The Eastern Shore is an ideal place to study conservation biology because of the intersection of a variety of endangered, invasive, and native species which makes for an often times unbalanced ecosystem which requires human intervention. To learn about the ways that the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge works to conserve, the Conservation Biology students took a trip to hear from Kevin Holcomb, a supervisory wildlife biologist at the Refuge who has worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for more than 18 years.
Dr. Haines of Millersville University, who has been teaching classes at the Field Station for three years, was an intern at the wildlife refuge in 2000 and was able to supplement Kevin Holcomb’s experiences with his own. Holcomb discussed the intricacies of conservation at the refuge, which is one of the top five wildlife refuges in the country in visitation.
The refuge applies multiple-use management in order to maximize conservation of the environment with things like public use and cultural resources, like the Assateague Lighthouse. Part of this plan includes population control of the animals: for the endangered animals, monitoring their size, and for invasive species, monitoring their growth. An example of invasive species in the area is the sika elk, originally from Asia, which were released onto the island by a Boy Scout troop in the early 1990’s. The refuge allows people to hunt the sika elk in order to stunt their rapidly growing population that is presently infringing on the population of the white-tailed deer. Another example of a species affecting the environment is the southern pine beetle. While this small critter is native to the Eastern Shore, it is not necessarily less harmful than the sika population. These beetles are making their way into trees, causing them to collapse which could be dangerous to other animals and also affects the recreational experience of hikers.