Summer 2009

Working Life

Jerry Bartelt MS’77, Wildlife Ecology

Jerry Bartelt

As chief of the wildlife and forestry research section of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Bartelt’s charge was to provide the best possible science to guide the state’s natural-resource policies. In 15 years on the job, he and his team tackled large-scale problems such as dealing with chronic wasting disease in deer and identifying sustainable farming practices that support wildlife and the environment. Bartelt recently took a two-year leave to lead the writing of a new DNR handbook on ecosystem-management planning. He credits CALS for instilling a sense of pragmatism that guides his approach to his work.

Matt Becker BS’96, Wildlife Ecology, Entomology, Biological Aspects of Conservation

Matt Becker

Becker is chief executive officer of the African Wild Dog Conservation Trust, where he is working to save the second-most endangered carnivore in Africa. Only 2,000 to 5,000 of the dogs remain in the wild, primarily in protected reserves, but Becker’s organization is working to preserve the species and its habitat through research, community education and cooperative conservation efforts. He’s pursued alliances with the World Wildlife Fund and authorities in Zambia, where many of the dogs survive. This isn’t Becker’s first work with endangered species: Prior to going to Africa, he studied gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park.

David Blehert PhD’99, Bacteriology

David Blehert

Along with fellow CALS alumnus Dave Redell (see story, The Dark Night), Blehert is engaged in the scientific quest to understand white-nose syndrome, the skin infection that has killed more than 1 million bats in the northeastern United States since 2007. Blehert is head of the diagnostic microbiology lab at the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center, where his team recently identified a new species of fungus that causes the skin infection that is a hallmark of white-nose syndrome. They are now running more tests to determine conclusively if the fungus is behind the disease and how prevalent it is in the environment. The USGS facility monitors the emergence and spread of other wildlife infections, as well, including avian flu and the West Nile virus.

Carin Christensen BS’96, Recreation Resources Management

Christensen is a wilderness ranger in the largest national forest in the United States, the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest. Covering most of southeastern Alaska, the reserve encompasses the world’s largest temperate rainforest and Alaska’s famous Inside Passage between the mainland and coastal islands. Christensen works on a variety of projects to balance the multiple uses of the forest’s resources, including planting and maintaining lichen to monitor air quality. When she’s not busy working in the Tongass, Christensen performs in a folk band called the Western Hemlock Society.

Lance Craighead MS’77, Wildlife Ecology

Lance Craighead

Craighead is a third-generation naturalist who serves as president of the Craighead Environmental Research Institute, a nonprofit conservation and wildlife research organization founded by his father. CERI works to show people that they can coexist with wild ecosystems by building scientifically grounded, site-specific conservation plans in partnership with local stakeholders. Although Craighead has worked with myriad creatures during his career, including marine life in Fiji and Western Samoa, tigers in Nepal and sea birds in Alaska, he fell in love with the grizzly bear while pursuing his Ph.D. These giants inspired him to write a popular book on the bears of the world.

Kathy Firchow BS’81, Wildlife Ecology

Kathy Firchow

Firchow is the owner of Wildlife Consulting Services in Lander, Wyoming, which she operates with her husband, a fellow CALS alum and biologist. They assist organizations with development projects on public lands to ensure that wildlife and habitat are protected. A lover of the outdoors, Firchow is glad her work continues to keep her interacting with wildlife in the field and seeing firsthand the impact of her efforts. Before founding the firm, she worked as a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, managing species from songbirds to bighorn sheep.

Jim Harris BS’74, Agricultural Journalism

Harris served as president and CEO of the International Crane Foundation until 2006, when he stepped down to spend more time on conservation projects overseas. Now a vice president for the organization, he is particularly focused on projects in China, where six of the country’s eight crane species are threatened by human development pressures. Harris believes that a narrow view of conservation too often pits people and wildlife in conflict. His work focuses on communicating the local benefits of conservation, allowing stakeholders to become allies.

Sarah Knox BS’03, Wildlife Ecology

Sarah Knox

Knox works for Colorado State University’s Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands, but you won’t find her in the Rockies. Her home base is the U.S. Army’s 130,000-acre Pohakuloa Training Area on the island of Hawaii, where she works as a wildlife coordinator. Her role is to survey and monitor protected species that live on the remote area, such as the Hawaiian hoary bat and the dark-rumped petrel. Recently Knox planned and initiated a fencing project to keep out feral mammals that eat native plants and prevent native habitat from regenerating.

Erin Muths BS’86, Wildlife Ecology

Erin Muths

After earning her degree from CALS, Muths went on to study kangaroo rats for her master’s degree and then kangaroos for her Ph.D. Her current work continues the hopping theme: At the U.S. Geological Survey in Fort Collins, Colorado, Muths studies the ecology and population dynamics of chorus frogs and boreal toads, both endangered in the state. Sadly, that’s not a rare condition for amphibians—nearly one-third of the world’s more than 6,000 amphibian species are threatened with extinction. Muths’ work helps to understand the role of disease in amphibian populations, offering hope for bringing these fragile populations back from the brink.

Eduardo Santana Castellón BS’79 MS’85 PhD’00, Wildlife Ecology

After earning his master’s degree, Santana Castellón went to the University of Guadalajara in Jalisco, Mexico, where he championed the creation of the Sierra de Manantlán Biosphere Reserve. Considered one of the most significant conservation areas in Latin America, the reserve harbors an amazing richness of life found few other places in the world, including a species of wild corn that was believed to have gone extinct. After completing his Ph.D. on the dynamics of bird communities in western Mexico’s cloud forests, Santana Castellón returned to the University of Guadalajara as part of its faculty, where he has received national and international distinctions for his conservation work.

Mike Wallace MS’83 PhD’85, Wildlife Ecology

Mike Wallace

As a wildlife scientist in the Institute for Conservation Research at the San Diego Zoo, Wallace coordinates the California Condor Recovery Program in Baja, California. This program reintroduces captive-bred condors to the wild and manages the state’s population of the giant birds, which face a critical risk of extinction in the wild because of habitat destruction, poaching and lead poisoning. As recently as 1982, only 23 wild condors remained, but through efforts such as Wallace’s, more than 170 birds have been successfully reintroduced to the wild. Wallace hopes one day to reestablish California condors across their native range of California and Mexico.

Jim Wesson PhD’80, Veterinary Science

In the Chesapeake Bay, Wesson is leading an innovative project to restore the one of the bay’s signature features: oysters. Troubled by environmental pollution, oysters filter water and create niches for other aquatic species to thrive, making them a key link in the bay’s ecosystem. As part of the Virginia Marine Commission’s Division of Fisheries Management, Wesson led a project to construct artificial reefs to help re-establish the shellfish. Young oysters are raised for a year and then transplanted onto the reefs by volunteers. Wesson was spurred to action in part by personal history. He grew up in a family of commercial blue-crab fishermen and had seen the effects of declining oyster populations firsthand.

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