I have a Ph.D. student looking at wetland water quality throughout West Virginia. We’re using this information to basically come up with water quality standards. Right now all states are supposed to have water quality standards for all water bodies. We’re pretty good with streams, and most states are. Wetlands, though, are lacking in most states in terms of water quality because it’s a little more difficult to figure out. So we’re collecting data to try to come up with some information to assist with West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection with developing these water quality standards.
I’ve got a master’s student who’s working on snapping turtles and painted turtles primarily in Preston County in Upper Deckers Creek, looking at habitat associations and movement. The part I’m most excited about is evaluating contaminant levels of different heavy metals like mercury and lead to see if that’s potentially an issue and how surrounding land use influences those levels.
I also have a master’s student who is collecting data on small mammal communities and wetlands to see how created wetlands compare to natural wetlands.
If you weren't working at WVU, what's the most likely alternative?
If I weren’t at a university, I think I’d like to work at a national wildlife refuge as a manager or wildlife biologist. I think it would be really fun to manage a property. Most refuges are really large - we’re talking like tens of thousands of acres - so lots of land to get out on and explore. There’s lots of different experiences, so everyday you’re doing something different.
Moment you knew what you wanted to do?
I grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. So I knew that I wanted to work with animals pretty much since I was seven or eight. We had a wetland on the farm, and we had these American toads and they’d be calling like crazy after a big rainfall in the spring. I’d go out with a five gallon bucket, and I'd collect all these toads and put them in the cattle trough. And they’d all escape, and the next day, they’d be out in the wetland calling again.
I didn’t know there was such a thing as a wildlife biologist at that point in my life, so I thought I wanted to be a forest ranger because I knew that was a position. When I got to high school, my guidance counselor said, “Well, there’s a degree. There are majors, there are careers as a wildlife biologist.” And I said, “Yeah, that’s exactly what I want.” I pretty much knew what I wanted to do since I was seven or eight years old. I just didn’t know it existed.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I’ve done a lot of traveling. I really like the Caribbean. Beliz would be a nice place to live. There are lots of wetlands there, lots of cool species to work on, and the climate is great. I worked on a crocodile project there, and there are lots of water birds in the estuarine wetlands. It’s just a nice place and a little bit slower pace.
Favorite part of social distancing?
I live in Preston County, so I usually have a little bit of a commute. I’ve enjoyed not having to make that commute every day. I’ve got extra time. Now I can decompress by working in my garden or going for a run on the trail. It’s given me a lot more time to take care of myself.
Least favorite part of social distancing?
When you teach in person it’s kind of energizing, and I feel good afterward. But when you’re on Zoom, it’s more draining versus energizing. It's a completely different energy vibe.
Just for Fun
Favorite book: Anything by C.J. Box
Favorite movie/tv show: Hell on Wheels
Favorite Spotify playlist/band/song: Eddie Money, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson
Favorite local activity: Bow hunting for deer, duck hunting, pheasant hunting with my yellow lab, gardening and running on the rail trail with him in the summer