Conservation in Motion
It’s always a surprise when Erika Scheppelmann downloads the memory cards from her trail cameras to her laptop. For almost a year, she’s had 12 motion-sensor cameras spread throughout Richard M. Nixon County Park, in Springfield Township, York, Pennsylvania, documenting its wildlife. For her senior research project at York College, she decided to find out if human presence in the park impacts animals’ habitat use.
Scheppelmann grew up in a hunting family. She first tagged along with her dad and brother as a child. As a teenager, she hunted with them. She feels connected to nature in a unique way many people don’t, watching foxes playing together and hearing birds singing. She appreciates the food web and her role within it. It made sense for her to pursue a degree in Biology, with hopes of working in wildlife conservation.
She’s had to trek to her cameras to change batteries and memory cards in extreme conditions — all while trying to protect herself from ticks and leave as little trace as possible. But, it’s been exciting to do research in her chosen field and get real-world experience. “When I got my first image of a coyote, I was through the roof and immediately emailed my mentor,” she says.
Her mentor, Professor Bridgette E. Hagerty, PhD, helped take Scheppelmann’s research beyond York. As a member of the Wildlife Society, Professor Hagerty was able to gift a membership to Scheppelmann, who then presented her research at the joint Wildlife Society-American Fisheries Society meeting in Reno, Nevada.
Though incomplete, Scheppelmann presented her preliminary research findings at the conference. “It was extremely intimidating being there with so many professionals,” she says. “I’m just really happy I had the chance to do it.”
Her work was well received. Her biggest compliment was an assumption that she was a graduate student because of the quality of her work. Scheppelmann is still finalizing her results. Preliminary work suggested that animal habitat use did not significantly change with human presence. As her research progressed, there was a drop in some mid-ranking predators in areas that became open to the public.
She’s grateful to the people at Nixon Park, the York College Biology Department, and the Center for Academic Innovation. “Being able to do my research in the park, funding for my research, a lot of work has gone into it,” she says, “and I’m super grateful for their support.”