18 June 2021

Not Salty About It

Written by: Hannah Field

Starting my time as a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Directorate Fellow with the Southwest Region of Division of Water Resources has been smoother than a jar of creamy peanut butter. The words ‘gratitude’, ‘growth’, and ‘belonging’ are some of the first words that flash into my mind when I gaze back on the last month of working with such a stellar group of scientists. My supervisors have provided me ample resources, plenty of their time, and facilitated numerous connections with others in The Service to ensure that I have remained on a trajectory to work effectively through my project’s objectives. It is also evident that they are here to make sure I am getting as much value out of the experience as possible, especially as I learn new data processing skills in ArcGIS Pro and R. This supportive nature of the work has really fostered the sense of belonging to part of a team, which is a new and much welcomed feeling (and unexpected, especially because I am working remotely!). 

Not only has my team been excellent, I have also found my work incredibly fulfilling. Working in the sphere of western water resources has been a long time aspiration of mine and I feel incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to dip my toes into this type of work with such a neat project. I am working with the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Oklahoma, an incredibly important site for migratory birds, such as the endangered Whooping Crane (the tallest bird in North America!) and the threatened Snowy Plover. The Salt Plains NWR hosts a variety of critical habits, including roughly 13,000 acres of salt flats, 26,000 acres of classified wetlands, and 7,700 acres of open water (the Great Salt Plains Lake). These critical habitats have been impacted by changes in the amount of surface water and groundwater entering the Refuge, especially in the past two decades. The focus of my project is to investigate how human activities (like the increase in water usage by nearby oil and gas extraction operations) and climate may be influencing the water entering the habitats of the Salt Plains NWR. This project is an incredibly interesting example of how the energy sector, wildlife management, climate, and hydrology are all so intricately linked.

 Photo: Snowy Plovers and chicks at Salt Plain National Wildlife Refuge (credit: Glen Hensley; Snowy Plovers and chicks at Salt Plain National Wildlife Refuge (credit: Glen Hensley;

I am really excited about where this project will lead, especially since my team has also been very accommodating in building flexibility into the project. For example, I am hoping to incorporate a cultural component into the project and have a brief exploration into the history of the Salt Plains, particularly focused on the Indigenous Peoples that utilized the region for its many ecological functions before European colonization. This project has many avenues of exploration, and I am so grateful to be working with an engaging, helpful, and supportive group of people.  

Agency: Bureau of Land Management

Program: Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Program (COR)

Location: Alaska Office of Law Enforcement

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