About SFS

Meet SFS Alumni

Merra Howe

Kenya Spring '09

Merra Howe


I ultimately credit SFS with helping me to land my dream job as a federal employee at the Marine Mammal Commission.

SFS PROGRAM: Wildlife and Water Studies | Kenya | Spring 2009
CURRENT POSITION: Policy Analyst, U.S. Marine Mammal Commission

What is your favorite SFS memory?
I have so many wonderful, vivid memories of my time with SFS in Kenya, but perhaps the most striking was the unique and constant stimulation of the senses. From the smells of acacia branches burning at the Masaai bomas, to the taste of milky sweet chai, to the intense heat of the equatorial sun, to the evening chorus of chirps, grunts, buzzes and roars, and to the images of wildebeest, zebra and antelope herds stretched across the landscape of Amboseli National Park. Whenever I feel stifled by the urban jungle of Washington, D.C., I think back to these sensory experiences and am immediately transported to our SFS camp at the foothills of Kilimanjaro.

What do you do for work?
At the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, I help organize and carry out reviews of domestic and international policy bearing on the conservation of marine mammals. I am responsible for developing agency positions and recommendations, particularly relating to permit applications for the take of marine mammals under the Marine Mammal Protection Act for scientific research, photography, and public display.

What did you gain from your time at SFS?
Growing up, I always thought that saving wildlife was just about the wildlife. The SFS Kenya program completely broadened my views, as I came to realize that communication between all stakeholders, including local communities, researchers, government bodies, and advocates, was key to the creation of long-term, successful wildlife conservation practices. With these informed perspectives gained from my time at SFS, I decided to pursue a career in environmental policy. I ultimately credit SFS with helping me to land my dream job as a federal employee at the Marine Mammal Commission, and I endeavor daily to incorporate the lessons learned from my SFS program while working towards the conservation of marine mammals and their ecosystems.

What advice would you give to a prospective SFS student?
Take every opportunity to get outside of your comfort zone. Live with and learn from people of different backgrounds with different livelihoods, political views and religious beliefs, and you’ll find you have more in common than you thought.

What are you currently reading?
I’m in the middle of Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter, and it turns out that their masterful engineering of rivers and lakes is one of the primary drivers of the health of watershed ecosystems. The recovery of the species across the United States from near extermination has profoundly increased the abundance of native freshwater fish, as well as numerous other riverine avian, mammal, and plant species. The book has given me a completely new outlook on the value of generally overlooked and “nuisance” species and has made me consider all the other overlooked species that may be performing critical ecosystem services but that we don’t know anything about. (Editors note: Eager is written by SFS alumnus Ben Goldfarb, SFS Australia Fall ’07!)

Describe a favorite spot in the great outdoors for exploring and/or reflection.
I was fortunate enough to live on a few different islands in Hawaii for several years while attending graduate school at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. One year for Thanksgiving, my friend and I decided to hike along the coast of northwest Kauai, which provides the only land access into the jungles and ridges of the Nā Pali wilderness. It was a grueling, 11-mile hike that offered many hours to ponder the world as one foot is placed in front of the other. But I will never forget climbing atop the final hill and looking down upon the lush Kalalau Valley and its long stretch of sandy beach. Never has sitting on a log and peeling off hiking boots while being sprayed with ocean mist felt quite so satisfying. And there’s even a hidden fruit garden up in the valley for the lucky hikers that can find it!


September 2019