Week-old bison (Bison bison) stay close to the herd at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.
Credit: U.S. Forest Service

The Native American Research Assistantship Program offers annual summer research assistantships for Native undergraduate or graduate students. Established in 2014, the professional development program facilitates opportunities for Native students to be mentored by USDA Forest Service research and development scientists and promotes student advancement and training for careers in natural resource and conservation-related fields. Building on a long history of collaboration with USDA Forest Service Research and Development (USFS R&D), the Native American Research Assistantship Program will be expanded starting summer 2023 to include placement of Native students at both USFS and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Our organizations are committed to enhancing the diversity of ethnic backgrounds within the community of natural resource professionals. We are particularly keen to integrate and recruit Native scholars and early career scientists since we recognize that Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge (ITEK) and expertise held by Tribes and Native communities can be braided with western science and other scientific approaches to sustain and restore ecosystems.

Current Projects

Project proposals are being accepted for the 2023 program year. Student applications for upcoming projects will be available by November 15.

Only a limited number of projects will be funded and are dependent on a suitable student/mentor match.

What Students Can Expect

Paid assistantships are available for Native students interested in wildlife and forest resource research and management. Students will learn and work with an interdisciplinary team of researchers with the USFS or USGS.

Students will participate in laboratory or field data collection, data entry, and analysis as it relates to wildlife ecology and management.
During the research assistantship, students will improve their oral and written communication skills. Students will be provided the opportunity to assist in publishing manuscript(s) in peer-reviewed journals, popular press, and/or present findings at scientific meetings along with project scientists (dependent on travel funding).

How to Apply

All application materials are due annually by mid-January. Exact dates will be published with application instructions each year.

To apply, students will need to prepare the following materials:

  • A cover letter indicating to which research project you are applying
  • Resume/CV
  • Official or unofficial academic transcripts
  • Verification of Native ethnicity (e.g., tribal member enrollment)
  • Two letters of recommendation

Applicants must be a member of a Native American or Alaska Native tribe, First Nations or a Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, or have another indigenous identification, and be currently enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program from an accredited academic institution. Pursuit of a bachelor’s or master’s degree in wildlife biology, ecology, forestry or other closely related natural resource discipline is preferred. Students with related associate’s degrees from tribal colleges and universities or other community colleges are eligible to apply. Recent graduates will also be considered.

The ideal candidate will have strong verbal and written communication skills with demonstrated capabilities in science writing, ability to work both independently and as a productive member of a research team, and an ability to work under adverse field conditions (possible extreme weather, difficult terrain, venomous snakes and biting/stinging insects). Submission of a writing sample is optional.

Students with a GPA above 3.0 are preferred, and students with a minimum 2.5 GPA will be considered.

Current membership with The Wildlife Society is not required.

Past Projects


A Delicate Balance: Supporting white-tailed deer (waawaashkeshi) habitat and forest sustainability on Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) lands

Sabrina Sanchez, from Texas State University, worked with Serra Hoagland on long-term monitoring of treated and untreated Mexican spotted owl (Strix occidentalis lucida) territories on tribal lands in New Mexico. This project built upon existing occupancy and reproduction datasets from Mescalero Apache tribal lands with the goal of reducing fire risk and threats to Mexican spotted owl habitats.

Long-term monitoring of treated and untreated Mexican spotted owl (Strix occidentalis lucida) territories on tribal lands

Antoinette Shirley, from Michigan State University, worked with Stephen Handler, Rachel Tarpey, Erin Johnston and Pam Nankervis in Michigan on a collaborative project on white-tailed deer—or waawaashkeshi—habitat and forest sustainability on Keweenaw Bay Indian Community lands. This project gathered information about the role and location of deer to help the tribe make decisions about the tradeoffs between forest health and wildlife management.


Long term monitoring of treated and untreated Mexican spotted owl (Strix occidentalis lucida) territories on tribal lands

Callie Kammers, of Lake Superior State University, worked with Serra Hoagland, CWB, in New Mexico on long-term monitoring of treated and untreated Mexican spotted owl (Strix occidentalis lucida) territories on tribal lands. This project built upon existing long-term occupancy and reproduction datasets in treated and untreated Mexican spotted owl breeding territories on Mescalero Apache Tribal Lands with the overarching goal of reducing fire risk and threats to Mexican spotted owl habitat on tribal lands.

Bison grazing and grassland birds: Evaluating prairie restoration on Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Jerret Carpenter, of Oklahoma State University, worked with Susannah Lerman at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. The objectives of this project were to determine how bison (Bison bison) grazing improves the diversity of native vegetation during the restoration of prairie ecosystems, and how grassland birds respond to bison grazing during prairie restoration. Results were utilized to design and implement a grazing management program for prairie restoration and management that promotes desired conditions for grassland bird habitat.

Tracking Native Species Distributions with Environmental DNA

Zachary Arquette, of Haskell Indian Nations University, worked with Kellie Carim at the USFS National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation on a collaborative project using environmental DNA to understand distributions of Pacific lamprey (Entosphenus tridentatus) in the Columbia River basin. This species once sustained tribes of the lower Columbia River including the Yakama, Umatilla and Nez Perce people. Results from this work were used by tribal biologists to protect and restore Pacific lamprey throughout their historic range.


Bat surveys and greater sage-grouse vegetation studies in the Buffalo Gap National Grassland of South Dakota

Elizabeth Hotchkiss was a graduating senior at California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo. Over the summer she was mentored by Brian Dickerson, a researcher at the Rocky Mountain Research Station. Together they worked on bat surveys and greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) vegetation studies in the Buffalo Gap National Grassland of South Dakota.

The U.S. Forest Service is a Premier Partner of TWS.


For more information or questions, please contact:

Jamila Blake, AWB®
Professional Development and Inclusion Manager