People behind the mission: Refuge biologist is recognized for excellence

Behind all of the conservation work we do for wildlife and people to enjoy, our dedicated employees are working hard to make it happen. We recently recognized our 2012 Regional Refuge Biologist of the Year, Nancy Pau, of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. One of the most respected biologists in the Northeast Region, Nancy has worked on numerous projects including salt marsh sparrow ecology and genetics, piping plover and least tern protection and productivity, and New England cottontail captive rearing. Today, we’ll hear from Nancy about how she became interested in a conservation career, her most memorable goals and her inspiration.


Nancy Pau, who was born in China before moving to New York City at the age of 10, is the 2012 Regional Refuge Biologist of the Year.

Q: What is your background? Did you always know you wanted to pursue a career in conservation?
A: I was born in China in a fishing village with no electricity or running water and my family moved to New York City when I was 10 years old. The absence of nature made me appreciate what I lost, and it had a lot to do with me going into a conservation career. In high school, I was interested in helping animals and the school I went to had a program that encouraged students to pursue internships. I participated in that internship program at Cornell University, which exposed high school students to research. I wound up attending Cornell and majored in natural resources.


Nancy has helped to complete refuge conservation plans, and has coordinated closely with partners and the community to work towards the Service’s mission.

Q: Of all the work you have done for species of concern, what are you most proud of?
A: The one thing that really has stood out for me is the experience I had when I was an endangered species biologist in Sacramento. My job was to issue take permits to federal and non-federal agencies and it was a high workload office. After an application process, take permits may be issued when projects might result in the take of an endangered or threatened species. I was getting concerned for permits that we were issuing for the San Joaquin kit fox, I felt like we were permitting them to extinction. I asked my supervisor if we could have a meeting with the other biologists to talk about it. We discussed what the foxes needed, and we came up with a system. If an incidental take would occur in prime habitat that the foxes needed, then the permit would not be issued. We developed a tiered mitigation process that would designate how critical the habitat was. Permits would be issued depending on the quality of the habitat. Not all habitats are equal, and we would negotiate with landowners to develop useful plans. We were able to step back from our business as usual approach and really help the foxes.

Q: Do you have any role models in the field of conservation that have helped you to achieve your professional and personal goals?
A: I have many role models, and all of them are my coworkers and colleagues in the Service. When I started, I quickly learned that we work with an amazing group of people who are truly dedicated. Everyone has different skills they are great at, whether it’s outreach or wildlife management. I’ve met people who give 150 percent to the Service and to conservation in general, I see passion everyday.

Q: What do you see as the future of biological conservation in the Service?
A: I definitely see outreach becoming more significant and important. Working in the Northeast, there is so much development around our national wildlife refuges that we are not able to accomplish our conservation mission by just working on our land with just ourselves. We need to enlist the help of our neighbors and landowners and help them recognize the importance of what we do and appreciate what refuges do for them.


Nancy was a mentor for the Service’s Career Discovery Internship Program in 2010.

Q: Any advice for biologists that are just beginning their career with the Service?
A: Don’t be afraid to ask for help or knowledge from others. When I first started I was intimidated. No one can teach you to be a refuge biologist until you start that job. If you are the only biologist at a field station, learn from biologists at nearby stations and your manager. Don’t be afraid to seek knowledge and help, there is a willingness in the Service to train youth and up and comers.

I never planned on a career with the Service and it’s been amazing so far. I appreciate the opportunities everyone has given me, and I’m looking forward to the future years.

Nancy Pau has been a biologist at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge for 10 years.

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