Written by 2021 Summer Intern, Nicolle Montero
I had the amazing opportunity to intern at the LSNWR as the summer forestry assistant. The refuge itself covers over 53,000 acres including about the last 20 miles of the Lower Suwannee River and 30 miles of the Florida Gulf coastline. The refuge is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service whose main mission is to provide good habitat for various native and migratory wildlife species. The refuge managers use a diversity of forest management approaches to support wildlife habitats such as mechanical operations, planting of native plant species, chemical treatments, prescribed fire, and invasive species removal.
One of my primary focuses during my internship was a vegetation monitoring project. I revisited 20 established plots and installed 5 new plots in the upland pine ecosystems across the refuge. At these plots, 360 panoramic photos were taken to depict the structure of the surrounding forest including vegetation height. In addition to these photos, data was collected on the vegetation composition in the ground cover and all the way up to the overstory. Because this has been an ongoing project for several years, the refuge managers are able to use before and after photos and data of the different areas to analyze the success of applied management treatments and better make decisions for future land management approaches.
I was also able to be a part of a timber sale at the St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge which the LSNWR Forester, Daniel Barrand, was assisting with. We drove up on the introduction day where we met with the interested buyers and took them on a tour through the stands that were included in the contract and answered any questions. We also revisited SMNWR on the final bid day when the bidder was chosen. It was really neat to see the timber bidding process from start to finish. Currently, the logging has not begun due to very wet conditions.
In addition to some of the forestry operations, I was able to participate in some of the many other activities that go on at a wildlife refuge. Working with the biological science aid, Jasmin Muslimani, we conducted a Bobwhite Quail survey throughout the pine flatwoods at the refuge. Working together with Victor Doig (fire management specialist/biologist), Larry Woodward (deputy manager), and Jasmin, we conducted a flight line survey out at the Snake Key rookery. This survey included identifying and counting the bird species flying into and off of Snake Key such as white ibis, tri-colored herons, reddish egrets, roseate spoonbills, and others. Vic, Jasmin, and I also conducted the shorebird nesting survey up the coast of the refuge, counting the number of bird species on the beaches, such as Wilson’s plover and Least terns.
I had a very well-rounded experience at the LSNWR. Every day consisted of something different including downed tree removal, invasive raccoon trapping, and even cleaning up public use areas. I was grateful for the opportunity to obtain my Red Card, which has qualified me for wildland fire operations. I was also grateful for being able to spend lots of time out on the water where I was able to get familiar with different ecosystems and navigating waters. Through these various experiences, I’ve picked up lots of great skills and knowledge on how to properly manage lands for conservation. I would like to eventually work for the public sector so it was beneficial seeing the inner workings of a federal agency.
My favorite experience was definitely working with the people at the refuge. I was fortunate enough to work closely not only with the forester, Daniel Barrand but also with the fire management specialist (Victor Doig), the heavy equipment operator (Jason Coates), the deputy manager (Larry Woodward), the refuge manager (Andrew Gude) and a few others. They have a wonderful staff at the refuge who work together as a family to reach their common goals. I learned something different from each and every person and I have formed some strong connections. The valuable skills and knowledge I’ve gained through my internship have made me better prepared for my future career.