Bright and passionate individuals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields are working to answer society’s most difficult questions and find solutions to our biggest challenges. The innovation, creativity and competitive advantage that comes with having a diverse workforce is more important than ever, yet women remain underrepresented in STEM.
In honour of International Day for Women and Girls in Science on February 11, our Chief Scientist Dr. Fred Wrona invited women from across the department to talk about their work and share their experiences as scientists. This is the first of three interviews celebrating the fabulous females in this field.
Meet Tanya Rushcall! An aquatic invasive species biologist with Alberta Environment and Parks.
Can you speak to your experience as a female scientist in the department?
When I first started with Fish and Wildlife, even just seven years ago, the field was largely dominated by men, especially in supervisory and management positions. I’ve seen a huge change over the years with more and more women appearing in management positions. We have a lot of women in my office and it’s awesome to see more women finding careers in this field!
Could you tell us about your role as an aquatic invasive species biologist?
I deal with the province’s response to new and existing aquatic invasive species. For example, I’ve been working on how we handle goldfish found in storm water ponds. I also work on phragmites and flowering rush – two big aquatic invasive plants that have cropped up in many places across the province.
In the winter, the focus is usually on planning for the next field season, getting all our approvals in place, working out communications and stakeholder engagement and researching how best to tackle these species. The summer is usually spent out in the field. We go out across the province to try to eradicate invasive species and work with municipalities and lake groups.
How does your work as an aquatic invasive species biologist impact the lives of Albertans?
Every ecosystem has a natural balance, with species that evolved together and have ways of surviving and maintaining their populations. When a non-native or invasive species comes in, it disrupts that natural balance. Invasive species can take over shorelines, prevent access to lakes and recreational activities and cause damage to our infrastructure. It’s really important that people are aware that we have native plants, fish and invertebrates that play really important roles and that bringing in or releasing species that aren’t from an area can really do a lot of damage.
Do you have any success stories with invasive species control in the province?
It has been a long time coming, but we have goldfish to the point now where it is not just the provincial government working to control invasive fish species. We’ve worked closely with consultants and municipalities and there has been quite a lot of uptake with the project. Several municipalities across the province are working to remove goldfish from their storm water ponds before the fish get out into our streams and rivers. I love to see that they’re helping to get the message out.
What is your next big eradication project?
Flowering rush! We did a survey this past summer and found that this plant is more extensive than we were expecting, especially in the South Saskatchewan and Bow rivers. I’ll be going to Spokane, Washington to participate in a summit focused on developing a regional management plan for flowering rush in the Columbia River Basin. The idea is to take that plan and adapt it for Alberta, and hopefully start implementing it this season. It’s going to be another busy season but I’m excited to tackle some of our invasive plants!
Thank you Tanya for sharing your passion for protecting the environment with us! Next up, we will be talking to Shoma Tanzeeba about her experiences as an engineer specializing in hydrology in southern Alberta!