NEWS

Updated: Jul 7

Because the ways in which we interact with our natural environment and with each other are interconnected.


Welcome to the Wildlifers' Blog, where we step into the world of our fellow wildlife professionals. The array of professional pathways in wildlife science and management is extensive. Not only that -- the Bay Area is a big region, with many diverse ecosystems, people, mirco-climates, and cultures! The goal here is to share experiences and interests among our members on a monthly basis, as a virtual option for low-pressure community engagement and fun. Any member of The Wildlife Society is welcome to participate. We've prepared some pretty simple template questions for you to work from, but please feel free to share more if you like! Please keep all language respectful.


Email TWSBayArea@gmail.com to be featured on the blog!




This month we are featuring Wildlifer, Rachel Roberts!


County Where you Live: Contra Costa

Profession: Wildlife Biologist, Mammalogist


What are you working on these days?

Tell us about a favorite project or a recent day in the field.


I am currently working for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) as a Senior Environmental Scientists Specialist and my focus is on bobcats. We have been legislatively mandated to produce a management plan for bobcats by 2025. We are currently in the data gathering phase, which means working with remote camera stations, collecting bobcat scats for fecal DNA analysis, and trapping and collaring cats.

Although there are many things about my job that I like, one of my most favorite projects is working with the remote camera stations. I've had many days in the field recently where I have found myself hiking to a remote location in a beautiful landscape in order to check camera stations that have been out for six weeks. I just feel so at home and at my most real self when I'm navigating cross-country with only my experience, instincts, and a good GPS app to guide me. Sometimes you set up a camera station in the perfect "catty" location and don't see anything exciting in the photos when you return. And other times, places that you didn't think would have cats at all, turn out to be packed full of bobcats. I really enjoy the remote camera portion of our bobcat research.

Obviously trapping and handling bobcats is a highlight of the job, but the most rewarding aspect of this part of the project has been working with the Regional CDFW bobcat crews. We have spent a lot of time collectively learning how to trap bobcats and what different methods work in different parts of the state. Each team has undertaken this task with a passion and fervor that proves what fantastic upcoming wildlife biologists we have coming up in this field.


What sparked your initial interest, and/or what has inspired you most in your career?


I've always wanted to work with animals and then making my way through college classes I realized that I wanted to work outside. The field classes that I took at San Jose State University (SJSU) are really where the sparks began to happen. Going into the field with my college cohort and incredible professors, I learned so much and that's when I was sure that I wanted to pursue wildlife biology. Then a little later my passion for mammals was solidified with my Mammalogy class and small mammal trapping.


What resources (and/or who) helped you get to where you are today?

Describe how your career has been enhanced by exposure to diverse people, places, or experiences. How could others, who may be trying to have a career like yours, take advantage of similar opportunities?


My professors at SJSU worked closely with the caretakers of the Canada de los Osos Ecological Reserve (CDLO) in Santa Clara County, one of the CDFW lands in the area. As such we spent a lot of time in our field classes going out and doing research and restoration activities at the Reserve. That experience led to my MS thesis research on bobcats at CDLO, which in turn led to my ending up in my current position. CDLO provided me with many of the resources that I needed to get through my graduate degree, and its caretakers and the regional CDFW staff continue to support our bobcat project.

Exposure to diverse people and places has enhanced my career through providing me with varying trials and experiences that have given me a diverse set of skills to pull from. I spent a lot of time volunteering, working for little pay and traveling away from home to seek these experiences and it was definitely worth it. I realize that my fortune at being able to do these things does not ring true for many younger scientists these days, but there is a lot to be said for volunteering at home in your community. Getting involved in local citizen science projects, working to care for your fellow humans, local wildlife, and their precious habitats, helping to clean a waterway, or participating in a BioBlitz or Christmas bird count are all great ways of gaining diverse experiences and making connections that could lead you to that next step in your path.


Where is one of your favorite places to play outside in the Bay Area?


Morgan Territory Regional Preserve


We used to live very near a trailhead going into Morgan Territory and I spent many years exploring the Preserve. I've had many wonderful experiences on that property and seen it change over the seasons and over the years, making it a very special place in my life.

We were exploring up on a rocky ridgeline one year when we came around a bend and ran smack into a nesting prairie falcon. The frightened bird chased us down the ridge, diving at our heads as we tried to climb through rocks as quickly as possible to get away. A breathtaking and frightening experience.

Another time we were out on a hike pretty far from home, in the early evening time. We were not hiking during the rainy season but there were huge gray clouds heading over us, which was a little confusing. Finally as we were making our way back to the trailhead but still about two miles from home, the clouds opened up and dumped hail. One side of the sky was clear blue and the other was gray and stormy. It hailed on us all the way until we got home. We were soaked and our little dog was so put out by having to run home in a hail storm. It was a fantastic experience!


A selfie photo with a person in the foreground, desert in the background, and mountains on the horizon.
Rachel Roberts checking remote camera stations at the Mojave National Preserve

Photo credit: Rachel Roberts.



A bobcat walking away from the camera, holding a rodent in its mouth.
A bobcat with its next meal.

Photo credit: Rachel Roberts.



Thank you, Rachel!


Would you like to be the next Wildlifer featured on the blog?

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Our board members take you to their favorite places on this Bay Area virtual field trip! Historian Mary Yan created this video from board member clips for the the 2021 Western Section TWS Conference to show some of the amazing, diverse places of the Bay Area. Hope you enjoy! Thank you Mary!


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Brooke Bessesen, marine biologist and author, came to speak with our chapter in Redwood City, California on February 2, 2019. Her book, “Vaquita: Science, Politics, and Crime in the Sea of Cortez,” an inspiring and honest read, came out in Fall 2018. I read the book and immediately contacted her on a whim. Bessesen graciously accepted an invitation to give a talk about vaquita, have a question and answer session, and provide a book signing.


The vaquita is the most endangered marine mammal in the world, and it is endemic to the Sea of Cortez in Baja, California. We are the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of The Wildlife Society, so this issue is far away from us, right? Nope. This is a local issue.


Gillnets, used to hunt the critically endangered fish, totoaba, are the main source of vaquita deaths. Totoaba are protected, and poaching occurs to collect their swim bladders. These swim bladders are dried and smuggled across the Mexican border to the U.S. Some swim bladders stay here in California, while the rest are shipped out via the Port of Los Angeles or the Port of San Francisco, where they are sent to China for “medicinal” use or in food. Without evidence, toroaba swim bladders have been used to treat everything from fertility to acne.


There are a lot of moving pieces in the story of the vaquita, and they are simply an unfortunate casualty in a story of greed and corruption. China, the Mexican cartel, and local fishermen, are all fighting against the Mexican Navy, biologists, non-profit organizations like the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Vaquita CPR, and Sea Shepherd Society. And this really only scratches at the surface of what Bessesen’s book goes into.


Add the complication that the vaquita is a porpoise that is extremely illusive, and prone to capture myopathy, which has meant that captive-breeding programs will not help the species. They die from capture stress. Bessesen shared this information with us, and more. What can we do? How can we help? Is it our responsibility? (To which, I follow with the question, how is it not?)


After the talk, question and answer session, book signing, and postcard writing to the Mexican president, every single person stayed in the room. We were all so in awe and so inspired that, as strangers, we all came together to brainstorm. What could we do to help? How can we make a difference? Know the facts. Raise awareness. Support eco-minded fishermen. Vote for protective laws. Be a compassionate consumer. Educate our locals, especially with our large Chinese population in the SF Bay Area. And so much more. Being in a room with so many people ready to stand up and help was incredibly moving.


However, I must say that the most poignant, powerful moment came when someone asked Bessesen about her drive to help the species. She told us that the author of a book about Yangtze river dolphin, or baiji, once said that the species went extinct when no one was looking. If the vaquita is going to go extinct, she wants the whole world watching.


No more turning a blind eye, no more pretending like there is nothing to be done. We started the year with about 30 vaquita remaining, it is April, and we may now be down to 12. World, are you watching?

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