conservation map

June 22, 2024

Vincennes University conservation law enforcement students have planned a way to make a real impact on nature and the local community.

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.

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“These students 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 generations.

Wolves caught on camera.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 funding sources.


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.

Deer caught on camera.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 in CONSERVATION LAW ENFORCEMENT.

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.