Undergraduate Caitlin Drasher (’17) chose to attend the University of Vermont (UVM) Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources based on its reputation for stellar environmental programs, the smallness of the School, yet the breadth of its research opportunities. As a first-year environmental sciences major, she gravitated to the wildlife side of the environmental field and transferred to the School’s wildlife and fisheries biology program her second semester.
She joined the Wildlife and Fisheries Society student chapter on campus, helped to run chapter events, and took on a leadership role as president of the club her senior year.
“I liked creating volunteer opportunities for younger students and sharing my experiences with them,” said Caitlin, who volunteered to work at the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department’s deer check stations and organized UVM student volunteers during hunting season. “The hands-on experiences help prepare students for careers and help them decide on a field of interest.”
Under Caitlin’s leadership, the club also volunteered at a turtle nesting habitat restoration at a local beach and the annual Ice Fishing Festival, participated in chickadee banding, and sponsored a four-part seminar series featuring state biologists from the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
A go-getter with no qualms about volunteer work, Caitlin contacted Forrest Hammond, the Vermont State bear biologist, as a first-year student. That summer, in addition to her job as a Vermont state park attendant, Caitlin spent time volunteering on a black bear project with a state field technician from the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife.
In the Green Mountain National Forest near her hometown of Manchester, Vermont, Caitlin gained valuable hands-on experience radio-collaring, tracking, and working with sedated bears as part of a project to monitor the impacts of wind power development on bear habitat and movement. A UVM Honors College scholar, she decided, at the recommendation of Forrest Hammond and Tom Rogers, information specialist with Vermont Fish and Wildlife, to turn her black bear work into her senior honors thesis research with thesis advisor Associate Professor Jed Murdoch.
She applied for and received funding from the UVM Office of Undergraduate Research to pursue her thesis research during the summer of her junior year. She examined how different types of roads influence the way that bears are distributed on the landscape, with findings to be used by Vermont Fish and Wildlife.
The summer of her sophomore year, Caitlin continued to follow up on her connections with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife and accepted a Rubenstein School Perennial Summer Internship as an outreach and field intern with Department. She worked with Tom Rogers to build a photo database, create infographics, and write a press release. She joined biologists and technicians in the field to band geese, mist net bats, and locate rattlesnake habitat, among other experiences.
"Caitlin has volunteered at practically every public event the Fish & Wildlife Department has held for the past several years, often coordinating other groups of volunteers," said Tom Rogers. "She has worked tirelessly as a field technician on the department’s Searsburg Black Bear Wind Study. Caitlin is the rare volunteer that has attained the training and experience to make meaningful contributions to the work of the department."
For her several years of committed service to the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, Caitlin received a Vermont Campus Compact Engaged Student Award. After graduation, she will share her four years of accrued black bear experience as a wildlife technician with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. She will spend the summer helping to manage human-bear conflicts in seven New York counties.
Having successfully defended her honors thesis, Caitlin is considering graduate school after she acquires a couple more years of wildlife work experience. She hopes to continue studying impacts of human development on wildlife, especially large carnivores like black bears.