Directorate Fellowship Program
Unique Opportunity for Tribal Partnership in the Lake Superior Basin
BY MARK BROUDER, ASHLAND FWCO
new AIS in Lake Superior. Credit: USFWS
Growing up in central Illinois, Evan Boone’s personal and academic experiences largely focused on rivers and impoundments. However, that changed after he was accepted into the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Directorate Fellowship Program (DFP), which provided him the opportunity to work on the world’s largest freshwater lake; Lake Superior. According to Evan, “the DFP exceeded all of my expectations and not only allowed me to develop as a professional but also as an individual.”
Over the last several years, USFWS has partnered with the Student Conservation Association (SCA) to administer the Directorate Fellowship Program. The DFP is intended to provide students pursuing a career in conservation the opportunity to work alongside USFWS staff during a rigorous 11-week assignment. In 2016, the Ashland Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) initiated a DFP position to facilitate the development of an aquatic invasive species (AIS) early detection and monitoring program for the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The USFWS and its partner agencies (i.e., tribal, state, provincial, and federal) are concerned about aquatic invasive species and their impacts on fisheries throughout the Lake Superior basin. Non-native species have entered Lake Superior through a variety of pathways, yet most of the invasive fish that have been established can be attributed to either range expansion from the lower Great Lakes (i.e., through the locks on the St Marys River at Sault Ste. Marie) or ballast water exchange by the maritime shipping industry.
Early detection and monitoring programs have been implemented by agencies across the Great Lakes to increase the success of rapid response actions and to evaluate the success of policies aimed at curtailing new introductions (e.g., ballast water exchange and flushing). The USFWS developed a strategic framework to guide the implementation of early detection sampling efforts across the Great Lakes, emphasizing the need to target adult and juvenile fish across a range of water depths using a suite of capable sampling gears. In addition, sampling a network of ports across an individual lake increases the probability of encountering a new invader when it is still rare and its range is limited.
In the summer of 2016, Evan worked closely with USFWS biologists and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community to initiate an early detection and monitoring program for invasive fishes in Keweenaw Bay and Huron Bay, Lake Superior. Providing assistance to tribal communities is an integral part of USFWS federal trust responsibilities, which leads to routine partnerships between USFWS staff and tribal agencies on a wide range of conservation projects. The DFP provided an ideal platform for both Evan’s professional development, as well as collaboration with important partners in the region. He gained experience developing a field sampling plan, managing the logistics associated with a multiple agency sampling effort, deploying a variety of gears to sample nearshore fish communities, and synthesizing the initial information that was collected. While USFWS has committed to helping the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community for at least three years, Evan’s project helped create a solid template for future sampling efforts in Lake Superior’s Keweenaw Bay and Huron Bay.
The DFP is an outstanding opportunity for young professionals to work on pertinent ecological issues and determine if a career with the FWS is right for them. The program allowed Evan to experience the Service’s mission firsthand and gave him an appreciation for the role that FWS plays in the conservation of aquatic resources. After completing the program requirements, Evan was offered a position at the Ashland FWCO working on various projects related to the restoration and conservation of native fish species in the Lake Superior basin.