Learning better management

Tracking a Wolf

Allison Field radio collars a wolf in the Wenaha pack. (photo c/o ODFW)

During mornings throughout last summer, Allison Field left her home in LaGrande, Ore., by 4:30 to get to work by 6. Work, in Field’s case, meant the rugged ridges and steep-sided canyons of the Blue Mountains, about 15 miles from the one-street town of Troy. Field, who had just graduated from Oregon State with a natural resources degree and was working as an intern for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, would arrive in the stands of pine and fir to check traps.

She was looking for wolves.

Working alongside Oregon’s Wolf Coordinator, Russ Morgan, Field conducted surveys of gray wolves, tracking them on the ground and conducting howling surveys, as well as tracking them from the air using radio telemetry. She checked the traps she and Morgan set throughout the summer in the early morning and in the evenings.

Whenever Field found animals, she’d find them in the morning, including the two wolf pups trapped in late August, and including the adult male trapped a few weeks earlier – the first of Oregon’s Wenaha pack ODFW had been able to radio collar.

“I’d never done anything quite like that,” Field says. “It was pretty amazing to see those wolves.. I got great hands-on experience with tracking, telemetry, and trapping.”

Given Field’s history, it’s unsurprising she would have been trekking through the remote Blues, known for their abundance of wildlife, as a part of her workaday experience. She grew up in western Washington, and learned to love the outdoors and rural living. She took up skiing in high school, and camped, biked and hiked. She graduated from high school and later took a job as a Wildland Firefighter for the US Forest Service in Oregon.

All of these experiences gave her considerable skills in the outdoors, but becoming a student at Oregon State, and finding internships through professors Matt Shinderman at the Cascades campus and Connie Patterson at the Corvallis campus, gave her a deeper and more nuanced set of skills than she ever had.

Field started her OSU career at Cascades in 2007. “I was really impressed. I learned so much from the teachers there,” she says. “The classroom size was small enough that you have a real relationship with your teachers. The hands-on skills, like poster and PowerPoint presentations are extremely useful in a natural resource career.”

She spent her last year and a half of her undergraduate studies on the Corvallis campus, which gave her more of an opportunity to do wildlife research. In 2008 she was hired by then-PhD student Cristina Eisenberg as a field technician on a wolf research project in Glacier National Park. At the time, wolves had just been removed from the Endangered Species List, and the state was selling tags for a wolf hunt. The exposure to the brand of emotional, heated controversy that resulted from the recent listing and delisting of wolves gave Field a taste of how tricky wildlife management really is, and set her up well for her future experience with large carnivores in Oregon.

As a senior, Field helped OSU master’s student Sara Paroulek with a project on wild turkeys at the E.E. Wilson Wildlife Area.  She conducted a controlled foraging experiment to observe feeding activities and gain a better understanding of wild turkey feeding habits in Oregon. She ran feeding trials with the turkeys, recorded their habits on video, wrote up her data and presented it. “This experiment was a companion study to an ongoing graduate research project at Oregon State University within the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. ” Field says. “It was comparable to a senior thesis.”

Fields’ post-graduation internship with ODFW not only brought her into the woods, it brought her closer to the difficult task of management. She participated in non-lethal measures for wolf control on private ranches, and even assisted Morgan with revisions to the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, which were adopted in October.

“I’ve been in meetings with state groups, ranchers, and environmental groups, such as Defenders of Wildlife. “It’s very interesting to be a part of that,” says Field.  “I gained a lot of perspective from listening to the stakeholders. There is a lot of emotion attached to wolves. When wolves are brought into conversation, it can get really intense. It is important to bring facts into the situation rather than emotions.  It’s really about the best management.”

This fall, Field appeared in the OPB Oregon Field Guide episode, “Living with Wolves.” She also spent three months in a bighorn sheep tech position with ODFW after finishing her work with Morgan. There, Field worked in Hells Canyon monitoring the sheep’s movement and reproductive success using visual observation and radio tracking both on the ground and by aircraft.

Field is using all those skills in her current position as a Natural Resource Specialist with Browne Consulting, LLC in Baker City, Ore, a firm that provides natural resource, agriculture and land use consulting in eastern Oregon. She’s expanding them, too.  “I assist with grant writing and editing, creating maps, water rights and permit applications, and support staff with natural resource projects as needed.” Field says. “I’m using exactly what I learned in my degree and applying to my career.”

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