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Andrea Orabona’s contributions earn her high honor
TWS Council member received the Wyoming Chapter’s Roger Wilson Lifetime Achievement Award
When Andrea Orabona was working with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department as a bird biologist, she noticed that the North American Breeding Bird Survey might be overlooking some of the species she was working with. Since they began conducting the survey in the 1960s, volunteers would count the usual bird suspects, but they left out grassland birds and other overlooked species.
Thanks to Orabona, a new technique is in place to include those other birds in the surveys. That’s “one of her great achievements, in my mind,” said Bob Lanka, the president-elect of The Wildlife Society, and it’s just one of many that earned Orabona, now retired from the state game and fish department, the Wyoming Chapter of TWS’ Roger Wilson Lifetime Achievement Award. The award recognizes an individual’s lifetime of service in the wildlife profession in the state.
Orabona, now TWS’ Central Mountains and Plains Section representative to The Wildlife Society Council, didn’t always know she was going to be making such a difference in this field. She grew up in Massachusetts surrounded by forests and streams to explore. “I remember sitting in the woods in my backyard and hearing a black-capped chickadee,” she said “It was singing, and I mimicked it. Then, another chickadee came, and I felt like I was communicating with them. It was enlightening, all of life in the outdoors.”
A high school anatomy and physiology course piqued her interest in biology, but in college in New England, she realized she’d rather be outdoors than in the lab. She enrolled at Colorado State University’s wildlife program and landed a job at the Colorado Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit studying small mammals. After venturing over the state line to work with the USFWS on a black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) telemetry program in Wyoming, she earned a master’s studying white-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys leucurus). Finally, she landed at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department where she worked as a nongame bird biologist from 1992 to 2022.
“Over her decades leading the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Nongame Bird Program, Andrea had a positive impact on nearly every aspect of avian conservation and management in Wyoming,” said Zach Wallace, who has taken over for Orabona as the nongame bird biologist with Wyoming Game and Fish. “Her infectious enthusiasm for Wyoming’s birds inspired many others to choose careers in nongame wildlife management.”
Anna Chalfoun has also been impressed by Orabona’s work overseeing more than 80 bird species of greatest conservation need in the state. “She has an infectious enthusiasm for birds that has inspired many a young (and not-so-young!) biologist, and has been generous with her service to the Society at all levels,” said Chalfoun, an associate professor with the USGS Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.
Much of her career involved working with partners, like the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of land Management and others when working on the Integrated Monitoring in Bird Conservation Regions project.
“She’s a bridge builder,” Lanka said. “She’s one of those people that, whether through Partners in Flight or through The Wildlife Society Chapter or Section, and now in TWS Council, she’s got a way about her that allows her to develop professional relationships—but also to develop friendships and be able to work with people from varied backgrounds to try to put effective conservation the ground.”
Orabona’s success hasn’t come without challenges. As a mother, she struggled with work-life balance, she said, but she found a way to attend her son’s performances, volunteer in his classroom and conduct meaningful fieldwork—which sometimes included bringing him with her.
“One of the things I think she’s done is continued to set the example that it’s not impossible to be a woman and be a strong leader in the wildlife profession,” Lanka said.
Orabona said she was humbled and honored to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.
“I feel like we can all find a way to make our own little difference in whatever way that is,” she said. “Following your passion and finding what speaks to you, you can turn that passion into something meaningful. We only have one planet. We all have an impact on it. We need to do what we can to ensure that our human legacy includes a full suite of wildlife and plants and being good stewards of the earth.”