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DEC Internships Put ESF Students to Work in the Field

Job opportunities come from two divisions: lands and forests, and fish, wildlife and marine resources

Clockwise from top left: Patrick Hulle, Lauren Stevens, Tim McCoy, Gennaro Falco

ESF undergraduate Gennaro Falco spent last summer scrutinizing the undersides of hemlock needles for evidence of the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid. At the same time, classmate Lauren Stevens was busy developing marketing ideas for a state tree nursery that was established in Saratoga a century ago. And Patrick Hulle was on the front lines of New York's battle against an invasive pest that has already destroyed more than 50 million ash trees in the United States.

The common thread running through their experiences is a successful internship program that pairs ESF undergraduates and graduate students with summer internships offered by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

"I enjoyed the program," said Falco, a senior forest health major from Oneonta, whose internship was based in the Catskills. "It gave me a new outlook on job opportunities and a new perspective on forest health beyond the academic work we do here at ESF. It was definitely a good experience. I'd recommend it to anyone."

This summer, up to 26 graduate and undergraduate students will be hired to work with the DEC's Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources. Approximately 18 more internships are available for students to work in the area of forest health through the DEC's Division of Lands and Forests.

"The DEC gets a lot of help from us. Part of it is the agency's recognition of the value our students bring to these projects and part of it is the cost-effectiveness for the DEC to have students on the staff for the summer," said Dr. James P. Gibbs, an ESF conservation biologist who is one of three faculty members leading the partnership with the DEC.

The fish and wildlife internships were created through a program that began in 2008, when the college and the DEC acknowledged their mutual interest in developing expertise and conducting research in the field. The forest health internships were launched last year.

Dr. Donald J. Leopold, chair of ESF's Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, said the internships give students an opportunity to work on urgent environmental issues.

"These are timely topics," he said. "There are projects involving invasive species like the emerald ash borer, which is one of the most serious threats our forests have faced since the chestnut blight or Dutch elm disease.

"This is the most exciting time to be in the area of environmental science and forest biology," Leopold said. "We face potentially catastrophic implications from invasive species and climate change. It's incredibly interesting and challenging. It's a great time for our students because of so many urgent issues that need their attention."

One of the students who worked on a timely project was Hulle, a 2011 Ranger School graduate who is now an ESF junior majoring in forest resources management. He spent last summer installing and monitoring emerald ash borer traps in Orange, Dutchess, Putnam, Westchester and Rockland counties. He worked with Ranger School classmates who are also now enrolled at ESF.

Hulle said he helped hang at least 500 of the distinctive purple prism traps on ash trees in the five counties. Later in the summer, the students used GPS technology to relocate the traps and check for the invasive insects. They did not find any.Hulle said he and his coworkers ended up doing more public relations work than they had expected. "Lots of people were interested in what the traps were," he said. "We gave out a lot of flyers with information."

This year, in the fish and wildlife area, opportunities for interns involve assisting Bureau of Habitat staff members in delineating wetlands, amending freshwater wetland maps or monitoring habitat for fish and wildlife; analyzing Bureau of Fisheries data from field surveys; or, in the Bureau of Wildlife, banding animals, maintaining field equipment or participating in outreach and educational efforts.

In the forest health area, interns could work with the Division of Water monitoring aquatic invasive species in the Finger Lakes, assist in the daily operation of the diagnostic lab at the tree nursery in Saratoga or work with a professional forester to inventory state forest properties.

DEC wildlife biologist Jim Eckler said the internships give students opportunities to learn field skills, explore possible career paths and develop contacts that can help them land a job after college.

"It's been great. They've all been excellent workers and good students," Eckler said. "And it helps them develop contacts that can help them later. It's not enough anymore to go to college and just get good grades. You have to show that you've applied what you learned. When we've had interns, they finish up at the end of the summer and the next thing you know we're getting calls from somebody who's considering hiring them."

Graduate student Tim McCoy said his DEC internship grew out of his participation in ESF's participation in a National Science Foundation-funded project called Undergraduate Mentoring in Environmental Biology. During McCoy's UMEB summer at the Newcomb campus, he studied the dietary habits of American martens. That helped lead to a DEC internship during the summer of 2011 and he has continued the marten work into his master's research.

McCoy arrived at ESF after 10 years in a corporate shipping management job that he did not find satisfying. During his summer with the DEC, he learned to identify the elements of a marten's diet by studying the animal's stomach contents. Trapping and deforestation nearly extirpated martens in the Northeast, he said. "Martens are an interesting animal to work with," he said. "It's a unique species and New York's population is important for genetic diversity."

Stevens, a senior, worked at the state tree nursery in Saratoga and said she was able to obtain recommendations for her job search. Her internship allowed her to combine her natural resources management background with business skills learned through her minor in entrepreneurship, obtained through the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University. She created a Facebook page for the nursery, met with representatives of other state agencies to build relationships that could support the nursery's work and designed ads for DEC publications such as the popular Conservationist.

ESF faculty members said the internship program has benefits for the parties on both sides.

"The DEC gets a lot out of it. Our students get a lot out of it," said Dr. David Newman, chair of ESF's Department of Forest and Natural Resources Management. "The students get the experience. And they get a good paycheck."

Students who apply for the internships must be enrolled for classes in the fall of 2012. Internships related to forest health are currently being filled so no additional applications are being accepted.

Specific fish and wildlife internships available this summer are listed HERE. Students interested in applying for these positions should send (as a single document pdf attachment to an email) to jpgibbs@esf.edu a short cover letter that identifies the specific internship(s) they wish to be considered for and that outlines their qualifications and interest in each as well as a resume that includes their contact information.