It’s “everything I could imagine and more!” That’s how Katherine Allen described her first months as a student in a unique graduate certificate program in waterfowl habitat and recreational management.
Allen, who graduated from Louisiana State University in May, is one of four students who make up the first class of a program enabled by a partnership between the Five Oaks Ag Research and Education Center and two University of Arkansas System entities: the Division of Agriculture and UA-Monticello.
Allen and her fellow students were on hand recently to meet representatives from the wildlife, forestry and agriculture sectors, as well as members of the UA System board of trustees and administrators. The interaction took place during an open house at the Five Oaks Duck Lodge, where the program is hosted. The one-year certificate program runs from August to May.
Allen’s research involves configuring methodology to determine seed yields within various moist soil units on the Five Oaks property.
“I’ve learned many variables and factors go into maintaining a healthy environment for our waterfowl and other species,” she says. “It has been truly exciting to know the ins and outs of land management and how we, as future conservationists, can help instill this outlook onto others.”
Delanie Warren, who joined the program after graduating from Texas A&M, agrees with Allen.
“The graduate certificate program has exceeded my expectations,” she says. “I enjoy that we are out in the woods every week, learning new things about land management, acquiring new skills, and getting our hands dirty. I believe it is very important to get this kind of exposure so that when we find a career in this field, we know the field work side of it along with the research.
“Seeing the huge flocks of waterfowl flying over and stopping on the land at Five Oaks is unreal and makes me excited for the season to come.”
Brandon Bennett, who graduated from UAM in the spring, praised the program for enabling the students to be “more on-the-ground and hands-on land managers. That’s what we’re learning and developing our skills toward …. We’re learning these in a professional way by professionals who have done this all their lives.”
George Dunklin, owner and founder of Five Oaks, drew a parallel from his childhood to the learning going on today.
“I go back to my dad … and he planted seeds of conservation in my head back when I was 10 or 11 years old,” Dunklin says. “He said ‘son, we don’t own this land, we are just the caretakers for that very short time when we’re on this earth.’ I learned how important his words were. That’s what we want to pass on to these young kids that are coming up.”
Peggy Doss, chancellor of UAM, called the program a “really great example of an innovative partnership between public and private entities. It’s a partnership where common goals will be met and will be delivered to our students so they can have improved lives, great careers and give back to the land. They’ll be giving back to conservation.”
Douglas Osborne, professor at UAM and program director, asked for continued support from industry.
“My ask to you is to help me to understand some things that we can get these students involved in during the year, so we can better prepare them to apply for jobs in your agency,” he says.
A Great Foundation
Mark Cochran, retired head of the Division of Agriculture, praised the quality of the students in the first class and the diversity of their origins around the country.
He laid out two projects that are part of important habitat research being done in the program. One is “an inventory of the ecosystem, looking at the bottomland hardwoods and what environmental stresses and how they will be improved by the management we have,” Cochran says. “The second thing is looking at mallard use of our bottomland hardwood forest — looking at mallard migration, abundance and health.”
Michael Blazier, dean of UAM’s College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources, as well as director of the Arkansas Forest Resources Center for the Division of Agriculture, says plans are being laid for the future of the program.
“Thinking about the fact that eastern Arkansas is one of the world’s top flyways, when we look at factors in the forest that could compromise the health of that system, we make that a focal point and that’s what this partnership is doing,” he says. “We’re going to be meeting here again early next week to brief the research team to start developing priorities for the next year’s research funding.”
Mary Hightower, U of A System Division of Agriculture, contributed this article.