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Alumni Updates: Saunders Drukker

Alumni Updates: Saunders Drukker

By Saunders Drukker

My name is Saunders Drukker and I first began attending Geneva in 2002, way back in the days at St. John's Church. I held out at Geneva for the next 10 years until I graduated with the third graduating class in 2013. From there I went to Sewanee: The University of the South for four years. I graduated this past May with a Bachelor of Science in Ecology and Biodiversity. At Sewanee, I was active in the Biology Department doing multiple research projects and winning the Harry Yeatman award for Honors in Biology. 

Following graduation, I moved to Tallahassee Florida to work at Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy. I’m currently working in the Fire Science Lab, and while I’m not sure if my job has an official title I usually tell people that I am a Lab/ Field/ Research/ Fire Technician and Wildland Firefighter. As a result of this strange job title I have a fairly variable job, though most of it has something to do with wildfire or prescribed fire, I’ll give you a few examples of things I’ve done the past few months.

Some days I am in a lab working on a computer looking at a data sheet showing all 300,000 prescribed burns done in America for the past 25 years. It’s then my job to calculate the cost of every single acre burned and determine the cost effectiveness of certain burning techniques, and see how much money the government has saved or wasted using different methods.

Some days I work in the shop fixing ATV’s or building fuel plots.

Some days I am out in the field with various PhD students assisting them with their research. I’ve helped with projects on the effects of fire on native bee diversity, beetle diversity, plant diversity, mosquito populations and bird diversity. 

I have also been working for the past few months on a fuel moisture project. This means that I monitor fuel beds filled with pine straw to determine how they lose moisture during the day under different conditions and then reabsorb moisture at night. By gathering this data we can better understand the behavior of wildfire and prescribed fire.

I have also been working with a group of people on an ecological monitoring project looking at plant diversity in areas with different fire histories. This project sends me all around the coastal plain of Florida and Georgia looking at plant diversity in some of the best managed forests in the state. One of my favorite places to do this work is Eglin Air Force Base near Pensacola Florida. I get to spend a lot of time here in one of the last remaining old growth forests of Longleaf Pine trees. This forest just happens to also be the buffer zone around the most active bomb testing site east of the Mississippi river. While performing these surveys it is not uncommon to feel the sonic boom from some missile rumble through the forest emanating from the detonation site a mile away. 

I have also been assisting with post fire monitoring for many of the fires that swept through the Appalachian Mountains last year. This generally involves me camping up in the mountains for a week, hiking 15 miles a day for five days and taking data on tree mortality and soil composition. This is one of my favorite projects. 

The final part of my job is working on the prescribed fire team for Tall Timbers and the surrounding areas. Prescribed fire is a necessary part of managing these forests as it helps the forests stay healthy by recycling nutrients and removing invasive species. Prescribed fire is also the best tool for preventing dangerous wildfires. The more fires you safely set yourself, the less wildfires you have to put out. This is my favorite part of my job. 

That just about sums up what I’m doing now. I live on site at Tall Timbers in a small house with no internet. As a result I spend most of my time walking around the property catching rattlesnakes and alligators, my favorite pastime. I plan to attend graduate school next fall after I finish my work here. I haven’t decided on a school yet, but I am looking to move out west and complete my PhD in the realm of Herpetology, hopefully doing something with the evolution and ecology of rattlesnakes.

Until then I’ll be here in Florida, setting fires, putting out other fires, and then studying the effects of these fires. 

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Photos provided by Saunders Drukker

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