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Wild About Wildlife

By Office of Communication Services    Published on 06/12/2012 More stories >>

Dr. Lepczyk with students Darcey Iwashita (left) and Alisa Davis (right) holding photos of some friends they’ve made during the course of their work.

Dr. Lepczyk with students Darcey Iwashita (left) and Alisa Davis (right) holding photos of some friends they’ve made during the course of their work.

Ever wonder who owns the wildlife in this state? You do! It’s managed by the government, in trust for the people. So says Chris Lepczyk, who should know. Dr. Lepczyk, in CTAHR’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management (NREM), has students who have gone on to take part in that very management, or the management and conservation of other vital natural areas and resources. And with degrees in biology, geology, wildlife ecology, ecology, evolutionary biology, behavior, and fisheries and wildlife, Dr. Lepczyk is ideally suited to guide his students’ varying research interests.

NREM student Mark Chynoweth studies movement patterns of feral goats using GPS collars.

NREM student Mark Chynoweth studies movement patterns of feral goats using GPS collars.

An important element of his position is the Environmental Problem Solving (NREM 494) capstone course he teaches. In this independent-learning class students work in small teams, surveying and interviewing stakeholders on a specific environmental topic of contemporary importance. Past projects have studied such pressing issues as invasive species, over-fishing, waste disposal, and designation of agricultural lands. Students often give back what they learn to the community, such as providing a marine debris project to the Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation or sharing findings with non-governmental organizations when they deliver their final presentations.

Beyond the classroom, Dr. Lepczyk has a full lab of students engaged in a diverse array of research projects. One recent project, by Deidre Duffy, charted the introduction of birds and mammals to the Islands specifically for hunting purposes. She found that in the two decades following WWII, 44 game species were introduced, coinciding with a national rise in hunting. But since the early 1970s, when the Endangered Species Act was passed, not one animal has been imported for hunting on public lands, offering some hope for native flora and fauna. Hawai‘i is unique nationwide in that all game animals are non-native species, with many being invasive, which poses a significant challenge to the State’s desire to protect endangered species and also provide hunting opportunities.

While students from Dr. Lepczyk’s class and lab have gone on to graduate school and jobs with agencies, universities, and non-profits, what’s most important to him is that they have an education offering a lifetime of fulfillment. “I want them to be independent thinkers and socially responsible citizens who have the tools and knowledge to reflect deeply about the things they care about,” he says. And the sentiment mirrors his teaching: lofty in ideals yet firmly grounded on the earth.