News - From Bison to Butterflies: Alumna Anna Weyers Turns Passion for Wildlife Into a Career

From Bison to Butterflies: Alumna Anna Weyers Turns Passion for Wildlife Into a Career

By Carla Morris

“So beautiful,” says Anna Weyers ’12 of the early morning scene that unfolds before her. The sun’s rays cast a warm glow on bison near a county road that runs through New Mexico’s Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge where Anna heads operations.

The bison are the result of a partnership managed by the Pueblo of Pojoaque Bison ag program that started in 1994. In the program's earliest days, four bison grazed on fewer than three acres of land. Now, 100 bison, including 55 at Rio Mora, roam thousands of acres.

Camera ready, Anna captures the moment and shares it on social media. The story behind the photo warrants telling.  

Refuge Manager and Storyteller With a Camera

The Rio Mora is New Mexico’s newest wildlife refuge. Anna, its first manager, assumed02-Weyers_Leaf.jpg duties last fall. She works with local schools, universities, volunteers, and other partners to facilitate research and restoration of the 4,000-acre protected area. 

Though Anna may be new to the managerial role, she’s a seasoned pro at documenting wildlife wonders. With a carefully aimed lens and a generous helping of patience, she has captured telling moments in some of the nation’s 500+ wildlife refuges:

  • Majestic sandhill cranes taking flight. 
  • Coyotes convening. 
  • Bald eagles surveying possibilities from high places.
  • A turtle cautiously assessing matters from inside its shelter. 
  • A deer peering straight into the camera through a curtain of dried grasses.

Anna’s photos delight, inform, and tap emotions all at once. They tell little stories in a glance, a skill the Society for Conservation Biology deems valuable. Storytelling, they say, is a powerful way for today’s environmental biologists to affect change as they educate the public and policymakers alike.   

09-Weyers_crane.jpgThere’s no telling exactly when wildlife took its hold on Anna, but clearly wonder blossomed into passion, and passion found its way into a career. Her photo archives document the story of that journey, too. 

Winning Formula: Hands-On Learning, Early and Often

An assignment for a biology class during Anna’s freshman year at Greenville University compelled her to explore summer internship opportunities with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Service accepted her application. For three months, she assisted experts gathering data about frogs and birds at the Illinois River Refuge Complex in Havana, Illinois. She came away with valuable knowledge, skills, experience, and something more: a passion for environmental biology and a mentor in the field. 

“I was hooked,” she says.

Another summer, she served as a biological technician at Rydell and Glacial National Wildlife Refuges (MN). She took plant surveys and helped produce environmental education and outreach events. Connecting the public with refuge work has proved a recurring theme ever since.

Anna advises today’s college students to “find an internship in the field you want to pursue and learn from people already in the profession.” Professionals often are glad to share their experiences and knowledge.

Anna testifies to the applicability of classroom work, too: “Environmental Policy and Law with [Professor] Bob Rinella was incredibly important for my career development. That exposure and foundation to environmental law and policy has been important throughout my career.” 

Helping Others Know06-Weyers_reflection.jpg

In the years since college, Anna has expanded her skills and expertise within the refuge system. Three years at Mingo National Wildlife Refuge (MO) and five years at Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge (MO) added to her survey experiences and afforded her new administrative and teaching opportunities. 

In her “off” hours, she earned a master of natural science in biology from the University of Southeast Missouri. She wrote a thesis on wild pigs that populated the Mingo refuge and collected baseline data that researchers still reference today. She also strengthened her communication and teaching skills by leading anatomy and physiology labs.

Positioned to Lead

Anna’s new role with the Rio Mora Refuge puts her squarely in a position to influence teaching, learning, and research as she takes the lead in protecting the Mora River watershed and its wildlife inhabitants.

She has landed in a place where stories in need of a storyteller abound. With a telephoto lens and patient eye, she’s up for the challenge. 


Photo of Anna Weyers, above: Gianna (Paden ’18) Weyers. All other photos: Anna Weyers/USFWS

Learn More 

The Turtle Whisperer’s Apprentice
Alumnus Snyder Named Conservation Educator of the Year
Keeping the Wild in Wilderness: The Nation Celebrates Zahniser’s Work
Ayers Field Station-White Environmental Center

For as little as $5 a month, you can fund a scholarship through The Greenville University Fund and help a student like Anna discover his or her passion. Thank you for giving.

This story was published on January 17, 2020