May 14, 2020
VINCENNES, Ind. – Vincennes University conservation law enforcement
students have planned a way to make a real impact on nature and the
For their semester-long project in a wildlife management course, they
collaborated on an assessment that could influence decision-makers on
how Robeson Hills could become a natural resource paradise.
Illinois Department of Natural Resources map
Located in Lawrence County, Illinois along the Wabash River that
separates Indiana and Illinois, Robeson Hills is a 545-acre outdoor
laboratory and environmental education site managed by VU that
includes a nature preserve. The area is across the river from the
Vincennes campus and is located on Robeson Hills, a prominent
topographic feature of the Wabash River bottomlands.
The natural resource management plan project was coordinated by VU
Conservation Law Enforcement Program Chair and Assistant Professor
Bill Browne, who worked as an Indiana conservation officer for more
than 30 years.
Bill Browne, VU Professor
learned a lot and have applied themselves very much, even during the
coronavirus, and rose up to the occasion,” Browne said. “Some of them
went above and beyond what the expectation was. The kids have blown me away.”
Forty-one students have assessed the natural resources at Robeson
Hills that currently exist (timber, wetlands, grasslands, fisheries,
wildlife, and soil) and made recommendations to improve the property,
make it more accessible, provide recreational opportunities, increase
the habitat for wildlife, manage the current population, and assure
the health and sustainability of the ecosystem for future
In the course of their research, students explored online resources.
They also contacted professionals at agencies such as the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and
Illinois Department of Natural Resources for advice and guidance. In
addition, they reached out to various personnel at multiple
universities and businesses.
As part of their plans, students were required to come up with
Brock McMorris, VU Student
“This project has been a great thing,” Conservation Law Major Brock
McMorris said. “This wasn’t just looking at a textbook. It was walking
around and being observant as what we could actually do to benefit
this property. I’ve hunted and fished my whole life. I’ve never really
looked at a piece of ground. The way we had to look at Robeson Hills.
That was a great opportunity for us as land managers. It put
perspective in my eyes of what I could be doing the rest of my life.”
College is the place where the classroom meets the real world and
this project is a perfect example of that. It is an incredible example
of the way VU students gain real-world experience in the community
where they study. They’ve developed an understanding of natural
resources, gained hands-on experience in tackling real-world problems,
and are seeing how their lives and work can make a real impact.
Briar Meadors, VU Student
“Even though conservation officers don’t manage the land, this
project did give me a good perspective on how scientists do manage the
land and gives me a better understanding of how that all works if I
was to be asked in the future,” said Conservation Law Enforcement
major Briar Meadors of Otwell, Indiana.
During the semester, the students made frequent visits to Robeson Hills.
Trail cameras captured images of coyotes and white-tailed deer. The
area is also home to wild turkey, waterfowl, red foxes, gray foxes,
raccoons, rabbits, skunks, squirrels, songbirds, hawks, and other animals.
Jake Metzler, VU Student
“Robeson is a really unique area,” Conservation Law major Jake
Metzler said. “A lot of Lawrence County is pretty flat, but then there
is Robeson Hills, which a lot of it is hills, hollers, and ravines.
It’s pretty much contained to itself, so geologically it’s pretty interesting.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the students were going to present
their natural resource plans to decision-makers in person at the end
of the semester. Browne said the process now is to submit the
recommendations in writing.
“This is going to better Robeson Hills,” said McMorris, who is from
Newton, Illinois. “There is a lot of potential. It’s going to help the
wildlife at Robeson Hills. I firmly believe if our management plans do
happen that this would benefit the school. You have biology majors.
You have conservation majors. You wouldn’t have to be in the classroom
all the time. You have a big area of people that would benefit for this.”
Browne is excited about what the future may hold.
“Hopefully future classes are going to be able to actually implement
these ideas, so kids will be able to actually watch some of these
plans come into fruition,” Browne said.
The project is an unbelievable opportunity for VU students. Metzler,
who is from Elkhart, Indiana, suggests their recommendations could
help the area transform into an incredible asset for VU programs,
students, and staff.
“If we could actually implement any of these plans, it would make me
feel great to know that I’ve actually changed that property,” Meadors
said. “I don’t think that’s any kind of opportunity that I’ll have in
my entire lifetime to be able to have input on that much property.”
VU is the only college in Indiana that offers an associate degree
Nearly 50 percent of candidates who have graduated from the Indiana
Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Recruit School are VU
alumni. The potential for conservation Law graduates is vast. There
are job opportunities in criminal justice, criminal law, criminology,
forensics, and many other areas.