Students and wildlife come together
Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 24, 2013 13:01
Utah State University may have started as an agricultural school, but now research goes beyond farming and cattle.
Twenty minutes south of Logan, researchers study coyotes to understand human-wildlife interactions at the Predator Research Facility in Millville, Utah. Volunteers, graduate students and faculty from the Quinney College of Natural Resources work at the facility, a USDA National Wildlife Research Center.
Julie Young, an assistant professor in USU’s wildland resources department, is the project leader at the facility. She began her work two and a half years ago as a researcher.
“It is a nice place to conduct a lot of research and I am involved in a lot of field studies, too.” Young said.
The research utilizes skill sets on all levels. From undergraduates to faculty members, it bonds the levels of academia with common goals — to understand human-wildlife relationships and minimize wildlife conflict, Young said. Research facilities such as this are rare in the field, she said.
“We are one of the only facilities that’s main focus is research of captive animals, especially large carnivores. It is a unique opportunity,” Young said.
The research done at the facility includes examining the effect of steroid hormones, the inheritance of behavioral traits, social learning behavior and numerical cognition of coyotes and other local predators.
“As a researcher your goal is to always do research that can be helpful not just to your particular study but to others as well,” Young said.
Students from the university are able to volunteer a few hours as needed to help capture and move coyotes as needed for the research.
“Usually students that are interested come out for the daily activities to see what it is like,” Young said. “It takes a lot to train people who come out here and we want to make sure they are committed.”
Young said she enjoys observing students’ work and progress.
“It is always enjoyable to work with students and watch them learn and grow,” Young said.
Erika Stevenson, a master’s degree candidate and animal care technician since 2008, falls under the leadership of Young. She said her position at the Predator Research facility was a combination of luck and timing.
Coming from a captive animal research background, she works directly with the coyotes, taking care of the animals through daily husbandry, feeding and vaccinating.
In addition to animal care, Stevenson also assumes a research role, investigating the steroid hormone, cytosol, in stress management and the habituation of the coyotes due to fear provoking stimuli.
Before working on her master’s thesis, Stevenson volunteered her time for other graduate students to begin her networking with other researchers in the field.
“Interacting with the faculty has been a really great experience and great networking. This school has great resources through the QCNR,” Stevenson said.
Students are encouraged to volunteer at the facility. If an undergraduate participates regularly, it strengthens a resume and propels future career exploits, Stevenson said.
“It is experience. It shows that you are willing to work and do something that may not be exciting, but you are willing to do it. That makes a difference in this field especially,” Stevenson said.
Morgan Hughes, a freshman majoring in wildlife science, follows Stevenson’s advice and volunteers regularly at the Predator Research Facility. She contacted Young in September 2012, attended a staff meeting and has volunteered ever since. Working with the educated staff has given her opportunities not many undergraduates have, she said.
For Hughes, volunteering at the facility is a stepping stone for her future career goals.
“I am hoping to go to graduate school and eventually start doing my own research,” said Hughes. “I come from an agricultural background, so I want to look into predator-livestock relationships.”
wThe Predator Research Facility orchestrates similar research and Hughes is already gaining hands-on experience in her chosen field, she said.
“I am working actively on research that is affecting the real world and may get published,” Hughes said.