Wildlife War­rior

From pre­serv­ing the ecosys­tem to study­ing bats, CREW bi­ol­o­gist Kath­leen Smith is al­ways up for a chal­lenge

Cape Coral Living - - DEPARTMENTS -

Wa­ter con­tin­ues to be a hot topic in South­west Florida. And Kath­leen Smith knows that’s an im­por­tant part of her work at the Corkscrew Re­gional Ecosys­tem Wa­ter­shed Wildlife and En­vi­ron­men­tal Area (CREW WEA), be­cause CREW is the largest in­tact wa­ter­shed in the re­gion. “It’s such an im­por­tant place for main­tain­ing our qual­ity of wa­ter,” she ex­plains. For the past seven years, Smith has worked at the CREW WEA as a fish­eries and wildlife bi­ol­o­gist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sion. Us­ing data gleaned from sur­veys and other re­search, she makes wildlife man­age­ment de­ci­sions at the 28,000-acre site that’s part of the 60,000-acre wa­ter­shed strad­dling Lee and Col­lier coun­ties. She also helps out with pre­scribed burns, hur­ri­cane cleanup and any other tasks needed to take care of the area, which is man­aged in co­op­er­a­tion with the South Florida Wa­ter Man­age­ment Dis­trict. Smith’s will­ing­ness to pick up a chain­saw or take a closer look at crea­tures big and small con­trib­uted to her be­ing named the Florida De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion’s 2018 “Re­source Man­ager of the Year.” Her su­per­vi­sor, Dan Mitchell, nom­i­nated her for the award. “I’ve worked with many dif­fer­ent bi­ol­o­gists through­out the state and at dif­fer­ent agen­cies, and she just ranks among the best of them,” says Mitchell, dis­trict bi­ol­o­gist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sion. “She’s just in­cred­i­bly ded­i­cated and hard­work­ing and re­ally has a pas­sion for the area on which she works. And be­yond be­ing a solid field bi­ol­o­gist and some­body you would want to be stranded in the field with, she’s just a gen­uinely good­hearted per­son. Ev­ery­body re­ally en­joys work­ing with her.” Colorado na­tive Smith, 39, first came to Florida after get­ting her master’s de­gree in wildlife bi­ol­ogy and ecol­ogy from Ok­la­homa State Univer­sity. She spent two years in a re­search fel­low­ship at Dis­ney’s An­i­mal King­dom, then started work­ing with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sion in 2007. She did stints at the Big Cy­press Wildlife Man­age­ment Area and Picayune Strand State For­est be­fore land­ing at the CREW WEA. Smith has worked on a va­ri­ety of projects there, in­clud­ing a years-long study of bon­neted bats that con­tin­ued work she started while at Picayune Strand State For­est. Over the years, she and other lo­cal sci­en­tists have done acous­ti­cal sur­veys, mist net­ting, tag­ging and other re­search work with the bon­neted bat pop­u­la­tions at both the CREW WEA and Bab­cock/Webb Wildlife Man­age­ment Area. Their find­ings have helped shed light on things such as colony dy­nam­ics and travel pat­terns. “I didn’t know any­thing about them be­fore I started, and learn­ing some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent is some­thing I’m al­ways in­ter­ested in,” notes Smith. “I think it’s fas­ci­nat­ing to study some­thing that we don’t re­ally come in con­tact with on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. Ev­ery year, we learn so much new in­for­ma­tion about them—which cer­tainly keeps my juices flow­ing and keeps the fire go­ing.” “She’s kind of a res­i­dent ex­pert down here,” adds Mitchell. “If any­body has any ques­tions or things they need to fig­ure out with bon­neted bats, Kath­leen’s the ‘go-to per­son.’ ” For the past six years, Smith has also been in­volved in sur­vey flights to mon­i­tor the nest­ing habits of great egrets, wood storks and other wad­ing birds. She also con­ducts bird sur­veys each spring and has sur­veyed the pop­ula-

One of her ma­jor goals? Help­ing the gen­eral pub­lic un­der­stand the im­por­tance of the place where she works and other nat­u­ral ar­eas like it.

tions of an­i­mals such as fox squir­rels, frogs and go­pher tor­toises, often to en­sure that hy­dro­log­i­cal restora­tion ef­forts don’t have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the crea­tures who live at the CREW WEA. “I’ve got a full plate, for sure,” she says. Mitchell states, “What re­ally shines through is that she gen­uinely cares about her work and what she’s do­ing for con­ser­va­tion through­out South­west Florida. She cares about the wildlife, the land and the peo­ple us­ing it.” And Smith main­tained that fo­cus over the course of a tough year dur­ing which Hur­ri­cane Irma dam­aged her em­ployee hous­ing. Mold is­sues re­quired her to move out and work re­motely for a pe­riod of time, and she was with­out stable elec­tric­ity at her hous­ing for months after the storm. “It did not slow her down one bit,” says Mitchell. Smith en­joys be­ing part of a big­ger team that in­cludes the wa­ter man­age­ment dis­trict and CREW Land & Wa­ter Trust, a non­profit con­ser­va­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion that works with both gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties. One of her ma­jor goals? Help­ing the gen­eral pub­lic un­der­stand the im­por­tance of the place where she works and other nat­u­ral ar­eas like it. “Get­ting chil­dren and adults to re­ally value what we value is a dif­fi­cult part of our so­ci­ety to­day,” she says. “It’s be­come harder for chil­dren to con­nect with wildlife and nat­u­ral ar­eas. CREW is such an im­por­tant place eco­log­i­cally for our re­gion. “I hope the award brings more no­to­ri­ety to CREW, and to all the ef­forts made not only by us but at all the nat­u­ral places in Florida and through­out the United States. It’s nice to high­light some of the re­source man­age­ment that we do, be­cause a lot of times it’s over­looked.”

Beth Lu­berecki is a Nokomis, Florida–based free­lance writer and reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to TOTI Me­dia. Learn more about her at beth­lu­berecki.com.

Smith (cen­ter) and her col­leagues have used bat-sniff­ing dogs to help study the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion of bon­neted bats.

Named 2018 Re­source Man­ager of the Year, fish­eries and wildlife bi­ol­o­gist Kath­leen Smith is hand­son in the field at the Corkscrew Re­gional Ecosys­tem Wa­ter­shed Wildlife and En­vi­ron­men­tal Area.

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