Ecosystem Assessment and Restoration: George Otto

Upland Habitat scientist George Otto is living his dream of working in the environmental field.

george otto

George Otto
Biological Scientist III: Upland Habitat Research
Gainesville, FL

B.S. and M.S. in Environmental Engineering Sciences, University of Florida

I have worked in the private (environmental consulting) and public sectors (FWC). From 2000 to 2003, I worked for Applied Technology & Management – a coastal, environmental, marine and water resources engineering, design and consulting firm that serves public and private clients throughout the world. My main project was working on an Environmental Impact Statement for the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge to determine the impacts of harbor deepening on tidal marsh communities.

In 2003 and 2004, I worked for Creative Environmental Solutions. This private consulting company provides services in wetland delineation, environmental resource permitting, mitigation, environmental assessment, civil engineering, urban and regional planning, and geographic information systems for Florida and the southeastern United States. My main project was permitting sand and lime rock mines across the state of Florida. In 2005, I came to the FWC to follow my passion and focus on ecological science.

What are you working on now? 
My main project is the Objectives-Based Vegetation Management (OBVM) program. I fill the roles of program developer, quantitative ecologist and data manager/statistical analyst for this science-based adaptive land management program. I help determine what species of plants are present and how they appear physically, which are important aspects of accurately describing the vegetation communities on FWC wildlife management areas.

How is this information beneficial?
OBVM is a quantitative (measurable) inventory of habitat quality that provides information to land managers about ecological conditions and how plant communities respond to land management actions. In other words, it measures the cause-and-effect relationships between land management actions and habitat conditions, supporting an adaptive management approach. Land managers can improve strategies by learning from the outcome of previous management actions, enhancing their ability to improve the environmental quality of plant communities.

What is your typical work day like?
Depending on the time of year, it varies from field work to office work.

What is your greatest career accomplishment? 
Receiving the “Excellence in Technical, Analytical, and Computing Support Award” from the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, of course! I received this award for developing the data collection and data analysis protocols for OBVM. Because the program is conducted statewide and the data has to be collected rapidly (before the first freeze), there were some interesting logistical issues that had to be overcome.

What are some of your biggest challenges? 
As is often true for long-term applied science studies, it can be difficult to convert results into impactful outcomes. Successful application of the adaptive management approach requires cooperation between personnel collecting and interpreting the data and the individuals who use the information. This effort also requires a willingness to modify management approaches in alternative ways to meet desired objectives. 

What do you like most about your career? 
I like trying to find ways to produce better habitat quality and use limited resources wisely.

Was this your original career interest? Why or why not? 
Working in/with the environment has always been my first choice for a career. I love the outdoors and am curious by nature.

What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in science? 
I like processes and trying to always improve them. Outside of science, I think owning a farm or a restaurant would allow me to peruse this aspiration.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?
Take all the science and math courses you can. Learn the scientific method and how to test hypotheses. Find out which colleges focus on or have a good reputation in the field of science you want to pursue. Visit these schools early in your college selection process and try to find departments that have courses that can be tailored into a plan of study you like. Stay focused and get into the workforce as soon as possible, and don’t borrow too much money in the form of student loans!

What do you enjoy doing in your free time? 
Playing with my son, George. I also enjoy adventure and cultural traveling, gardening, cooking and, most recently, fermenting different types of food.

FWC Facts:
The Fish and Wildlife Research Institute’s intern program gives college students and postgraduates hands-on experience in fish and wildlife sciences and related fields.

Learn More at AskFWC