Jennifer Schmalz of the WSU Zoology Department represented Weber State University this semester at an undergraduate research presentation in Oregon. Schmalz presented her research study Thursday to a crowd of WSU students, faculty and others.
Schmalz, who has already graduated in zoology, will be soon graduating in botany with a secondary bachelor’s degree. Her presentation, titled “Habitat Ecology of Pygmy Rabbits in Northeastern Utah,” covered detailed data from her team’s research concerning the endangered species found in the West.
Now having presented her project in multiple states, the Federal Wildlife Reserve is continuing to plan more research to help the pygmy rabbit population survive. The project was performed near Woodruff, Utah, close to the Utah-Wyoming border.
Of the many topics covered, Spike herbicide, an herbicide used to thin and remove sagebrush for cattle grazing in northeastern Utah, was identified as a large factor as to the shrinking population of rabbits. Farmers and ranchers use the chemical to clear space and create more profitable grazing farms for cattle, making the research quite controversial to the livelihood of local ranchers near the area.
The success of the project affects other students as well. Michael Shaw, a WSU junior pursuing physics, attended the presentation.
“I thought it was very impressive, but also very effective,” Shaw said. “It makes me want to be more thoughtful about my practices in nature. It’s so common to see people go camping and leave their trail mess behind.”
Along with the department chairs and professors of the zoology department, leaders of local wildlife reserves attended the lecture. Zoology Department Chair Sam Zeveloff worked with Schmalz throughout the project.
“It is part of our mission to engage students in the research activities,” Zeveloff said. “It’s an essential part of the education program. It’s important to their progress and their success as they enter graduate programs or into careers.”
Research not only helps students excel in the workplace and in future endeavors, explained Zeveloff; this type of research benefits the department and WSU as a whole.
“It’s beneficial to the department because we are able to be beneficial to the students,” Zeveloff said. “To be involved in these amazing studies is a great opportunity.”
The zoology department continues to assist more and more diverse research projects each and has many already planned for next summer.
Schmalz worked out of a trailer for many months during the project and said she was grateful for WSU’s help in her project and life path.
“The professors know that I like to be outdoors, climb, hike and mountain-bike,” Schmalz said. “So they said, ‘I think there’s a summer job you would really like.’ That is how I got involved. It really has changed my whole path.”