Youth find plenty to do in conservation corps
Youth Conservation Corps members working this summer on the Hansen Wildlife Refuge are, l-r, Katie Johnson, Elliott Haney, Jeff Rooklidge, Connor Riley Petterson, and Deputy Project Leader Eva Kristofik. Not pictured is Hannah Arn.
With federal funds, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is one of several agencies able to hire high school students to work through the Youth Conservation Corps each summer.
Students from South Bend, Naselle and Ilwaco have traditionally been offered positions at Willapa Wildlife Refuge, according to Wahkiakum High School teacher Jeff Rooklidge, but four years ago, the service opened up a branch at Julia Butler Hansen Refuge.
"There have probably been 25-30 applications each year for four positions," Rooklidge said.
This year sophomore Katie Johnson is joining juniors Connor Emlen-Petterson and Hannah Arn and senior Elliott Haney for eight weeks out in the field.
"They work a 40-hour week for eight weeks," said Eva Kristofik, Deputy Project Leader for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. "They get to spend their summer outside. They do a ton of work for us. We provide some educational experiences at Ridgefield, Abernathy and Saddle Mountain. They get an introduced to some biology so they understand why they're doing what they are doing."
"It sounded like a good opportunity to be outdoors and help with the wildlife," Emlen-Petterson said. Haney agreed.
"Mr. Rooklidge mentioned it to the students, Johnson said. "I've been thinking about biology and it sounded like a cool job to help out with the wildlife. I get to work with the biologist here and see what he does, a kind of job shadowing experience."
The crew talked about some of their duties.
"We work around the refuge," Johnson said. "We maintain the refuge and help out with small projects that will, in time, help the animals around here."
They spend a lot of time trying to beat back invasive species.
"The Himalaya blackberry is a real problem. It out competes the native species. We spend a lot of time hacking that out," Emlen-Petterson said.
They also work to protect young trees from elk and voles in order to provide a forest canopy for the deer.
"We weed eat and clear away areas, to provide access for the biologists and other people," Haney said. "And just to make it look nice."
The four spend most of their time at JBH, but they've had projects elsewhere. They did a lot more weed eating at Leadbetter Point at the tip of the Long Beach Peninsula on a three to five mile trail.
"There are millions of mosquitoes there," Haney said. Everyone laughed and Emlen-Petterson showed off both his arms which were covered in bites.
"I think Connor and I walked eight to 10 miles that day," Haney continued, "carrying equipment, some of which weighed more than 30 pounds."
"It was hard work," Emlen-Petterson added. "But you got instant gratification because people would come through on this commonly used trail and everyone that walked by was grateful because we were making it more accessible."
On Monday, the group traveled back to Willapa and rode an airboat around Long Island, joining staff from other areas to clean campsites and clear trails.
They've seen a reenactment of a plank house being built by the Chinook tribe on the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge. They got their feet wet doing snorkel surveys and got a tour of the genetics lab at Abernathy.
"I've had a lot of students go through the program," Rooklidge said. "All of them have raved about it and loved the opportunity to earn college money."
"It's a great partnership for me and the students," he continued. "We're working with the biologists on cutting edge research and working with endangered or threatened species from the snowy plover, the white tailed deer to the Oregon silverspot butterfly and the marbled murrelet. It's pretty neat. The students get to interact with PhD folks and biologists with masters degrees who explain every step of the research and data they are collecting and what they are learning about the animals."
"Plus the students feel good that they are helping with the critters, which is the main goal of the refuge."