Extra hands welcomed at Big Lake NWR
Jeremy Bennett, manager of the Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge, is excited about the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) summer employment program and the summer wildlife management intern program.
Big Lake is a huge area and with the summer programs the two full time staff including Bennett and Aaron Mize, Wildlife Science Technician, will go to eight workers.
The YCC is a summer employment program for young men and women from all segments of society who work, learn and earn together by doing projects on public land.
The YCC is a federally funded program. The purpose of the YCC is to further the development and maintenance of the natural resources of the United States by America's youth, and, in so doing, prepare them for the ultimate responsibility of maintaining and managing these resources for the American people.
"At one time in past years Big Lake had the YCC but for lack of funding and interest, it has not been used in years," Bennett said.
Bennett acquired the funding needed for four YCC high school workers and a crew leader.
Bennett said important objectives of the YCC are to accomplish needed conservation work on public lands; provide gainful employment for young males and females; and develop an understanding and appreciation in the participating youth of the National's natural environment and heritage.
"We had about 30 young people expressing interest in the program," Bennett said.
The four youth workers chosen are Luke McLaughlin, Zack Birmingham, David Pasley and Hunter Bryan. The crew leader, who will be working with the young men, is Seth Fisher, an Arkansas State University undergraduate majoring in Wildlife Management.
Bennett is also pleased to have Zack Dunivan, an ASU undergraduate student also studying Wildlife Management, who will be doing an internship at Big Lake throughout the summer months.
"This is a great opportunity for the young people and will benefit the Refuge in a lot of ways," Bennett said. "There is no way we could get some of the projects done without them."
Some of the projects on the list for the summer include improving walking trails, general maintenance and clean-up, new signs, constructing an observation platform to view the eagles' nest; trapping and banding wood ducks, taking surveys and collecting data; a new trail to the State Champion Overcup Oak tree will be created; maintenance and repair on the boat ramps and more.
"The youth workers will learn work ethics as well as learning about conservation," Bennett said. "I know this program will be a success and we hope to build on it from year to year."
Fisher said he is very pleased to have the opportunity to work as crew leader for the summer. He is planning a career in wildlife management and this will give him some hands-on experience.
"We will be making improvements on the refuge for the community to enjoy," Fisher said. "We have a lot of plans. If anyone in the local community would like to donate building materials or supplies to improve Big Lake we will build it or improve on what is there.
Dunivan will be doing an internship throughout the summer and he is excited to be working with Bennett and Mize, along with the summer youth crew.
Dunivan will be trapping and banding wood ducks with a rocket net and taking samples checking birds for the Avian Influenza (more commonly known as bird fever). He will be removing non-native species and plants, taking surveys on turkeys, marsh birds, shore birds, and working on other projects.
"I'm extremely excited to get this opportunity to work with Jeremy and Aaron," Dunivan said. "I had heard of Big Lake and knew its location but I had never been here. I am really enjoying learning my way around the Refuge."
The group will be spending some time out on the lake in the new air boat. Bennett wrote an Avian Influenza grant application and was awarded funding for the airboat.
"This will help us monitor this area," Bennett said. "We have not had any cases of the Avian Influenza detected in Arkansas but it is in other areas and we want to keep a close watch."
The summer youth program will last for eight weeks.
"The program offers a paying job to young people giving them the opportunity to work and learn," Bennett said. "It is more than just summer employment, it is educational. It is also a great chance for young people who are considering going into the wildlife management field to get hands-on training and see what the job consists of."