Carolina Sandhills NWR: Internship Experience

Editor’s note: The Guild partners twice each year with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to provide students with hands-on experiences to learn how forestry and wildlife management work together on public lands. The 26-week positions are supervised and based at the Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge in McBee, South Carolina. This article is from our most recent intern, whose experience was a bit different than the norm, yet her enthusiasm shines through, and thanks to that, she gained valuable career skills!
Written by Rebecca Cherian: Surrounded by McBee, and South Carolina’s peaches and pines, is the Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge (CSNWR). This is one of hundreds of refuges in the nation that protects and improves wildlife habitat to ensure the survival of various plants, animals and other recreational and commercial resources. Because the refuge tragically lost their forester to a heart attack prior to my arrival, being a forestry intern was a bit tricky. It’s hard to run a forestry program without a forester. However, the lack of personnel gave variety to my internship experience. Throughout my stay, I worked with the forestry, wildlife, and the fire/maintenance departments. I learned about how these three different programs work together to fulfill various federal objectives.
Doing work with the forestry technician, I learned the value of the Longleaf Pine/Wiregrass ecosystem and the important contributions logging and basal area have on wildlife species such as the Red-cockaded Woodpecker (RCW). We marked trees to reduce basal area to 50%, which is what the RCWs thrive in. Additionally, I helped gather about 3,000 acres worth of inventory, with about 40 pieces of information at each point. The data included tree species, DBH, canopy cover, wildlife cavities and snags, and more. This information gives a researcher an idea of what is present in the area.
Working with the refuge biologist, I was trained to climb ladders to clean and access RCW cavities. They taught me how to conduct roost checks and capture live, adult birds. These skills were used to complete a translocation project where we took 3 male and 3 female RCWs from CSNWR and moved them to Donnelley Wildlife Management Area. Hopefully these pairs will successfully breed and help increase the RCW population there.
I also helped the maintenance department during down times of forestry and wildlife work which gave me training in how to directionally fell and buck up trees. This was a particularly useful skill after Hurricanes Florence and Michael came through the area and we had to spend a significant amount of time removing fallen and hazardous trees from the roads and public use areas.
These six months opened my eyes to how much work goes into running a federal refuge. I’m glad I was sent to help with all this work on their shoulders. They’ve taught and equipped me with important skills and knowledge that I can use in future wildlife jobs. 
Editor’s note: We are proud to note on this week of Veterans Day, that Rebecca has successfully completed her Forest Stewards Guild internship and has chosen to enlist in the US Army for a position as a Laboratory Specialist. She started Basic Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma on November 5th. We thank her for her service and wish her all the best on her future endeavors.
We will continue this amazing program with internship position openings announced this December, for experiences starting in February 2019. Stay tuned to the jobs and internship pages at If you would like to help recruit well-deserving and potentially interested students, or if you would like to apply yourself and have questions, please contact Mike Lynch at or 608-449-0647.