Heather Benko: Note to the Future Fellow at CA Fish and Game Commission

Fellow Name: Heather Benko
Fellow Type: California Sea Grant State Fellow
Year(s) of Fellowship: 2017
Host Agency: California Fish and Game Commission

Dear Future Fellow:

As the Fish and Game Commission’s first ever California Sea Grant State Fellow, it is my duty to communicate just how incredible an opportunity this position is for prospective fellows interested in learning about science-driven management. Not only was I part of an amazingly supportive and enthusiastic team, I was able to delve into a plethora of exciting projects and topics that have given me a deeper understanding of natural resource management.

The California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) was the first wildlife conservation agency in the United States, pre-dating even the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries. The Commission has hundreds of authorities, some general in nature and some very specific through statutes that comprise the Fish and Game Code, Public Resources Code, and Government Code. In general, the Commission has jurisdiction over nearly every living thing in California except people, agriculture, and domestic animals.

Working at the Commission

As the Commission’s mandate is broad, the staff necessarily address a huge range of issues, and as such, I was able to choose what projects were both of greatest interest to me while also fostering my career development. On the marine side, I was involved on some level with many projects (including the Fisheries Bycatch Workgroup, fishing communities’ resiliency planning, aquaculture, and marine debris) but I also had the opportunity to dabble in some projects on the wildlife side. I was able to develop and exercise my skills in meeting facilitation, planning and logistics, policy writing, and brainstorming strategic approaches to controversial natural resource management issues. I will come away from the Commission with a much more intimate understanding of the process of creating/amending policies and regulations in fisheries and wildlife management, as well as a greater appreciation for the complexities of natural resource politics.

Things to know about this Fellowship

A Fellowship at the Commission is unique in that in any given week you will be working on at least half a dozen different projects/topics. If you want to focus on a single large project, this is not the fellowship for you. Additionally, this fellowship is not very science-heavy in the sense that you will not be conducting fieldwork. Instead, you will apply the science you have learned and figure out the best methods to translate that into informed policy and information for the Commissioners to base their decisions on. This fellowship will allow you to hone your writing, communication, and other stakeholder engagement skills. Time management, flexibility, and a broad range of interests are key characteristics of a successful fellow at the Commission. Additionally, the Commission is a very small agency. Being able to work in close proximity and being willing to help each other out during busy times is critical to the success of the team.

My Experience

The months that I spent as a fellow at the Commission allowed me to develop personal and professional relationships that will last a lifetime. Not only have I bonded with my fellow Sacramento Fellows (a benefit of living in Sacramento - there’s a lot of Fellows here!) but I have also connected professionally with my co-workers at the Commission who have been amazingly supportive in helping me to grow my skills and find a permanent position with the state. I could not be happier to have landed at the Commission for my Fellowship and I cannot recommend it highly enough to future prospective fellows.

Written by Heather Benko