By Bob Schallmann
Part of a continuing series about the National Wildlife Refuge in Seal Beach.
When folks pass by Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach, I often wonder what they see. I have lived my entire life in the area, so I know what I have focused on over the years. At times, it was riding with my parents on Pacific Coast Highway looking towards Anaheim Bay to marvel at the naval ships at the wharf or looking inland at the broad expanse of marsh with shorebirds feeding frenetically along the edges. As a teenager, I remember counting red-tailed hawks on the light poles as I biked along Westminster Boulevard with friends, and we made up fantastic stories about what was happening on the other side of the barbed wire fence. I can guess that most people do NOT think about how the Navy manages its wildlife and habitat. I can tell you for certain, it never occurred to me that there was a biologist working for the Navy, or that someday in the future that person would be me.
My name is Bob Schallmann, and I have a great job. I have been the Conservation Program manager at Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach for the past 18 years. I have gotten quite used to the quizzical looks that I get from people when they hear what I do. Most ask if I am “in” the Navy. The answer is “no,” I am a civilian employee. I am a part of a department at the station that ensures compliance with environmental regulations, but I am the only biologist on staff. Most people are surprised to hear that almost every military installation has at least one, if not a small team, of biologists on staff. When you realize that the Department of Defense controls over 25 million acres of habitat, with a wide variety of military activities, it starts to sink in that some support is necessary to protect the military mission while preserving natural resources. I am proud to say that, in my opinion, this dedicated group of biologists, ecologists, foresters, and range managers across the country do a great job of it.
At Seal Beach, I am responsible for the natural resources program over the entire 5,000-acre installation. On any given day, I could be busy with any number of activities. These could include support of military construction projects, working with one of our two farming outleases, surveying for endangered species, or even removing a snake that slithered into an officer’s home. This variety keeps me on my toes. I may think I have a plan for what I am doing on a given day, but then I get a call from someone that has found a pelican with a wing wrapped in fishing line and my daily plan gets a quick reshuffle.
One unique aspect of the weapons station is that for the 965 acres of base property designated as the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge, I am not alone as a biologist. I work closely with the Refuge manager and the associated volunteer organization, the Friends of the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge. We collaborate on a wide variety of programs, from monitoring endangered species, supporting projects that provide resilience in the face of a changing climate, to hosting outreach events with the local community. These outreach opportunities help provide some perspective of what is happening at the weapons station and that, yes, there is a biologist working there. He’s on his way to go band some of the hawks he used to admire when he was kid, riding his bike on the other side of the barbed wire fence. And he loves his job.
Bob Schallmann is the Conservation Program manager at Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach.