Josh Bush is an environmental scientist with the Wildlife Management Program in CDFW’s North Central Region. Based in West Sacramento, he is the unit wildlife biologist for Colusa, Lake and Yolo counties. His work includes a multi-herd tule elk project, collared mule deer studies, coordinating the region’s land acquisitions, management of CDFW lands, and numerous resource assessment projects and surveys. He works primarily with elk, deer, bear, dove, pheasant, quail and turkey but dabbles with lions, bank swallows and Swainson’s hawks. His responsibilities include responding to human-wildlife conflicts and providing technical expertise to hunters and the public.
Josh earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology, with an emphasis in Wildlife Management, from the University of California, Davis in 2007. He started his CDFW career as a scientific aide in 2005, and worked his way up started his current position in 2011.
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist?
I have always been inspired by my dad, Mark Bush; my fondest memories are the many hunting and fishing trips we enjoyed together. My dad taught me everything he knew about wildlife, biology and the outdoors. He was a constant backstop for all my questions and never discouraged my asking them. After a long day in the field, I would come home and grab my taxonomy book to ID any animal we did not recognize. Those early trips evolved into an obsession with wildlife and progressed into a need to understand interactions between species and the role each played in the environment.
It was much later in college and after I arrived at CDFW that I learned that, you can apply science to the outdoors to help understand and ultimately help manage and create more of the wildlife that we all enjoy seeing. I strive to do this every day.
What is a typical work day like for you?
The only thing that is typical about my day it that is it is always unpredictable. I work mostly in my three counties but my job takes me all over the 17-county North Central Region. It’s a healthy balance of about 65 percent field work and 35 percent desk work. Field days are often 14-16 hours long with lots of overnights and varied tasks including setting camera traps, rescuing injured wildlife, visiting potential land acquisitions, running survey transects and capturing and collaring study animals. You could find me one day near Clear Lake tracking elk and then the next day in Lake Tahoe darting deer. Public phone calls and answering emails are a big and necessary part of the job. I like to start and end each week by clearing the phones and answering any emails that fieldwork prevented me from getting to. It is especially rewarding talking to hunters who are excited to get try their luck.
What is most challenging about working with wildlife?
The most challenging things are the hours that wildlife keep. I enjoy sleeping at night but wildlife can make that difficult. While I am still up early and out late to do portions of my job, science is evolving and remote cameras and satellite collars have made getting some normal shut-eye a little more possible.
What is your favorite species to interact with or study?
I have a soft spot for all animals but mule deer fascinate me – they are so hardy and able to live out their lives in some incredibly rough environments. There is nothing better than darting a mule deer, watching its migration via satellite and then picking up the collar after it is released. It is especially rewarding when you see an ear-tagged deer you collared years prior, knowing that it is still out there doing its thing.
What is the most rewarding project that you have worked on for CDFW?
I am currently working on it. I am the lead on a tule elk project in partnership with UC Davis and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. The project uses both collars and a non-invasive capture/recapture process that features DNA extracted from elk droppings to determine population levels, among other things, in the herds occupying Lake and Colusa counties. We just started year two of a four-year project but it is already the most rewarding and difficult thing I have worked on. This is the first project I have led and, while it is tough managing all aspects, it is rewarding to see the early results and to work with such dedicated people.
We are currently tracking 38 collared elk via satellite and just completed the first year of fecal-DNA collection, which had myself and UC Davis Ph.D. student Tom Batter hiking the interior Coast Range in 100 degree plus heat picking up elk poop. While not the most glamorous work, it is certainly rewarding!
If you had free reign and unlimited funding, what scientific project would you most like to do?
California’s Mediterranean climate is characterized by cold, wet winters, which can result in flooding, and hot dry summers, which can result in fires. My dream is to implement large-scale infrastructure projects that work with the climate-related ecology of California. Specifically, I would like to implement riparian setbacks and large wildland burn units as well as study and document the response from wildlife and the benefit to California. Last winter’s rainfall and flooding, as well as the unfortunate large-scale fires that followed, make these projects all the more important.
The Central Valley has lost a large majority of its riparian habitat since European contact. Riparian setbacks are a truly multi-benefit project. Setbacks could benefit flood control by slowing, sinking and spreading out water. They would also increase habitat for native wildlife and increase recreational opportunities for all. An excellent test case in benefit to recreation and wildlife is the Sacramento River. Above Colusa, the river is dynamic -- it meanders with gravel bars, cut banks and oxbows that are teeming with wildlife diversity. Downstream from Colusa the river is channelized with less habitat, wildlife, recreational opportunities and wildlife diversity.
Wildfire is a part of California, as years of suppression created unhealthy forests with high fuel loads, which lead to high intensity large-scale wildfires. These fires can be detrimental to urban areas, wildlife and wildlife habitat. Wildland burn units – large rotating wildland areas that are burned periodically on a rotational basis – can restore some of these native areas, increase the value to wildlife, habitat heterogeneity and fire safety at the wildland/urban interface.
Any advice for people considering careers in science or natural resources?
My advice is to embrace everything about your potential career. Show up early, leave late, volunteer, network, be available for the jobs others do not want to do. If you are a hunter, get to know the little fuzzy creatures or little brown birds you would normally overlook. If you do not hunt or fish, grab a fishing rod or take a hunter’s safety class and sign up for a CDFW-sponsored hunt. Be well-rounded and let your passion for the job be visible.
CDFW photos of Josh Bush