Bill O'Neill, MS '10

Conservation Biology

Antioch University New England’s (AUNE ) unique field studies program was the inspiration for many of Bill O’Neill’s career choices.  His latest: Bill recently took a new position in northern Nevada, working for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), where he’ll focus on the Greater Sage-Grouse.   There’s a  major debate underway  in the Western states over  how to protect the bird’s habitat as plans proceed for state and federal renewable energy projects.

Bill, a 2010 graduate of the Conservation Biology concentration,  was drawn to AUNE in the first place by its comprehensive approach to the field of biology, and how it offers students a wide variety of courses and the chance to work on a thesis or project of their selection.  The nontraditional courses he took proved most influential after graduating from AUNE.  Tom Wessel’s Ecosystems of Mount Desert Island intensive field study trip to Bar Harbor, Maine, and Jonathan Atwood’s Tropical Ecology and Conservation Biology of Costa Rica were my favorites because I was learning about foreign environments far away from the campus classroom, Bill recalls.

Katmai to California

Pelican at the Texas RefugeBill has held quite a number of positions. Some have led him off the beaten path, to naturally diverse ecosystems in states like Alaska, Texas, North Dakota, and California.  Most of his post-graduate work has been on the governmental side of conservation biology.  In the National Park Service in Katmai National Park, Alaska, Bill monitored interactions between brown bears and humans .  In McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, Bill investigated waterfowl and alligators for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Next, working for the U. S. Geological Survey in North Dakota, close to the remote city of Coleharbor, Bill monitored federally threatened Piping Plovers and federally endangered Least Terns on the waterways.  Later, he worked again for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in California  as a regulatory biologist for animal species protected by the Endangered Species Act.

Bill encourages all AUNE students to get out in the field, venture to new places, and don’t limit yourself to just one type of eco-professional job.

In the tradition of a true conservation biologist, Bill argues strongly for renewable resources.  As we focus on alternate forms of energy, like wind and solar, he says, we need to encourage investment in research and development.  We also need to take a close look at our government policies to assess positive, and negative, impacts on people, wildlife, and habitats.

Apps in the Field

Waterfowl banding at the Texas Refuge

Bill also believes that to do the best environmental field work today, researchers must  embrace the newest technology and understand the environmental policies and regulations.   Using field guides, GIS programs, and other science-specific apps will lead to a greater understanding of core knowledge and evolving protocols and trends.

For my current job I have yet to meet other biologists and consultants not utilizing a tablet when in the field, Bill says.  The apps they have, including Sibley’s bird guide, plant ID’s, mapping, et cetera, is amazing.  No need to carry large maps and clunky field guides in the field when all the GIS layers, GPS points, and species information are uploaded to a tablet for easy access.

To maintain his sense of wonder in the natural world, Bill has taken advantage of the locations of his various jobs.  He gets outsideinto national parks and onto hiking trails.  During his time in California, he hiked Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park, kayaked on the Salton Sea, and camped at the top of Big Bear Mountain.  He found each place spectacular and inspiring.

As a student at AUNE, Bill spent a summer practicum in Borneo, at the remote Matang Wildlife Center, working  with orangutans . I firmly believe my Borneo experience of living in the jungle showed my employers that I can handle living in remote, rugged areas,  he says.  Bill encourages all AUNE students to get out in the field, venture to new places, and don’t  limit yourself to just one type  of eco-professional job.

By Liz Ellsworth, MS ’07
April 2014