Tag Archives: wildlife trafficking

My life after the internship: Gabriel Harper

This year, we checked in with some of our past interns to find out what came next after their internship ended. Did they stay with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or land another sweet job? We hope they put those skills to good use! Look out for these stories to find out about their life after the internship. Today, meet Gabriel Harper, a superstar federal wildlife officer. Below, find out where he started with us and how he got where he is now.

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Gabriel Harper began his career with the Service through the Conservation Internship Program, now the Career Discovery Internship Program, a partnership between the Service and The Student Conservation Association to help prepare the next generation of wildlife professionals and managers.

The Student Conservation Association allowed for my first true glimpse into the world of conservation. I began my internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in May 2009, at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia Beach. With minimal prior knowledge of the agency, I approached this venture with an open mind and eager attitude. It was the summer of many “firsts” for me! Back Bay afforded me my first time camping, fishing, kayaking, and birding, while also having the duties of giving interpretive speeches and leading guided tours throughout the refuge.

From what was initially intended to be a 12-week internship, with the support from my supervisors, I was converted to a federal career intern position as a park ranger with the Service within a year of my arrival. Shortly thereafter, I transitioned to permanent employee status, where I led guided tours for schools and other large groups, providing information on wildlife and habitat management. Some of my other job duties included assisting the biology staff members with the threatened sea turtle protection program, wildlife surveys, and invasive species control. I developed a passion for outreach, and it led me to look for new innovative ways to bring minorities to experience all the opportunities the great outdoors have to offer.

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Gabriel during a broadcast at the National Conservation Training Center about illegal wildlife trade.

In 2011, my passion for the environment led me to pursue a career in law enforcement. After close to a year in training, I was sworn in as a federal wildlife officer with the Service. This unique career field equipped me with the tools and skills necessary to confront illegal hunting, trapping, and harvesting of wildlife and plants. I found that I wasn’t too far from my foundation. A typical day could consist of me teaching youth how to fish, conduct a deer poaching investigation, meet with state conservation officers to discuss an upcoming deer decoy operation, stop and investigate a DUI (driving under the influence) on a refuge, or even assist in natural disaster relief efforts anywhere in the US.

Now in my fourth year with the Service, I work at Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland. I continue to manifest fervent hunger that propelled me in the past days when I was seeking employment. There is still so much I feel needs to be done to bring awareness about our mission. On an individual level, I have made myself available to different programs throughout the agency such as the Service Honor Guard, the special operations response team, and the diversity change agents. My commitment to protect our natural resources is rejuvenated every time I step foot on my refuge.

Full HG Team John TAYLOR funeral

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Honor Guard.

Connecting with youth through conservation in New York City

Quiz: How many wildlife refuges and national parks are in New York City?

The answer is 10 – probably a little higher than the average guess. In a concrete jungle, it’s easy to overlook the available cultural resources, which in New York, range from historical hotspot Ellis Island to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens. If you’re really adventurous, in less than an hour, you can be at one of nine national wildlife refuges on Long Island or at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey, a leafy oasis just over 20 miles west of Times Square.

Last weekend, Latino youth leaders got a special look at the two sites thanks to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service partnership with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). A group of 100 high school and college-aged students divided and conquered, attending field days at Ellis Island and Gateway National Recreation Area, where they engaged with the outdoors and heard from FWS and NPS professionals. The event came on the heels of a four-day LULAC national youth convention that included workshops, leadership training, education panels, a career and college resource fair, and other opportunities.

At Jamaica Bay, attendees plunged into the water, suiting up in life vests to kayak and rubber chest-high waders to sein along the shore. The students then heard from FWS and NPS rangers about national wildlife refuges, national parks, endangered species, what we’re doing to stop illegal wildlife trafficking and what first steps to take to jumpstart a career in conservation.

Below are some photos of the action at Jamaica Bay–a day so filled with sand, saltwater, and wildlife that the skyscrapers across the water may have seemed more out of place than the birds feeding along the shore.

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Leilani Sanchez, a Service wildlife inspector, discusses how she got involved with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and how the Service is combatting wildlife trafficking. The students are looking at items that were seized because they are illegal to import/export.

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NPS ranger Carol Williams, FWS wildlife inspector Leilani Sanchez and students are seining to inspect the critters of Jamaica Bay.

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NPS ranger Carol Williams, FWS wildlife biologist Emarie Ayala, FWS wildlife inspector Leilani Sanchez and students look at their findings from seining in Jamaica Bay.

These two are ready to hit the beach and monitor some threatened piping plovers. Credit: USFWS

Teaching kids about endangered species–and why they’re so rare

Cooper Crose, plover technician at Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, talks with visitors about rare shorebirds with visitors to Boston's Franklin Zoo. Credit: USFWS

Cooper Crose, plover technician at Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, talks with visitors about rare shorebirds with visitors to Boston’s Franklin Zoo. Credit: USFWS

Patty Levasseur, reptile and amphibian intern for Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex, coordinated the event. Photo courtesy of Patty.

Patty Levasseur, reptile and amphibian intern for Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex, coordinated the event. Photo courtesy of Patty.

One little boy stood our our endangered species booth and held up a necklace made from elephant ivory. “This…this is NOT worth a life,” he said.

For Endangered Species Day in May, we continued our partnership with Zoo New England and spent an afternoon talking with more than 100 visitors to Boston’s Franklin Zoo about the animals that have been affected by the international crisis of wildlife trafficking, and we also shared with them ways to protect some of their local endangered species (threatened piping plovers and other shorebirds).

The event was led by Patty Levasseur, reptile and amphibian intern for Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex. She and refuge volunteers set up a booth with a nesting shorebird exhibit, a dress-up area for visitors that wanted to check out the life of a biologist or wildland firefighter, and a table of products made from wildlife and confiscated by our law enforcement.

The products included alligator skin shoes, a seal skin purse, a hawksbill sea turtle mount, sturgeon caviar, bald eagle feathers and an ocelot skin.

Coleman O'Brien, plover intern at Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, holds up a sea turtle mount. Credit: USFWS

Coleman O’Brien, plover intern at Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, holds up a sea turtle mount. Credit: USFWS

“At the confiscated wildlife products table, we talked about what each item was made from, and how that animal had to give its life to make that item,” Patty said. “We also explained how it is illegal to have these items and that some of them are made from endangered species that can be seen at the zoo.”

A roped-off area of sand with eggs and tern figures composed the shorebird exhibit.

“We talked about terns and how they are colonial nesters, so most visitors can see them and know when they have been disturbed because the whole colony will fly up in the air,” Patty said.

They showed images of the plovers to demonstrate how hard they are to see, and explained that flushing the birds off their nests could potentially kill their eggs or chicks.

“The closing and main point of our talk was to drive the importance of staying out of the fenced off areas–that even though you may not see any birds, they are most likely there, you just can’t see them (referring to the piping plovers), and that all these birds are protected by both or at least one of the state and federal endangered species laws,” she said.

“I think we touched more than a handful of the visitors that stopped by, especially with the nesting shorebirds,” Patty said. “I feel as though even if one person walked away with positive knowledge or even a change in perception, then it was a successful day.”

Biologists Kayla Easler (pictured) and Pamela Shellenberger recently visited Park Forest Elementary School in State College to talk with the first-grade students about endangered species.   “Kayla and I talked about what threatened, endangered and extinct mean and discussed federally listed species in Pennsylvania,” Pamela said.  Students were able to see a threatened bog turtle that the Pennsylvania Field Office is permitted to use for education. The bog turtle was confiscated by law enforcement from a landowner that had removed it and kept it illegally in captivity for a couple years. Credit: USFWS

Biologists Kayla Easler (pictured) and Pamela Shellenberger of our Pennsylvania Field Office recently visited Park Forest Elementary School in State College to talk with the first-grade students about endangered species. “Kayla and I talked about what threatened, endangered and extinct mean and discussed federally listed species in Pennsylvania,” Pamela said. Students were able to see a threatened bog turtle that the office is permitted to use for education. The bog turtle was confiscated by law enforcement from a landowner that had removed it and kept it illegally in captivity for a couple years. Credit: USFWS