Cherokee scientist finds ‘perfect’ role with EBCI
Cherokee biologist Caleb Hickman talks about salamanders on March 27 in Cherokee, North Carolina. An Oklahoma-born scientist from the Cherokee Nation, he turned his passion for the environment into a career helping manage wildlife on the Qualla Boundary. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
CHEROKEE, N.C. – An Oklahoma-born scientist from the Cherokee Nation turned his passion for the environment into a career helping manage wildlife on the Qualla Boundary in North Carolina.
CN citizen Dr. Caleb Hickman, 42, is a supervisory biologist for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ Office of Fisheries & Wildlife Management in North Carolina.
“This is a dream job to work in this environment,” Hickman said.
An avid outdoorsman, Hickman was born, raised and attended school in Pryor, Oklahoma. He earned a master’s degree in biology at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri.
“Then I worked for six years all over the country,” Hickman said.
According to The Wildlife Society’s Invasive Species Working Group, of which Hickman is a past chairman, the Oklahoma-born ecologist has years of experience “from southwestern deserts to east-coast estuaries.”
“Much of his work focuses on the conservation of amphibians and reptiles with interests in how human-altered environments can shape interactions between species,” Hickman’s society biography states.
Hickman eventually earned a doctorate in zoology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“I finished that up and was looking for jobs,” he said. “A lot of people go into academia to become a professor, work at a state or federal agency or something like that. You know, it was always hard for me to find a job in Oklahoma. But this job came open and it was a master’s-level position, so I applied. I even wrote in Cherokee on the application. I tried my hardest to get it and pulled out all the stops.”
A majority of the EBCI’s 13,400 citizens live on a reservation called the Qualla Boundary, with slightly more than 56,000 acres held in trust by the federal government, according to the EBCI. Hickman describes his role with the tribe as a marriage of his love for ecology and Cherokee culture.
“In a lot a ways, this is perfect, to still be around Cherokee people, and it reminds me of the Ozarks where I grew up,” he said. “We manage all of the plants and animals. We’re a bio-diversity hot spot, so there are federal regulations that come into play and federal money to protect the land rights here. Any time somebody wants to develop here, we have to do surveys for endangered species, make sure the water quality is good, the air quality is in good shape.”
Hickman’s office is also responsible for species restoration projects.
“There’s a fish here we’ve been trying to restore,” he said. “White-tailed deer are rare here. Especially with the Deer Clan and cultural tie to deer, you want to bring them back because they used to be here in great numbers. But because of over-hunting and habitat loss, they’ve just never recovered. Those are just two groups. Then there are endangered species we try to protect like bats and flying squirrels.”
Field work is attractive to most scientists, Hickman said, but the majority of his time is spent “in the office.”
“If you want stability at the level I’m at, you end up pushing paper,” he said. “I do a lot of paperwork and grant writing so we can fund the work. I do reports on the projects to show that we’re actually finding things.”