Chris Waas, Avian Field Biologist
Chris Waas, an avian field biologist with the Directorate of Public Works' Natural and Cultural Resources Management Branch at Fort Hood, Texas, focuses her work on the golden-cheeked warbler habitat. (Photo Credit: Scott Summers, Fort Hood DPW NCRMB) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT HOOD, Texas - Avian field biologist Chris Waas has worked at the Great Place eight spring seasons in the last nine years, skipping only 2015. Every spring, Waas brings her unmatched passion to work with one bird; the golden-cheeked warbler.

Waas’ passion for conservation of the endangered GCWA is underscored by her career commitment. Eight seasons is a same-person personnel record for this type of research. Waas really likes the area and the people.

“I’m attached and invested. I love the birds, the sites (GCWA field study sites), and the people,” Waas said. “When I come down here, I’m living and working with family.”

Waas grew up in rural northern Wisconsin. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, she arrived at Fort Hood in 2013. She fell in love with GCWAs and the endangered species program at the Directorate of Public Works Natural and Cultural Resources Management Branch.

The NCRMB works to ensure a balance protecting the GCWA and ensuring Army training readiness is attained and sustained side-by-side and in harmony annually.

With the direction of her advisors, warbler biologist John Macey and field biologist Kellene Collins, Waas contributes her part to the bigger conservation picture.

Golden-Cheeked Warbler
The golden-cheeked warbler is a species that nests exclusively in the limestone hill region with dense strands of cedar trees in Central Texas. (Photo Credit: Gil Eckrich, Fort Hood DPW NCRMB volunteer) VIEW ORIGINAL

She collects field data among a 13-member research team to help Macey estimate the population and productivity for this warbler at Fort Hood for the NCRMB, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

Hiring seasonal staff who return in subsequent years gives the NCRMB an advantage by acquiring more quality data and efficient work compared to first time hires.

“Waas has helped out in many ways, such as providing great insight to new staff and is always one of the most productive and reliable staff members. She gives a presentation on nest finding – the most difficult field task – and is always a joy to work with,” Macey said.

Also, long-time returners such as Waas affords her supervisor Collins an easier transition with onboarding seasonal staff.

Collins said that having a seasoned returner like Waas, who is familiar with regulations, navigating training areas, field techniques and study sites, helps immensely with the onboarding process there is a large crew.

“Her willingness to share her breadth of knowledge about this species also helps newer GCWA researchers tune into important behavioral cues quickly that may otherwise take many seasons of observations to learn independently,” Collins added. “She is an important asset to our team.”

Finally, experts like Waas allow Macey and Collins to focus their training time on new and less experienced staff, saving the Army time and money and contributing greatly to their conservation success.