College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
Environmental Science & Policy

Katie Nicolato (Land Use, 2012) explores new territories

Photo Credit: 
Katie Nicolato

Katie Nicolato is one of three ENSP alumni currently working in Alaska, all of them working in some capacity with the National Park Service; and two of them as field technicians supporting on-going research programs.  In particular, Katie lives in the Alaskan bush community of King Salmon and works as a biological science technician for Katmai National Park and Preserve.

Katmai National Park and Preserve is a remote and wild 4.3 million acre wilderness located on the Alaskan Peninsula, and home to one of the highest density brown bear populations on the planet. Originally established as a national monument to protect the site of the biggest volcanic eruption of the 20th century, Katmai is famous for its active volcanoes, incredible geologic and cultural history, spectacular salmon runs, and world-famous brown bears, pictured here on the Park Bear-cam.  In fact, the iconic pictures of bears at a waterfall catching salmon in mid-air are taken here, at Katmai's Brooks Falls.  

Katie works on Katmai's rugged eastern coast, pictured above, where bears concentrate to feed in sedge meadows while visitors fly in each day to view them. There, she utilizes her ENSP-Land Use degree and GIS skills as the primary data processor for a study on the relationship between Katmai's coastal brown bears and human presence.  

Each summer, Katie and the Park's coastal biologist set up time-lapse cameras at several locations overlooking prime bear habitat.  The cameras take photos throughout the summer while Katie makes trips into the field to maintain them.  Using ArcMap and other software, Katie examines the photos in the office, digitizing bears, humans, and man-made objects while georeferencing the images and recording temporal information about each one. Density maps are created during analysis that show where bears congregate in relation to visitor presence, ranger presence, time of day, and tide stage. Park staff uses this information to better manage bear viewing practices and operations for the good of both the wildlife and the visitors.

When she’s not processing bear data, Katie also surveys bird mortality with the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (, collects and manages Trimble-based backcountry impacts data for areas throughout the Park, conducts visitor surveys of backcountry anglers and rafters, and stages marine debris surveys and clean ups on the Pacific coast. In her free time, Katie plays fiddle and guitar in an all-female band called Queen Salmon, performing at local establishments and community events around Bristol Bay.  

In the off-season, Katie is an Education Specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Alaska Peninsula and Becharof National Wildlife Refuges.  She makes week-long visits to remote bush villages on the Alaska Peninsula to teach Alaskan ecology, wildlife, paleontology, geography, meteorology, and outdoor skills at the village schools.  That's a whole different story -- keep up the adventuring, Katie!

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