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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Out of the Cube and Into the Field

What is it like to be an intern with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service? One student gives us her perspective ...

By Ashley Cotter, USFWS

First day on the job, I got a cubicle to work in, and a stack of papers to fill out. Yeah, I know, doesn’t sound too exciting -- but this was my summer plan: Go into the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Sacramento Office for work experience -- you know, the kind that every pre-college student looks for to fill up their applications.

You know? The first day wasn't too bad. I got introduced to some of the employees, took some online training, and then started on research to write stories just like this one. It felt pretty good to be working.

Getting out of the cube. (Photo: Sarah Swenty/USFWS)

My second day was a lot different. That's when I found myself with a group of employees going out to the field for some hands-on education on California tiger salamanders, one of the endangered species protected under the Endangered Species Act.

During the car ride to the site I met one of the Service’s biologists, Josh Emery, who was more than happy to give me an overview on his job. He makes sure that new construction plans in the Central Valley of California are not severely compromising the habitat, or possible habitat, of endangered animals and plants.

When we arrived we were taken out into a hilly, privately owned area with various cattle ponds. To the untrained eye it looked boring and almost lifeless. The only sound I heard was the whirring of the windmill farm nearby. The grass was short, grazed by cows, and it looked yellow, dead and brittle; not at all the type of green grass I expected to find animals living in and on. It was kind of dusty until we got down to the actual cattle pond we were visiting. The pond didn’t seem lively either. It was murky, brown and green, and overridden with algae. I wouldn’t have even taken a second look at it if it weren’t for the fact that everyone else stopped and was getting their nets and buckets out. 

When the first net was dipped into the shallow and unattractive water I figured they'd find perhaps one salamander. Well, the net came up out of that pond and I saw at least 5 slimy salamanders wiggling around. Next, a larger net was used. 

salamanderThe large net is deployed! (Photo: Sarah Swenty/USFWS)

This time, two people waded out into the middle of the pond and dragged the net to the side.  This motion revealed about 100 California tiger salamanders poking through the mud!

It was the oddest experience -- to look at that pond with its murky algae covered surface and see a whole net-full of life. It made me understand Josh's job a lot better.

Empty field or cattle pond, endangered species live in a variety of locations. Each differs in size, shape, sight, smells. It isn’t as easy as looking out a window and saying, "Oh, that tree is green and fruitful and looks like a good home for animals".

Biologists like Josh protect ponds -- like the murky one I visited -- every day.  They don't always get to see the actual landscape, but when opportunities to go out in the field do come up, it helps them to better understand what to look for in various reports and papers that come across their desks.

Their job is an important role within the Endangered Species Act as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Ashley Cotter is a summer intern in the Sacramento Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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