As Olivia Magni ’18, a crew lead for the United States Forest Service, made her way from her cabin to the three-sided outhouse situated near the water’s edge of Redoubt Lake on Baranof Island, Alaska, she noticed signs of an intruder.
“The lime bucket looked like it had exploded, and inside the outhouse there were paw prints and scratches all over the wall,” Magni said. “I looked out to the water and saw this big old bear butt, and the bear raised himself up out of the water with something in his mouth, flinging it around and around in a circle.” That something was Magni’s boot, which the bear had nicked off the cabin porch. Magni called her field partner to hurry down. “We boated over to try to get it back, but the bear took off with it.”
Having your boots purloined by a curious grizzly is just another occupational hazard for forest rangers in Alaska, and Magni sees bears every day during the summer. “I don’t mean to sound too dramatic, but complacency can kill up here in Alaska,” Magni said. Bear hazing protocols and firearms certification are standard training for rangers. And while self-defense shootings of bears by rangers are extremely rare in the Sitka region, Magni’s training included her hitting 12-inch circular targets placed 20, 15, and 10 yards away with a .375 magnum rifle within 10 seconds. “It is great working in the Forest Service, and the safety culture here is very important,” Magni said. Her training also included a three-day island survival course and learning to pilot a 30-foot drop bow water craft used to transport ATVs and other heavy gear.
Given Magni’s early days, growing up on a farm in rural Pennsylvania, her adeptness in the outdoors is no surprise. “I loved being outside and going hiking, climbing trees, and catching frogs,” Magni said. “I had a rugged, resilient and mud-covered childhood.” By the time she got to AIC, there was no question about her major. “I always wanted to study biology, and I can’t say enough about the biology professors at AIC,” Magni said. “Professor Benard especially helped me with a watershed project and also a presentation I gave at an undergraduate symposium.”
Magni is currently on assignment for the season as an observer in the North Pacific, where she embeds on fishing craft to monitor catches and log species data. The data is used to track fish migrations and ensure particular species are not depleted. The work is similar to what she does at her Sitka base on Redoubt Lake, tracking salmon populations. “We count and also freedive or snorkel; collect scales and adipose fin clips from some of the fish,” Magni explained. “One of the reasons I want to work in fisheries is the multifaceted nature of it. The subsistence fishing of the native peoples also has a deep cultural significance, and our work helps economies here and in the Lower 48. But it’s also a grandfather taking his kids to a stream to fish. These aspects of my work make it rewarding, because a lot of people can benefit.”
Photos Courtesy of Olivia Magni ’18