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Sheldon Owen

Sheldon in the field


I’m working up at Fort Drum looking at some of the applied management aspects of how to limit risk of Lyme Disease, one of the tickborne diseases, to not only our military personnel but their families. We’re conducting research at a military base, but these tools can be applied in any type of urban/suburban situation to mitigate the risk of contacting ticks and then contracting Lyme Disease.

I’m also looking at some pollinator habitat initiatives, trying to increase pollinator habitats across the state to help conserve the monarch butterfly, which is in significant decline and has the potential of being listed as an endangered species.

West Virginia is blessed with a good number of deer. Sometimes they come in conflict with the landowners of the state of West Virginia, so we’re looking at ways we can mitigate some of that damage across the landscape.

If you weren’t working at WVU, what’s the most likely alternative?

Prior to coming to WVU, I worked for USDA Wildlife Services. I was part of their Wildlife Disease Program, so we did a lot of work trying to understand disease spread and disease outbreaks. I would love to go back and do some type of fieldwork like that. I love being in the field working with animals, but I love working with the landowners of West Virginia and helping them meet their wildlife management goals. It would be somewhere I would be getting my fingers dirty in the field and working in that applied aspect of wildlife management.

Moment you knew what you wanted to study?

Growing up, I was always outdoors so I always wanted to do something with the natural world. I worked with game species at Michigan State, but I wanted to get away from that with my master's research so I went with a non-game species in looking at bat communities. I think bats would be my favorite animal if I had to choose. I think working through my master's degree really showed me that I wanted to work with bats and continue to work with them.

Moment you knew your current role was right for you?

Prior to coming here, the program for which I worked was basically unfunded, so I knew that the time was right to move because my job no longer existed. Fortunately, this job came open. I enjoy working with landowners, and I think that’s the mission of the Extension Service, you know, connecting university research and projects done here on campus with the citizens of the state. I think it was a natural fit for me, helping spread the word of wildlife management across the state. It’s exciting, especially the applied aspect of extension service and the applied aspect of a land grant university. And this kind of gets me out of the classroom. I’m not confined with 60 to 80 kids here on campus, but I get to talk to landowners all over.

Favorite part of social distancing?

I think being at home with my wife and two girls. We’re playing games and stuff in the evenings that we normally didn’t have time to do. I think the fact that life had to slow down a little bit was definitely my favorite part of this. I’ve gotten to enjoy my family a whole lot more.

Least favorite part of social distancing?

Trying to schedule my Zoom meetings and my wife’s Zoom meetings and my two daughters’ Zoom classrooms all at the same time because I’m normally the one who gets kicked off my meeting.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

The quick answer would probably be Southeast Asia because of the food. I’ve gotten to travel there and work on a couple different projects with avian influenza. The biological diversity is phenomenal, but the food is also phenomenal! I’m a big fan of coconut, and in Cambodia, everything had a coconut undertone to it. But I don’t want to be pinned down anywhere; I just want to go wherever the wildlife are to see and explore new things.

Just for Fun

Favorite book: Hot Zone by Richard Preston

Favorite movie/tv show—Braveheart

Favorite Spotify playlist/band/song—Dave Matthews Band, G. Love & Special Sauce

Favorite local restaurant—Volcano

Favorite local activity—Hiking and hunting, recording frog calls with my wife for virtual 4-H camps