Pitching tents, digging latrines, wielding a chainsaw, and traveling by smokejumper plane were all part of a typical work day this past summer for Olivia Lawrence, Wittenberg University class of 2023, as she participated in the first-ever all-women conservation corps fire crew in Alaska hosted by the National Park Service (NPS).
Encouraged by Amber Burgett, former Wittenberg associate professor of biology, and inspired by an experience with a local prairie burn, Lawrence pursued the fire crew opportunity through the Student Conservation Association (SCA). She spent 14 weeks training, learning important leadership and outdoor skills, and performing fuels reduction activities to help prevent and control wildfire spread in Alaska’s national parks.
Lawrence’s interest in fire was sparked in the spring of her sophomore year, when she heard that John Ritter, professor of geology and director of environmental science, had arranged through the National Trail Parks and Recreation District for environmental science students to participate in a prescribed burn at Kirby Preserve at Old Reid Park led by Jeremy Block, class of 2011.
“I just expected them to let me watch the burn,” Lawrence said. “But they let me suit up fully and carry the drip torch and everything. It was great. It was really hands-on.
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