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From Boy Scout to Senior NEPA Consultant

From Boy Scout to Senior NEPA Consultant

Bernardo Garza’s fascination with nature began at an early age. Now, Bernardo is living out his childhood calling as a Senior NEPA Consultant at Barr, with an impressive 30 years of experience in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) under his belt. Here, Bernardo shares more about how his love of nature shaped his career path, the challenges he’s faced, and the unforgettable memories he’s made along the way.

Did you have an interest in fish and wildlife from a young age?

Twelve years of constant camping, canoeing, mountain-climbing, and hiking while in the Boy Scouts exposed me to the beauty of nature and instilled in me a fascination with the wild plant and animal life around us. By the time I was 12 years old, I knew my calling in life was to be a wildlife and fisheries biologist. By the time I finished high school, I realized the best place for me to work would be with the USFWS. I liked many of my school subjects as a teenager, but deep down I knew that I wanted to continue my connection with the natural world as long as I could, stretching it into adulthood and beyond.

What barriers have you encountered in the pursuit of your career, and how have you overcome them?

My father’s example and encouragement were fundamental for me to overcome obstacles, moments of doubt, and to discover the need to always get back up immediately after failures and mistakes. Most of the barriers I encountered while pursuing my career involved a mismatch between my cultural background and that of most other students and professionals pursuing the same degree and career prior to the 2000s. That mismatch was a source of doubt for me and others as to the level of success I might attain and how well I would fit into the field. My concern for and the delight I drew from wild animals and plants helped me to stay the course and persevere when times were not easy.

What advice would you give someone who is interested in pursuing a career in your field?

Make sure you’re choosing this career out of deep care for our natural resources, not just to make a living.

Looking back over your career, is there one project or experience that sticks out to you as especially unique or interesting?

Surveying for wild orchids, endemic mollusks, strange insects, beautiful raptors, and native cutthroat trout; capturing and tagging migratory birds and waterfowl in their native habitats; and tracking picturesque wildlife like grizzlies, wolverines, black-footed ferrets, and lynx certainly have provided me with unforgettable memories.

But probably meeting, learning firsthand about, and forming close working relationships with Native American tribal members has been uniquely interesting for me. The Native American ethos of getting to know you well, before engaging in any meaningful way in work-related issues, is very similar to the Latin American culture I carry with me. I was pleasantly surprised to discover another group that shares the same cultural characteristic and be able to relate at that level while working together.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

For me, the most enjoyable part is being able to assist our clients and my Barr colleagues in successfully navigating the evermore intricate federal regulatory landscape, specifically with complex projects that must comply with federal environmental regulations, such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Different federal agencies and different field offices within each federal agency have their own unique peculiarities and ways of interpreting NEPA requirements. Project compliance with environmental regulations can go from simple to difficult to extremely complicated, depending on the type and number of federal agencies involved. There are no cookie-cutter solutions nor shortcuts when it comes to full compliance with NEPA requirements, and recent changes have made it even more challenging to move projects forward in a timely and cost-effective way.

What brought you to Barr, and what’s your favorite part about working here?

After more than 30 years as a federal public servant, I wanted to work in a completely different environment and have a taste of the private sector. More importantly, I came to Barr because Barr’s environmental policy convinced me that this is a company that cares for the environment while assisting our clients in moving their projects forward to support the development of our nation.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I enjoy spending time with my wife and children traveling, camping, hiking, gardening, hunting, fishing, or relaxing by the beach.

About the author

Bernardo Garza, senior NEPA consultant, has 30 years of experience gained in five divisions of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. His career, which has centered on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA), encompasses strategic planning and analysis; natural resources conservation and management; extensive stakeholder engagement; and environmental regulatory compliance. His background includes extensive preparation, revision, and review of documents and processes associated with NEPA and ESA regulations. Over the decades, Bernardo has established strong working relationships with federal, state, tribal, and local officials, as well as with nongovernmental organizations and other environmental stakeholders.

Image gallery (below):

1. Bernardo (far left) in 1985 hiking with fellow Eagle Scouts to a camping site within the monarch butterfly wintering biosphere reserve.

2. As a Boy Scout, Bernardo (far right) spent much of his childhood outdoors enjoying nature.

3. Early in his career, Bernardo studied contaminants near the Arkansas River headwaters.

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