07 Jul Interview with Sarah Stock; Terrestrial Wildlife Branch Lead for Yosemite National Park
“A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader. A great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.”— Eleanor Roosevelt
The beginnings of a wilderness explorer
Before Sarah Stock began her journey as a wildlife biologist, she grew up in a rural setting in Kentucky, USA. She was exposed to animals from a very young age to the point where she named several cows on her family’s small farm, including names like “Grapesucker” and “Mozzarella Cheese”. This is where Sarah’s passion for taking care of animals began. It was not until high school that a certain curiosity for wildlife started emerging. During a marine biology assignment, you had to design an animal that could survive in certain habitats in the ocean. Sarah Stock loved this assignment, and her perspective was transformed as she became inspired by a whole other world of life under the sea. Although she has always had an appreciation for conservation, learning about marine ecology motivated her to dive deeper into learning about the amazing biodiversity around us. It cannot be said that a single memory sparked her love for animals, it is a mix of multiple experiences that determined Sarah Stock to pursue conservation efforts and wildlife management.
Working as the branch lead for the Terrestrial Wildlife Branch
Sarah Stock went from being the Yosemite’s first ornithologist to overseeing an array of bird and mammal research projects. Broadening expertise to encompass mammal research proved to be a challenge at start: “Challenge such as this are the spark to life; you need challenges in life” (Sarah Stock). After eighteen years of working in Yosemite, the terrestrial wildlife team has evolved, but is still running under the same philosophy, “quality over quantity”. Being branch lead is hard work at times but Sarah Stock finds joy in being supportive of the team and enabling each individual person to shine.
“I’ve realized that in a supervisory role, the more energy you put into your staff and the better work they do, that reflects on you, and you can own it with them. It’s a team effort where everyone feels good.” – Sarah Stock
The title “Terrestrial Wildlife Branch Manager” must bring along many duties. Sarah Stock shared what some of her roles are, which can be divided in four responsibilities:
- Threatened/Endangered/Rare species: Prioritize protection of threatened and endangered species so that they don’t disappear on our watch.
- Wildlife Communities: Study wildlife communities, such as bird and bat communities and their habitats, so that we can learn broad population patterns across the landscape.
- Wildlife Protections: Protect nesting birds and denning mammals in real-time by working with project managers, e.g., fire management, hazard tree removal, construction, and road projects, to provide a buffer around nests and dens.
- Communication: Ensure that this information is not lost in a vacuum and that we are communicating our work on every single level, from elementary school kids to scientists.
To complete such responsibilities with good conservation and ethical practices, wildlife managers must have some important attributes to run the branch successfully. I asked Sarah Stock what she believes are some relevant skills to have as a wildlife manager.
“Something that has really changed in the environment ever since I began working are the accelerated effects of climate change. These changes are so rapid, it’s important to be nimble in decision-making. There is no manual for being a wildlife manager and you must think outside the box for each case. Another important aspect is building a team with complementary skill sets. We can then further our strengths by seeking out collaborations with outside researchers who bring in cutting-edge research techniques.” – Sarah Stock
The role of National Parks
My next question was based on today’s biodiversity crisis around the globe. Considering climate change and what seems to be another mass extinction of biodiversity, I asked Sarah Stock what she believes is the role of national parks in the face of this environmental crisis.
“The role of National parks has never been so important as right now. National parks are needed to protect biodiversity as much as possible, and park managers must be willing to adapt practices to changing conditions. For example, migratory birds must rely on protected places like Yosemite National Park for finding safe places to nest each spring after migrations spent evading wind turbines, sky scraper windows, speeding vehicles, outdoor domesticated cats, and habitat destruction. National parks are critically important because animals rely on them for survival, and it’s up to us to make sure national parks continue to provide habitats for diverse animal assemblages for years to come.”
– Sarah Stock
A word of advice
“Don’t give up. Because we need you and the world needs more conservation minded people who are passionate. We need to stay dedicated to the cause. Work as hard as you can while taking care of yourself and being a good steward for all the wild places. The national parks are a good place to direct that energy, but so is your backyard or state park, they’re all vitally important, and so are you.” – Sarah Stock
What I learned from Sarah Stock, wildlife manager for Yosemite National Park
National parks are safe havens for wildlife all around the world. They present the opportunity of a home for millions of species of wildlife. Scientist like Sarah Stock manages wildlife projects to increase their conservation efforts in the park. I learned about the roles of a wildlife manager and some of the challenges they must endure. One of the keys into running a successful wildlife team is being creative with your research programs and adapt to the changing environments. Another important aspect is in building a team of passionate scientist who together can work miracles in the conservation of wildlife. In the face of an environmental crisis, we must protect all green spaces and believe in the cause of a better world. With natural and artificial threats becoming more and more dangerous for wildlife, now is the time for young scientist and environmentalist to protect our national parks and wild places.
“One thing that gives me hope is working with younger people and seeing their passion. I say that as a mom too, as I’m continually impressed with this next generation who seems smarter than we were at their age. This inspires me to steer younger people’s energy and talent to a common goal to protect our planet.” – Sarah Stock