Laurel Jennings works as a Marine Habitat Resource Specialist with the NOAA Restoration Center, which is housed within the Office of Habitat Conservation. Laurel first started at NOAA in 2005 as a NOAA Corps officer. She began working with the NOAA Restoration Center in 2007. After resigning her NOAA Corps commission in 2011, she has continued her work with the Restoration Center both as a contractor and as of earlier this year, as a federal employee. Laurel is currently based out of the Restoration Center’s office in Seattle, Washington.
Describe a project related to habitat that you’re currently working on or that you enjoyed.
Boom! Who doesn’t like to see things get blown up? I am involved in the demolition of two Washington dams, and although I am not directly involved with the explosions, I am really excited to watch the work take place. The removal of the Pilchuck and Middle Fork Nooksack River dams are great moments for Washington fish, as they will regain access to miles of pristine water and surrounding habitat that was previously blocked by these dams.
What habitat work has been especially successful or inspiring to you?
Working with the young people of GulfCorps has been a joy and inspiration to me. I can’t believe how motivated, talented, and determined they are to make their Gulf of Mexico coastal habitats better after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. They put blood, sweat, and tears into their labor—and the results are amazing. Who doesn’t smile when they see and work alongside young adults who are realizing their love of natural resource management and environmental stewardship, while at the same time advancing their careers? It is truly amazing to be a part of this work! I feel honored to contribute to the next generation of habitat restoration scientists.
Describe a time when you were surprised by fish and/or habitat.
I had the great privilege of working in coastal Alaska during my NOAA Corps years. I served on the NOAA Ship RAINIER, a hydrographic survey vessel, for 2 years, and I got to see Alaska in ways most don’t get to. One of my favorite memories was when we surveyed the coast of Kodiak Island and many of the small surrounding islands. During one of those survey days, I was lucky enough to see a mother kodiak brown bear and two cubs walking the beach looking for food. I was awed to see bears in the wild (and happy to be a safe distance away on a survey launch) and felt honored to be a part of their world. It was a great reminder to me that beach habitat isn’t just beautiful, it’s also a dynamic ecosystem that provides habitat for numerous species of plants and animals—even the occasional foraging bear or two!
What person has expanded your understanding or connection to habitat?
My amazing Restoration Center colleagues, our Pacific Region leadership team, the dedicated professionals working in Washington, and the Pacific Northwest tribal community.
Living near a rainforest is an amazing experience. The largest temperate rainforest in the world is on the West Coast of North America, and Washington’s Olympic National Park is a place I go to with my family and friends to focus and connect. I love the moist cool air, the fantastically tall trees, the cold fast flowing rivers, and the quiet. I know that the various indigenous peoples of this region identify with the rivers and forests located here. Now that I live here and am raising my own family, I have that same sense of belonging and feeling rooted to a place. I have learned and will continue to learn about the tribes who manage these rainforest fisheries and habitats so successfully. I seek to understand more.