As the Nemours Wildlife Foundation celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, the relationship between Clemson University and Nemours continues going strong and making a major impact on both students and programs.
Established by the late Eugene duPont III and his family in 1995, the non-profit Nemours Wildlife Foundation is housed and operates on the nearly 10,000-acre Nemours Plantation in northern Beaufort County, South Carolina, and works to be a leader in the scientific study and stewardship of our natural resources.
And that study and stewardship has been helped by a significant number of Clemson students — 25 undergraduate interns all told in those 25 years and 16 Clemson graduate students who have produced nine peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals.
Nemours President and CEO Ernie Wiggers, an alum of Clemson’s wildlife program, said the need for those connections is beneficial for both the university and the Nemours Foundation’s goals as Clemson offers the only wildlife program in the state.
“We’ve gotten some great intern students who are undergraduates looking to add to their resume material, and a number of them have gone on to be graduate students for us because they did such a good job,” he said. “Working with some of the faculty at Clemson has been really rewarding because they bring some expertise to a problem that we probably don’t have. And just the accessibility of resources through Clemson works out well, too.”
Wiggers also lauded the foundation’s close working relationship with Clemson’s James C. Kennedy Waterfowl & Wetlands Center, saying its presence adds to the synergy for research dealing with waterfowl and wetlands.
“The adding of the Kennedy Waterfowl Center up at Baruch and us doing a lot of waterfowl work here, that obviously just made that relationship stronger and allowed us to probably do some things in a bigger way than either us or the Kennedy Center could do by themselves. So, that’s been a real help to get some bigger research projects done,” he said.
Beau Bauer, Certified Wildlife Biologist with Nemours Wildlife Foundation as well as a Clemson alum, said it was rewarding to still be engaged with the same department and university where he studied.
“Some days it feels like I never left,” Bauer said. “I love the place, and it’s so much fun working with them. You have these great faculty members — and who really sticks out is Dr. Greg Yarrow and Dr. Rick Kaminski, just classic hands-on wildlife professors who go that extra step to get the students out in the field to see things and do things — and it’s just awesome to be down here at Nemours and be able to bring them here and show them a whole different side of the state, literally, where all this stuff that you’ve learned about in the curriculum, such as waterfowl management, water manipulation, prescribed burns and timber thinning for wildlife habitat, is all going on down here at the coast on a regular basis.”
Yarrow, professor and former chair of Clemson’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation (FEC), said Nemours has allowed Clemson to provide its students in-field training in the coastal marshes and the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto (ACE) River Basin, which is listed by The Nature Conservancy as “one of the last great places.”
“It allows students doing research to work with these managers and biologists on private tracts that are doing a lot of really innovative things, and it also provides them a place to do coastal research, housing for our students, technical support, assistantships for our students and just recently we created with funding from the Nemours Foundation two fellowships in the name of Eugene and Laura duPont for Ph.D. and master’s students,” Yarrow said. “The students get to work in real time on real research and do field work that they normally wouldn’t have an opportunity to do. And those kind of special partnerships and relationships really make our program at Clemson really strong and unique as compared to other programs, because it’s just such an added advantage for our students to get that kind of experience.”
One of those graduate students, Emily Miller, said she owed a great deal to Nemours. Miller was first selected for a technician position on a wood duck pilot study that led her to work with both Bauer and Kaminski.
That work ultimately earned Miller the opportunity to become a graduate student at Clemson and continue her work on the wood duck project in cooperation with Nemours.
“Working with Nemours has been an amazing opportunity, for not just myself, but many students, graduate and undergraduate,” Miller said. “Because of their positive impact on wildlife conservation and vast network of connections, I have been able to meet some of the best biologists in the field. Beau, Dr. Wiggers and Nemours as a whole has provided me with the experience and skills that I will need to continue in this field.”
And those connections have been going strong for years — one veteran of the program is Cory Heaton, now a Clemson Extension assistant professor and state wildlife specialist.
Heaton said the role of Nemours in the furtherment of natural resources science and the development of new natural resources professionals cannot be overemphasized, having been a major partner for countless university research projects.
“In my opinion, universities are often forced to overlook needed research in their quest to secure grant funding,” Heaton said. “This often leaves faculty heavily involved in research activities that lack significant importance to the state or even the country. While the faculty members of southern universities are conducting needed and valuable natural resources research, it is simply irrelevant in many ways to the southern landscape.”
Thus, Heaton said Nemours has played a key role in addressing the relevant issues for South Carolina and the Southeast.
“They focus their research efforts on topics at home, topics that would likely go unstudied without them. To put it simply, Nemours connects with universities to address the areas needed to do a better job of managing our natural resources,” he said.
Heaton is just one of many natural resources professionals who have had the opportunity to study, learn and grow at Nemours Plantation.
“Having three degrees from Clemson University it is without question that I bleed orange and am deeply passionate about Clemson,” he said. “My experience at Clemson as a student was amazing and the level of knowledge gained was nothing short of impressive. Nemours provided something that you just cannot do in the halls of a University. While studying at Nemours, I was immersed in the field and my studies. I spent every day in the field learning native plant communities and the wildlife that utilize them from Nemours biologist.”
Heaton said it was in the field at Nemours that his understanding of ecology really blossomed and provided him the opportunity to work with numerous natural resources professionals and other graduate students focused on a diversity of natural resources issues.
“The exposure to many facets of natural resources management greatly expanded my understanding of the natural world,” he said. “When asked, I tell folks Clemson provided me with the background to become a biologist and Nemours made me a biologist. I am forever grateful for my Nemours experience.”
And that experience continues to benefit Clemson students. One of the program’s current graduate students, Jacob Shurba, like Miller was also hired on as a field technician to work on the pilot study for the wood duck project.
Having just graduated from University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with a degree in wildlife ecology, Shurba sought a field position to expand his knowledge.
“I continue to work very closely with the staff at Nemours as a graduate student as they are heavily involved with our data collection protocols and the biologist is our go-to person for the data collection software we use,” he said. “They are a fantastic collaborator and I feel very lucky to have the chance to work with them on this huge project.
Shurba specifically pointed to Bauer, whom he said quickly became a colleague and mentor for him as a newly graduated and growing wildlife biologist.
“He has been a huge help in talking through experimental design and analysis, as well as future opportunities in the field once I conclude my studies at Clemson,” he said. “As I said, I feel very lucky to work with the staff at Nemours. They do so much for me as a graduate student on this project, as well as for the Clemson FEC department.”
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