I’m back with another episode of conservation conversations. My interviewee this time is a population ecologist. He’s working on the limits to grizzly bear population growth in British Columbia (BC). Clayton Lamb has some truly amazing stories so without further a do here are his answers to my questions.
- Starting off with something simple, what is your favourite species and why?
I’ve always liked sheep. Bighorn and thinhorn sheep. I like the habitat they inhabit. It’s the same habitat I like to be in. High mountains, open grass or alpine meadows. They are gregarious and majestic animals. Mountain goats are neat too, but no thanks on the cliff walking. I clearly like bears.
- So now I’m going to quiz you about your career in this sector, firstly why did you decide to get into conservation?
I grew up in an outdoors-oriented household. Even as a kid I’d always ask: why are there many fish here, but none there? Or, how many moose could live in this swamp, what would they eat? It was this natural curiosity, paired with outdoor skills learned growing up, that allowed me to integrate well with biologists and gain valuable experience at a young age. Eventually leading I enrolled in a BSc. And finally a PhD, both of which focused on wildlife ecology and the conservation of animals and their habitats.
- Sometimes working in conservation or the environment sector can be difficult, what inspires you to keep going in your career?
I still spend a lot of time outside in the mountains and I am inspired to better understand and protect wilderness and the wild animals that inhabit these landscapes. I spend a good portion of my year behind binoculars observing animals, or handling them for research, these moments always remind me how important it is to protect these valuable resources.
And coffee. Lots of coffee at my computer. (I know that feeling).
- What’s next on your career bucket list?
Pass my PhD candidacy exam. It’s not clear, at the moment, that there is anything else to strive for. On a larger scale, I am starting up a GPS telemetry project to track the rates and causes of grizzly bear mortality in a sensitive region of BC. I look forward to working with stakeholders on this project to learn more about these bears and to seek creative solutions to the mortality problem. And then get a real job one day.. eeek.
- What’s been your career highlight so far?
I have had many academic highlights since starting my PhD, including publishing a pair of grizzly bear ecology papers in 2016 and receiving a Vanier Canadian Graduate Scholarship, Canadas most prestigious scholarship. However, when I think back to my time as a biologist/researcher, highlights usually consists more of time afield studying animals. One highlight was spending 6 weeks in Oregon, USA collecting American pika hair using non-invasive hair snares made from packing tape. We had amazing weather, and it was so enjoyable laying in warm talus slopes all day, rolling packing tape around my finger and wondering which rock crevice I should stick it in to collect hair off of a passing pika. We would have friendly competitions to see who caught more hair samples each day. I learned a lot about pika that summer.
- Our world is pretty amazing with lots of wonderful things happening in the natural world. What natural phenomenon would you like to see or have seen?
I’ve stood in wild country in northern British Columbia, yet untouched by humans. I’ve hiked multiple days in a single direction and never seen a trace of another human. It is remarkable to stand on a mountain in the northern Rockies and think that the nearest road or highway is 100’s of kilometres to the east. In this area I have watched wolverine play on snow patches only 50 meters from where I was sitting.
I would like to see the animals and habitats of Africa one day.
- If you could let the general public know one thing about conservation what would it be?
The facts and research are only one piece of the puzzle. Scientists and Conservationists can provide rigorous, evidence-based recommendations for conserving the natural world, but if the public strongly opposes these recommendations they are unlikely to be acted upon. If you feel strongly about a cause, contact your local politicians and express your concerns. Make your voice heard.
- Now if you could change one thing about how the world works what would you change and why?
I think human capacity to see the “big picture” is limited. We treat the natural world as a commodity that we have a right to. Indeed, we are a part of the system, but have no ownership over it. This mentality is unlikely to yield long-term profits.
Now for some favourites!
- Favourite sound?
Bull elk bugle
- Favourite fact?
Beavers eat their own poo
- Favourite snack?
Apple with peanut butter
- Favourite word?
Veracit. Being devoted to conveying the truth.
- Favourite curse word?
Kittywampus. Not a curse word, but substitutes nicely for “that thing is crooked as F**k”
- Least favourite word?
Rejected. In an academic publishing sense.
- What’s your best piece of advice for someone who wants to do better for the environment?
Small actions, multiplied over many people have large impacts. We are currently outstripping the resources on earth at an unsustainable rate. With a burgeoning human population there are two options to reduce net consumption: reduce population size, or reduce per-capita use of resources. The latter is likely the most feasible option in the near term. Recycle, be aware of the products and foods you buy. Be an active and engaged consumer.