Meet senior wildlife biologist Sam Lantz! Sam discusses meaningful field experiences she’s had throughout her career and the conservation heroes who inspired her and paved the way for other women to pursue careers in science. Learn more about Sam in the latest Faces of the Fish and Wildlife Service interview!
Olivia Beitelspacher: Welcome to the team, Sam! What role do you play within the agency?
Sam Lantz: I am a senior biologist with the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office and I work in our listing and recovery division. I began my U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service career in 2018 in Sacramento. In addition to reading, writing, and disseminating information in Service documents about at-risk, threatened, and endangered species, I engage with our partners in working towards conservation. I try to be a mentor and leader in my role both inside and outside of the Service, and to always be constantly learning.
OB: We’re so glad to have you with us in Ventura! What led you to a career with the Service?
SL: I started as a pre-vet student in college, which at the time was the default career choice for someone that likes animals. My undergraduate advisor introduced me to wildlife ecology as a career, which jumpstarted the next phase of my life where I did a series of field jobs and graduate work, most of it working with birds. I didn’t begin exploring career options outside of academics in earnest until towards the end of my dissertation. Although I’ve always been a biologist, within that field I kind of took a winding path to get to this job and am excited to see where it takes me.
OB: That is quite the journey! It is great to hear that you had an undergraduate advisor who saw your passion for animals and was able to introduce you to new career paths that you might not have been aware of. So, tell us, where did you go to school and what did you study?
SL: I did my undergrad at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, which appealed to me because I could focus on academics but continue to play soccer. My undergrad advisor, Dr. Dave Craig, introduced me to field research, and I was able to do my first field work during my college summers working with Caspian terns. After receiving my undergraduate degree, I spent a summer in Cape Cod as a plover monitor, and then went to Florida where I worked in an avian ecology lab, eventually joining that lab for my master’s degree focusing on how environmental factors influence wading bird foraging. I wanted a break after receiving my degree, so I took a volunteer position in Western Australia studying purple-crowned fairywrens. What started as a short break turned into almost three years of field work and travel, where I had the opportunity to help out with projects including research on manakins in Panama, crows in Micronesia and more! Eventually, I ended up back in school at Tulane University for a dissertation asking questions about non-breeding season behavior of red-backed fairywrens in Australia. My academic and field adventures prepared me for a career with the Service by encouraging me to ask questions and work with others to answer those questions (or figure out what to ask next), as well as teaching me about scientific communication and sharing information with peers and the public.
OB: Your field experiences sound incredible! I bet you have some amazing stories that I would love to hear some time. Do you have a conservation hero?
SL: When I was in junior high, I remember learning about Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall and the incredible work they did with primates; what stands out to me now is that when I learned about these kick-butt woman as a young girl, I didn’t consciously think of them as “women in science,” but rather, as scientists. I’m really lucky to have had these conservation heroes pave the way so that I didn’t see being a woman as a barrier towards working in conservation as a career. My grandma gave me one of Goodall’s books about animals that have been saved from the brink of extinction, which really resonates with me now and inspires me in this career.
OB: We owe a lot to the women who came before us that helped paved the way to an easier path towards science and conservation! Tell us about a particular project from your career or schooling that makes you really proud.
SL: One of the projects that makes me most proud is my work with partners from the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, Bureau of Land Management, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Fresno State University that successfully hatched the first blunt-nosed leopard lizards in captivity, with a goal of eventually returning the lizards on the Panoche Hills and moving towards a self-sustaining population. My role was in permitting, while our partners captured breeding stock for the program and successfully bred them in captivity.
OB: What a great success story! I love how everyone on the team had a unique role that helped achieve positive results. So, Sam, what is your opinion on the importance of diversity in conservation?
SL: In wildlife conservation, most folks recognize the importance of biodiversity and the critical roles that sometimes unassuming flora or fauna play in ecosystem functioning. To me, the importance of diversity in conservation is similar: everyone has something unique to offer, and by working together we can be most successful.
OB: I couldn’t agree more – we need all voices at the table giving unique perspectives in order to achieve the best results. What are your thoughts on the concept that “the outdoors is for everyone”?
SL: I think about how important spending time outdoors is for me, and I hope that everyone has the opportunity to engage in outdoor activities in a meaningful way for them. What that means is probably different for everyone - for some folks it might just be stepping outside to feel the sun on their face, while others thrive immersed in nature and far away from the hubbub of the city.
OB: So true. How do you spend your free time?
SL: I enjoy traveling and exploring the outdoors. Recently I’ve had the opportunity to explore a lot of our national parks on road trips in California and Arizona. One of my favorite hikes was a backcountry overnight through Petrified Forest National Park. I also love to explore national parks in other countries, such as Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia, where every time we rounded a bend in the boardwalk the lakes were another beautiful shade of blue or green. When I travel, I also enjoy seeking out the best food and craft beer I can find.
OB: Those trips sound so cool! I’d love to see some photos. Last question - Do you have a hidden talent?
SL: Not really, but back when I used to watch the TV show The Amazing Race, I always thought my contribution to a partnership if I could be on the show was that I can milk a goat (I raised goats in 4H when I was a kid, and I assume it’s like riding a bike).
OB: Wow! That is definitely a fun talent. Thank you so much Sam!