Heather McKenny

Wildlife Biologist - Bureau of Land Management

B.S. Biology, M.S. Forestry


What attracted you to your chosen field?

I am interested in how populations of both plants and animals respond to anthropogenic changes in their environment, and how we can apply this understanding to restore ecosystems and manage our resources in a sustainable fashion. One of my responsibilities is working on a well-funded, 10 million acre restoration effort of sagebrush habitat in the Great Basin. This project allows me to collaborate with some exception public and private groups.

What do you like best about the field?

Developing habitat enhancement projects that will have long-term impacts on populations of bats. These projects allow me to collaborate with state agencies and private conservation groups. I also like the challenge of developing inventory and monitoring projects. Hiking to the top of a mountain to inventory relic conifer stands or springs isn't half bad either.

What are some personal challenges you have faced in your field?

In my office, a small staff on a very tight budget, mange over 3.6 million acres of public lands for an agency with a multi-use mandate. Over 1 million acres of these lands are in federally designated critical habitat for the threatened desert tortoise. We are swamped with projects such as grazing lease renewals, mineral extractions, right-of-ways to develop public lands, and development of energy corridors. Because of the volume of projects, and the level of controversy surrounding some of these projects, I rarely get to spend time inventorying and monitoring our resources, or developing habitat enhancement projects.

What does the future hold for your chosen field?

Budgets continue to get tighter. As a result, many positions within federal agencies remain vacant. However, actions on federal lands cannot be approved without analyzing the biological impacts, and many federal employees are reaching retirement age. As this population retires opportunities should exist for new biologists entering the field

What things can students do to prepare for a career in this field?

Get some research experience during your undergraduate career. The most valuable experience I had as an undergrad was conducting a research project. I had to find an interested faculty member, develop a project, write a grant, conduct the research, and write up the results in a paper that I presented in an oral seminar. Undergraduate research teaches you valuable professional skills and looks great on a resume. Take a good writing course. Most of my time is spent writing and researching issues. Apply for an internship.