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Warnell Ambassador Annual Adventure!

            Warnell has a group of students known as student ambassadors. Their job is to represent Warnell at recruitment and alumni functions as well as conduct outreach events around the state. Donning their iconic polos, they are the faces of Warnell to many people on and off the UGA campus. Every year this group of students is trained during a weekend in August to perform the duties of an ambassador. This is the story of the 2016 retreat.


Warnell ambassadors take over Wendy’s


The Warnell student ambassadors set out for their retreat last Friday. The location was unknown but they left Athens excited for the training coming their way. The dinner location turned out to be a difficult decision but all 23 ambassadors and their fearless leaders made it safely to Wahsega 4-H Center in North Georgia.

The weekend started with a simple movement-based name game that turned into an impromptu workout. All the ambassadors really jumped into the activities very quickly. We then played a little bit of Warnell trivia to really test how well the new ambassadors know their school. They all did very well, even with some of the trickier questions.IMG_9059

Saturday morning came too quickly but when a hot breakfast is ready and waiting, waking up with a smile on your face isn’t too difficult. The morning started out with some Warnell major bingo. Now the ambassadors are prepared to answer questions outside of their majors. We had more business to attend to once bingo was completed but after that the fun was ramped up again. Our ambassadors are now all Project WILD trained! They participated in several of the well-known activities, such as Oh Deer and What’s Wild. We also gave them a challenge to write a poem about natural resources and we have some very creative students! Here are two of the poems written by our ambassadors.

To Be or Not to Be…

By: Joe Vaughn

To be a forestry major, will I have to know all the trees?

To be a fisheries and wildlife major, will I have to know all the animals?

To a NRRT major, will I have to know people’s culture?

To be a WASR major, will I have to know all the types of soil?

Those are my questions.


By: Sidney Woodruff

    “The wildlife manager walks along the creek,

      And sees the bank where the forests meet.

      He sits and wonders his place in the land,

      And gasps when he sees the task at hand.

      ‘This beautiful land so precious and pure,

      How do I explore and not destroy?’

      There’s more to know and less to touch,

      To protect and conserve is a job we must.”


But then it was their turn to be the teachers. The ambassadors taught about duck feathers, bears, fish and predator-prey interactions. In the bear activity they were tasked to find their food (in the form of a paper card on the ground) and during several rounds certain students were given an additional challenge. In any given round of the activity we had a momma bear, blind bear or injured bear in the mix. This activity is used to show how factors in the environment can limit populations.


The evening ended with an activity to help our students answer some of the difficult questions that students are asked at events. Ambassadors are faced with responding to statements like “The only good snake is a dead snake” and “I brought home 10 turtles from our pond. They live in my bathtub.” These can be difficult to respond to if you’re not prepared. We also discussed more straightforward questions like “What do I need to do to transfer to UGA?”

Overall, the ambassadors are prepared to respond to a wide variety of questions they might face this year.

Sunday morning consisted of team bonding activities. We played a wonderful game IMG_9074of Do you Love your Neighbor? This is a game that highlights the similar things about the group, everything from shirt color to whether or not individuals own a pet. Luckily it didn’t turn into a contact sport and no one got injured. Before leaving camp several students played volleyball again. Whenever there was a moment of downtime, a game of volleyball would magically appear. Luckily the net was pretty short so the tall members of the team didn’t have to jump to spike the ball. We loaded up the vans and headed off to enjoy an afternoon of tubing on the mountains. The folks at Appalachian Outfitters hooked us up, and we floated for about an hour and a half before pointing the vans towards Athens.

Overall, it was quite the fun weekend filled with training, bonding and a lot of fun.IMG_9075


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Social Media in Wildlife – Alexandra Wickson

Social media can be a tricky subject to navigate in the natural resources profession. The use of social media is ubiquitous these days, but there are many strong opinions and incorrect information on the Internet. If we as future advocates of conservation don’t sort through this information, dispel myths, and correct inaccuracies, who will? We can use social media to our advantage to educate, foster cooperation, and to promote the understanding and practice of science. One of the biggest ways we can be good stewards is to improve our own online presence and learn to decipher viral posts.

Improving our online presence means not only engaging people in a conversation about conservation but also being selective about what we post and share. It’s important to remember the stereotypes and the perceptions that are associated with certain posts, actions, or animals. Often refuting these stereotypes or perceptions can be done with a simple caption. Here are some examples:

  • Necropsy labs-explain the reason for the necropsy and be aware that some people don’t like to see pictures
  • Sedated/Deceased Animals-show respect for the animal, don’t post pictures of an animal covered in blood, and explain why the research was done or how hunting contributes to conservation (use it as an opportunity to educated people!)
  • Clearcutting-explain how harvesting trees is utilizing our renewable resources and how this kind of disturbance restarts succession and is positive for many wildlife species
  • Snakes-explain why snakes are valuable to the ecosystem and to humans and educate people on the ways to distinguish between venomous and non-venomous snakes.

Part of improving our online presence includes learning how to decipher viral posts. These posts are typically meant to connect with people emotionally or announce a novel discovery, but often these issues are summarized in a way that misleads the reader or leaves out information. Some examples include:

  • Photoshopped pictures of animals
  • Videos of the loris or sea otters being touched, petted, etc. but in reality these animals are suffering stress from human interaction. Here’s an example of the criticism the sea otter video faced, from biologists and federal agencies alike.
  • Encouraging wildlife as pets but not discussing the long lifespans, diseases carried, and the effort of caretaking that goes into many exotic pets (ex. Raccoons, amphibians, reptiles, endangered species, venomous species, prairie dogs, etc.)
  • The recent announcement that tiger populations are increasing (this may be true, but reading the article lets you know that their population might not have actually increased, it may just be that our detection of them is increasing)
    • The news is still good news, don’t get me wrong, but the headline is misleading. The article itself admits that we have improved the technology to detect secretive animals like tigers and that the territory monitored for tigers has expanded. So while we have better estimates of their populations (which allows for better management), this study is not claiming tiger populations are safe from previous threats (poaching, habitat loss, etc.) or that they are no longer in need of protection.

Being in the field of wildlife conservation is exciting and fun, but it’s also hard work and an important cause, so it’s crucial that we use our professional expertise and knowledge to educate and correct myths. While doing these things, we need to remain objective and analytical of media we consume and distribute. When in doubt, look for a scientific source to back it up and remember, if it seems weird or too good to be true, it might be!


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An Uncommon Love – Karsen Weems

karsen10My biggest fear has been snakes for as long as I can remember- apparently, that is to age 6. When I was six we visited some family friends out in California. My brother, being four years older than me, did not want an annoying little sister following him around. (Keep in mind we were in our prime animosity years and I excel at psychological warfare.) Tensions were stretched tenuously thin because I interrupted a game of Zelda and subsequently was shoved down a loft shoot. Adults were on high alert to keep all children quiet and disengaged from each other. However, my brother just happened to be a bear I couldn’t keep from poking. I slipped through the enemy ranks to stalk my unsuspecting victims in the TV room. I cannot recollect what I did to make my presence known, but I do remember the results. I found myself pinned to the couch, forced to watch the 1997 movie Anaconda until my screams of duress brought the parental units running. Closing my eyes did not occur to my traumatized, innocent self and from that day forward I was unreasonably afraid of anything that slithered. I used to dream that the snake from Anaconda was going to make a half a worlds journey to come dine specifically on me. Or that I would wake up with a rattler on my chest and it would strike me before I could scream. I had thousands of nightmares and stolen daydreams plague me for years.karsen3

Well into my college years, I met a girl who loved snakes. She loved them so much that she actually went out looking for them in her spare time and called it “fun!” Her name is Katie Bentley, and she was one of my first friends at Warnell. She introduced me to a very special fellow that some of you might know- Corny, the most beautiful of all the corn snakes, melter of my heart, unraveller of 16 years of fear and anxiety.

I had not told Katie of my all-consuming snake fear when she handed me a snake at my very first herpetology meeting. This karsen5was possibly because I didn’t want to admit I was afraid of anything nature had to offer, especially to someone so comfortable with the things that unsettled me. At first, my heart was pounding, and I was stiff as a board having my version of an internal panic attack. I kept thinking, “You have to calm down, he is going to smell your fear!” and “If you get your blood all hot he is going to steal your energy and then eat you!” Obviously, I was very logical at the time. Either way, it worked out in my favor, and Corny spent the next 20 minutes easing my fears and becoming my best friend.karsen6

I like to believe Corny understood me. He seemed to snuggle a little closer in my hot, sweaty arms and just waited, and waited, and waited. Before I knew it, the meeting was over and it was time for Corny to return to his pillowcase. This past year I was given the opportunity to work with outreach animals as a student ambassador. Corny has taught me a lot about myself, and I have taught a lot of others about him! While I won’t remember every encounter, I can say without a doubt I have enjoyed every minute. Corny will always be the firstkarsen4 snake to give me a neck massage, get tangled in my hair, and have my love. More importantly, his legacy is that he most certainly will not be the last.

Corny opened my eyes to a myriad of animals I neglected out of fear and lack of understanding. I encourage you all (Warnell and all the people who will ever read this) to search out the things for which you are fearful or ignorant, and LEARN about them. The world is a big, complex, strange, dangerous, beautiful place, and as stewards of the land, we cannot save her if we do not first strive to know her.


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Fighting the Good Fight – Austin Goelz

Growing up, I more or less lived outside. Every day me and all my neighborhood friends would come home from school and instantly retreat to our adventures in the outdoors; whether that was building tree forts, fighting with swords made from broken off tree branches, or stomping around in the creek behind my neighborhood. Now I understand what a pain it was to reel me and my buddy’s in to come eat dinner. We simply could not get enough outdoors, and I find this funny because I grew up in a Metro-Atlanta suburb where most kids my age occupied their time on the X-box or Game-Cube and not romping around sopping-wet in a creek. This love of the outdoors didn’t stop in my childhood either. As soon as I had a car and a drivers license my neighborhood friends and I would retreat to the mountains to backpack nearly every weekend of our junior and senior years of high school. I think I determined sometime during our countless weekends on the trail that I had to pursue something in college that would allow my passion for the outdoors to continue.

Fast forward a year, and I am an incoming freshman at the University of Georgia. When I showed up at my orientation date on a stifling day in late July I was declared as a biology major in one of the largest schools within the university. When we split off to get advised at orientation I noticed that there was one tour group of maybe 5 or 10 kids headed to the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, a school I didn’t even know existed in the first place. Meanwhile, I was scheduled to be advised at Franklin School of Arts and Sciences with some 500 other incoming freshmen. In that split second I hastily made the decision to board the bus going to Warnell rather than Franklin because Warnell just seemed more fun. Little did I know, when I changed my major to Wildlife Biology that day, I was altering my life in a drastic and incredible way.

I went through my first few years at UGA relatively uneventfully. I took core classes, had the freshman experience, and went to football games. However, in the back of my mind I was ready to see what this school I had signed up for had to offer. Finally, the Second semester of my sophomore year I got to take my first Warnell class; Intro to Fish and Wildlife Management with the legendary Dr. Warren. Taking this class truly affirmed in my head that I was at the right school. I then proceeded to take more Warnell classes and continued fall in love with the school even more.

My love for wildlife biology however, took a drastic turn one day during a lab in my wildlife techniques class. That day in lab we happened to be working with live animals for the first time. We were going to be handling deer and putting on some ear tags and sawing off antlers at the Warnell Deer Lab. I had learned all about what we were about to undertake in previous classes, so I was not hesitant at all about actually handling live animals although I had never done it before. Little did I know, my perspective on my entire field of study was about to take a 180 degree turn.

During lab we had to corral deer, and run them into a chute, similar to those used for cattle. Everyone in the lab was given a specific job to make the lab run as smoothly as possible. I was given the task of actually restraining the 140-pound male deer in the capture chute because apparently according to the man running the lab I was “strong” and could “handle it”. So the process began, and this 140-pound male deer came storming down the corral and thundered out the end of the chute right toward me. Instinctively, I grabbed the animal by the shoulders with all my might and held the deer down with all that I had in me. The deer made one of the most awful sounds I had ever heard, and also busted its lip coming down the chute, so it was bleeding from its mouth and got blood all over me. The deer struggled and moaned as we put ear tags on it and removed its antler and it proceeded to thrust me around during the process. After we were finished we released other deer, and he pranced off into the woods like nothing had ever happened just like we had learned in class. However, my heart was left racing and my perspective on what I study was forever changed.

Every professor in Warnell will at some point during their course say to their students that the most difficult part of our jobs is conveying to the public why we do what we do and why what we do is important. After my experience in the deer lab I began to fully comprehend what all these professors meant. Sure, holding a live struggling deer was acceptable for me because I was trained on why tagging deer is crucial for maintaining healthy populations of the species, although the experience did get my adrenaline pumping. However, to the general public what we did in lab that day probably looked like animal cruelty. I was shocked by my own realization. So much of what I was about to undertake in this field was not understood or accepted by the general public, and if I cannot convey to someone outside my field of study why what I do is important then I would be more or less dead in the water.

The point behind all of this is not to discourage those studying wildlife biology, but rather to call to attention that through what we do every day we are fighting an ongoing battle with the uneducated public to show that what we know, love and do every day is incredibly important and relevant. It is this passion for others to appreciate our misunderstood field that has led me to my larger aspirations in my work. Whether I become a research professor, a camp director, or somewhere in-between, I aspire to never tire of convincing people of the importance of wildlife biology. My reasoning is that I believe we are at an incredible crossroads. We are at a point in time where we can choose to make environmental education for the next generation a priority or we can let it slip into the wind. I am obviously of the opinion that environmental education for our future generations is vital that is why this is a cause I am choosing to fight for.


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A few of my favorite Forestry things! – Annabeth Spence

There are so many sides to describe Warnell and why I love it. As a forestry student I’d like to share with you some of my favorite memories. While I have countless memories of classes and events there are four that really stand out in my mind. So, here are a few of my favorite things.AB2

1. Forest Measurements with Dr. Bettinger:

I loved this class from the very start. Not only because we got to be outside for almost every lab but also because of my classmates. This is one of the larger sized classes so I didn’t get to know everyone in the room but the people I did get to know helped make this experience even more fun and exciting. Not to mention Dr. Bettinger always knew how to keep things interesting and lively in the class whether it be through the trivia style review sessions or giving us extra credit for dressing up on Halloween. And low and behold, we all agreed to dress up as our beloved Dr. Bettinger, which provided him with some very nice entertainment.

2. Silviculture with Doc Daniels

AB1If you know Doc Daniels you’re lucky, if you don’t, you’re missing out. With his countless one-liners and ability to find humor in anything there was never a dull moment in that class. More specifically the labs. If there was a way to get stuck in the mud, it was inevitable that one of the drivers would find it. One of my favorite memories was driving almost two hours to the Chattahoochee-Oconee national forest near Forsyth Georgia to learn about the infamous Sonderegger Pine, which is a hybrid of loblolly and longleaf pine that naturally occurs in that area.

3. Field Camp

Ahhh field camp. One of the most interesting/exhausting/exciting courses here at Warnell. This one month course offers everything from cruising timber from sun up to sun down, driving all over the southeast to different mills and forest operations, and witnesAB3sing the different silviculture practices all over the southeast as well. Along with all of that, I also got to experience the awesome personalities of several different professors for three weeks. I will be forever grateful for that course and don’t think I could forget those memories if I tried.

4. Mensuration with Dr. Bullock

Prior to taking this course, any forestry student will be incredibly intimidated and I was definitely one of those students. Statististics, statistics, and more statistics! What could be more intimidating than that? But never fear, Dr. Bullock is here! With his never ending patience and incredible ability to always describe the topic in a way that makes you understand it, he can help you actually enjoy math. One of the most rewarding experiences in that class was to see how all of the equations and tedious details all came together to give you a pretty neat result.

As I end this blog, there is one final thing that I love the most about Warnell. As an ambassador for this wonderful school, I spend a lot of time meeting and interacting with alumni. What I find most amazing about this is that every individual I have spoken with loves what they do and they always credit it to Warnell. That only reinforces the fact that I am in great hands here and as I enter the real world I have a solid foundation that will take me a long way in life. To my many professors, advisors, mentors, and friends, I leave you with these final words. Thank you. Your love for this school and what you do does not go unnoticed. It inspires me to do the best I can to represent this school no matter where I go.


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Wildlife and Shenanigans – Elizabeth Fincher

One of the highlights of my first semesters in Warnell was the Vertebrate Natural History trip to Sapelo Island off the coast of McIntosh County, Georgia.


Birdwatching and Bonding

One of the best parts of the rip to Sapelo Island was the bonding experience with my classmates. From the five hour drive to the island to our early morning birdwatching exploits, the trip was filled with bonding, exploring, learning and simple fun for my Warnell classmates and me.elizabeth2

Seigning, Herping & Trapping Oh My!

Our days on Sapelo started early and ended late. We had less than a weekend to pack in as much exploration and adventure as possible. In the cold March weather, seigning proved challenging, but we did the best we could. Our attempts at herping unfortunately yielded no amphibians or reptiles, but we were excited to see one lone alligator in the marsh outside our dorm. Although all of our efforts to trap some of the creatures of Sapelo Island were not entirely successful, we did manage to excel at having fun.

elizabeth7Spotlighting in the evening resulted in the observance of a number of deer on the island. It was fascinating to watch the deer on Sapelo as they were mesmerized by the lights and remained still long enough for us to observe them. We were also surprised to see wild cows on the island. No one seems to know how the cows got on the island. There is only one male among the wild cows of Sapelo, and he is understandably quite legendary.

Castleberry was Batman

elizabeth4Dr. Castleberry maintained his reputation of being “Batman” by wearing a different one of his massive collection of bat shirts each day. He has no shortage of cleverly designed shirts with bats on them. Thanks to Dr. Castleberry’s trapping talents, our bat study proved fruitful.

Other nature treks in the freezing March temperatures included a trip to a high point on the island to observe an eagle’s nest.

After enduring a frigidly cold ride in the back of a truck, along elizabeth3with being drenched with rain and covered in mud, we were rewarded by getting to see an eagle poke its head out of the nest.

We cooked our own meals, played volleyball for recreation and watched Into the Woods at night before hitting our dorm rooms to get some much-needed rest in preparation for the adventures of the next day.

We rode our bikes around the island, managing to get lost, stopped to act crazy in the wetlands and eventually found our way back.

Returning to Reality

elizabeth6The Warnell trip to Sapelo will remain one of my fondest memories of my college experience. As my time at Warnell draws to a close, I will continue to treasure the friends I have made in this wonderful program, and the professors and teaching assistants who have helped validate my decision to make the study of wildlife my life’s work.

elizabeth5I hope the students in my program will remain my friends for life, and I cannot wait to find out what the future holds for me as I pursue a career that supports my love of nature, conservation and wildlife.

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My Turtlely Awesome Summer – Kayla Smith

“It’s really simple, just look for a car-size turtle coming out of the ocean.” This was the sentence I heard from Mr. Taylor as we walked Keys beach in Saint Kitts looking for nesting leatherback turtles.


Last summer I had the amazing opportunity to travel to the Caribbean to work with Leatherback sea turtles and I couldn’t have done it without Warnell. Last March, I talked with my advisor about potential internships and he told me that he had one in mind. After emailing back and forth with Dr. Stewart from the St. Kitts Sea Turtle Monitoring Network I got the job! I was so excited – Id be working on an island in the Caribbean studying Leatherback turtles all while getting class credit at Warnell!

So in May I boarded a plan to Saint Kitts and my adventure began! For the next three months I walked the beaches of St. Kitts looking for nesting turtles. We went to the beach 12646651_10204105451277064_7954638554308236383_oat 8pm every night (except Sunday) and were split into pairs to walk the four sections of the beach. We walked the beach until 4am looking for turtle tracks or the turtles themselves, both were pretty hard to miss. If we were lucky enough to get a turtle that night we would take measurements of the carapace, count how many eggs the female was laying, note any interesting physical characteristics, insert a PIT tag and flipper tags, and document where the nest was. Overall the nesting process takes a pretty long time so if you’re lucky you can get to her early and see the whole process. Late June to early July is when the hatchlings start to emerge, which is one of the best experiences to witness! AfterFullSizeRender 2 the nest had been incubating in the ground for 60 days we would excavate it to see how many hatchlings survived and emerged from the nest, sometimes we got some that were still alive and stuck at the bottom and released them! The last two week of my internship were sea turtle camp and they were so much fun! Kids from the primary schools on the island were all invited to come to camp and learn cool things about sea turtles. It was so cool to see how interested the kids were in animals so close to where they live.


Overall, St. Kitts gave me the best 3 months I could have asked for. Along with my job duties I got to experience the Caribbean lifestyle! Even on 5 hours of sleep every night, my roommates and I went to the beaches, hiked the rainforests, climbed the volcano, and snorkel the reefs (I even got a selfie with a hawksbill)! When I got back to Athens in the fall I enrolled in a course and that allowed me to get credit for all the fun I’d been having!

To obtain internship credit you must have your internship pre-approved by a faculty advisor. You will fill out the internship agreement form, which must be signed by your internship supervisor, and turn in the completed form to Katelyn, which will then be submitted for approval.  Students can obtain between 1-3 hours of coursework credit depending on the number of hours completed in the internship. Its really that simple!



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