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Graduation to Vocation: Houston Bumgarner to Protect Endangered Frogs for National Park Service

Houston Bumgarner will graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology from the College of Natural Resources at NC State. Upon graduation, he will work for the National Park Service at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California.

As a biological science technician, Bumgarner will work as a member of a field ecological restoration crew to eradicate non-native trout populations and survey native populations of mountain yellow-legged frogs in the parks’ alpine lakes and streams. Mountain yellow-legged frogs are considered a federally-endangered species.

“In King’s Canyon, the National Park Service stopped stocking trout in the 1980s and has been manually eradicating them from select alpine lakes since the early 2000s,” Bumgarner said. “Not only do the trout affect the mountain yellow-legged frog, but they also have larger impacts by disrupting the ecosystem at large.”

We recently spoke with Bumgarner to learn more about how his time at the College of Natural Resources prepared him for a career in wildlife biology. Check out the Q&A below.

How has the college prepared you for your new job?

The fisheries, wildlife, and conservation biology program at NC State nurtures and provides strong leadership at the top and values and ensures student success. I’ve had many opportunities to gain experience conducting fieldwork, networking with professionals, and gaining knowledge about how to be successful in this field. As important, the Leopold Wildlife Club, which is the NC State Chapter of The Wildlife Society, has been pivotal in making school more than about the academic classes. It has provided a support group of like-minded individuals to bounce ideas off of, discuss opportunities, and to prepare me for the rigors of class, lab and fieldwork. 

What’s your favorite memory or class from your time at NC State?

My favorite class at NC State was the dendrology class that I took in my junior year. This first semester of post-COVID, in-person classes was so refreshing. It got me outside and in the woods for hours at a time in the middle of the school week. Again, like the Leopold Wildlife Club, this class gave me a community of people who loved to learn about nature while in nature. Plus, the class positioned me to be a better naturalist because it gave me the skills to describe the woods around me in a way that I could not have before. Under Dr. [Steph] Jeffries, who is a superb professor, I and my classmates were made to feel important as individuals, even in a class with so many students. She promoted appreciating being in the woods and letting nature calm our nerves before our tree identification tests. 

What is unique about you or your work?

“Wildlifers” such as myself are so unique because we put ourselves out there and in uncomfortable situations. The crazy opportunities that come with working in this field are so much greater because of the challenges that we have to overcome — and the rewards we receive in return. The Milky Way is even brighter when you’ve had to bushwhack through a burn with your weight in survey equipment on your back. An average breakfast is tastier after a couple of weeks of boring oatmeal. Cool, clear sips of spring water are crisper and welcomed after sweating at hard tasks.

What motivated you to pursue your work?

I’ve always felt the happiest in nature and always asked questions about how it all works and fits together. I had no idea I could have a job where I get to backpack or watch wildlife all day and get my questions answered. Eventually, I’ll get stuck behind a desk. In the meantime, I am going to appreciate all of the opportunities I get while I can. The constant pursuit of learning new information that comes with this field appeals to me when it’s about the natural world. I am excited about the unusual jobs and directions my career could take. And, I know no matter what I choose to do, I will have an impact on our environment. 

What advice would you give students entering your major or field?

I would advise students to appreciate the people around them and form community. In this vocation, networking is key to finding a job. It’s sometimes thought of as drudgery, but it can be personally satisfying. I can’t explain the tremendous impact that the conversations I have had with other people in the field have had on me. Everyone wants to talk about their experiences and you can learn so much about life if you are just willing to listen. Their path won’t necessarily be the one you want to take, but the experience they have could help you figure out what you want to do. Being empathetic and fostering relationships with other people can make you a happier person and can even create new opportunities.