Bruce Schoeberl can tell you how well any number of animal species is faring in the lands outside Boise. As a district wildlife biologist for the Emmett Ranger District, Schoerbl studies ways to protect habitat for about 20 threatened species. He's studied songbirds, to find out how sagebrush affects their survival rates. He doesn't like to work in an office.
BW: What's your favorite animal?
I have the biggest affinity for birds, so I'd have to say my favorite is one of the species I evaluate with [U.S.] Forest Service, the northern goshawk. We've detected between five to seven birds on the district's land. They're quite an aggressive species; they'll swoop down on you to get you away from their nests. On average, the goshawk is just a little larger than a parking meter, about 20 inches. They're forest dwelling birds, adapted to catching prey in the canopy so they have shorter wings and can maneuver well in the forest habitat. So when you see these animals swooping down on you with talons stretched out, is fairly intimidating. It's really neat that a bird that size will make itself vulnerable to protect its nest and its young.
Is your job fun?
A lot of the times it is. I get to go in the field. Last week I was surveying for flammulated owls--a migratory owl species on our regional-sensitive species list. I made it home about 3:30 in the morning.
What makes the day drag?
There's a lot of analysis. We're always under the scrutiny of environmental groups. Our policy is to analyze things, maybe a little to the extreme. I'm stuck in the office working on National Environmental Protection Act documents, so I have volunteers going out and collecting the field data, where I would rather be out there doing that.
Well, you're kind of an environmentalist at work, aren't you?
I think somewhat. For instance, because of fire suppression, the land has been deviated from its historical conditions, so through vegetation management we get areas back to what they were like previous to our involvement. We're working on vegetation management plans to restore the white-headed woodpecker right now.
Is there a conflict of interest, say, between restoring the habitat but maintaining the land's profitability for local economies?
We have had recently a big emphasis getting the land back to historical conditions. But all this work also has to be balanced with providing economic benefit. Forest Service lands are multi-use, so the land has to accommodate local economy [and] wildlife species. It's not an easy task. The trick is to strike a balance. Roads are a pretty big issue. It's difficult to get into an area to get vegetation back to historical conditions. But those roads then present a problem on the environment.
You graduated in 2003, writing your thesis on the topic of "The influence of Fragmentation on Shrubsteppe-Obligate Passerines." Can you translate that?
I did the study on songbirds that are associated with sagebrush habitat. I conducted my study south of Bruneau and tracked the density of the songbird species in different amounts of sagebrush, from areas with solid sagebrush to highly fragmented sagebrush areas. There were fewer birds that produced young that went on to survive, so the young could be food for predators. The sagebrush provides better protection for the bird.
What's one of your favorite field assignments?
Feral goats on an island in the Indian Ocean were decimating plants that provided shade for the only tortoise population still in existence in their natural settings outside the Galapagos Islands. So I shot the goats for almost a year to eradicate the populations and help to save the tortoise.