Wednesday, May 2, 2012

An Intern's Perspective

The following blog is a personal reflection of Red Wolf Recovery Program intern, Ford Willis. Ford recently graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He conducted his internship from September 7, 2011 to November 21, 2011 while studying at UNC's Albemarle Ecological Field Site (AEFS).

Before my semester started in Manteo, I met with faculty members from the AEFS to discuss my interests in environmental issues on the coast. I told them that I am an avid animal lover (based on my father owning a pet store as I grew up), and that I was extremely interested in working with animal conservation/protection of any kind. It was a perfect fit when they decided to place me with the Fish and Wildlife Service Red Wolf Recovery Program. To be completely honest, I did not even know the recovery program existed and knew little to nothing about red wolves in general. However, I was excited about the opportunity to work with an endangered species and help out in any way I can. I was pleasantly surprised when my internship mentor, David Rabon, presented me with the task of working to create a Red Wolf Recovery Business Plan.

The founding idea behind the plan was to create something that modeled current operations of the Red Wolf Recovery Program so that a specific and concise plan might be used to create recovery sites in other areas of North Carolina or across the southeastern United States. In the past, red wolf populations extended much further west than they do now so the prospect of a recovery program being established in another state is promising. I must admit I was intimidated and a little overwhelmed when I first began understanding the project I would be working on. As mentioned earlier, I knew almost nothing about red wolves and, if possible, knew even less about how to construct a business plan. Needless to say, the beginning stages were slow going as I researched the many facets of the Red Wolf Recovery Program and traditional business plans. My first objective was to adapt a traditional business plan to fit the operations of a recovery program by identifying the aspects that were the same between both plans and those that were specific to a recovery site. I found this both interesting and challenging as my research helped me to gain a wealth of knowledge in business and conservation. It was a true emersion experience. I was thrown into a completely unfamiliar world but came out with a greater understanding of the recovery program as a whole and a strong comprehension of how beneficial a business plan can be for the recovery program. Once completed, this plan has the potential to expand red wolf populations, putting the FWS ever closer to achieving the ultimate goal of restoring red wolves to healthy numbers.

Outside of my work with the business plan, I was given the exciting opportunity to accompany some of the biologists in the field. This entailed setting traps and tracking specific wolf populations and gave me a much deeper understanding of how the program works. I was even given the chance to observe and participate when the veterinarian came to do work ups on the captive wolves. Working in the office and in the field are drastically different, yet equally important to the success of the recovery program. This duel experience was vital to my overall understanding of program operations and the multitude of aspects that will need to be included in the business plan. Furthermore, it led me to realize that while this business plan will be extremely useful to a future propagation site, there is a certain aspect of “local knowledge” involved with the current program. The members of the program understand things that cannot be taught or translated into a business plan. It must be learned through experience. This is not to take away from the business plan, but simply to point out that any future site will surely require that same understanding of “local knowledge” in order to function successfully. While the business plan is still very much in its infancy, I am proud of my contributions and excited to someday see a finished product. It would be truly inspiring to one day see a recovery site established in another state based on the plan I was given the opportunity to work on.

Overall, this internship was an extremely positive and educational experience for me. I have had multiple internships in the past where I have spent most of my time trying to look busy rather than actually accomplishing anything. This is not because I was lazy but because I was never given enough work to do. I was never challenged in the way I was with this internship. For the first time, I feel I have a solid understanding of at least one possible career path in the environmental field. My environmental studies degree is broad and wide ranging, which gives me the chance to explore multiple fields when deciding the direction I want to take my career. I was skeptical about working for the government but found it to be an enjoyable experience with a functioning work environment filled with welcoming individuals. Everyone was willing to do their part in helping me get the most out of my internship as possible. I want to thank everyone for helping make this the most positive internship experience I have had. I realize how busy you all are and appreciate the time you took out of your day. I hope that I can return over the coming years to see the program thriving and expanding in new ways. I may have come in knowing nothing about red wolves, but I can guarantee this has been an experience I will never forget.
[Photo: Ford Willis]

1 comment:

  1. You're very lucky to have had this opportunity! I visited ARNWR and met with David Rabon this past spring while on vacation. It's a really interesting program, and he had mentioned how competitive the scholarships are! I was just hired to work with the USFWS in Alaska this summer, and hope to have just as an amazing experience as you.