KINGSTON, R.I. – May 7, 2012 – University of Rhode Island student Ryan Kleinert took an unusual route from high school to college, spending six years living alone in the wilderness of the southern Appalachian and Adirondack mountains before settling in Charlestown and starting work on a degree in wildlife biology and conservation.
That time spent immersing himself in the natural environment has paid off. Kleinert will graduate from URI this month as the top wildlife biology major and the University’s nominee as the top wildlife biology student in New England.
“After taking that six year hiatus, I decided that I wanted to pursue a formal education and learn the skills and knowledge needed to conserve biodiversity,” Kleinert said. “I knew URI was home to the ecosystems and habitats I was interested in – coastal salt ponds and salt marshes – and I knew an education here would give me the skill set and field experiences needed to become a well-rounded biologist.”
Throughout his time at URI, Kleinert took advantage of every opportunity to gain hands-on experience. During the summer after his freshman year he was awarded a Coastal Fellowship that found him mapping invasive plants throughout the state in collaboration with the Rhode Island Natural History Survey. He spent his days bushwhacking through challenging landscapes with a handheld global positioning system to find, document and eradicate non-native plant species like multiflora rose, oriental bittersweet, Japanese honeysuckle, and privet.
“I went to places that probably haven’t been visited by many people in a long time,” he said. “Just about every day I fought my way through brier thickets, poison ivy, ticks and thick vines, going through culverts up to my waist in water and through a lot of bogs. It was a lot of fun.”
A major benefit of the project was the contacts he made with conservation agencies around the region, which resulted in him being hired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a job he held throughout the rest of his URI education.
“I spent my summers monitoring and protecting endangered and threatened shorebirds on Rhode Island beaches, in the fall I banded migratory birds, and in the winter I focused on monitoring the rare New England cottontail,” he said.
In the midst of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, he joined a team from the Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement unit that traveled to the Gulf to document dead birds and collect evidence of the harm the spill caused to wildlife.
“I was happy to contribute and help out as much as I could, but it was pretty gruesome,” Kleinert said. “I learned a lot about myself down there. I know that I thrive in experiences that really test me, and I’m totally comfortable putting in long, hard days of work.”
“Ryan is smart, mature in his science, independent, passionate about applied field research, and committed to conducting ground-breaking wildlife research that directly informs conservation practices,” wrote URI Professor Scott McWilliams in nominating Kleinert for an award from The Wildlife Society. “He is an accomplished field biologist who I would not hesitate to accompany me on the most formidable of field research excursions.”
In addition to his work with the Fish and Wildlife Service, Kleinert worked as a laboratory technician for the URI Watershed Watch program, analyzing water samples to assess the health of the state’s lakes and streams. He also volunteered to band birds at the Kingston Wildlife Research Station, monitored the success of nesting ospreys in several communities, and served as a mentor to grade school children learning about the environment.
“It’s really important to foster an appreciation for the natural world in youngsters,” he said.
As he prepares to graduate from URI, Kleinert is pleased to have been hired as a full-time biological technician by the Fish and Wildlife Service to continue his work monitoring and protecting endangered species in the state.
“I want to see how far my career with Fish and Wildlife can go,” he said, noting that he also hopes to enroll in graduate school. “I feel passionate about the work they do, and I know a career there will help me realize my goals of preserving biodiversity.”