My summer at Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge

Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge interns Andrew Miller (left) and Theresa Edwards (right ) hold a Texas rat snake.

The following was written by Drew Miller, one of three interns who spent the summer working on projects at the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge, located in Liberty County, Texas.

By Drew Miller, Career Discovery Intern, Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge

Coming to Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), as a Career Discovery Intern, I was unaware of what to expect. I had never worked or spent any amount of time on a national wildlife refuge. Previous interns and the interview process warned me I would be in for a wild ride. Three things stood out: the mosquitoes were said to be the size of buzzards, the humidity creates the equivalent of working in a wet sauna, and third, I was advised my supervisor, Laurie Lomas Gonzales, loved getting interns dirty and working them into the ground.

Interns at the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge spent part of the summer counting tree seedlings at Luce Bayou. Pictured left to right are Theresa Edwards, Andrew Miller, Devon Eldridge.

Upon arrival, I was shown my list of projects and goals to be accomplished by my end date. Detailed therein were wildlife surveys, invasive species control, public outreach, general maintenance, office work, diversity training, and opportunities to travel off the refuge to network.  So many projects, so little time.

My first project completion came in the form of colonial water bird surveys conducted on Champion Lake. The surveys started with our crew gearing up in canoes to visit specific coordinates within Champion Lake.  These coordinates marked five separate nesting sites of birds found in previous years. They usually move around and do not nest at each site each year.  However, this year, we discovered what we called a mega-colony. So many birds nested, their colony covered every point, and then some, as one massive colony spanning a half mile. You would think the birds would be quiet on the nesting site, but this was not the case. Any time 10,000 birds gather in one place, it is going to be a raucous.

Picture of an alligator captured during Andrew’s time at Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge.

One of the major issues many refuges face are invasive species, plant and animal alike. I learned how to properly identify and combat invasive plants. While applying herbicide was not attractive at first, I realized it allowed me quiet time to think and reconnect with the wildlife around me. It was during this time that I saw the most wildlife at Trinity, ranging from snakes, birds, insects, deer, and hogs.

So that I could perform my job safely, I was trained in how to mix chemicals and repair the sprayers in the field, as well as appropriately apply the chemicals. The most important lessoned I learned, however, was wearing the Proper Protective Equipment at all times. This included long pants, long sleeves, rubber boots, rubber gloves, a hat, and protective glasses. It may sound cumbersome, but protecting yourself, on the job, is the most important aspect of working effectively and efficiently. I may have learned that skill-on-the-job, but now I think twice about conducting yardwork or household chores without protecting my eyesight, skin, and limbs.

Intern Andrew Miller (left) and volunteer Jake Ballard (right) conduct colonial water bird surveys on Champion Lake in Dayton.

Looking back on my summer, I realize I had the opportunity to participate in and gain insight in more than I originally expected. Through this experience I was able to engage with many experts in the field and discover career fields I didn’t know existed. This being my first internship, and the furthest I have ever lived from home, I gained new knowledge about myself, what I am capable of, and the confidence to accomplish any goals I set.

Thank you to Student Conservation Association and the staff with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for this opportunity. Also, thank you to my coworkers, bunkmates, and most importantly friends, Devon Eldridge and Theresa Edwards. These two women truly made my summer one of the best I had ever had. I am extremely thankful and cannot wait to see where life carries them. Without these individuals, I don’t know if my summer would have gone as smoothly as it did.

If you would like to learn more about Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge, please visit us online, call us at 936-336-9786, or stop by the Refuge office at 601 FM 1011, Liberty, Texas, across from the Sam Houston Regional Library.

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Before creating Bluebonnet News in 2018, Vanesa Brashier was a community editor for the Houston Chronicle/Houston Community Newspapers. During part of her 12 years at the newspapers, she was assigned as the digital editor and managing editor for the Humble Observer, Kingwood Observer, East Montgomery County Observer and the Lake Houston Observer, and the editor of the Dayton News, Cleveland Advocate and Eastex Advocate. Over the years, she has earned more than two dozen writing awards, including Journalist of the Year.

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