Conserve Wildlife Blog

Women & Wildlife 2019 Inspiration Award Honoree Gretchen Fowles

October 16th, 2019

Gretchen and Fly, the ENSP sniffer dog who helps track rare wildlife.

Join us to honor Gretchen and the four other 2019 Women & Wildlife Award Honorees on Wednesday, November 13th at 6 PM. Purchase events tickets and find more information.

Gretchen has been a biologist/GIS Specialist with NJ’s Endangered & Nongame Species Program (ENSP) for the past 15 years. She grew up in western Massachusetts, received a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Carleton College in Minnesota, and spent her summers while in college as a wilderness ranger in Wyoming and assisting with black bear research in North Carolina. After living in Oregon and Vermont for a few years, working as a vet tech and volunteering for conservation organizations among other things, she then went on to earn a Master’s degree in Wildlife Ecology from Idaho State University studying bighorn sheep.

Within ENSP, her roles have included serving as administrator of Biotics, the state’s rare species database, developing GIS species distribution modeling, leading Allegheny woodrat and bobcat research, spearheading the CHANJ project, and serving as detection dog handler previously to Bear, and now to the program’s new canine sniffer, Fly.

We asked Gretchen a few questions about what inspires her to dedicate her career to New Jersey’s conservation:

Q: What has been a highlight of your career?

A: Developing the Connecting Habitat Across New Jersey (CHANJ) project, which was released this past spring. It has been incredibly rewarding to work on a project from the conception of the idea several years ago all the way to its completion (at least the first version of it), and now working on the challenge of implementing solutions on the ground. It feels good to believe in the project today as much, if not more, than I did on day one. I have the tremendous privilege of getting to work with smart, dedicated, and talented co-leads, Brian Zarate and MacKenzie Hall, as well as many government, NGO, and academic partners and citizen scientists across the state all of whom are passionate about this issue of reconnecting our landscape.

 Q: What is your favorite thing about your job?

A: The support and freedom within my program to try different approaches to create solutions; the smart and passionate people I work with every day and continually meet, and of course all (well most . . .) of what comes with being a wildlife biologist even if it often means dealing with poop and dead things!  I think my 15 year old self would approve.

Q: Do you have a New Jersey wildlife species that you like best? 

No, they’re all so cool in their own way.  I do wish I could rename woodrats.

Q: What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who wants to change the world for wildlife?

I’m trying to figure this out myself!  What I do know is that there’s a whole lot to be said for persistence and hard work, continuous learning, and seeking out the creative thinkers and doers with whom to partner and share ideas.  Also, focusing efforts on creating and maintaining a well-connected landscape has been increasingly identified as a key strategy for protecting biodiversity and enabling wildlife to adapt to climate change.

Q: What do you find most challenging about your profession?

Remaining optimistic when there are so many negative forces to contend with, but it’s absolutely essential to remain optimistic. 

Q: What are your favorite things to do when you aren’t working?

Adventuring with my family, gardening, tossing a frisbee.

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