To me, hiking is the porridge of life. Whether too hot, too cold, too hard, or just right, I feel the cleanest when I’m on a mountain. I feel unhinged, unburdened, and alive. The oxygen is purer, the scenery more beautiful, and my thoughts travel outward as well as inward. Choosing to become a wildlife biologist, really, was no accident. A career centered on the outside world, where I can hike in untamed places and address unanswered questions- now that is an adventure. As a scientist, I’m logical, critical, investigative, but at the heart of those traits lies insatiable curiosity, clumsiness, and an eagerness to learn more, do more, see more. So I hike.
I hike for work. As I write this I’m on a break from my research in northern California, which focuses on habitat use in Pacific martens. Look them up, they’re awesome. As are most things in nature. I grew up around a family farm in North Carolina, where my interest in nature and wildlife were born from hours alone in the woods, playing in creeks, catching frogs, and watching critters of many species interact. Fortunately, I had terribly impressive female role models- my mother is forged of autonomy, determination, and unrelenting good humor, and she always encouraged me to be a first rate version of myself. During my undergrad, a study abroad program in Queensland, Australia introduced me to surfing (I’m terrible at it) and wildlife conservation. My desire to study and learn about the natural world evolved into an interest in landscape ecology, habitat conservation, and wildlife genetics, so I accepted a job in northwest Montana chasing bobcats. I got paid to hike in one of the most remote parts of the country, in the Last Best Place, and study bobcat diet, ecology, and energetics. It was heaven, and I was hooked.
As a wildlife biologist I focus on population structure, habitat use, and conservation threats to wildlife. I don’t consider myself a specialist, but if you pushed me I’d classify myself as a landscape geneticist, conservation biologist, and sponge- I love to learn. My job involves everything from anesthetizing wildlife to cataloging tiny test tubes. It can sometimes be dangerous- I guess I like that a little- but it’s also complex and requires awareness, creativity, and discernment. I have worked all over the country on bears, bobcats, foxes, coyotes, wolverines, fishers, martens, salamanders, turtles, snakes, and lizards, and I've been fortunate to see a lot of beautiful, rugged places in the process. Biologists hike a lot, but we also swim, climb, curse, write, ski, snowmobile, and run in the pursuit of science. These are among the many reasons I’m proud to be a wildlife biologist. I love science and wildlife research, but I also love the physical challenge associated with the adventure. Wildlife biologists are some of the craziest athletes I know, and there are countless men and women I look up to and admire in this field.
The community among wildlife biologists is very special, but the women I’ve encountered in my research and education are some of the toughest, most intelligent, most badass humans out there. I am honored to play among them because they are funny, kind, know where all the good breweries are, and keep me going when I think I can’t. Wading into the female outdoor community has been a wonderful choice, both personally and professionally, as these people make fast friends and represent the integrity, personal challenge, and accomplishment that I want for all women, especially young girls. I’m proud to be a scientist, but I’m also proud to be a woman. This makes being a woman scientist especially awesome, and my goal is to illustrate that we are all strong enough, smart enough, and adventurous enough in our own right. As a wildlife biologist, I work hard to promote science, show that wildlife are important, and encourage others to get out there and attack their goals, which makes No Man’s Land a phenomenal platform on which to grow, speak, and yes, hike.