COSAM » News » Articles » 2017 » September » Nature lover and herpetologist Sierra Stiles discusses life, love and the outdoors

Nature lover and herpetologist Sierra Stiles discusses life, love and the outdoors

Published: 09/22/2017

By: Jarrett Rogers

Video by: Phillip Coxwell

Sierra Stiles is a COSAM alumna who received a master’s in biology. She is currently pursuing a second master’s in science education in the College of Education at Auburn. From early childhood, she has devoted a tremendous amount of time and resources to the outdoors.

Stiles was exposed to wildlife through the support of her parents, who were biologists and avid bird watchers. Stiles said she was raised as an, “Audubon Kid;” discouraged from staying in front of the television too long, and instead encouraged to take up bird watching and spend time creatively outdoors. As Stiles grew, so too did her fascination with wildlife, and she would often spend her days wading in rivers and overturning rocks looking for salamanders.

At 16, Stiles met her future husband, Jimmy, while conducting fieldwork together for his father. Within a year, the couple headed west for a six-week camping trip, and Stiles said that was when she knew they were meant for each other.

“If you want to test your relationship, just go camping for six weeks, and you’ll know when you come back, because we pretty much came back married at that point!” said Stiles.

For her first master’s degree and thesis project, she and Jimmy, who was also pursuing a master’s in biology, were instrumental in spearheading the Eastern Indigo Snake Reintroduction project, which is dedicated to reestablishing the snake into its native habitat in the south Alabama landscape. For more than seven years, the project has raised Eastern Indigo snakes from captivity, released them into Conecuh National Forest in south Alabama, and tracked their habbits, habitat and growth.

During her research, Stiles discovered that snakes raised in captivity could easily adapt in the wild and would instinctually rely on Gopher Tortoise burrows as a means of seeking shelter. Her husband, Jimmy, often accompanied her in the field as his work with the Eastern Indigo was focused on the snake’s survival patterns. As a result, it was natural for the couple to collaborate and help one another discover their separate data.

“Some people say they couldn’t work with their spouse, but to me, they’re your best friend, the love of your life, why not your work partner?” Stiles asked.

The nature-loving couple now volunteers with the Eastern Indigo Snake Reintroduction project, and this year they were on hand for the release of approximately 30 more snakes into Conecuh National Forest. Children also had an opportunity to participate in the snake release, and Stiles was there to help guide the kids.

“At a time when we have so much going on in the world, where it’s hard to find optimism, it’s wonderful to see these kids with conservation in their hands, knowing that they are the future; they’re the ones we’re restoring this forest for,” said Stiles.

Stiles hopes to pursue a career as a science teacher, preferably one who can work in the field and educate students at the same time. She said she feels the “great outdoors” is a gift that our youth, in particular, should dedicate more time to appreciating and working towards conserving, and as a science educator, she hopes to instill in others the same kind of passion for nature she developed as a child.

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