Time really flies by, when you’re having fun! My first few weeks working with HAF and US Fish and Wildlife have been eye-opening and I believe the beginning of a transformative experience. Before this fellowship, I had begun to believe that crucial opportunities were beyond my reach, that I was underqualified, inexperienced, and too dependent to start a real job. During my first few days I met with many experienced professionals that were kind and courteous to me and taught me a great deal about remote sensing and working for the Fish and Wildlife Service. It has given me a big boost of confidence and renewed my thoughts that someone like me, a young Latina woman can make it in the agency and the environmental fields.
Maps, maps, and more maps! A lot of my work is mapping whether it’s locations of wells and wildlife refuges, different types of terrain, elevation, and natural features. I do most of my work in mapping software like ArcGIS, where I can input and manipulate features like elevation, run transformations, and analyze data. Our end goal is to identify undetected and abandoned wells in national wildlife refuges (which is different to national parks in that there is limited public access for wilderness conservation). These wells could be leaking their contents like dangerous methane into the atmosphere contributing to air pollution and degrading the ecosystems of the refuges. We are going to use machine and deep learning to find abandoned wells, though it’s a bit more complicated than asking Siri or Google to do it.
First, and foremost we, being me, my partner Remote Sensing Fellow, and our supervisor, had to prioritize which wildlife refuges to study as there are 47 in the FWS Southwest region. After meetings with refuge managers and wildlife biologists the first refuge I was assigned was Hagerman on the border of Texas and Oklahoma on Lake Tacoma. My first order of business was to create a world map in ArcGIS where I can zoom into Hagerman. Then I had to download the locations of different kinds of wells (oil, gas, etc.) of the county that the refuge is in, move into my map project and change the points to reflect their individual type.
Next, I downloaded the LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) imagery from the USGS website so I can make elevation and hillshade imagery and plot wells in the refuge. That way it gives the map more of textured, 3-D shape which makes it easier to visually identify wells on the map, notably the big jack pumps and its triangle-shaped head, which is what most people think of when the words well and oil come to mind. My next big task is to transform this imagery in order to analyze what type of terrain is best suited for a well based on historical well locations. I’ll tell you all about it next time!
Agency: Bureau of Land Management
Program: US Fish & Wildlife Service
Location: Southwest Regional Office