Environmental Studies and Biology Double Major
Michael Belitz has been interning at the Wild Salmon Conservation and
Restoration with the Sitka Conservation Society in Sitka, Alaska. He works
as the field assistant to Scott Harris, the watershed program manager for the Sitka Conservation Society, who monitors ongoing conservation efforts. Michael's job is to help Scott monitor and initiate different conservation and restoration efforts. From Cleveland, Wisconsin, Michael is a biology and environmental studies double major.
Describe your day-to-day experiences so far.
Although my location often changes, my day-to-day work regularly places me somewhere in the dense young-growth forest. I am usually bushwhacking my way to monitor a conservation and restoration project that was started by the U.S. Forest Service but never monitored. One of these restoration projects that I am working on is monitoring forest gaps that were cut by the Forest Service to mimic natural disturbance.
In these gaps, I am doing vegetation surveys to see what plants are growing in these gaps, building deer enclosures to see how deer foraging affects vegetation growth, and also looking at the insect abundance and diversity in the gaps compared to the forest matrix. Of course, no matter what work I am doing in the field, I am guaranteed to be experiencing the wonders of the 17 million acres of the Tongass National Forest. Whether this experience is a new species to cross off my bird list, the beautiful moss and ferns, or the rugged beauty of a grizzly bear, the magnificence of my workplace constantly astonishes me.
How did you learn about this opportunity? Did anyone from Knox play a role?
Knox played a huge role in helping me learn about this opportunity. In fact, it is because of an ex-Knox professor that this internship is available to a Knox student. Also, the Center for Career and Pre-Professional Development and the Environmental Studies department both helped promote this opportunity by sending e-mails regarding the internship application.
Can you cite an example of how your in-classroom experiences at Knox have benefited you in the internship?
This experience directly relates to my biology and environmental studies background, and I am constantly utilizing information that I have learned from my experiences at Knox to benefit me in the internship. Most recently, I was put in charge of creating a bird list of all of the birds that I saw on a specific island. Thanks to the ornithology class I took this past term, this task was not only manageable but also enjoyable.
How do you think this internship experience will benefit you in terms of your education, future career plans, personal development, etc.?
I am extremely interested in pursuing a career in conservation biology. Thus, working with the watershed program manager of a well-established conservation society is very beneficial to my education, future career plans, and personal development. Learning in the classroom is a great way to develop a basic understanding of a topic, but I think that the only way to develop a comprehensive understanding of an ecosystem is to go out and experience it first hand. Having the largest intact coastal temperate rainforest as my classroom is an experience of a lifetime. This internship is giving me experience in the kind of work I intend to pursue, while developing me as a better scientist and naturalist.
What has been the best part of your internship so far?
The best part of my internship project thus far has been a seven-day sea kayak trip to the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness area. The West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness area is one of the most beautiful and remote places in the world, and I was fortunate enough to spend seven days kayaking, hiking, and camping throughout its splendor. I went on this trip to assist a crew formed by Adventures and Scientists for Conservation (ASC) in order to find and collect weather-measuring instruments in dead cedar stands. This trip was truly isolated from the world, as during my week in the wilderness I saw only one boat and a handful of floatplanes. What topped this trip off was the fact that the pink salmon and dolly varden were biting, making dinners at camp incredibly fresh and delicious.
What inspired you to pursue the internship?
I am extremely interested in conservation and restoration work and thought that this opportunity aligned perfectly with my future career goals. During my study abroad experience with the School for Field Studies in the Wet Tropics of Australia, I developed an attachment to rainforest and was itching to experience a temperate rainforest. Hearing positive stories from previous Knox students who went on a class trip to Sitka also inspired me to apply for this internship.
What programs or people have provided any grants, funding or financial assistance for your internship?
I am receiving funding from Sitka Salmon Shares, as well as from the Sitka Conservation Society. I am greatly appreciative of their support.
What do you expect to learn by the completion of your internship?
I am about halfway through my internship and have already learned so much. I now know infinitely more about Southeast Alaskan ecosystems and considerably more amount about salmon. Since coming to Sitka, I have learned new research and restoration techniques and am learning how a non-profit conservation society functions. My time thus far with that Sitka Conservation Society has already taught me invaluable skills that is making me a better conservationists, student and person.