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Plant Ecologist Loves Her Job, But Wouldn’t Mind A Little More Time In The Office
Multi-Year Project To Drive Texas Back Roads, Update Plant Database Considered Vital for Wildlife Habitat Conservation
AUSTIN, Texas — Sometimes, Amie Treuer-Keuhn misses the office.
As a plant ecologist who collects field data for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Treuer-Kuehn spends almost all of her time in the field. Her days are mostly occupied by long drives across Texas, with occasional stops to collect samples, make notes and take pictures of the vegetation along the roadside.
"I travel Monday through Friday around the state collecting plant data from county roadsides and public land," she said. "I also identify plant species and plant communities. When I am on the road I typically work a 12-or 14-hour day. I usually leave the hotel around 7 a.m. and work until 5 or 6 p.m. collecting data. Then I spend a couple more hours at the hotel, proofing my data and identifying plant species I collected earlier in the day."
As Treuer-Keuhn proceeds along the roadways, she stops at every mile to collect data from two points: one on each side of the road. She notes the GPS location, takes photographs of the plant communities there, and identifies the dominant plant species in each vegetation strata (trees, shrubs, or herbs). She enters all of this information into a rugged laptop that she carries with her. A typical day can involve between 50 and 300 miles of travel — last year, she traveled more than 25,000 miles.
Treuer-Kuehn’s work is integral to long-term conservation strategies like the Texas Wildlife Action Plan: Mapping Texas’ vegetation is among the plan’s top priorities. According to the Texas Wildlife Action Plan summary, "Texas conservation biology planners are using vegetation data that are outdated and not specific enough. It is important that we re-evaluate the current status of our vegetation data and begin to ‘remap’ the state using the most current and applicable technology." The plan strategy and outline is available online. The Texas Wildlife Action Plan is required for Texas to continue to receive millions of dollars per year in federal State Wildlife Grants funding. Eventually, conservation plans from each state will be merged to create a national conservation strategy.
The data that Treuer-Kuehn collects is sent to land managers, who use it to update maps of plant and animal habitats and species and coordinate conservation efforts. In the process, they update, verify and add additional precision to vegetation and habitat maps that are based on satellite imagery and aerial photography. The data is also made available to the public online.
"For years, we worked with a standard vegetation map that was based on 10 regions," said Matt Wagner, the program’s director of wildlife diversity. "Amie gathers more detailed data based on what’s actually on the ground."
The hardest part of the job, Treuer-Kuehn says, is being away from her family.
"I am out of town, normally," she said. "Being away from my husband and dogs is probably the hardest thing. But I get to meet interesting people, visit interesting places, and do work that I love."
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