Spotlight Story

28 December 2022

Araceli Morales-Santos: Protecting Endangered Species in Minnesota

Category: Spotlight Story

It was in the summer of 2013 when Araceli realized how deeply in love she was with biology. She was evaluating the health of rivers and streams in northern Michigan. Her wet hands, her shoes submerged into the mud, and her nose smelling the soil made her feel completely happy.

“That is what I always want to do," she thought. 

Now, nine years later, she got her first federal permanent position as a Biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) with the Minnesota-Wisconsin Field Office. How did she get it? What are the biggest challenges that the Midwest region’s ecosystem faces? Araceli, a MANO Project alum, shares.

The story of Araceli is not as easy as it seems. Before being named as a Biologist for the FWS she had to visit and study different ecosystems from the north, south and west side of the United States. This turned out to be professionally and personally challenging.

“I have a big family, almost 30 members living in North Carolina, and it’s hard to stay connected to all of them when you move from one state to another. It’s difficult to move away from my family, but I know that I am doing something meaningful." 

During that travel journey, she occupied different positions as an intern and fellow, such as the Campus Garden Manager at Wake Forest University; an Interpretative Field Ranger in Oregon for the U.S. Forest Service; a MANO Project fellow for the USFWS and the U.S. Forest Service. In the first position with MANO, she worked at the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge for a summer. During the second fellowship, she occupied the role of a Resource Assistant for the Forest Service research stations in Placerville, California and then at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest in Blue River, Oregon.

Araceli was a MANO intern before the start of the pandemic in 2019 and during the pandemic in 2020. After her internships, she never lost contact with the organization.

“I realized that the Hispanic Access Foundation was a very good source for finding professional opportunities." 

Maintaining that closeness to MANO and the USFWS was what helped her find the role she now plays.

“Before I finished my last internship as a Resource Assistant I saw an email through MANO, where it was sharing a permanent position as a Biologist with the USFWS, so I applied immediately without a doubt."

Even so, her journey as a biologist in the US really started further back. Precisely at the age of 8 years old, when she moved from Mexico, where she was born, to North Carolina. In that transitional moment, Araceli was not only confronted with a new language and culture at a very early age, but she also discovered her love for amphibians and reptiles. Due to this love for the outdoors and animals, she decided to study Biology at Wake Forest University.

“The love for biology came quite naturally to me."

Beyond all the subjects of this field of study, she was particularly interested in one course: ecology and evolutionary biology. They both touched on a lot of the main issues that she is currently working on: conservation and endangered species.

Araceli works for the Ecological Service Department of the USFWS and one of her goals is to minimize potential risks to listed threatened and endangered species and their habitats through project technical assistance and consultations with different federal partners. She and her team conduct environmental reviews of several federal and state projects that are happening within the Wisconsin and Minnesota area.

“I review any kind of project that is coming from external federal partners such as, construction of cellular towers or forest management activities. I make sure these agencies are applying the regulations of the Endangered Species Act, which establishes protections to threatened and endangered species found within the project area that they are working in."

As an Endangered Species Specialist, one of the biggest concerns that Araceli has is seeing the difficulties of adaptation that species are having with climate change, as well as not enough funding for recovering endangered species.

“How to get more people interested in this subject and how to stay relevant to the public, those are also our biggest challenges."

Araceli still struggles with being away from her loved ones, but she continues doing it because she feels the same love for her profession as when she was starting out. She still wants to help to create a more sustainable and just world.

Hispanic Access is inspiring, training, and working with leaders like Araceli Morales-Santos, who have a stake in their community and have the drive for positive change. To help support and continue this work, please consider making a Charitable Donation

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