Betsy Howell has a professional and personal interest in conserving two diverse parts of U.S. history.
As a wildlife biologist on the Olympic National Forest in Washington State she focuses part of her work on the history and future of the fisher, a member of the weasel family considered threatened and endangered.
As a Civil War re-enactor and author, she works to preserve an integral part of our history as a nation.
“As a district biologist, I survey for different wildlife species including bald eagles, amphibians, fishers and martens,” she said. “I’m fortunate that a fair bit of my job involves field work, and I continue to be involved in remote camera survey work though the technology has changed tremendously since 1991.”
One of her most important projects is with the Olympic Peninsula Fisher Reintroduction Project, a multi-agency effort to reintroduce the fisher, a small member of the mustelid, or weasel, family.
“The work began after researchers had determined that fishers had become extirpated, that is locally extinct, on the peninsula, due to over trapping and habitat removal,” Howell said. “Through the use of remote cameras, we are now monitoring to see if they have become a self-sustaining population. We’re also partnering with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, a non-profit organization out of Bozeman, Mont., to determine if the Pacific marten, another mustelid, has also become extirpated from the peninsula.”
When not setting up remote cameras, Howell spends her spare time, usually before work and on weekends, writing essays on travel and natural history. She published a memoir about her father and great-great-grandfather and their lives as soldiers.
“My great-great-grandfather, James Heath, served as a private in the Union Army and kept journals during that time from 1862-1865,” she said. “My father, born in 1920, actually knew this man when he was a little boy and when he grew older was given James’ journals. Now they’re mine.”
The memoir became about their war experiences and how it impacted her life. But she found couldn’t leave the Civil War behind, so she started a novel.
“It has taken six years. Again, it’s hard to leave behind characters I’ve become so fond of, so now I’m working on a second novel told from the point of view of a minor character from the first novel,” she said.
Howell is one of a number of Forest Service employees highlighted in Faces of the Forest, a feature that introduces the public to the people, places and professions in the agency.