Wildlife Biologist. Owner, Wildlife Specialists and Remote Intelligence.
Even as the chill of a late winter’s night creeped into his jacket, the result of an intermittent breeze along a snow-strewn field, Merlin Benner, ‘87, knew he was right where he belonged.
The muffled crunch of hoof on snow in the distance greeted his ears, as a white-tailed deer made its way across Unity College campus.
He was tracking them for a school research project with Professor Terry Bowyer, testing whether white-tailed deer in Maine used particular woody species for rubbing, and comparing the physical characteristics of plants they rubbed with those available. Their research was published in the Journal of Mammalogy, Volume 69, Issue 3, on August 30, 1988 — and Merlin’s name appeared first.
“My education was very focused on what Unity does well: environmental science. It was a good atmosphere to really learn in a practical way. To get experience in my field,” Merlin said. “There was a real, genuine care for conservation at Unity. Not just to benefit wildlife, but to benefit people.”
Nowadays, Merlin runs his own businesses: Wildlife Specialists, a natural resource consulting company, and Remote Intelligence, an aerial systems company that provides high resolution imaging, integrated mapping, and unmanned aerial surveys. After 15 years as a Wildlife Biologist for Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, he saw an opportunity to apply his skills in a private environment. He had done a lot of manned aircraft surveys in his previous professions and thought “if we could fly slow and lower we could do better imagery.” He was right.
Merlin said he runs into other Unity alumni constantly in the wildlife field — even in Pennsylvania. A lot of the ones he has met are working as environmental biologists at places like engineering companies, or consulting. For such a small school, Unity has had a big impact on his networking. People recognize the college name.
Before packing his bags and moving from his hometown in rural Northern Pennsylvania to the college, Merlin had never stepped foot on campus. He heard about Unity through his high school guidance counselor, who represented the school as having an incredibly strong wildlife program. After he applied, Merlin received a full tuition scholarship for all four years, and his fate was sealed.
Luckily, his guidance counselor had prepared him for the small campus, rural community and attendance of roughly 300 similarly-minded students.
“You got to know everyone,” he said. “It was nice. It wasn’t crowded at all. Very small class sizes. You got to learn a lot.”
“I’m content with my life and Unity was a big part of it. I’m glad for it.”