2021 – 04

Application deadline is Sunday January 24th, 11:59 PM EST

The National Park Service (NPS) is pleased to support the Scientists in Parks Fellows Program as a pathway for exemplary students in higher education (advanced undergraduate students and graduate students) to apply their skills and ideas to park-based challenges and solutions. The program offers 12-week paid positions which allow students to gain valuable work experience, explore career options, and develop leadership skills through mentorship and guidance while helping to advance NPS efforts on emerging management issues. Successful students may be eligible for non-competitive hire into federal positions for which they qualify following completion of all academic requirements.

Analysis of long term trends in bird abundance at Isle Royale National Park (Apply by Sunday, January 24th)

Isle Royale National Park
Houghton, MI

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change and evolve, project timelines and structure remain flexible and it may be necessary to postpone start dates, begin work remotely, or reformulate the project’s description. Should any development in the COVID-19 outbreak impair a project’s timeline or results, the SIP Team will work with the park and project mentors to assess the situation and determine the best course of action at that time.

This project analyzing long term trends in bird abundance at Isle Royale NP will fill a critical management need in evaluating park biological resources. It provides natural resource managers with information to evaluate the status of breeding birds, understand trends in bird abundance, and assess the impacts of climate change on the park’s bird population. Isle Royale NP is currently reintroducing wolves to reestablish predation and control the populations of the island’s herbivores, primarily moose. The park does not currently understand how the impacts of moose browse on the island’s vegetation impacts breeding bird habitat. The products of this project will assist resource managers in understanding how the cascading effects of wolf reintroduction impact breeding birds and their habitats.

This position is offered through the National Park Service’s Scientists in Parks Program in partnership with Ecological Society of America.



The SIP Fellow will summarize Isle Royale’s long-term breeding bird monitoring datasets, assess habitat across the park, integrate land use and climate change models, and evaluate if and how the island’s bird populations are affected.

The devastating decline in birds documented across the United States is gaining international attention and sounding alarms of ecosystems unravelling and possible species extinctions.  The research published in Science (Rosenburg et al. 2019) identifies species and biomes particularly at risk. Sparrows, Finches, and Warblers are among the bird families most threatened with declines of 38%, 37%, and 38%, respectively, over the past 30 years.  Boreal and Eastern forest biomes are among the most impacted, with forest birds declining 33% and 17%, respectively, in these habitats. The primary drivers of these declines are global climate change, habitat loss due to urbanization and agriculture, pesticide use, and insect decline and diversity loss.

Isle Royale National Park is a remote island wilderness park in Lake Superior, straddling the transitional zone between temperate northern hardwood forests and boreal coniferous forests, and contains many of the bird species reported to be most at risk. Isle Royale’s remoteness has been suggested to provide refugia to anthropogenic change in the Upper Midwest (Kirschbaum et al. 2016), and indeed this wild, isolated park is removed from direct impacts of urbanization and agricultural pesticides. However, the island is still vulnerable. Lake Superior’s annual temperature is increasing rapidly, twice as fast as air temperatures over the past 30 years (Austin and Coleman 2008). In addition, the island has abundant herbivore (moose and beaver) populations, a result of a wolf population that was near collapse due to natural and anthropogenic forces. The herbivore populations have drastically altered the forest composition and structure across Isle Royale, and have cascading impacts across the island ecosystem.

The SIP Fellow will synthesize 23 years of breeding bird surveys (8 transects, 132 survey points), analyze trends in species abundance, and collate existing vegetation datasets to develop a comprehensive assessment of the birds and habitat on Isle Royale. The majority of work will be performed at the park headquarters in Houghton MI but the SIP Fellow will have the opportunity to travel to Isle Royale NP to assist with fieldwork. Tasks include:

  • Compile relevant datasets from Isle Royale, including breeding birds, climate, and forest vegetation.
  • Assist in coordination of 2021 Breeding Bird Survey to gain understanding of survey effort and data collected.
  • Work with university partners and Great Lakes I&M Network staff to discuss datasets and develop analytical tools.
  • Prepare a report for park resource managers summarizing findings.
  • Develop recommendations for park resource managers to aid in bird conservation efforts.
  • Prepare interpretive products to communicate findings to park visitors.

The SIP fellow will be expected to prepare a final report assessing the status of birds on Isle Royale National Park. This information will be compared with trends across the United States, and will assist in determining if Isle Royale can serve as refugia for some populations, or if bird populations are similarly threatened on Isle Royale. This report will include a summary of breeding bird survey data from the past 23 years, along with recommendations for future survey and conservation efforts. Ideally this report would also be formatted for publication in a scientific journal. In addition, the SIP fellow will work with advisors to format breeding bird and vegetation survey datasets for analysis using GIS and database tools.

To be eligible for this position, applicants must be:

    • U.S. citizen, 18 to 30 years of age (or a veteran up to age 35)
    • Enrolled as an upper-level undergraduate (junior or senior) or graduate (Masters or Ph.D.) student that will not graduate prior to finishing your SIP Fellow Project (check each project descriptions to determine the estimated dates of completion) 


  • Applicant has already earned their undergraduate degree and is not currently enrolled, but has applied to attend graduate school beginning Fall 2021*

* In the event that you are selected as a SIP Fellow, proof of acceptance in the form of enrollment into a graduate program for Fall 2021 will be required before anything is awarded.

The successful candidate will be:

  • Current undergraduate or graduate student in conservation biology, environmental science, or ecology field
  • Ability to understand and distill multiple large datasets
  • Advanced coursework in natural resources, including forest ecology, population ecology, and statistics
  • Ability to conduct independent research, prepare scientific reports, and perform QAQC on data
  • Strong communication and leadership skills
  • Passion for the outdoors, attention to detail, excellent work ethic, and a positive attitude

The applicant must be a U.S. citizen or U.S. National between the ages of 18 and 30 years old inclusive, or veterans up to age 35. Prior to starting this position, a government security background clearance will be required.

The SIP Fellow will work closely with Mark Romanski, Natural Resource Program Manager, and Lynette Potvin, Ecologist.  The NPS personnel will provide mentorship and assist in project development.  The SIP Fellow will also benefit from co-advising by a university partner (Dr. Jared Wolfe, Michigan Technological University). A mentoring plan will be developed in coordination with the SIP Fellow to align project goals and expectations.

The SIP Fellow will work with mentors to develop leadership goals and participate in relevant training and orientation. The SIP Fellow will have the advantage of working with both park and university staff to gain experience in both academia and the government. This project requires a great deal of independence, which will be cultivated through weekly meetings and routine check-ins. The SIP Fellow will also work with a current GIP Data Manager for guidance on data management and GIS.

Approximate start date of position: 5/3/2021
Eleven weeks of the internship will be in the park. A mandatory Professional Development Workshop will be held in Washington, D.C. from August 1 – 5, 2021.

This initiative supports one student at full time work for $500/week for 11-12 weeks. In order to meet DHA requirements, students must work a minimum of 440 total hours to qualify.

Applicant does not need a valid drivers license.
A personal vehicle is RECOMMENDED but not required for this position.

The SIP Fellows program provides a travel stipend to all fellows to supplement the cost of student travel to the park site.

Park housing is NOT available. The SIP Fellows program provides a housing subsidy to the intern, when necessary. The SIP Fellow will be responsible for finding housing in the nearby area. The position will be located at the park headquarters in Houghton MI, where park housing is not available. Houghton is home to Michigan Tech University, which has around 7,000 students. Opportunities to sublease rooms, houses or apartments are typically available and in the range of $400-$800/month depending on location. Dormitory style housing may also be available on campus at a higher monthly cost. When the SIP Fellow travels to Isle Royale NP, dormitory-style housing will be available at no cost.

This position is primarily office-based and located at the mainland park headquarters in Houghton MI.  The SIP Fellow will have their own office.  In addition to office work in Houghton, the SIP Fellow will have the opportunity to assist with fieldwork on the island, which is located approximately 70 miles from Houghton in Lake Superior.  The island is accessed by a large passenger ferry, operated by the NPS.

Houghton is located in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula on the South Shore of Lake Superior.  The region is dominated by vast areas of lakes, forests, and wetlands.  Houghton is the home of Michigan Tech University and the area offers many options for dining, grocery stores, retail shops, and has two hospitals. Houghton was rated as one of the top 10 U.S. adrenaline outposts by National Geographic Adventure Magazine, boasting excellent skiing, hiking, kayaking, and mountain biking.  There is a small regional airport that offers daily flights to Chicago.

Supervisor: Lynette Potvin
Email: lynette_potvin@nullnps.gov

Application deadline is Sunday January 24th, 11:59 PM EST