Marisa Lispey discovered a passion for conservation science after she spent a semester in South Africa while she was an undergraduate at Middlebury College in Vermont. She stayed in South Africa to get a master’s in Conservation Biology at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology in Cape Town. She looked at fragmentation of grassland bird habitat in and around timber plantations in KwaZulu-Natal.
From South Africa, Marisa landed in Glasgow, Montana, for an internship with the BLM. There UM wildlife alumnus John Carlson, her mentor, told her of several missing science needs for managers of grassland songbirds in the northern Great Plains. With partners he was successful in raising support for a PhD project at UM, which Marisa started in 2011.
For her dissertation, Marisa studied how land use and management influence grassland songbird distribution and abundance.”The most rewarding aspect by far has been working with a broad group of agency and NGO collaborators who are well-placed to apply findings directly to management,” she says.
For example, her study of the potential future threats to Sprague’s Pipit helped influence the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reduce the species’ federal threat level. Her work on the effects of livestock grazing will be applied to inform conservation programs for The Nature Conservancy and other organizations in Montana.
Since November 2014, Marisa has been a Pathways Intern for the USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, working on designing and implementing conservation actions on private lands in Montana. This summer she’ll start work as a permanent employee for the partners program based in the grasslands of northeast Montana.