Natural Resource Policy Fellowship with the Department of Land Conservation and Development

Posted on Behalf of Nick Tealer

I have truly enjoyed my experience at DLCD so far. We have been extremely busy with public engagement meetings, Commission meetings, state agency collaboration, and so much more! It is encouraging to see this many people passionate about conserving our oceans and protecting vital habitat for threatened/vulnerable species.

While there have been many highlights in my 4 months here, I can say that my experience in Florence was the pinnacle. Every fall and spring, the OCMP Team meets with Coastal City/County Planners to help inform them about legislative developments, agency developments, and other information helpful to urban planning in the coastal zone. The amount of enthusiasm and ingenuity at those engagement hearings were great to see, and be a part of. In that same trip, the OCMP team was able to explore the Heceta Head Lighthouse, and the Florence Dunes. While I have been in Oregon for three years, this was one of my first trips to the south coast, and I truly enjoyed learning about this region’s history.

Florence Dunes in the morning. Photo by Nick Tealer

The relationships I have made throughout this experience have been fantastic. The staff has been extremely accommodating and welcoming to me, as well as other state agency officials that I have had the pleasure of contacting. Ranging from DEQ to ODFW, my experience in coordinating with other state officials has been rewarding. I hope that this trend will continue as I become more experienced in the field of marine policy and habitat conservation.

Beach next to Heceta Head where we had burritos on the beach. Photo by Nick Tealer

Cat Dayger meets Collaborative Independence in Salem

Welcome to the first blog post of the 2016-2017 Oregon Sea Grant Natural Resources Policy Fellow! It feels like an impressive title compared to PhD student, the hat I’ve been wearing for the past 5 years. Basically everything about this fellowship is different from what I experienced as a full-time PhD student and I find that I can’t stop marveling at the contrasts.

For one thing, I have a regular schedule. My husband has heard me say a million times “Science waits for no one” to explain why I unexpectedly needed to stay late at the lab, work weekends, and go into the lab early in the morning.

An imposing building to work in to go with my imposing - maybe just long - title.

An imposing building to work in to go with my imposing – maybe just long – title.

Bench science – experiments in a lab – often take more or less (ha! never!) time than expected, which means making plans with friends and family are constantly derailed or postponed. Now, as a Policy Fellow working in the Governor’s office, my schedule is largely confined to regular business hours. There are holidays! I find the more predictable schedule refreshing.

For another, I am surrounded by colleagues excelling in the career I see for myself pursuing. I knew fairly early on in my PhD career that I was not interested in a career in academia, at least not at an institution primarily focused on research. I love doing bench science and field work, and I love the teaching and mentoring I’ve done, but the prospect of packing grant writing and academic service on committees around research and teaching only fills me with dread rather than excitement. I find that I am inspired and focused in ways I haven’t felt in a while because I’m immersed in the field I’m most interested in. I guess I’m also relieved to feel like I’ve made the right choice.

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The State of Oregon coffee (tea) cup I bought the first day at the Capitol.

Not everything is so different though. I still work primarily independently, at least so far. I spend some time working as part of a team on projects with tight deadlines, which I’ve always perversely found enjoyable. And I still drink tea almost constantly at my desk. How do people live without hot drinks?

One of the unexpected surprises of my first few weeks has been the commute to Salem, OR. I was dreading it, frankly, but I’ve been riding the Amtrak train and watching the sunrise over the farm fields recalls to me the time I spent driving through corn fields to feed horses and go to horse shows early in the morning when I lived in Michigan and Illinois. It seems I still have a soft spot

The tumble of morning glories on my walk to work.

The tumble of morning glories on my walk to work.

for early mornings in rural America. I’m also enjoying exploring Salem itself on my lunch breaks. I keep finding this beauty out of the blue that stops me, literally, in my tracks.

I don’t have much to report on the actual work I’m doing yet. I’m still getting on all the right people’s radar so they know I’m the person to contact about ocean and coastal issues. Today, I look forward to attending the Oregon Shellfish Task Force meeting where they will finalize their recommendations to the legislature. I’ve been hearing about the progress of Shellfish Task Force for more than a year from Kessina Lee, my predecessor and PSU Biology colleague, so it’s exciting to see the product of all that work.

Next time, I hope to be able to outline the projects I’ll be working on and maybe highlight some of the neat architecture and sculpture I get to walk by every day working around the Oregon State Capitol.

 

 

Field Trip

On a recent sunny day, not long after my fellowship began, I found myself waist-deep in a pit of pondwater by the side of the highway.  It was a good place to be. I was spending the day—three days, in fact—at the Miami wetlands restoration site, about fifteen minutes north of the city of Tillamook and just east of Highway 101. Over the past few years, TEP has been working to transform this site from an unused property riddled with ditches and dominated by invasive weeds to a lush wetland. We—me; Scott, TEP’s project manager; Tracy, an environmental consultant; and Katherine, a botanist working for The Nature Conservancy— were there to check up on the willows, elderberry, spruce, alder, cottonwood, twinberry, slough sedge, and other native species that TEP had planted the previous winter and several years before. Although the site is by no means free of invasives—reed canary grass, for example, swayed above my head at many of the sites we surveyed, even when I wasn’t sunk in a hole—TEP’s restoration work is giving native species a chance to take over and turn things around.

This isn’t part of my typical day as a Sea Grant Natural Resources Policy fellow at the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership in Garibaldi. Usually, I’m in the office, working on the update and revision of the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan. What does that look like exactly on a day-to-day basis? Well, that’s something I’m still figuring out. The original CCMP came out in 1999, so the first step is to gather as much existing information as I can about what has happened in the intervening 15 years. That means combing through TEP’s internal documents, talking to staff, and reaching out to the dozens of agencies that TEP partners with.

But it’s fun to get out of the office, and also really valuable to see some of the projects I’ll be writing about. Hopefully I was of some help—I don’t have the plant ID skills that Scott, Katherine, and Tracy have, so I assigned myself the role of pack mule, quadrat-assembler, and picture-taker.  I also made a pretty fantastic human flag pole, if I do say so myself.

Whatever help I was, I certainly learned a lot. I can now identify dozens of plants I would have only vaguely recognized before. I also learned that I have a wicked allergy to reed canary grass. Two tabs of Claritin later, my head cleared enough for me to think about the distinction between working in a ‘wetland’ rather than working in an ‘estuary.’ Despite the “E” in “TEP”, most of this organization’s habitat restoration projects take place on the banks of rivers, in marshes, and in wetlands. It’s not false advertising—those kinds of habitats are vital to the health of the estuary. Because of my experience working in mudflats, my understanding of estuaries before joining TEP was pretty literal: they are bodies of water where ocean water and freshwater meet and mix. But for those interested in protecting them, estuaries are inseparable from the rivers that feed into them and the marshy margins that surround them. Estuarine health is wetland health is riparian health is watershed health.

Or, anyway, that’s what I told myself as I was I scrambling out of that mucky, waist-deep hole. Thank goodness it’s there.