As an EFTA intern in the Chugach National Forest, I will delve into the world of field biology. I also wanted to get to know the people I will be collaborating with daily at the Forest Service. Therefore, a handful of my posts will be a snapshot into the life of my supervisors and co-workers. We begin with…

Earlier this month, upon my arrival at the Cordova airport, I was met by a friendly face and bubbly personality. Melissa Gabrielson was ready to show me my temporary home and workplace. As my acting supervisor her official title is Wildlife Biologist, but she is much more. Coming from a farming community in Minnesota, Melissa fondly remembers how she became invested in conservation. After a visit from the Department of Natural Resources to her 2nd grade class she said, “I wanted to change the world. I was obsessed with wetlands. I wanted everyone to know about the importance of protecting wetlands.” As she got older she noticed the negative impacts of some commercial farming practices on the area. She wanted to make a difference so she pursued her undergrad and graduate education in Wildlife and Range (a.k.a. land management) at South Dakota State University.

As a Wildlife Biologist in the US Forest Service Chugach Cordova District, Melissa participates in multiple projects. She assesses the environmental effects of projects through the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). Through NEPA, Melissa is a liaison between her supervisor and staff members to make sure projects are following the proper guidelines. She proudly described herself as the “mother hen” who wants to make sure everyone is safe and everything is going according to plan. She said that the Chugach Cordova District is a diverse and dynamic program, “I’ve learned so much from tiny black slugs to big bears!”

Five years prior to working for the US Forest Service, Melissa was working for the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in the Yukon Delta. She surveyed seaduck populations such as the mysterious Spectacled Eider. She enjoyed working with one of her favorite birds!

I asked her what she recommends to an up-and-coming biologist like myself, and she said that I should work in a variety of places to figure out my likes and dislikes. She also referred to her own experience with the USFWS and Forest Service, “they’re two very different agencies. For Fish and Wildlife [USFWS], at least in the Yukon Delta, it was very focused on researching bird populations and you became an expert of your species. On the other hand, the Forest Service focuses on the species’ habitat and is land management oriented.” My interpretation is that each federal agency is a different piece from the same puzzle. They all collaborate through various means for the common goal of conservation. Once I pursue higher education in conservation I must consider whether I want to focus on species conservation, habitat conservation, or both.

Above is Melissa spending time with her plover buddy.

I (of course) asked her what her favorite bird was. As bird enthusiasts we can “geek out about birds” so we agreed this was a hard question. She says that her answer varies but she always comes back to the Spectacled Eider and Black Oystercatcher. She jokingly said, “I [also] like birds that have a mohawk like Cardinals and Steller’s Jays.” We also agreed they are freaking cool birds. After this interview I realized that it confirmed my excitement–I will be working with someone as awesome as her! I cannot wait to learn from her but also from the other staff members. I will interview them in the future for a snapshot profile, so keep an eye out!

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