by Tom Parisi
“Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe is rolling out the “stinky carpet” for NIU research associate Kristin Stanford.
Many might recall that Stanford’s work was featured a year ago on Discovery Channel’s popular “Dirty Jobs” program. As part of her work toward a Ph.D. in biology at NIU, Stanford lives in Put-in-Bay, Ohio, serving as recovery plan coordinator for the endangered Lake Erie Water Snake – a dirty, smelly creature that has a tendency to bite.
In fact, millions of Discovery Channel viewers watched as one of the snakes took a chomp out of Rowe when he stepped into Stanford’s work boots for a day.
Viewers later voted the episode among their all-time favorites. And Stanford was invited to San Francisco for taping of the program’s “150th Dirty Job Extravaganza,” which will air at 8 p.m. (Central Standard Time) Tuesday on Discovery Channel.
The program also will be re-broadcast several times during the week.
While the nature of her job makes for good prime-time TV, Stanford’s work is really all about conservation. She has worked in Put-in-Bay for eight years under the tutelage of NIU Biology Professor Rich King, who began monitoring the snake population more than 25 years ago.
Over the years, more than a dozen NIU students have worked with King, and their research ultimately contributed to a decision in 1999 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the snake as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Since that time, King’s work has been supported by more than $600,000 in grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife. And the recovery efforts are making astounding gains.
By King’s estimates, the snake population has grown from as few as 1,000 in the early 1980s to 7,000 today.
“The ‘Dirty Jobs’ episode was a great way to have some fun while casting the snake in a more positive light,” King says. “Outreach and education have been key components of the Lake Erie Water Snake recovery. It’s important to create an open attitude toward organisms that aren’t necessarily popular or warm and fuzzy.”