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New EAS Intern, Nik Wright

By Nik Wright

My name is Nikolas Wright and I’m a senior at the University of Washington, majoring in Wildlife Science. As a child, I spent much of my time on the coast of Texas, in the sleepy, small town where my grandparents lived. Many days were spent calling in mallards, gadwalls and my grandfather’s personal favorite, the colorful wood duck. In addition to fishing and sitting in duck blinds, I spent many early winter mornings happily freezing with my grandfather as we observed the last wild population of highly endangered whooping cranes, who fly 2,500 miles from Canada every year to winter in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. My experiences as a child imparted me with a passion for birds that has since evolved into a vocation. At the UW, I have had the privilege of participating in a multitude of projects pertaining to avian and wildlife conservation. Some of these involved rigorous field work, advanced quantitative techniques, nuanced ecological concepts, collaboration, outreach, and communication with a diversity of stakeholders. Nik Write

Collaborating with local landowners and the Foster Creek Conservation District in the winter of 2017, I produced an informational brochure aimed at informing citizens in Douglas County, Washington, about the Multiple Species General Conservation Plan (MSGCP). Over the past century, habitat loss has greatly reduced the numbers of many wildlife species in Washington’s Douglas County, including the greater sage-grouse, Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse, and the federally endangered Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit. The MSGCP gives private landowners a framework with which to develop site-specific conservation plans incorporating “Best Management Practices” allowing them to apply for Section 10 incidental take permits under the Endangered Species Act, providing protection from civil penalties related to the take of the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit that is the result of otherwise lawful activities, such as agriculture. By implementing sustainable land use practices and facilitating the occupancy of endangered and threatened species on their property, landowners are conserving the region’s cultural and natural resources, as well as continuing to provide for their families. Working on this project gave me the opportunity to learn about the plight of our native prairie grouse species. This has since evolved into somewhat of an infatuation with these iconic birds. This project also gave me the opportunity to engage personally with multiple private landowners, as well as state and federal wildlife officials. I believe my experiences working with a such a diverse group of stakeholders has given me a unique skill set that has prepared me to bridge the gap between federal and state natural resource agencies and private landowners to facilitate effective management and conservation.

For my senior capstone project, I collaborated with Michael Schroeder, an upland bird research scientist with the WDFW, and renowned authority on grouse, on a project involving the potential reintroduction of Columbian Sharp-tailed grouse to the Methow Valley in Okanogan County, Washington. Using GIS technology, I produced maps showing the quantity, quality, and configuration of seasonal Sharp-tailed grouse habitats, as well as land ownership and other key features. I gained valuable experience by spending substantial time in the field taking numerous habitat measurements. This will help future efforts with the reintroduction by identifying potential weaknesses in existing geospatial data, along with quantifying the actual amount of suitable habitat. In addition, I conducted a spatially explicit population viability analysis to determine the likelihood that the Methow Valley could sustain a viable population of 200 Columbian sharp-tailed grouse. Research shows that once a population drops below 100 males, it is unlikely to persist. The results were presented at the annual WDFW Sharp-tailed Grouse Working Group Meeting on November 15th. In addition, I will give a public presentation at the University of Washington in December. The data and results from my thesis will be used by officials with the WDFW to determine if the Methow Valley can support a viable population of, what was once, Washington’s most abundant game bird. 

This collective set of experiences has given me an unending drive that has led me to dedicate my life to the sustainable management and conservation of birds, wildlife, and other natural resources. Ultimately, I aspire to be a research scientist with a federal or state natural resource agency, where I hope to find innovative ways to balance conservation and energy development, while contributing to effective management of wildlife and other natural resources for current and future generations. My lifelong aspirations are that my research will inform policy and management, while also illuminating land-use practices that are sustainable in the context of the species and ecosystem. As the new intern at Eastside Audubon Society, I hope to continue to contribute to avian conservation in new and exciting ways.

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The mission of Eastside Audubon is to protect, preserve and enhance natural ecosystems and our communities for the benefit of birds, other wildlife and people.