Garrison intern Shannon Allen is no bean counter. However, her job as an ecologist providing National Environmental Policy Act support in the Directorate of Public Works does make her the occasional shrimp counter.

Allen's assignment in the Garrison intern program puts her on the DPW team that manages the endangered and protected wildlife on Redstone.

"We have 10 species that have been listed, are proposed to be listed or are listed under the Endangered Species Act. We also protect state listed species that are deemed important by the state of Alabama," she said. "The Alabama Cave Shrimp is only found in a couple of the caves in the entire world. They are in one cave here."

A large part of the job involves memorandums of agreement, policy questions and information gathering. However, part of wildlife management includes knowing how many of these species are present and which areas on post they inhabit. If you want to know how many plants or animals there are in an area, there is really only one way to be sure.

"We monitor - which means we traipse around in the woods and count plants, flowers, shrimp and salamanders," Allen said. "We count critters and plants essentially so we can track long-term trends in how well we are taking care of them."

The office also relies on environmental testing to make sure that pollutants and chemicals from human tenants aren't adversely affecting the creatures whose care they are charged with.
"Water quality is monitored monthly. They test for lead, asbestos, pharmaceuticals, gasoline and contaminants that could be spreading from on and off the Arsenal," Allen said.

While donning a headlamp and crawling through partially submerged caves to count shrimp smaller than a penny may sound bizarre to some, it is a part of the job that Allen relishes.
"I don't get to do it as much as I would like," she said. "I've had jobs where I was outside 10 hours a day, seven days a week. I love it."

Allen received a bachelor's degree in wildlife science from Auburn University with the idea that she would continue on to veterinary school. However, she fell in love with wildlife management along the way. She decided instead to seek a master's in wildlife science. Working with wildlife and spending her time outdoors had always been a part of her life.

"I always wanted to work with animals," she said. "I have a few family members that were novice naturalists. I grew up watching birds and traipsing around in the woods with my family."

She came to Redstone's DPW as a contractor, where she spent a year working in a similar capacity to her job now. When she was presented with the opportunity to come onboard as a one of the first Garrison interns in November, she seized it.

"It's a little bit different from other intern programs in that we know where we're going to end up," she said. "It offers real job security."

Allen will begin her rotation schedule in May. While she was slated to begin earlier, she was granted a brief deferral so she could wrap up planning for the post's Earth Day event at the end of April, which educates local schoolchildren on wildlife and environmental issues.

The rotations she will make as part of the Garrison intern program will be mainly within DPW. She will also spend time in state and regional environmental agencies to study the big picture of environmental management.

Allen's love of nature fills her life. She and her husband, a conservation officer with the state of Alabama, spend their free time outdoors with their four dogs. In fact, one of the hardest parts of her new position has been getting used to spending so much of her time indoors at her desk.
"It's taken me a long time to turn into a desk jockey," she said laughing. "But when I get outside I appreciate it so much more."