Name: Bob Houston
Graduation Year: 1981
Degree: Certificate of completion “The Grassroots Project”
Current Hometown: Yarmouth, Maine
Employment: Senior Wildlife Biologist/GIS Specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Gulf of Maine Coastal Program, Falmouth, Maine
Can you tell us about your work with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service?
One of the most rewarding things I currently do at my job is help land trusts and state and federal agencies acquire money to protect land from development. We help these partners apply for habitat protection grants by giving them information about wildlife and habitat so they can make the best choices when looking for places to protect. Over the years, we have helped protect, in perpetuity, close to 2 million acres of land in Maine by helping partners acquire over 60 million dollars in habitat protection funds. That’s a good feeling to know that land will be out there, undeveloped forever for fish, wildlife and people too! I also do a lot of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) analysis and data management for a variety of habitat protection and restoration projects for many species of plants and animals, including New England Cottontail and many species of seabirds. GIS is an ever-changing and developing science and I enjoy the challenges and rewards it offers.
How did Sterling influence your current career path?
I went to Sterling for my senior year of high school and it helped me decide that I wanted to pursue an education and career in conservation and natural resource management. Before Sterling, I knew I liked being outdoors and I knew conservation was important to me. When a Grassroots Graduate from my school (Kraig Lang) came back and gave a career talk, I went home at the end of the day, put the Sterling catalog on our kitchen table and told my parents that this looked like the perfect place for me. My one year at the Grassroots Project solidified my desire to work in the environmental conservation field, gave me a good working knowledge of ecology, conservation and many aspects of forestry and wildlife management. It instilled a solid work ethic and problem-solving skills that I feel have been very beneficial in my career and personal life. I owe a big thanks to the incredible Sterling faculty and the lifelong friendships I developed there, for helping to get me on the rewarding path I took from there.
What is your most memorable “out in the field” story?
I have been very fortunate to work with wonderful colleagues on a variety of conservation and research projects that have included many species of waterfowl in Maine, Chesapeake Bay, upstate New York and North Dakota. I’ve worked on oil spills in Maine, Delaware and the Gulf of Mexico; seabirds on the coast of Maine. I’ve worked on trail crews and as a wilderness ranger in the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness Area (a direct result of Sterling!). All have been fantastic experiences but some of my fondest memories are working with a small upland shorebird in Maine, the American woodcock, also affectionately called the timberdoodle or bogsucker. We had many methods to catch woodcock for population research purposes but my favorite was nightlighting. On the darkest, wettest, moon-free rainy nights, from about 10 at night until 3 in the morning we would go out in the fields of Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in crews of 4 or more. We would walk the fields systematically back and forth with long-handled nets and spotlights. Or ride on the front of jeeps, nets and spotlight in hand. When we would see a woodcock on the ground in the beam of light, we would run and dive at it to try to catch it with the net or even with our bare hands. These were generally not graceful or elegant dives! It was fun hard work and usually ended up with many laughs and stories afterwards of the ones that were caught and the ones that got away.
Any words of wisdom for current Sterling students?
During your education and career pursuits, take advantage of all that your teachers and mentors have to offer. Respectfully ask them thoughtful questions, get the facts from them, and get their opinions on things that matter. With effective one-on-one interpersonal interactions, there are so many things to learn from others. Take what you learn to help develop your own personal purpose, a mantra, a passion, and work hard to pursue it.
Wow, maybe that was a little too deep or preachy. Just – do good, be kind.