Authored by Marcus Rehrman, Land Management Technician for the 2023 season.
For 22 years, I’ve been a Northern California kid. All I’ve ever really known is California, growing up in the Sacramento area. That is where I went to school, played sports and began my deep fascination in animals. My interest in animals began at a young age, finding (and chasing) Western Fence Lizards, Sierran Treefrogs and Gartersnakes wherever I could find them. My bookshelf was lined with animal books, and zoo visits were common. Jeff Corwin videos played on repeat.
After high school, I attended Chico State University, majoring in Biological Sciences with an emphasis in Zoology. I already possessed a broad understanding of animals, but developed a passion with herps in 2020. My first herp-based position was working with the endangered Giant Gartersnake in Northern California. Working with a species so dependent on quality habitat (wetlands), showed me how important the work was with that species.
Last summer, I moved to Oregon to work with the endangered Oregon Spotted Frog and Cascade Torrent Salamander. While still on the West coast, the scenery and habitat was vastly different from Northern California. I worked in lakes, ponds, oxbows, and streams in the Cascade mountains. The climate difference between the mountains of Oregon and the valley of California could not be any more different. California had dry heat. In Oregon, we often worked in the snow in freezing temperatures. Following these two jobs, I wanted a change of scenery, and to take my talents to the East Coast.
I discovered the seasonal Land Management Tech position on The Orianne Society’s website, as well as the Texas A&M job board. I’ve been working here since January of this year. My time at The Orianne Society has been nothing short of amazing! This is one of the reasons I decided to stay on as a volunteer for another month to continue helping out on projects as the first volunteer at the Longleaf Stewardship Center. I delved into many projects at The Orianne Society, including prescribed burning, habitat restoration and snake surveying. All are vital to the maintenance and restoration of the longleaf savanna pines, as well as the animals that inhabit those areas.
My primary role as a Land Management Technician was working on prescribed burns. I contributed to 74 burns throughout this year, over three per week. The acreage of these burns ranged from 10 acres to over 700 acres! Most burns were longleaf pine stands that are integral for the ecosystem there. Those pines provide good coverage and spread quickly, as well as provide better habitat for animals, such as Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers, Gopher Tortoises, Eastern Diamond-backed Rattlesnakes and Eastern Indigo Snakes. Burning the pine stands reduces the plants and trees that are problematic for that environment such as gallberry, many scrub oak trees, and privet. Prescribed burns make it easier for the native plants to grow freely such as wiregrass, bluestem and, most importantly, longleaf pine.
We burn with multiple agencies, such as The Nature Conservancy, Georgia Forestry Commission and Georgia DNR. We also burn a lot for private landowners who have pine stands that require maintenance. One of the most rewarding parts of burning is seeing the stands days and weeks afterwards. They can be completely unrecognizable. Observing these changes, we understand that we have taken the stand one step closer to pristine longleaf pine habitat.
The second aspect of being a Land Management Technician was habitat restoration and maintenance. Most of that work was done at the Longleaf Stewardship Center. It involved felling trees, spraying for weeds, cutting down overhanging limbs on roads, and occasionally repairing Gopher Tortoise burrows. Those tasks, along with prescribed burning, are incredibly important for the maintenance of the longleaf savanna ecosystem and for wildlife conservation.
One of the main reasons I moved to the East Coast was to experience first hand the diversity of herpetofauna. Being included in snake surveys for The Orianne Society has shown me the incredible diversity in Georgia. I’ve been part of Tiger Salamander, Eastern Indigo Snake and Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake surveys this year. The Eastern Indigo Snake is the animal we survey the most, given that they are federally threatened. Indigos are the longest native snakes in the U.S. and can grow to lengths of 8 feet! They are more of a temperate temperature snake, so most of the surveys are done in the winter when they are most commonly found in and around Gopher Tortoise burrows. Tortoises and snakes use their mutualistic relationship as a home for both species. While it is rare, one can see Eastern Indigo Snakes and Gopher Tortoises using the same burrow at the same time.
I was lucky enough to see a juvenile Indigo Snake that was only two feet long this year while on a survey. It is a rare find to see such a small Indigo Snake. I’ve also seen 21 Eastern Diamond-backed Rattlesnakes, a Florida Pine Snake, a Rainbow Snake and several Timber Rattlesnakes. I’ve seen 28 different species of snakes in Georgia. In California, I saw only 18. That diversity is exactly what I wished for. The surveys we do for snakes are a key part in learning more about these species including their population dynamics, breeding cycles, weather likeness and behavior.
I’ve enjoyed working with The Orianne Society, but unfortunately, my position is ending. I’ll miss the fun things we did as a group, like playing darts, pickleball, taking ice-cold plunge baths and fishing along the creek. A new technician will take my place at the beginning of 2024. For my next project, I will be moving to Niceville, Florida working at Eglin Air Force Base surveying the endangered Reticulated Flatwoods Salamander! I’ll be very glad to be working with animals full time again, but will miss the Georgia sandhills. My job will also have some habitat restoration aspects to it, for which my job at The Orianne Society prepared me. The flatwood areas at Eglin are in distress, and my job will be to help the environment, as well as gain more knowledge on herps in that region. I’m most excited to learn and see more of the crazy herp diversity of the Southeast such as Coral Snakes, Southern Hognose Snakes and especially the Reticulated Flatwoods Salamander. Thank you Orianne Society for giving me this great opportunity!