By Analise Cooper – Student Conservation Intern, 2023-2024 School Year

SCI Analise Cooper running a 4-wheeler with a seeder attached on the back to plant nativebeneficial grasses at LaSalle FWA Photo taken by Zack DeYoung, DNR

I have been lucky enough to work with the Newton County Soil and Water District (SWCD), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as part of the Newton County Student Conservation Internship program. Over the course of the school year, I have helped with wildlife management at LaSalle Fish and Wildlife Area (FWA) and Willow Slough FWA. 

Sometimes managing wildlife looks like removing invasive trees, shrubs, or grasses with a chainsaw/brush-cutter and following up with herbicide. (Invasive species can be any type of plant that competes against species native to our county, that slowly take over our forests with different species of plants that can cause harm to the environment and the creatures that live there.) Other times it can be prescribed burns, planting more native or beneficial species into designated habitat areas, setting and enforcing harvest limits for game species, protecting wildlife habitats from human disturbance, or sometimes even educating the public by hosting events, making social media posts, or possibly sending out newsletters and informative emails.  

Before this internship, I always assumed, “It’s a tree, so it’s good for the environment,” but that’s not always the case. Some species, like sassafras, are native to Indiana, but they don’t produce much food or living conditions for wildlife; whereas different types of oak trees not only improve our air quality but can provide a home and food for up to two thousand types of insects and little critters! Their acorns can feed deer, turkeys, squirrels, opossums, raccoons, rabbits, and various species of birds. The expansive root systems of oak trees can help protect the soil against erosion and aid in anchoring the tree against the strong midwestern winds that we experience in Newton County.  

Trying to maintain a healthy habitat for the creatures that live in our local woods is imperative. Without the funding to pay DNR employees, none of this crucial maintenance would happen. Our forests would become overrun with invasive species that not only do nothing for the environment but also lack the food or housing for the many birds, vertebrates, mammals, and insects that inhabit these wooded areas.  

Did you know that DNR funding comes from hunting and fishing licenses and taxes on firearms and ammunition? It’s fun to think about when you realize that the hunters buy a license, the money spent on that license goes to fish and wildlife areas, and then it helps fund the very employees who are working hard to sustain a proper and beneficial habitat for the game species that are being hunted.

The wonderful thing about how the funding works is that the hard work of habitat management is not only benefitting hunters; there are trails you can hike, some fish and wildlife areas have campgrounds, such as Willow Slough FWA, you could go fishing, canoe or kayak, bird watch, or even go out and have a picnic while enjoying nature! The possibilities are nearly endless!

One thing that I have learned that I think everyone should be aware of is how important proper identification skills are. Even if you don’t hunt, it can be important to identify different wildlife species and their habitat needs. For instance, if you are in your backyard and all you see is Asian honeysuckle, that means that there’s almost nothing benefitting from the wooded areas there. If you see a variety of oaks, black cherry trees, and maples, then you likely have a large variety of wildlife dependent on the food and habitat that these trees produce- sometimes all in your backyard!

Obtaining and then spreading the knowledge of our local wildlife and their preferred habitats can be helpful not only for conservation employees and volunteers but for private landowners or people passionate about wildlife and the environment. If you own land or know of any public spaces like church or school landscapes that house the wildlife that roams around our county, then you could manage it by removing commonly invasive species like Asian honeysuckle (shrub), autumn olive (tree), or multiflora rose (shrub) and replacing them with black chokeberry (shrub), white oak (tree), or prairie rose (shrub). 

One of the many things that this internship has taught me is that any type of plant that you’re interested in growing can depend on sun exposure, moisture levels, and soil types. If you would like to find some native/beneficial species to replace invasives, you can always contact local DNR offices, or TNC offices or visit these websites:  or

This internship has shown me firsthand how important just one person can be when it comes to applying conservation. You don’t have to be a conservation employee or even a landowner to try to care for the habitats that are filled with thousands of species of wildlife creatures and plants- just having a passionate heart for everything inhabiting our local woods is enough. 

SCI Analise Cooper using a brush-cutter to remove invasive honeysuckle. Photo taken by Robert Brinkman, DNR.

SCI Ava Ivey “girdling” a tree. Making a ring around the bark with a chainsaw and follow up with herbicide to kill unwanted trees. Photo taken by Analise Cooper, SCI.

SCIs Ava Ivey (left) and Karalyn White mixing and dividing seed for spreading at LaSalle Photo taken by Analise Cooper, SCI

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