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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Careers in Conservation: Outdoor Opportunities Encouraged Curiosity

By Ann Gannam, USFWS

Growing up with many outdoor opportunities drove my curiosity to find out more about my surroundings.

Weekend and summer camping trips; Sunday picnics, usually to a beach; even early morning trips to the river for breakfast picnics before school, all of these experiences fueled my desire to continue to acquire information and knowledge about the environment in which we live and about the organisms that share it with us. My parents encouraged me and provided opportunities for me to learn.

Playing and learning outdoors inspired Service employee Ann Gannam, seen here working. (Photo: USFWS)

I collected sea shells and they took me to the library to get books on shells to identify them.

I got to go to summer classes at the Science Museum in my home town where I participated in numerous activities involving learning the biology of local mammals, birds, fish and reptiles.

Two of our projects which stand out for me were making an insect collection and caring for guppies. During my undergraduate college years I returned to the museum to work in the summer and helped put together some new exhibits for the kids’ section of the museum.

My eagerness to learn has never waned.

My biology-related classes at the university were amazing. The field trips provided great hands on experience. I found myself in marsh mud half way up my legs taking samples, walking through the woods with eyes glued to the forest floor looking for snakes or surveying a stream then seining it to collect fish. In all cases we were looking for the denizens of each ecosystem and learning more about which habitat and food items they preferred. As my studies evolved I began to concentrate on the food item aspect and nutrient requirements of organisms, particularly fish became my focus. I got my B.S. in zoology and in relatively quick succession my M.S. in biology/marine biology and my Ph.D. in fish nutrition.

I loved working out of doors and in the laboratory. Then I found I could make a living at this sort of work. That was just an added benefit. The US Fish and Wildlife Service offered me an excellent opportunity to pursue my field of interest. After 21 years with the Service I still find my job as a fish nutritionist interesting and challenging.

At times I think of Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”, especially the last paragraph when I think about the turns my life has taken:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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Ann Gannam is a Regional Nutritionist at the Abernathy Fish Technology Center in Longview, Washington

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