TOMAHAWK - This week, a group of UW-Whitewater students is at Treehaven learning to track wolves and other rare animals.
Story By Lex Gray
They're giving up part of their winter break to help the DNR with a wolf survey.
Many seem enthusiastic and dedicated to the course, but none more so than Meg Lynch, who's keeping up with her classmates in a wheelchair.
"I call myself Megatron when I'm in the chair," says Lynch.
It's no ordinary chair – the four-wheel-drive, all-terrain wheelchair powers through brush and snow so Lynch can keep up with UW Whitewater's biology curriculum.
"I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I like to try new things," Lynch says.
UW-Whitewater prides itself on being accessible to all students.
The chair, made possible by a grant, brings that accessibility beyond campus and classroom.
After three years in wheelchairs and walkers that can't get through this kind of terrain, Lynch says it's a good buy.
"I'm grateful to have this chair, because I wouldn't be here without this chair," she says.
Lynch's professor, Dr. George Clokey, agrees. He believes the chair will build her confidence and help her realize what he calls great potential.
This week's hands-on course will do the same for everyone here, giving every participants a chance to get out and put their classroom knowledge to use.
They're learning from Dr. Clokey and wolf expert Dr. Jim Halfpenny, who came from Yellowstone to teach and help the Wisconsin DNR.
"Here at Treehaven, we have a nice selection of animals to work with – grey fox, otter, fisher, deer. That allows the students to gain a lot of practice," says Halfpenny.
Today, students learned how to identify and preserve animal tracks. They started by analyzing a dog's different gaits.
After classroom and field training here, the class will head farther north to Cable, where they'll help the DNR estimate how many wolves are in Wisconsin.
"It's certainly nice to have a young bunch of students from the University working on these. As we do go forward to delisting wolves, we know we'll have a cadre of trained people out there," says Halfpenny.
Although Lynch isn't sure if she'll pursue field work after college, she's grateful for this opportunity.
"I'm just trying everything I possibly can. I'm thankful for being here," she says.
This summer, Lynch hopes to be Megatron once again, heading to Yellowstone for a similar field ecology course.