Not All Who Wander Are Lost: Adventurous Native of Driftless Area, Iowa, Knows Where He Is Going
By Amanda Smith, public affairs officer, Columbia-Pacific Northwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Blogger’s note: People power conservation and this series is to shine a spotlight on some of the folks working hard to protect the nature of America. Tyler Porter, a biologist for our Partners for Fish and Wildlife & Coastal programs in Washington State, has worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for six years and shares his story with us.
How did you become interested in conservation or the work that you do?
I originally hail from the Driftless Area of northeast Iowa, where I spent much of my young life hunting, fishing, and exploring the countryside. I quickly developed a fondness for nature and being outdoors.
Whether I was splitting wood with my grandfather, caring for our family’s small sheep herd, or simply playing in the timber with neighborhood friends, I loved being outside and the positive emotions that came with it.
I became an environmental science major at the University of Dubuque (UD), a very small academic institution in Dubuque, Iowa. This is where everything came together for me. It was during the summer of 2012, in the heart of my undergraduate career, when I assisted in a project to monitor local trout populations and stream health that I truly became set on a career in conservation. During that same summer, I was able to support numerous other undergraduate research projects pertaining to bats, turtles, rodents, and soil and water quality, which only compounded my passion for conservation and working outdoors. After graduating from UD, I went on to work various temporary field jobs to make myself a more well-rounded candidate for graduate school and to gain experience for my career in conservation.
How did you find your way to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service?
In a sense, the Service found me. After completing my bachelor’s degree in environmental science and working in the “real world” for a couple of years, I accepted a graduate school offer at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. I then moved south to complete my master’s degree in biology while studying bats. During my time in Louisiana, when I wasn’t in the classroom as a student or a teaching assistant, I was working on my master’s research on the nearby Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge.
While I was moonlighting as a bat biologist at night (no pun intended!) for my thesis field work, I was also volunteering on the refuge during the day to assist with all sorts of refuge operations and activities. When a Pathways internship opened at the refuge, I threw my name into the hat and was eventually selected for the position. For the next 18 months, I was given the awesome opportunity to work at Felsenthal and many of the neighboring refuges in all sorts of roles.
It was during this period that I came to understand what it meant to be a public servant and how truly special a career with the Service was. I knew this was the path I needed to be on.
I completed my Pathways appointment and eventually landed at the Illinois — Iowa Ecological Services Office where I obtained permanent employment with the Service.
What do you do at the Service?
I have the unique privilege of working under both the Partners for Fish and Wildlife and Coastal Programs. These programs implement voluntary conservation and restoration outside of our Service-managed lands through partnerships with private landowners, state and federal entities, and non-governmental organizations. My primary duties are to implement restoration and conservation in the North Puget Sound of Washington for our federal trust resources while building and maintaining diverse partnerships to further conservation in this corner of the world. My favorite aspect of my position is the diversity of people that I get to work and coordinate with regularly.
The Service is not an island, and we can’t do our work alone. Our resources, knowledge, and expertise are only pieces in the colossal conservation puzzle.
The fish, wildlife, and habitats we work so hard to protect are of great importance to everyone within the Service and beyond, but what really gets conservation done is people. The close-knit partnerships we create with colleagues, within and outside of the Service, are what truly move the needle forward in the realm of conservation to accomplish great feats. The people aspect is the most crucial component of my position!
As a close second, one of the most alluring aspects of my position is the diversity of duties that I have that keeps my day-to-day interesting. On a given day, I might be meeting with a private landowner to discuss a potential restoration project on their property. The next day, I might be participating on a biological survey, and the following day, I might be taking a ferry across the Puget Sound to complete monitoring on a past restoration project. Every day is different!
Which National Wildlife Refuge is your favorite?
This is an easy one for me: Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge, located in southeast Arkansas, holds a very special place in my heart because it is where I held my very first position with the Service. Whether I was cruising the timber checking feral hog traps, climbing 60 feet up a loblolly pine tree to monitor red-cockaded woodpecker cavities, or sitting in a blind at 4:00 am getting poked by mosquitoes and waiting for wood ducks to come to our rocket net, I was in complete and utter personal paradise.
I look back on my time exploring the piney woods and soggy bottomland forests of the 65,000-acre refuge with fondness, and I still find myself missing not only the refuge but the awesome staff who took me in as one of their own and made sure I was supported and constantly developing as a professional.
What advice do you have for someone interested in a career in conservation, public service, and/or with the Service?
Have a good attitude. This seems like a very straightforward, broad piece of advice, but it truly goes such a long way in today’s world. It’d be easy to simply point someone to a specific degree or academic program and say, “here’s what you have to do.”
I feel that someone going out of their way to gain a vast array of experiences and taking challenges head-on is what sets someone apart from others.
Don’t be afraid to take chances, accept new projects/assignments, move to new places, and expand your horizons in any way possible.