Interning with the Guild

Written by Casandra Downs, 2019 intern

Editor’s note: The Guild partners with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to provide students with hands-on experiences to learn how forestry and wildlife management work together on public lands. The 26-week positions are supervised and based at the Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge in McBee, South Carolina. Casandra is our most recent intern, whose enthusiasm shines through. We are offering a 12-week summer internship opportunity in 2020. Applications are being accepted now!

I never realized how blessed I was to be born in a small valley town beneath the Rocky Mountains of Utah, until I saw how it shaped my adult life. Ever since I was a child, I’ve been amazed by the natural world around me. I loved to explore the tallest branches of oak trees and scurry through the pine needles on the forest floor. The songs of birds in the morning were my summer alarm clock and the blanket of snow in the winter was my playground. I fell in love with creation, so I knew from a young age I wanted to spend the rest of my life working in it.

In 2015 I left Utah to attend Maranatha Baptist University in Watertown, Wisconsin. During my summers, I had the opportunity to work for the U.S. Forest Service as a resource technician and a wildland firefighter, and with the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a biological science technician. While attending classes, I was a pathway student for the U.S. Geological Survey working as a hydrotech for two and a half years. I kept myself busy and I enjoyed every moment of it. I graduated in December of 2018, leaving just enough time to meet my now husband during my senior year.

My next adventure after graduation was joining the Forest Stewards Guild’s team as a forestry and wildlife intern. I was given the unique experience of working at two National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) in both Georgia and South Carolina for a total of six months. Starting out at the Piedmont NWR in Georgia, I jumped right into forest inventory using FFI. I learned basic forester skills, tree species, timber marking, and proper data collection techniques. Some other fun activities were frequent bird surveys, Red Cockaded Woodpecker peeping, herbicide treatment of invasive species, and three annual butterfly counts. I met some amazing people who helped teach and encourage me during my three months at Piedmont.

Though I had settled into Piedmont with good friends, I had to move on to the Carolina Sandhills NWR for my next adventure. Even though the two NWR are both part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service system, there were plenty of differences between the two places. At the Carolina Sandhills NWR I was able to finish up some of the forest inventory left from the summer using a Tremble unit. I was also able to learn more about the computer software involved with forestry such as T-Cruise and Arc GIS. One of the most exciting experiences I had was becoming re-certified as a faller 3 with a chainsaw. This allowed me to assist with timber thinning, removing hazard trees, and even the installation of Red Cockaded Woodpecker cavity inserts. For wildlife, I assisted with both the dove and deer hunt check stations and rode along on a cubby count.

I really enjoyed the unique experience of working at two great NWRs. Not only did it give me the experience of working in two different environments, but I got to be introduced to two different skill sets, two different ways to run the same organization, and two groups of amazing people. I will never forget the memories that were forged through my time working with the Forest Stewards Guild. I have made connections with people that will assist my future career and lifelong friendships with the people who took the time to help assist and train me to be a better person.

My next adventure in life is unknown. I married a Soldier on January 4th, 2020, and our journey has many mysteries in it (as every military family’s does). I am trying to continue working in the natural resource field as we take our next step in life by reporting to Fort Benning, Georgia this summer. My goal is to get my master’s degree in forestry with hopes of being able to do silvicultural research in the future. Each morning when I wake up, I want to know that my day will be filled with activities that help better the natural world that we live in. I could never imagine doing anything else.

Editor’s note: To help recruit well-deserving and potentially interested students for our 12-week summer internship in 2020, or if you have questions about the internship, please contact Mike Lynch at or 608-449-0647.