Training the Next Generation of Forest Stewards

Written by Mike Lynch

A couple years ago, the late Jack Culpepper reached out to then Executive Director Fred Clark about starting a Guild internship at the Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge in McBee, SC. Jack had mentored nearly 30 interns during his time at the Refuge but had a vision for improving the experience for the intern and the Refuge and looked to the Guild for help. We were happy to do so, and worked with Jack to realize his vision, leading to the hiring of the first Guild sponsored intern in early 2018. Some of his goals were to line up the start of the positions shortly after December and May graduations, offer an increase in pay over existing internships, and structure the positions to provide a full picture of what it is like to work for a federal agency. But, what he really wanted the internships to offer new and aspiring professionals was a hands- and minds-on experience in tackling the challenges of forest management in true Guild style - in ways that are sustainable, responsible, and that honor the needs of the forests and the human and wildlife communities who depend on them. 

Unfortunately, in late-April, half way through Joe Becker’s internship, and the weekend after Jack and I decided to hire Rebecca Cherian from the University of Georgia to fill the second internship, Jack unexpectedly passed away following a fatal heart attack while fishing with friends. Thanks to the quality of those two interns, and the support of other staff at the Refuge, their experiences were rich, varied, and valuable.

Rebecca remarked about her experience “It was a bit tricky to be a forestry intern right after they lost their forester. But that added variety to my internship experience, allowing me to work with the forestry, wildlife, and the fire/maintenance departments – learning how these three different programs work together to fulfill various federal objectives.”

It was not the experience we planned, but it was great see how they came away with some great skills. Both also gained a great appreciation for the longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem and the importance of basal area and sustainable logging on the system, and associated wildlife species such as the Red-cockaded Woodpecker (RCW). I think this would have made Jack proud as he was a regular fountain of information on longleaf pine. 

Based on the ongoing value Refuge staff sees in this program and the enthusiasm we saw from the 2018 interns, we are continuing this program in 2019 with two additional 26-week positions. The first posting is open through January 6th for the position starting February 18, 2019. We will post the second position in March for the May 2019 experience.  

We would greatly appreciate your help in recruiting 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. More information about the position and how to apply.

If you would like to inquire about hosting a Guild intern, and contribute to the future of responsible forest stewardship, please contact Zander today at 505-983-8992 x36. 

“Working with the Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, I experienced firsthand how every management action you take has the potential to affect multiple other aspects of your environment.” – Joe Becker