Science Story

Profile on ORISE Fellow: Tara Haan

Carita Chan
Research & Development, U.S. Forest Service
August 21st, 2015 at 4:45PM

Before she turned 10, Tara Haan told her family she would become a scientist.  Haan, who currently works as an “ORISE Fellow” with USDA Forest Service Research & Development, was fascinated by wildlife and the outdoors, and a future in environmental science was a natural fit.

Photo of ORISE Fellow Tara Haan

The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), managed by the U.S. Department of Energy, manages a fellowship program for graduates like Haan who wish to gain work experience to complement their education. Haan has worked as an ORISE Fellow at the Forest Service since March 2013.

Haan, originally from Michigan but with a love of the ocean, left home to pursue a degree in marine biology at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla.  After receiving her bachelor’s degree, Haan decided to broaden her area of expertise and earned a master’s degree in zoology from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where she studied freshwater ecology.

“Over the course of my academic career, I became increasingly interested in the impacts of both natural and human-induced disturbances on wildlife and habitat,” Haan said. She has experience working with communities to improve coastal habitat, has performed research to detect chemicals in Tampa Bay waters, and has helped with wildlife rehabilitation in both Florida and Ohio, where she frequently saw the devastating effects of human negligence and cruelty to wildlife. For her graduate research, she examined wildfire’s consequences to freshwater invertebrate communities in an arid landscape. As the home to several endangered and threatened species, these habitats are of particular conservation concern. This research opened the door to her current position as a postgraduate research fellow at the U.S. Forest Service.

Haan initially started her fellowship with the Forest Service’s Research & Development (R&D) arm to provide assistance to several wildland fire related efforts. Mainly, she has been helping to organize and synthesize a comprehensive report on the R&D fire program.  “By creating an overview of the agency’s wildland fire and fuels science over the past decade plus, we are consolidating information on our scientists, publications, as well as key tools and products, which will help us better serve our partners and stakeholders­­­­.”

Over the course of her time with the Forest Service, her portfolio of work has expanded into several areas. She has co-written a manuscript on Forest Service scientists’ climate change perceptions and led annual performance accounting efforts for the R&D fire program. Additionally, she is the project coordinator for a national assessment on agroforestry and climate change, which began with the organization of a national stakeholder workshop and will culminate in a technical report intended for a broad audience of practitioners, researchers, non-governmental organizations, and policymakers.

A major aspect of Haan’s fellowship has been working with leadership groups within the agency. She has served as co-coordinator for the Sustainable Land Management Board of Directors and as coordinator of the Associate Deputy Chiefs’ weekly meetings.  “Being a part of these groups and organizing and coordinating their proceedings has allowed me to engage with other staffs that I do not otherwise regularly interact.  I also get to learn about things happening in the agency outside of my staff area and have direct interaction with Forest Service leadership. This has definitely been one of the most rewarding aspects of my fellowship.”

In the future, Haan hopes to work more on wildlife conservation issues by addressing landscape-scale habitat and resource protection.  She is particularly interested and concerned about the vulnerability of coastal and freshwater ecosystems in the face of climate change. Balancing population growth and development with the maintenance of healthy, resilient ecosystems is a challenging interface, but one she hopes her work is benefitting.

This article is part of a series of profiles in science about people who conduct research or work in research-related jobs in support of the Forest Service mission. For more information about the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education Fellows, visit