Unique A&M-Kingsville Graduate Student Completes Two Research Projects For Master’s Thesis
KINGSVILLE - August 10, 2007
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Aaron Foley proves deafness doesn’t stand in his way
KINGSVILLE (August 10, 2007) — Even though Aaron Foley has worked with white-tailed deer for several years and spent time since his youth hunting, fishing and loving the outdoors, he has never heard the crack of a twig as a deer creeps through the underbrush or the splash of a fish as it breaks the water.
Foley, who was born deaf, just completed not one but two research projects on white-tailed deer on his way to a master’s degree in range and wildlife science at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. After receiving his degree today, Friday, Aug. 10, he will jump head first into continuing work on one of the projects on his way to his doctorate in wildlife science. His goal is to become a wildlife biologist or a research scientist.
Born in Virginia Beach, Foley moved with his family to a small rural town in western New York when he was 10. “After moving from the city to a rural town, I developed a big interest in the outdoors,” said Foley, now 27. “After graduating high school, I wasn’t sure which field I wanted to be in, but I knew I wanted to work in the outdoors.”
To this end, Foley went to Finger Lakes Community College and earned an associate’s degree in natural resources conservation. “The type of work associated with my AAS degree wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, so I transferred to State University of New York at Cobleskill and got my bachelor’s degree in wildlife management.”
To gain experience in the field, Foley worked for the New York Department of Health as a bat research technician the summer between his junior and senior years. After receiving his bachelor’s degree, he worked with the University of Georgia as a white-tailed deer research assistant. From there he worked as an upland bird technician for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and as a sage grouse research technician for the University of Nevada-Reno.
It was then that fate stepped in with a little help from Texas A&M University listserv. That is where he discovered the open graduate assistant position at A&M-Kingsville. “During the time I spent in the field, I really enjoyed working with white-tailed deer, so I applied for the position and was accepted.”
While most graduate students research and write only one master’s paper, Foley completed two entire, but related, projects and presented both to his thesis committee with the assistance of a sign language interpreter.
“I decided to do two projects so I could have a diverse resume and the opportunity to decide what aspect of wildlife management I wanted to focus on,” he said.
To make his life a little easier, both projects were conduced on two ranches near Carrizo Springs, the Comanche and Faith Ranches. His first project, Evaluation of Spotlight Counts and Camera Surveys on Censusing White-tailed Deer Populations, determined which method, spotlight counts or camera surveys, was most accurate.
“I conducted spotlight surveys in 12 different high-fenced enclosures of about 200 acres each. There were six enclosures on each ranch. Each had two enclosures each of low, medium and high density populations,” Foley said. “One of each density groups was given supplemental food. This set up gave me the opportunity to compare the census methods across variable densities.”
Foley said his results indicated that camera surveys were more accurate than spotlight counts and that adult sex ratios and high deer densities may have influenced the results of camera surveys.
His results of his second project, Effects of Density and Supplemental Feeding on White-tailed Buck Breeding Success, showed that mature bucks do most of the breeding across all density levels.
Foley will continue the breeding study for his doctoral research. “In addition to continuing the breeding study, I will determine if there is a correlation between breeding success and buck movements,” he said. “This research will be conducted on the King Ranch. I will use GPS radio-collars to record buck movements from November to February. I will then capture fawns to obtain DNA samples to determine if the collared bucks sired fawns and if so, how many.”
Dr. Charles DeYoung, research scientist at Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, was Foley’s advisor for his master’s projects. “Aaron is a very upbeat person with a good sense of humor,” DeYoung said. “He is a hard-working student who always tried to be thorough in his work.”
DeYoung said Foley did a good job of presenting his research on the deer census at the annual meeting of the Southeast Deer Study Group in Ocean City, Maryland. “He presents by standing in front of the conference and signing to an interpreter with a microphone.”
Foley does speak somewhat, and said, “some folks understand me pretty well and some folks have no clue what I’m saying.”
He uses sign language interpreters for classes, meetings and other times there are multiple people involved. “I am pretty good at lip reading and use it frequently to converse with other people, but it is difficult for me to lip read when there are multiple speakers,” Foley said. “If there is a misunderstanding, I resort to paper and pencil when an interpreter isn’t available. I know that if I was not able to lip read, I would not be where I am right now.”
In his line of work, Foley finds himself in the field a lot. Does he ever feel at risk because he can’t hear? “I think my lack of hearing has enhanced my ability to pick off movements. I am rarely startled by animals because I am seeking them in the first place.”
Although, there was one time, Foley said, he saw a big buck about 100 yards away, coming his way. He was hidden behind a tree and he assumed the buck would follow the deer trail about 20 yards in front of him. “After waiting for quite some time, I wondered where that buck was so I looked on the left side of the tree and didn’t see anything. I looked on the right side of the tree and there he was, about 10 feet away. He startled me and I startled him. He ran about 20 yards and stopped as if he was trying to figure out what had just happened.”
Foley had help with expenses related to earning a master’s degree. He received a $3,000 scholarship about a year ago from the Houston Safari Club.
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