Environmental Scientist, Chris Rohrer
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Name and position

Chris Rohrer, Environmental Scientist, Division of Oil, Gas & Mining

Chris Rohrer
Chris Rohrer inspects the entrance to an old mine.

What do you do?

As a senior reclamation specialist in the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program, I manage projects from initial inventory to construction to close dangerous abandoned mines from public access. Abandoned mines present numerous hazards for unsuspecting explorers. There are dozens of deaths and injuries every year in abandoned mines in our country. I enjoy the work. Proof is that I may have the shortest resume of anyone my age: my entire professional career has been with the abandoned mine program, starting with a college internship. During the summer field season I spend time outdoors investigating abandoned mine operations for reclamation potential and conducting site-specific research on mine hazards and safety and environmental conditions. The winter months I'm found in the office developing reclamation plans and construction specifications for upcoming projects. I occasionally have to pinch myself that someone is willing to pay me to wander around the mountains.

What kind of education is required for a job like yours?

There are several specific sciences that fall into the category of "environmental scientist." An education is required in geology, biology, soils, ecology, hydrology, hydrogeology, or a closely related field. Interdisciplinary training is valuable, as the solutions to environmental problems require multidisciplinary perspectives. Other environmental scientists in the division have degrees in geologic engineering, geology, or petroleum engineering and work with permitting coal or mineral mines and with oil and gas exploration and production operations. There are many other positions in the division, all requiring different educational backgrounds that support our work.

I thrive on the many facets of the work
and the varied challenges, such as trying to figure out how to safeguard a shaft while preserving the historic headframe above it and protecting bat habitat inside.

What would you suggest for people considering a career as an environmental scientist?

As with any career decision it's important that you enjoy what you're doing and it helps if you don't want a job that requires you to sit at a desk all day, every day (although the latter is usually a given for most people considering an environmental career). Obviously you should have a deep interest in the life and/or earth sciences. This natural science core knowledge should be complemented by a well-rounded, liberal arts curriculum, because environmental problems require holistic, "big picture" solutions that cross disciplines. You need to be able to communicate with and understand other specialties, as well as the general public. You may be called upon to draw upon other skills yourself. At various times in my career I have been a biologist, historian, chemist, civil engineer, accountant, administrator, artist, demographer, publicist, cartographer, ditch digger, mathematician, policy wonk, graphic designer, surveyor, writer, and more without ever changing jobs. Finally, don't think that a natural resources career means that you do not have to work with people; you will need people skills as much as in any other field.

Why did you become an environmental scientist?

I grew up on a midwestern farm with access to fields, creeks, and forests and spent plenty of time fishing, catching tadpoles, and looking under logs. My mother and grandmother instilled an appreciation of birds very early. For my fifth birthday I was offered a choice of bird song recordings from the Cornell ornithology labs or something else long forgotten. I picked the records. Binoculars and a Peterson field guide were always near our window. In my teens, these rural values steeped in a traditional soil and water and wildlife conservation ethos were further shaped by the environmental movement and energy shocks of the 1970's. I wanted to fix the planet. There really was no choice.

In this job, there are rewards from being outdoors, the physical activity, and encounters with the best and worst of our mining heritage. There is satisfaction in being part of a team that includes co-workers and contractors that takes a problem and sees it through to its resolution. I thrive on the many facets of the work and the varied challenges, such as trying to figure out how to safeguard a shaft while preserving the historic headframe above it and protecting bat habitat inside. There is a tangible sense of accomplishment in that.

 

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