Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
ALASKA USFWS: Youth, a Summer Field Army
Alaska Region, October 28, 2011
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Migratory Birds Program biologists pictured with youth volunteers, SCEP employees, and temporary hires.
Migratory Birds Program biologists pictured with youth volunteers, SCEP employees, and temporary hires. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Intern Nick Hatch in Icy Bay, Alaska sampling zoo plankton for Kittlitz's murrelet study.
Intern Nick Hatch in Icy Bay, Alaska sampling zoo plankton for Kittlitz's murrelet study. - Photo Credit: USFWS

Alaska made quite an impression on me. I met some amazing people who are very passionate about their work and the lifestyle is incredible. There aren’t many cities that I could work in where I could hike up a mountain on my lunch break.
~Alaska Conservation Fund Intern, Lindsay Spurrier Juneau Fish and Wildlife Field Office

Each summer, the allure of  wild Alaska draws youth from all over the world to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  This army of hard working, adventurous youth run field camps from Barrow to the Aleutians; collect field data through long daylight hours; staff visitor centers; and educate the public about wildlife conservation and recreation. About half of these youth (130) are lucky enough to get federal jobs through seasonal employment or student hire programs. The other 127 volunteer or work with partners, nearly eclipsing other traditional hiring methods. 

In the course of a short field season, Region 7 must recruit, hire, train, and dispatch this army, which is nothing short of miraculous in light of geographic, budget, bureaucratic, and training challenges. Offices across the state have creatively addressed these challenges and successfully employed youth doing some of the hardest, yet most rewarding, work in the Service. 

Filling the Ranks
Surprisingly, our geographic isolation is an advantage to recruitment, not a barrier for some youth.  We often have youth enlisting to work here. For example, Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge advertised for five volunteer biological technicians, who were required to work a total of 5 ½ months, 6 days a week from the remote Camp Island.  Despite these harsh conditions and no pay, 106 intrepid youth applied.  

This free skilled labor has both short and long term returns.  While volunteering they conducted a high level of field research critical to determining the foraging diet and habitat quality for the Kodiak Brown Bear.  Later, some go on to graduate programs with research questions centered on Service objectives; thereby, returning hundreds of thousands of dollars from an investment of pennies. In light of declining budgets, Service volunteer programs must be bolstered to ensure we are supporting the passionate youth enlisting. 

Partnerships Make it Possible
Since nearly half of this summer’s youth army were hired by our partners; common goals, cooperative agreements and open communication were key.  The Service worked with universities, tribal organizations and non-profits to engage youth in a wide range of high quality internships. The Student Conservation Association remains our largest partner with 24 interns in 2011. Conservation Interns spend anywhere from 6 weeks to 12 months working with field stations on a variety of projects. For example, SCA interns assisted with climate change and inventory and monitoring projects; taught school children about the importance of wildlife to people; and contributed to refuge planning documents and endangered species projects. 

The Training Regimen
Once on board, youth go through a regimen of mandatory training tailored to the extreme conditions found with most jobs on the Last Frontier. Training youth employees takes the effort of the entire staff and can take up to two weeks to cover airplane, boat and bear safety, field camp operations, and content and skills for specific positions. Training needs are being  met in collaborative and creative ways using the regional video conference system, and/or partner and staff experts. 

To the Field
Once dispatched far and wide, these young people collect field data with implications for every research facet from climate change to migratory flyways, or they enlighten thousands of visitors through interpretive programs.   All gain life and work experiences found nowhere else in the Service. 

Now that our summer field army has dwindled to a few hardy soldiers, we need to look to next summer and beyond.  We can keep them enlisting by remaining the premier science lab for the budding adventurous scientist, continuing successful partnerships, and offering youth more high quality paid and unpaid work opportunities. 


Additional Articles:
Youth, Future Neighbors, Citizens and Leaders
Diverse and Urban are Key to our Future



Contact Info: Kristen Gilbert, 907-786-3391, kristen_gilbert@fws.gov
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