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May 17th 2021

Dedication sprouts at the Reserve

This summer, two students from McGill will be learning about conservation and environment at the Gault Nature Reserve. For the students, this is a chance to immerse themselves in the realities of fieldwork, and to learn new things hands on, outside of the classroom.

Ellen Bidulka was one of the student interns in summer 2019. Her experiences at Gault have served her well in her career choice and have cemented her interest in protecting the environment. Gault’s white-tailed deer were what initially led Ellen to apply for an internship with us.

In her last year as a biology undergraduate at McGill University, she worked with Professor Virginie Millien and Master’s student Frédérique Truchon on research on these deer. Ellen analyzed pictures taken by motion detector cameras, which were used to estimate the deer population density and get a better understanding of their behaviour.

“Frédérique was the one who told me about internship opportunities,” Ellen told us. “I thought that Gault would be an amazing place to work.” When summer internship positions opened up, she was quick to apply. “I was thrilled when they told me I’d been picked.”

As an intern, she had the opportunity to work on a variety of tasks. One of them was repairing deer exclosures, small areas that have been fenced to keep out deer, in order to compare the vegetation inside and outside of these protected areas and measure the effect of deer browsing on the forest vegetation. Ellen also got to collect data from the small weather stations scattered around the mountain. “We had a map, a GPS with the positions of 70 stations,” she explained. “While we were out there, we also did maintenance on the equipment and the surrounding environment.”

She also helped take samples from Hertel Lake. Every week, the interns measured the lake’s pH, temperature and dissolved oxygen. These tasks are now done in real-time by a robot named Bob Hertel (see our November 2020 newsletter for more about Bob). Plus, the Lake Hertel shoreline is now home to an invasive plant: phragmites, also called the common reed. “To pull them up, we’d sometimes have to go out into the lake in rubber waders. A bunch of times, you’d jump out of the boat and sink right into the lake mud. The other interns would have to pull you out,” she told us, laughing.

Her internship was a unique opportunity to live on the reserve and learn about the work we do to protect the Gault environment. Ellen is a big fan of Gault’s mission. “It’s a McGill University property where research is conducted, and it’s also open for the public to go hiking and enjoy its natural beauty. It’s important to have access to nature, so you can appreciate it and have more respect for it.”

After her internship ended, Ellen got a job in donation analysis with the World Wildlife Fund Canada in Toronto. Her summer at Gault was a great springboard for her career.

“I learned that I really love working in conservation. I was recently accepted to a master’s program in conservation, biodiversity and environmental management in London, England.”

Her dream is to work in parks that work to preserve large natural areas.

“I love diversity, I’m not afraid of a good challenge, and I love finding different projects and going off the beaten path. That means going where we haven’t gone yet, and I find that incredibly exciting.”

Ellen Bidulka (photo: Daniil Katkov)

If you want to inspire future scientists and help other students have an experience like Ellen’s, you can support McGill University’s Gault Nature Reserve.

If you are interested in joining the internship program at Gault Nature Reserve, send your CV to David Maneli, Associate Director.



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