom Decker, wildlife biologist with the Service uses animal pelts and bones to help teach students about animal identification. Photo credit: John McDonald

Tom Decker, a Service wildlife biologist, uses animal pelts and bones to help teach students about animal identification. Photo credit: John McDonald

Several of my Service colleagues also make this extra effort each year to connect with the next generation of conservation professionals. I suspect that, like me, they enjoy the time away from their daily work routines, get re-energized by the students’ youthful passions, and feel a sense of satisfaction knowing that we are helping others. An added benefit of being involved with the course is that it helps build awareness and support for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and our conservation mission.

Enjoying a peaceful moment in the sun. Photo credit: Bennett Gould

One of the students enjoys a peaceful moment in the sun. Photo credit: Bennett Gould

It is really humbling when, by the end of my two days with the class, nearly every student approaches me with a sincere “thank you,” and expresses their appreciation for sharing my knowledge, experiences and lessons with them.

When I returned home this year from the class my wife asked me one night “Why do you help teach this class each year?”  Until she asked, I had not really thought much about it. But it made me realize how important the class is, not only to the students who take the class, but to myself and my other colleagues who have a vested interest in conserving and protecting a natural world for all future generations.

Connect with the Wildlife Techniques course on Facebook

 

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