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The Wildlifer's Blog ~ Post #3!

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 to be featured on the blog!


This month we are featuring Wildlifer, Maya Briones!

County Where you Live: Santa Clara

Profession: Advocacy Associate for Canopy, an urban forestry nonprofit

A person kneeling on a coastal path, smiling and holding a flower, with coastal vegetation and water in the background.
Maya's first time visiting Point Lobos in 2021


What are you working on these days?

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

I’m attempting to balance society's demands on people in my generation; I’m in graduate school developing my thesis, working part-time, and taking care of older family members while trying to have a little fun. Most days, this balance works well, and I can accomplish my tasks. I love learning, so even though going back to school meant I had to take a pay cut, I’m surrounded by extraordinary, exciting people that make it worth it. I’m in the data collection phase of my thesis, which is the best part. I’m looking at how avian species use stormwater retention basins and assessing what habitat value these green infrastructure systems provide. The quiet, chilly mornings observing bird behavior help me escape the busy, stressful culture I’m surrounded by. This past week, I was walking on my own, birding for pleasure rather than for my studies, when I saw one of my most sought-after species the other day; a male (and female) wood duck! It’s those exciting, small moments that continue to drive me forward.


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

When I was little, I used to say I wanted to be the “Latina Steve Irwin”. I wanted to work with

animals and teach people about nature's wonders. While some scientists may feel this is naïve, nature still invokes a sense of magic within me, just as it did when I was a kid. I love being in outdoors and simply observing what’s around me. I was born in San Jose, and the Bay Area has changed so much over my lifetime. This area feels tight and congested when it used to feel open and the natural world doesn’t feel like it’s cared about as much as it should be. I thrive on two passions: ecology and environmental justice. While seemingly different, these two fields are the core of who I am and summarize the worldview by which I live; that all life, human and nonhuman, deserve to live on a healthy planet. To live in harmony with

the natural world, we must also live in harmony with each other, repairing the injustices

committed by generations past and restoring our connection with nature. My experiences as a

student researcher, an urban forester, and a volunteer bioblitz and citizen science docent have taught me the crucial value and responsibility of involving the whole community in the planning and implementation of ecological projects. I hope to protect intact ecosystems and open spaces in the Bay Area and make them accessible and welcoming to all people.


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 parents raised us in a middle-class neighborhood next to a large “natural” park that contains one of the few remaining historic walnut orchards in San Jose. We are in South San Jose, where Coyote creek’s waters are still clean, and the riparian zones are strongly vegetated. Wildlife sightings are the norm. My neighborhood significantly shaped my passion for the outdoors and non-human beings. I was raised to love the outdoors both from living near so much ecological biodiversity as well as through my heritage. I’m second generation on my father’s side of the family and am very close to my immigrant grandparents. My oma was born and raised in Belitung, Indonesia, and moved to Holland at the end of World War II. My Abuelo was born and raised in Tamaulipas, Mexico. Interestingly enough, both of them love to cut down trees. They both see trees as extremely messy and prefer their perfect lawns. However, they are fascinated by wildlife, and together with my parents, we go to parks and other places to see animals. My mother’s family hails from Spain, and my Bisabuela had the most fantastic garden. Even at 92, she could remember the name of every plant in her garden. I love plants because of her influence and passion. As a whole, my family has supported me throughout my educational career, and I would have never known what

a beautiful world we live in or gone to college if it weren’t for them. Finally, I practice paganism, which is an earth-based religion, and my beliefs guide me toward environmental and social justice and the protection of our planet.


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

Alum Rock Park! The range of ecosystems and diversity of species is incredible, and even

though the park is in one of the most densely populated sides of San Jose, it feels like you’re

miles away from everything when you’re in the park.

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