For BYU Ph.D. graduate Steve Bates, the popular tune “Home on the Range” hits close to home. Since 1999, Bates has worked as the wildlife manager at Antelope Island State Park in Utah, and he knows a thing or two about the land “where the buffalo roam.” He’s accustomed to the dazzling sunrises and picturesque settings the island offers – and he’s dedicated much of his life to researching, preserving and protecting the wildlife living there.
Bates’ passion for wildlife stretches back to his childhood years, where he fondly recalls spending summers living in the mountains and working with his father, the game manager for Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources.
“That’s where I developed a love for the outdoors and for all creatures,” he said. “I knew then that I wanted to be a wildlife biologist.”
After more than 20 years working on the island, Bates didn’t see himself going back to school, but after reflecting on President Gordon B. Hinckley’s counsel to “get all the education you possibly can,” the decision to enroll in BYU’s Wildlife and Wildlands Conservation Ph.D. program was an easy one.
“I got to the point in my career where I couldn’t answer questions about wildlife on the island without more research,” said Bates. “Professor [Randy] Larsen at BYU suggested that it was my time for a Ph.D., and I jumped in.”
Bates’ Ph.D. research has studied the effects of open access days on habitat use and movement patterns of the Antelope Island wildlife. But that’s not the only research he’s involved in – he’s also actively assisting and mentoring other students in their research on the island.
At the beginning of his time at Antelope Island, Bates set a goal to increase wildlife research by inviting local university professors and their students to the island to study the wildlife. One of the first professors Bates invited was BYU plant and wildlife professor Randy Larsen.
Thanks to that generous offer, many BYU students have now passed through the island and researched a broad range of topics, including the effects of trails on wildlife movement patterns, wildlife population control and lambing habitat, coyotes, and water usage.
“There have been some long, grueling days of research on the island,” said Bates as he recalled one experience hiking to a remote location under the scorching summer sun with students to complete vegetative analysis. “But I’ve had so many good experiences talking with these young people, and seeing where they’re headed and what they’re going to do is rewarding.”
With a doctorate degree in tow, Bates says he doesn’t have any plans to slow down just yet – though he is looking forward to more time on his tractor.
“There’s still a lot to do. We’ve got so many data that there will be more opportunities to publish more papers. I’ll continue working with professors in bringing students out here for more research. But for myself, I’ll ride the tractor a bit more.”