Gaby Tamez: District Wildlife Biologist, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
By Nushin Huq
Between 2 Pines Magazine
The majority of land in Texas is privately owned, but many people might not know that biologists like Gaby Tamez at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department work closely with landowners to help reach conservation goals. That's just one of the many duties Tamez has in her position in West Texas. Read our interview to learn more.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Tell us about your job.
I am a District Wildlife Biologist within the Wildlife Department at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Depatmernt. My main area of responsibility is Pecos County (West Texas).
My job entails many things involving both people and animals and it changes throughout the year. I work with private landowners to develop wildlife management plans that will help them reach their personal conservation and land management goals for their property. This might be to increase the quality of their resident mule deer population, restructure livestock grazing regimes to improve grassland habitat, create favorable habitat for horned lizards, or develop wildlife viewing areas; the sky is the limit. My role is to research their questions, assess the existing habitat, and design a realistic pathway to help them achieve their goals.
Similarly, I work with hunters to monitor existing wildlife populations and propose conservative strategies for hunting operations. In order to prepare my harvest strategies, I assist in annual wildlife surveys, compile and review historical ranch data, then discuss the operation goals with the landowner. From there we can devise a bag limit and harvest criteria that meets their management objectives.
I also work with k-12 schools, youth groups, wildlife organizations and public entities to teach wildlife management and conservation through class seminars and outdoor demonstrations. I conduct outreach with the public to educate citizens on best practices when dealing with wildlife in a rural town setting. I also work with various universities and conservation groups to assist with wildlife research and monitoring efforts across the state, the U.S., and internationally.
How did you get in this career path?
I studied Ecology and Management in the Wildlife College at Texas A&M University. I received my Masters in Biology from The University of Texas Pan-American where I studied diamondback water snakes (Nerodia rhombifer) for my thesis project.
During undergrad, I was fortunate enough to be enrolled in the UMEB (Undergraduates Mentoring in Ecological Biology) program at A&M under Professors Dr. Kirk Winemiller and Dr. Rodney Honeycutt. I can honestly say I wouldn’t be in this position today if it wasn’t for them and my UMEB cohorts. I was originally enrolled in the pre-veterinary program, but Dr. Winemiller and Dr. Honeycutt introduced me to field research, and I never looked back. It’s really everything I wanted in a job, working outside, the opportunity to branch out into questions and ideas that really spark my interest, collaborating with various groups and landowners. It's very rewarding.
Did you always want to work outdoors?
Yes. I basically grew up running wild outside and now that I’m an adult, I see no reason to change.
Besides being outdoors, what do you like most about your job?
I enjoy working one on one with my landowners and hunters. There is always something new to look at, a new story to hear, a new question to answer.
I enjoy the teamwork, the type of unit cohesion we have among our district staff is unlike any other job I’ve had.
I enjoy the freedom and encouragement to pursue my own wildlife research interests. If I stumble on something big, there is always the opportunity to collaborate on a larger scale. That alone gives me motivation to pursue new questions and develop my own ways of answering them.
What are some challenges?
When I accepted a job in conservation it never occurred to me how important people management is. My job completely depends on the relationship I build with individual landowners, hunters, the local public, and the community, as a whole.
There are times when I meet a new cooperating landowner and we immediately launch into discussions; laying down the groundwork for new management and hunting objectives. Then there are others that require several meetings, several ride-alongs, several coffee talks before a spark of trust is formed. And while it can be frustrating not to hit the ground running, those “slow-warmers” are often times my most valuable and productive collaborators.
This position necessitates the ability to first listen, learn, and adapt. You must be creative and open-minded. And, surprisingly, you need to be a good cheerleader; encouraging your landowners to experiment with new approaches to old problems. Some days it's easy, some days its hard, but the end product is always worth it.
Is there any advice you have for people who want to get an outdoor job?
There is a niche for everyone. Find what drives you and pursue it. If it's beetles, or birds, or badgers, or belugas, study what you enjoy and enjoy what you study because this job is only as rewarding as you make it.
If you are curious about a subject, find a way to volunteer. Approach a professor or professional and let them know you are interested in their work and would like to learn. Join a club or organization and spend time with people who also enjoy those subjects. I have friends I made in the herpetological community that stretch back to high school. We still keep in touch and meet up to look for snakes all these years later.
Are you seeing more diversity in the outdoor field?
Yes I have seen more diversity in the field.
Field biology could certainly be described as a historically male dominated profession, but time has changed that. I’ve seen a rise in women hired as district biologists, diversity specialists, and program leaders. I’ve also met some fiercely brilliant women in this job, both coworkers and ranchers, that demonstrate an aptitude for wildlife conservation and land stewardship with such ease and poise it’s a wonder that it was ever considered to be “mens only” work to start with.
In addition to working with professional women, there are also new outdoor clubs and organizations focusing on engaging women in historically male dominated activities. One that I like to volunteer with is the Texas Wildlife Association’s (TWA) program “Women of the Land.” WOTL brings together women and outdoor professional females, from a wide range of careers, and we spend a weekend exploring outdoor activities like hunting, fishing, and camping. It’s an amazing program and I like to recommend it to every woman I meet who expresses an interest in learning more about the outdoors.