Conserving Fish and Wildlife Through Science, Technology, and Partnerships
Yvonne Allen’s job is to develop, disseminate, and apply geospatial information that characterizes aquatic habitat resources across the GCPO LCC in support of the LCC's mission to achieve sustainable wildlife and cultural resources at the landscape level. I will let Yvonne introduce herself!
I came to my current appointment at the US FWS through an unlikely combination of education and job opportunities. I grew up in northern and southern Wisconsin and got my undergraduate (Zoology, 1987) and master's (Water Resources Management, 1990) degrees from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. I loved the the lakes and the lifestyle in upper Midwest and still do, so I figured I would eventually land at a resource agency in that region. After working a few years in the upper Midwest and Canada, however, I found myself working as a Research Associate at Louisiana State University in 1995 on zebra mussel growth and mortality in the lower Mississippi River.
Zebra mussels had spread further south than initially thought and, knowing a bit about them from previous work, I jumped right in and wanted to figure out what was going on. This opportunity really got me thinking for the first time about large landscapes and how water quality, habitat availability and dispersal all combine to affect the ability of aquatic organisms to thrive in new locations.
When things got “really interesting” in south Louisiana
As this project wound down in 1999, I pivoted to saltier water and joined a nascent research effort to devise a methodology for using sidescan sonar in ultrashallow (<2m) waters to quantify oyster distribution in coastal Louisiana. The product of this effort revealed some of the earliest digital, georeferenced maps of the shallow seafloor that could be used not just to quantify oysters, but also to locate valuable natural and constructed hard bottom habitat that is used by myriad invertebrate and vertebrate species.
I moved from LSU to the USGS in June 2005, just before things got "really interesting" in south Louisiana. I was working as a geographer for the National Wetlands Research Center when Hurricane Katrina hit coastal Louisiana. I was fortunate enough to be able to put my skills to work in the aftermath of this disaster, mapping (of all things) inundation levels within the city of New Orleans. Working together with a team including a modeler in Vicksburg and a logistics expert in New Orleans, we provided daily maps of inundation extent and depth to crews deployed out to the city.
How solving a landscape problem is like a plate of barbecue
In 2007 I began a project with Glenn Constant, now Aquatic Resource Specialist for the GCPO in the FWS Baton Rouge Conservation office. Initially we were looking for ways to use remote sensing imagery to quantify rates of land change within the Atchfalaya Basin. (Levees have confined the Atchafalaya River to a narrow footprint, open water areas have declined by approximately 300 km2, and the remaining remnant open water areas are still under threat for conversion to willow forest.)
As we went through this process, we looked at imagery captured during high and low river levels and it was immediately clear that during certain times of year, we would be able to easily discriminate wet and dry areas in this remote and expansive floodplain. Glenn was excited.
By changing some display options I also showed him that using the same imagery you could differentiate turbid water from non-turbid water - "Is that something you would are interested in?...." I said. I might as well have put a big plate of barbecue in front of him and said "Are you hungry?" In the Atchafalaya Basin, high turbidity is an indication of water from the mainstem Atchafalaya River and typically has higher dissolved oxygen. By using multiple images collected at a variety of river stages, we were able to use turbid water to effectively illustrate typical flow patterns on a landscape scale. Turns out that coming up with objective measures of inundation extent and turbid water distribution at this scale have long challenged researchers and managers working in the Basin.
The Louisiana Natural Resources Inventory & Assessment System, alligator gar habitat, SIFN & other projects
We continued this work and made many of the geospatial data products publicly available through the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources "Natural Resources Inventory and Assessment System" website (http://abp.cr.usgs.gov/Home.aspx). This tool uses system-wide geospatial data layers to provide objective science-based information for making management decisions in the Basin. I have continued this work through a position with the Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) of the US Army Corps of Engineers in 2009 and through my current appointment with the USFWS.
In addition to these duties, I will also be working to characterize landscape level aquatic habitat conditions within the GCPO LCC. This work began during my time with the ERDC on a USFWS sponsored project to define aquatic habitat characteristics that were important for alligator gar spawning in the St. Catherine Creek NWR.
Results of this project used remote sensing measures of inundation extent and thermal refuge combined with telemetry and in situ water quality monitoring to demonstrate a preliminary model of attributes that make the St. Catherine Creek floodplain an important resource for alligator gar. In my current position I will also be working to support the Southern Instream Flow Network (SIFN; pronounced “siphon”) in the GCPO region and in collaboration with the Southeast Atlantic Resources Partnership, and I’ll provide support to comprehensive conservation planning for State Wildlife Action Plans in the Ozarks.