Alexa Martinez, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Wildlife Biologist
Since early 2017 Alexa Martinez has been the wildlife biologist at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. "I made the choice to move to Harney County to obtain a permanent job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under refuge systems. I still remember when Chad [Karges, Refuge Manager at the time] called me to offer me the position. I was helping my family pick pecans in the orchard in Chamberino, NM. Once Chad offered me the job I threw my bucket of pecans in the air and was excited for the new journey I was about to take. Coming from the southwest I’ve always wanted to work in the Pacific Northwest and this was my chance and getting to work for the agency I’ve always wanted to work for was a win. ”
Alexa graduated from New Mexico State University (NMSU), located in Las Cruces, NM, with a Bachelors in Wildlife Science and minors in Biology, Conservation Biology and Range Science. In addition to her studies Alexa was very involved in The Wildlife Society, American Fisheries Society, the Society of Range Management, Ecology Club student chapters, and was also an ambassador for the Chicano Programs at NMSU. "Each of these student chapters helped me gain the skills and knowledge to compete for summer jobs. They provided me with different types of volunteer experiences within different agencies under federal, state, and nonprofits. From doing chronic waste disease check stations for New Mexico Game and Fish to assisting on many projects within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, such as Mexican gray wolf relocation, Chiricahua leopard frog restoration, and duck banding at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. I even learned how to tie my own flies!"
Being a minority Alexa was able to participate in the Natural Resources Career Tracks (NRCT) program at NMSU, which was a program that helps minorities gain the skills and knowledge to help become competitive and successful in careers within natural resources. "NRCT provided me opportunities to work and volunteer with many different agencies. This program also provided me with a job during school working as a lab technician in a tropical field ecology lab in the Biology Department for about three years. During the summer as an undergraduate I worked for APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) Wildlife Services in Flagstaff, AZ and the following year in Sandusky, OH where I primarily worked as a research field technician." Following graduation, Alexa continued working as a fisheries lab and field technician for the fisheries department at NMSU until she landed her current role with the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
What does Alexa enjoy most about her work? "I enjoy having the opportunity to dabble in different programs within the refuge system. Not a lot of programs within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have that opportunity. I get to participate in not just wildlife activities, but also in the fisheries, habitat and visitor services programs. I also get to work with so many different people within and out of the USFWS. Learning different techniques and ideas from other people is always a joy for me. I love it when I get to talk to visitors and they share how much they love Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and thank me for the work I do out here. It’s very heart warming. Or during student outreach when kids tell you they want to be like you when they grow up, I mean that right there is an award in itself!"
"The challenges I’ve come across are getting past the culture shock for me and feeling like I belong. When I mean belong I refer to belonging in the community but also in the professional world of science and management. Coming from the borderland where I’m surrounded by a 98% Mexican community to a very small rural community in an area of the country I have never been to, no family or friends, and straight out of college with only what I can fit in my vehicle was definitely a big change in my life. I made a big jump from being a student and a technician, to becoming a biologist.
As part of her work Alexa participates with the Harney Basin Wetlands Collaborative sharing her knowledge as a wildlife biologist: "I remember my first Harney Basin Wetlands Collaborative meeting, I was so nervous and excited. Nervous, because I feared how people would view me and the perspective I bring since I am new and fresh out of college; excited for what I was about to learn from all these amazing people and what this career has to offer for my future.I enjoy hearing what people are working on and listening to the ideas and thought process behind actions and projects; the discussions are eye opening of how much work is put into projects." Alexa also works closely in the field with one of the participants of HBWC, Teresa Wicks who is with Portland Audubon. "Portland Audubon helps conduct surveys on the refuge, lead bird walks, and assist with so many activities on the refuge, not just within the wildlife program."
When Alexa is not working, well . . . "Ha! I feel like I take work home all the time. I usually spend my time out hiking, camping, visiting friends, and family. Coming from a Latin family you can’t get away from talking with them every day!
When I am not out exploring, I enjoy photography, painting and sketching. (To the left is some of Alexa's art.) Most of my inspirations come from wildlife and landscape based which is another reason why I love the career I chose to follow.
I also enjoy going for a run and/or playing with my little mini aussie, Zia, and cooking and baking! I love being in the kitchen. But honestly, when I am not running around like a headless chicken and trying to do many things at once, sometimes just eating ramen and watching Netflix or a movie sounds great when I am doing absolutely nothing!"