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Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest hosts West Point intern

Matt Lugo waist-deep in river holding large net.
As part of his internship, Matt Lugo helped conduct a wildlife survey of the Columbia spotted frog. USDA Forest Service photo.

NEVADA — The Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, in conjunction with the United States Military Academy at West Point, recently sponsored a summer intern from the Academy’s Academic Individual Advanced Development program. Matthew Lugo, a Geospatial Information Science major in the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at West Point, opted to spend his two-week summer internship working for the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest’s wildlife biology and law enforcement programs.

“With my planned degree in geospatial science, the USDA Forest Service seemed like a good fit to explore as a future career field,” said Lugo. “I chose the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest because I had never been to Nevada and it sounded like a beautiful place. Then, when I arrived, I was blown away by the diversity of the landscapes and resources on the Forest.”

Every West Point cadet is required to participate in a summer internship during their sophomore or junior year. The Forest Service is one of a large number of governmental and non-governmental organizations that the academic departments at West Point offer their cadets as opportunities for summer internships. Host organizations get cadets out of the military environment, allowing them to gain experience within their field of study while investing in the future of potential employees. The cadets have a minimum five-year commitment to the Army. The Forest Service began participating in this program five years ago, hosting four cadets in the first year. This year, the agency hosted 12 of the department’s 93 cadets at Forest Service units all around the country.

Bill Dauer, Director of the Forest Service’s Grey Towers National Historic Site, graduated from West Point and now spearheads the Forest Service involvement in the program. “The Forest Service with its diverse opportunities and strong natural resource mission has become the most sought after host agency,” said Dauer. “We are pretty proud of the quality internship opportunities we are able to provide these cadets who have a strong interest in natural resources and land management. The success of the partnership really highlights what an impact it is having on these young leaders and their future career paths.”

This was the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest’s first time hosting a cadet. “We thought it was a great opportunity to show someone who is not familiar with the Forest Service what our mission is all about,” said Deputy Forest Supervisor Teresa McClung. “When planning his visit, our staff wanted Matt to have the most diverse experience possible.”

Lugo started his internship working with the Forest’s wildlife biology staff. He helped conduct a survey of the Columbia spotted frog in the Tennessee Gulch area on the Mountain City-Ruby Mountains-Jarbidge Ranger District. “I wasn’t immediately aware that I would have to touch and grab frogs until a couple days before I left,” said Lugo.

Matt Lugo standing beside an all-terrain vehicle.
Matt Lugo with an ATV used to access remote areas within the forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

“I love animals but am not a big fan of amphibians,” Lugo added. “When I got the first frog in the net I had to reach in and grab it. I think I took a solid five to six minutes before I worked up the nerve to grab it. I look back and laugh now, but at the time, I was not enjoying it.”

Lugo also spent time with the Forest’s Law Enforcement staff patrolling the Santa Rosa Ranger District in northeast Nevada while the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribes and forest removed tribal members’ privately owned horses from the district and returned them to their rightful owners.

“I really enjoyed working in the two different career fields within the forest,” said Lugo. “The biologists and law enforcement officers have different perspectives and different approaches, but they share a common mission.”

Lugo said he found the program really valuable and he will recommend a similar experience to his friends and peers.

“The internship gave me insight into career options that I have available to me after I get out of the Army,” said Lugo.