Karen Swaim earns Distinguished Service Award

By Dana Kobilinsky

Karen Swaim seins a pond for California tiger salamanders (Ambystoma californiense).
Credit: Courtesy Karen Swaim

Karen Swaim, a principal and senior wildlife biologist at her own biological consulting firm, Swaim Biological, Inc., received the Distinguished Service Award for demonstrating a long-term commitment to The Wildlife Society and its Western Section.

Swaim became a member of The Wildlife Society in 1991 as a graduate student when a professor encouraged her to join and present her thesis at a meeting in Sacramento.

She got more involved in 2004 during the Western Section’s 50th anniversary, when the group was honoring a renowned herpetologist and mentor who was integral to her graduate research.

Since then, Swaim has been a member “who observes and participates in as many committee meetings as possible during a conference specifically so she can ask questions like, ‘who needs what, and how can I help,’” wrote Richard Burg, the Awards and Grants Committee chair for The Wildlife Society’s Western Section, in a nomination letter for Swaim.

Swaim also has a passion for mentoring students, including at the Western Section’s annual Field Camp. “I encourage my staff to have a mentorship where they can use their expertise, whether, for example, bats or tracking, to help mentor students and professionals—young and not— to feel more like a biologist,” Swaim said. That’s especially beneficial in consulting positions, she said, where staff members often focus more on environmental compliance than science.

Karen Swaim seins a pond for California tiger salamanders (Ambystoma californiense).
Credit: Courtesy Karen Swaim

Swaim impressed her peers by her willingness to jump in, whether it’s leading roundtable discussions or adding last minute changes flyers to the conference program, or supporting her staffs time dedicated to the section.

She also chips in financially, purchasing extra awards banquet tickets for the Section to provide them to whoever would benefit from attending but couldn’t afford it. She also makes sure to purchase as many raffle tickets as she can during section conferences to support the section, even if she gives the prizes away to those better suited to have them. In fact, a clever Western Section member even had a rubber stamp with her name on it made for her to stamp the raffle tickets because she was buying so many.

Swaim sees her success in the success of the students and young professionals she mentors. She hires graduate students to work at her consulting firm and her staff has helped them conduct their fieldwork. Her biologists get critical experience with special status species and survey techniques, and students get their data collected.

“A big thing for me is striving to help people get in the door and get some unique experience or skills that allows them to move up, whether that be with me or another firm or wildlife agency,” she said. She has watched one student become the first airport biologist in San Francisco managing some of the most endangered species in the US and another making a difference for a big park district. “That’s really rewarding,” she said.

Her passion for mentoring students led her to help develop the section’s career panel and career fair.

Being recognized with the Distinguished Service Award “is really an honor,” Swaim said. “It makes me want to do more to help people and our profession make a difference.”

Click here for a complete list of 2021 TWS award winners. For more about this year’s virtual conference, click here.

Dana KobilinskyDana Kobilinsky is associate editor at The Wildlife Society. Contact her at dkobilinsky@wildlife.org with any questions or comments about her article. You can follow her on Twitter at @DanaKobi.

Read more of Dana's articles here.


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