Ariel Elliot – My Conservation Story
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Ariel Elliot – My Conservation Story

September 22, 2019


Hello my name is Ariel Elliot and I’m a wildlife
biologist for Fish and Wildlife at Valle de Oro Wildlife Refuge, and some other ones in
New Mexico such as Las Vegas, Maxwell, and Rio Mora. Today I’m just giving a little short
video about how I, for Black History Month for how I got this position and how I feel
about being African American in natural resources, such as the job that I have right now. So I’m following some questions that were
given to me and I’m just going to go off that. So growing up in this kind of field, I was
asked if there were any role models, and that’s kind of misleading to me because I didn’t
really know what I wanted to do, especially to get in this type of career until I was
actually in college, so I was already grown up before I knew what I wanted to do, but
when I was growing up, such as when I was a little kid, I heavily idolized Steve Irwin.
Just seeing him wrestle with crocodiles, just out doing his thing was so wonderful, I spent
hours just watching animal planet wanting to be in those wild places with him or just
like, with anybody, it was just perfect. And then my mentors when I was actually in this
field, were Mamie Parker, Jerri Marr, they were so inspirational, and also black and
also female. Just seeing them and how they grew up in this career just inspired me to
do my best and actually join the Fish and Wildlife Service to get out in natural resources,
to just be the biologist that I wanted to be. And I appreciate that from them, and from
my professors who encouraged me along every step of the way, and my other peers in general.
All of them have been a huge inspiration to me. And then people have asked me what attracted
me to this kind of job, being a wildlife biologist or in natural resources in general, and I
have to say it’s just working outside has always been like an awesome job to get paid
for, so why not? Some people are like, they get to this job position because they want
to get away from people, but for me it’s more like I want to help people come to these places,
I want people to know that these places are there for them, and that they’re a safe refuge
for them – no pun intended or anything! I just want everybody to be out in nature
to enjoy animals, the wild things. To experience what others who came before us experienced,
and just continue that for generations and to never lose that sense of wonder and sense
of unity. The scenery is just so beautiful, so why would you not want to be in this type
of job? For a personal level, being in this field
is a way for me to connect with nature, to come back to a sense of being, to just have
a peace of mind and just let all the stress from every day life to disappear for like
an hour or two. I just really love that. Hearing the cranes in the mornings, I love seeing
coyotes running around. I’ve always felt that when I was a little kid growing up in Texas
just sitting in the wild grass, it’s always been fun. I always wanted to be paid to do
this type of job and bring others into it. Other questions that have been asked are how
did I get this type of job or this career path, and that’s like – I don’t know. I didn’t
really know that I wanted to be in his job until I said my college, my first year of
college, and from there I just kind of hit the ground running. The first thing I did
was switch my major from general biology to wildlife and fisheries science, and then I
joined the wildlife society. That was like the simplest steps I could think of. And just
from the wildlife society, I went out and volunteered, and went out to Kyker Bottoms,
this was when I was in Tennessee – Kyker Bottoms is a wildlife management area, just going
to those small little areas that are centered around my college just pretty much got me
into this field and got me, hit the ground running, and then from there I went from wildlife
competitions and conclave, and I just did wild game dinners and just volunteered with
state and federal agencies, that’s pretty much how I got this position, and my professor
just randomly sent me an email one day and was like, “apply for this position” which
was the Directorate Resources Fellowship, and I just, like, okay, let’s see if I can
actually get this job, which was working with prairie dogs out at Sevilleta National Wildife
Refuge, here in New Mexico. And I wasn’t sure if I was going to get it, because I didn’t
have a lot of job experience, I didn’t any volunteer experience with prairie dogs or
small mammals, which is what I would have been doing for them, but I applied, got the
interview, actually got the job, which I was so ecstatic about, and from there I got connected
with Fish and Wildlife, and well, I was at Sevilleta, just roaming the desert, just doing
mammal trapping, I told them that I wanted to come back, I wanted to come back specifically
to the Southwest, specifically to Region 2, and to New Mexico and I worked while I was
in college after the internship was over, I pretty much kept doing what I was doing,
doing my volunteer with the society, and just sent them my information such as what I wanted
to do for Fish and Wildlife – I wanted to be a biologist and I just knew that’s what
I wanted to do. I sent them my transcript and resume and they worked with me closely
to get me a job and I came back to Albuquerque, I’m currently now the biologist for Valle
de Oro and for some northern New Mexico Refuges and I feel blessed, like this is what I wanted
to do, this is where I wanted to be, I feel like I am in heaven. What does it mean for me to be African American
in this type of wildlife conservation type of career? It’s pretty much, anybody in my position,
especially if I’m black or any other minority, you’re making a difference. You’re reclaiming
nature for our community, you’re making it a place of refuge, you’re making it a safe
and healthy place for them to come back to when they feel demonized or just anything
in the community or the surrounding areas that they have lived in. It’s about pretty
much, being a pioneer in my eyes, you’re making a difference because you’re making a difference,
and overcoming these obstacles and challenges and all of these elements that are just trying
to push you away from this white-washed type of career, to be honest. In this position
that I have, specifically, I feel like I’m pretty much changing the way that people picture
others in nature. You’re changing the face of nature in my mind, like it’s not going
to be whitewashed anymore. Anybody can have this position, there’s always this conception
that because I’m black I don’t do this, or because black people don’t do that, you know,
black people fish, we hike, we do jobs like this protecting wildlife, we do all of that.
We’ve been doing it for centuries. We just don’t get acknowledged for it, and being in
this position, being who I am and being who anyone is, like if you’re black like Mamie
Parker, Jerri Marr – you’re making a difference, you’re changing the face of the story and
history of nature and you’re striving, you’re acknowledging what came before us and what’s
going to come after us. We are pioneers; we’re paving the way for others just like us. And even though I didn’t have a background
in this type of field or in pretty much outdoors type of field, I still field like connect
with urban audiences to bring them here, because I know you have to take certain stepping stones
to get into this type of career. I’ve done that like, you just have to go outside one
day, and come back in for an hour just stuff like that. I know how critical it is, and
being at an urban refuge such as Valle de Oro, I feel like I have a pretty good idea
on how to actually connect those urban audiences with nature, because I’ve done that, I’ve
been there. So I pretty much can help out with those people who don’t feel comfortable
with nature or being outdoors, because I was like that when I was a kid. And here I am,
a wildlife biologist, outdoors almost every day. I feel like it’s awesome and I feel like
people should really continue this. And then another question I’ve been asked
is, any advice to give to a young person, one who wants to come out into this field
or work with Fish and Wildlife. I pretty much say just take it one step at
a time. Like I did, just volunteer, join your wildlife society, or any other environmental
clubs around you, just get out there. Connect with other agencies, state agencies or local
agencies, or animal control. Just get in those small, foot in the door type of activities
will pretty much guarantee your, just get your foot in the door with these agencies
like Fish and Wildlife. And just don’t be afraid to travel. Like I’ve travelled a lot,
mostly because of my military background, but just being in Tennessee and then dropping
and flying all the way over to New Mexico was a big change, but it was actually really
needed, and I feel like I am a better person because of it, and I wanted to travel it gets
me out more, it gets you more places that you’re able to actually get jobs and stuff.
Don’t be afraid to take a chance, I didn’t have any experience with small mammals before
I took my internship which led me to this position that I have, but it’s just a chance
and you’re probably going to like it or you’re probably going to hate it, but it pretty much
narrowed down what you want to do and what you feel like you’re capable of doing, and
it will probably get you more opportunities because a lot of people don’t specialize in
some fields and if you’ve done it for a season or two, it can actually boost you up to a
job in that or related to that, so just go, just go out and do everything possible that
you probably can.

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