The Wildlife Management Department at Eastern Kentucky University hosts a wide variety of in-person training for students within its programs. Situated a few miles past the main campus is a 60-acre ecological area maintained in part by EKU, consisting of mainly pastureland and patches of forest, where students gain hands-on work in research, management, and conservation. Taylor Fork Ecological Area provides those in the program the chance to gain direct training in their area of study with many lab-based classes taking regular field trips to the center for projects.
“Our training is a lot of field-based or skill-based learning, and Taylor Fork is a location where we can take our students to do undergraduate research projects and they can also get experience doing habitat management,” said David Brown, a professor of wildlife biology and a manager of Taylor Fork Ecological Area.
While on the site, wildlife management students can gain direct experience in maintaining the habitat, working on conservation efforts, and studying the animal and plant life. In the past, many students have worked on conservation efforts like planting trees and maintaining native plant species. Students have also tagged migratory birds to track and study them.
Max Renner, junior wildlife management major from Louisville, plans to go on to gain a master’s degree in wildlife biology.
“After college, I want to take a couple of years off, get some experience working with state parks, national parks, work with wildlife biologists,” said Renner.
His goal is to one day be a wildlife biologist studying big cats.
Derrick Mason, senior wildlife management major from Louisville, also plans to one day work in conservation.
“What I would love to do is work on different projects enhancing habitats out west,” said Mason.
Many former faculty members and students from the wildlife management major have gone on to work in conservation efforts. A former faculty member has been working on conserving native bat species in Kentucky caves. A number of graduating students have gone on to hold administrative positions in the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“A great number of students have gone on to be well known in their field,” said Brown.
The Taylor Fork Ecological Area is maintained mostly by students, through volunteer work days and the EKU Wildlife Society, a student organization. Students in the society do a number of team building activities, as well as many other hands-on outdoor activities. This organization helps to maintain Taylor Fork. They have also helped to track the state’s bear population, run deer checkpoints, a Woodcock Survey, prescribed fires and many other activities. The group has also entered many professional conferences and competitions.
With such a field-based program, many adjustments have been made to keep students safe during a global pandemic.
“Training students in field techniques in a pandemic environment has been a big challenge,” said Brown.
Students have been able to meet safely and maintain social distancing guidelines for fieldwork. The department has utilized natural areas that are on campus or close to campus, and have been socially distancing while doing field training.
Wildlife management can allow for students who enjoy the outdoors to engage in several activities, whether they make it their major or not. Working in wildlife management allows several opportunities for students to take leadership roles and improve communication skills.
“A lot of our students come into this program with just this interest in being outdoors and hunting and fishing and conservation of wildlife, so we just have a lot of that to offer,” Brown said.
To learn more about the Taylor Fork Ecological Area, visit https://naturalareas.eku.edu/taylor-fork-ecological-area