Featured Scientist

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  • August 2, 2017

A woman and three men work under pine trees near a waterway
A woman in uniform and two men stand under pines near a river
A female hunter poses in dry grass with the deer she killed

Hailey Marie Harrell is an Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) environmental scientist working as part of the Northern Field Response Team. She graduated from the University of California, Davis, in 2013, with a double major in Plant Biology and English.

Hailey was initially hired as a scientific aid for CDFW’s Habitat Conservation Planning Branch’s Native Plant Program. There, she had the opportunity to do field work with skilled botanists on some of California’s most sensitive plants, conduct census surveys and issue California Endangered Species Act scientific collection permits. She promoted to a permanent role with OSPR in 2016, and has been immersed in the world of oil spill prevention and response ever since.

A relative newcomer to CDFW in terms of job tenure, Hailey has a very fresh perspective on working as an OSPR environmental scientist.

Who or what inspired your love of natural resources?

I’ve spent countless hours in the woods and along waters of this state and I have observed many wonderful and fascinating things within them. I was raised by avid hunters and fishermen who instilled in me an admiration of our truly beautiful natural resources. They hammered home the importance of conservation and taught me to take care to leave places as good as, if not better, than I found them.

How did you come to work for CDFW?

I chose to study plants instead of animals when I got to college because they were a form of life I knew very little about. I was encouraged by a few professors who liked my writing style to take English courses while in college because it is rare to find someone who loves science and also enjoys writing. They saw me as a bridge between technical information and the layperson.

After college, I took a job as a technical writer for a privately contracted aerospace and defense company. After several months, I had learned all the ins and outs of the position and no longer felt challenged. I spent every minute of every 40-hour workweek sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen. In the small bits of time I could manage, I took every opportunity to network with people that were already working in various natural resource agencies. Through these interactions, I got to know some great employees of CDFW who gave me advice and let me do some volunteer work to gain experience for my resume. I eventually landed a scientific aid position with CDFW’s Native Plant Program where I learned my way around the intricacies of state service as I assisted in surveying some of California’s amazing threatened and endangered plant species and issued permits for their protection.

Why did you change your focus from native plants to oil spill response?

I didn’t know if I could love a job as much as the one I had with the Native Plant Program, but knew I couldn’t stay a scientific aid forever so I applied for environmental scientist positions. The OSPR position I have now was the only one of many applications I submitted that gave me a call back. I went into my interview knowing nothing about OSPR except what I had scrambled to learn about it before the interview. I was ecstatic, but at the time had no idea how truly lucky I would be to be offered this position.

Was there a tough learning curve?

The learning curve when joining OSPR was very steep, initially. I think the most challenging aspect was figuring out all the acronyms that are used. In working with the Native Plant Program I scrambled to learn the intricacies of working for a government agency, but the language itself was straightforward because I was exposed to plant terminology throughout college. OSPR was a whole different ball game. For example, it took some time just for me to realize that they were saying “T and E” species (referring to threatened and endangered wildlife) instead of “teeny” species. I would hear the question, “Were any teeny species impacted by the spill?” and would quietly wonder why they were only concerned with little organisms.

In your new position at OSPR, what are your typical duties?

As a first responder to petroleum spills, I work with a wide variety of our state’s natural resources and travel to many beautiful places across California. I get to work closely with our game wardens, the U.S. Coast Guard, private industry and other local, state and federal government agencies. At some spills, I will be the first person on scene and will have to convey my initial findings to my team to determine what level of response we will need to resolve the issue. Sometimes I will be on my own to resolve the issue, sometimes there will be a small group of us working together and sometimes there will be a large contingency of federal, state and local agencies involved to help resolve the incident. Each incident has a unique set of obstacles that need to be overcome. I fill whatever role is necessary to help get the job done as quickly as possible.

This job is also full of surprises. Few days are the same as a first responder to petroleum spills. One minute you think you’ll be in the office all day and the next minute you’re in the car driving to the coast to walk the shorelines and look for oil, or responding to a sunken vessel, or getting to the scene of a truck crash, etc. Weird reports sometimes come in that challenge your knowledge and your strategies for managing problems. It is hard to get bored, and that is one of the many things I love about it.

What has been the most exciting or enjoyable aspect of working at OSPR for you so far?

I think that the most exciting part of the job has to be emergency response. When you go on call you never really know what kind of spills you are going to get. When you get a report of a spill that warrants a response you generally know where you need to go, but there’s almost always some ambiguity regarding what you are going to find. I love working in a position where there’s so much variety.

The networking, training and interagency collaboration are equally enjoyable aspects of the job. For example, one of my first oil spill drills played out a scenario at an oil refinery in San Pablo Bay. It was a large drill with key representatives from the refinery, government agencies, county hazmat, etc. No more than a month later, there was a response to that very same refinery and almost all of those key players I met at the drill were in the command post during a real event. It felt like déjà vu being there and seeing everyone again. It helped put into perspective just how important it is to practice with drills and meet the key players that will be involved during real spills. It builds trust and understanding between those parties involved and helps to demonstrate that we are all working towards a common goal.

You’re still early in your career. Where do you think you will be, professionally speaking, in five years, or 20 years?

I can really see myself sticking with OSPR for the long hall through to retirement. From discussions with friends and family, this really is a unique and amazing position I am in that is unlike any they have heard of before. I need variety to keep myself content and OSPR certainly has that.

Any advice for people considering careers in science or natural resources?

Having a job where I could contribute to prolonging our natural resources and get out in the outdoors to enjoy them as much as possible has been a dream I did not know I would achieve, but that was my goal and I fought for it. You may have to scrape by and do things that you don’t want to for a while (maybe even a long while), but if you have enthusiasm, determination and a true love of conserving our natural resources, keep working towards your goals. Talk to people, volunteer your time and keep climbing the ladder. Eventually, if you remain persistent, you will find yourself somewhere you never thought you’d be, with a job that you can’t imagine being without.

Categories: Featured Scientist
  • May 24, 2017

woman in fish and wildlife uniform selects small instruments from backpack

Vicky Monroe is an environmental scientist with the Wildlife Management Branch in CDFW’s Central Region. Based in Bakersfield, she is the unit wildlife biologist for Kern County. Her work has included resource assessment surveys of deer, elk, pronghorn, upland game birds and San Joaquin kit foxes by vehicle, fixed-wing airplane and helicopter. She has captured black bears, elk and kit foxes and assisted with deer captures. Other critical aspects of her work include addressing the human-dimensions of wildlife management and wildlife conflicts, providing technical expertise and assistance and educating the public.

Vicky earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology with an emphasis in Animal Behavior and a Minor in Biology from Colorado State University. She also earned a Master’s degree in Zoology from James Cook University in Queensland, Australia and is currently pursuing a graduate certificate in Environmental Conflict Resolution and Collaboration from George Mason University in Virginia.

What is a typical day like for you at work?

That depends on the time of year. During the spring, summer and fall, I have a steadily increasing volume of resource assessments, wildlife conflicts, phone calls, emails, meetings, office work, field responses, and sometimes extensive travel throughout the county. Kern County, at 8,100 square miles, is larger than many states. When I am in the field, the diversity of calls that I may respond to never ceases to amaze and thrill me.

In one week in my first year, I provided field responses from the Mojave to Maricopa, agricultural to oil fields, and throughout the Sierra Nevada and Transverse mountain ranges. I responded to calls regarding an injured condor, human-black bear conflicts, mountain lion depredation, urban kit foxes and desert tortoises, and conducted an elk calf capture. I also work closely with our wildlife officers, Natural Resources Volunteer Program participants, non-governmental organizations and local, state and federal government staff.

My relative slow season lasts about two to three months each winter. During that time I respond to emails and phone calls from the public, work to better organize file documents and reports and update data files. It is a good time to strategically assess wildlife management and conservation priorities, provide outreach to stakeholders and maintain and strengthen working relationships.

What is the most rewarding project that you’ve worked on for CDFW?

One of the most challenging, rewarding and unexpected “projects” that I’ve worked on for CDFW occurred my first year (2014) managing Kern County, and it was not so much a project as a call to action! Kern was experiencing an unprecedented increase in reported black bear activity, sightings, depredation and wildlife conflicts due in part to extreme drought. Some of us jokingly called it “Bearmageddon” and it certainly made for an intense year or two. Department wildlife officers and I captured and relocated numerous bears from Bakersfield and other areas. My two most unusual field responses were for multiple bears wandering into Bakersfield city limits in a single 12-hour period, and the night capture of a sow and cub stuck in a solar panel facility in Boron.

Providing increased public information, community outreach, media response and “Bear Aware” public meetings were a critical component of our strategy to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts and to educate and serve the public. CDFW’s Office of Communications, Education and Outreach staff was instrumental in supporting this effort. It was rewarding to collaborate so effectively to transform human-bear conflicts into an opportunity to empower residents with greater knowledge about wildlife, our department’s mission and values, responsible stewardship and co-existence.

What is most challenging about working with wildlife?

Probably the knowledge of the profound responsibility we have to each animal with which we come into contact. With each field response or capture effort, we become stewards of that individual animal. Its life is literally in our hands and it is difficult knowing that we cannot control every condition in the field. Whether capturing black bears in the desert, kit foxes in the city, elk in an enclosure or deer in the mountains, the focus, intensity and level of preparation remain the same. As biologists, we are armed with the expertise and experience to respond where others may not. That responsibility is not to be taken lightly. Another major challenge is balancing people’s expectations about when a field response, intervention or capture effort is necessary versus inappropriate.

What is the most challenging aspect of your career as an environmental scientist?

Trying “to do it all” in a 40-hour work week. As a unit wildlife biologist, I am on the front line and often in the public eye. It can be challenging to address everything that comes my way in the order and manner in which I would like to address things. Another challenging aspect is serving members of the public through education and outreach in a manner that empowers them to co-exist with wildlife, drives science-based management and conservation and balances the expectations people may have about how wildlife “should” act or behave.

If you had free reign and unlimited funding, what scientific project would you most like to do?

There are almost too many areas of scientific interest, management and conservation to narrow the scope. Kern County has the most diverse range of habitats of any county in the state; it is a remarkable place. I would love to conduct a study to assess genetics, disease, predation, fecundity (reproductive rates and success) and recruitment (fawn survival) of migratory and resident deer herds. I would love to conduct a study to assess genetics, survival, mortality and disease impacts on mountain lions and black bears. A study on the abundance, fecundity, and mortality of lesser studied species or species of special concern in Kern, such as fishers, would also be valuable. In particular, conducting a study to further assess genetics, disease impacts and mortality of the urban kit fox population in Bakersfield would be incredible. Really, I would love to do it all… I guess I would need a whole stable of research scientists on my team!

Any advice for people considering careers in science or natural resources?

Be bold, be serious, be focused, and never lose faith that you can end up exactly where you were meant to be with a career in science or natural resources. Serving as a professional scientist (such as a wildlife biologist) is a true calling, and the path is not always direct or clear. Do not limit yourself -- be open to pursuing different opportunities and unique experiences and never stop trying to gain new skills, diversify your skill set and cultivate deeper expertise. Remember that a college degree is critical and an advanced degree is valuable, although not vital. And finally, taking initiative is non-negotiable. Do not be passive. Show a willingness to acquire experience (either paid or volunteer) as readily as you attain your education, rather than waiting to graduate with a degree and then hoping to find career-relevant work. Building a career is a lifetime process, a journey, and no one can start it for you except you.

Categories: Featured Scientist
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