Counting Sheep (and Caribou) in Alaska
Spotlight on Erin Julianus, ’08
Written by Sarah Chavey
Apart from the cold and snow, it would seem Hillsdale and an Alaska survival show have little in common. But Hillsdale alumna Erin Julianus, ’08, has a connection to both. After graduating with a biology degree, Erin went to Miami University in Ohio to study environmental science and now works in Alaska at the Bureau of Land Management as a wildlife biologist. Her job includes aerial surveys and environmental assessment reviews for people wishing to do activities on the public land such as mining for gold, energy development, and—you guessed it—reality TV shows like “Out of the Wild: The Alaska Experiment,” a show that follows nine volunteers on an expedition through the wilderness of Alaska with minimal supplies.
“I really like working here because I feel like I’m helping the public get the most out of the land. There are so many people that are using the land for so many different things, and if I can help them do it the right way, that feels really good,” Erin said.
From day to day, this might involve flying in small airplanes over the Alaskan wilderness and counting animals, specifically moose, caribou, and sheep. Erin and the Bureau of Land Management assess population numbers and growth as well as numbers of males and females. They work closely with the state department of fish and game, using this information to tweak hunting regulations.
As they fly around in the planes counting animals, Erin sits in the back with a notebook, counting.
“Nature is always kind of surprising. There’s been a couple times on wildlife surveys where we’ll be counting moose, and we’ll see a pack of wolves surrounding a cow (moose mother) and baby. It’s this pack of wolves waiting for mom and baby to make one wrong move. It’s interesting; I guess nature is just spontaneous,” Erin said.
Erin’s dream job during college was never “wildlife biologist”—although she loves it now—but “entomologist,” like her role model Dr. Houghton. Her senior thesis at Hillsdale dove into one of Dr. Houghton’s research experiments, testing water quality by looking at aquatic macro invertebrates. Some species of these invertebrates can only live in pristine water quality while others can live anywhere. Using this test, Dr. Houghton and Erin could tell whether water was polluted or not.
Erin considers this thesis one of the most important aspects of her education at Hillsdale. She also noted the importance of her statistics class, chemistry classes, science core classes, and other core classes.
“I had a really solid foundation going into graduate school. I was definitely no stranger to hard work because of Hillsdale,” Erin said. She also expressed her gratitude for the professors. “I think I really looked up to all those professors. I wanted to be them and to know everything they knew. They inspired me.”
Although she doesn’t mind the intense cold and surprisingly small number of roads, Erin ultimately plans to return home to the Midwest. While there, however, she will continue to hunt animals, applying her interest in animals to a hobby.
“It’s kind of rewarding to learn about a population, to learn what makes the animals tick and where they hang out. I don’t hunt in areas I’m working in, but I get a lot out of taking an animal because of what I’ve learned about them,” Erin said.
Sarah Chavey is a music major from Ann Arbor, Michigan. She hopes to pursue journalism when she graduates in 2017.