Faces of the Forest Service

Meet Megan Friggens, Research Ecologist

March 8th, 2018 at 2:30PM

A picture of Megan Friggens sitting on a large rock on a small hillside, wearing sunglasses.
Megan Friggens. (Photo by Mike Friggens.)

Science fiction, PBS nature programs, and National Geographic magazine were among Megan’s earliest inspirations for pursuing a career as a research ecologist at the USDA Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station. She began working with the agency as a seasonal employee while pursuing her M.S. in biology from the University of New Mexico, and again when pursuing her doctorate in Forestry Sciences from Northern Arizona University.

What led you to the Forest Service and when did you start working here?
I started working for the Forest Service in 2000 during my first year as a Master’s student. I attended a seminar conducted by a Forest Service scientist about her work with plants and mammals in the New Mexico grasslands and realized that this might be a great set-up for conducting an additional study of small mammal parasites. I contacted her and began to work as her technician during the summers while completing my M.S. degree, and then again, when I began working toward my Ph.D. This really impressed me because I experienced firsthand how Forest Service scientists conduct research with real applications for the management of our natural resources..

As a Research Ecologist, what do you do in the Forest Service and what is your favorite part of your job?
I study how disturbance impacts wildlife, their habitats, and their diseases. I’m most happy when I’m locked away in my office working on an analysis that has the potential to solve some natural resource issue. I also like traveling to the field to talk with land managers and view Forest Service research in action, or to even other countries to share new research and management methods. Because so much of what I do is behind a desk, I really value these opportunities to connect with the natural resource and science community.

Where did you grow up?
I moved quite a bit when I was young. I was born in upstate New York but moved from there shortly before my fifth birthday. I have spent time in Georgia, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, California, Oregon, and Washington. I have spent the most time in New Mexico and feel that this is home.

A picture of Megan Friggens at her desk with a computer screen and phone in front of her.
Most of Megan’s work takes place in front of a computer. She is happiest when working on an analysis that has the potential to help natural resource managers. (Forest Service courtesy photo.)

Who or what inspired you growing up?

It probably sounds funny, but I moved so much when I was young that my early appreciation for natural science was heavily influenced by the things that I read and watched on TV. Wherever we went, we always had a library; our subscription to National Geographic; and all those great PBS shows about space exploration, our universe, and the remote and wild places on our planet Earth. These stories inspired a lot of dreams about travel and exploration and a deep appreciation for the biological diversity of our planet.

What do you like to do for fun on your free time?
I really enjoy hiking, backpacking, camping, and visiting our national forests, of course! Perhaps because of my childhood, I also really love traveling and am always planning everything from local road trips to international adventures. Being able to share these adventures with my children only makes it more fun. I am also a science fiction nerd and could read a good novel or two for days on end if I ever had the time.

How would you like the public to perceive the work we do at the Forest Service?
The Forest Service is a great place to conduct research designed to answer questions relevant to natural resource issues because it manages a phenomenal diversity of landscapes for multiple purposes.

A picture of Megan Friggens her two young kids sitting beside her outdoors while examining a small object.
In her free time, Megan enjoys hiking, backpacking, camping, and visiting national forests with her children. Here she and her kids take a quick snack break in the mountains of New Mexico. (Photo by Mike Friggens.)

I would like the public to recognize that we are partners in conserving our public lands for the use and enjoyment of all citizens. I cannot do my job without all the efforts and contributions of those folks who walk the land and truly care about its preservation. We are all in this together, and it is only through partnerships that the Forest Service will be able to successfully manage our national forests and grasslands in the face of increasing fire and drought.

What are your future career goals?
Right now I would like to continue to explore various methods for quantifying the impacts of climate and fire regime change on wildlife species and habitats. Eventually, I would like to establish a research program focused on developing new science information and products to help manage our national resources in the face of wildfire and drought.

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to serve their country as a Forest Service employee?If you are currently in school or recently graduated, I would suggest checking out the internship programs. These programs provide a really well-rounded introduction into the various roles within the agency, and I have known quite a few participants who have really enjoyed their experiences. For those that are already graduated or working, there are often opportunities to engage in contract work or research collaborations. And of course, you can always keep your eyes on USAjobs.gov for new openings.

A picture of Megan Friggens examing a kangaroo rat at the back of an open vehicle, outside.
One of Megan’s areas of expertise is small animal parasites. Here she brushes a kangaroo rat for fleas as part of her Ph. D. research on rodent-borne plague in the Southwest. (Forest Service courtesy photo.)