First person: Tish McDaniel organizes Prairie Chicken Festival

By Liliana Castillo, Freedom New Mexico

Part of Tish McDaniel’s job with the Nature Conservancy is to coordinate the Prairie Chicken Festival in Milnesand each year. Born and raised in eastern New Mexico, McDaniel, 54, is glad she can do what she loves in a place she calls home.

The issues: The grasslands are critically in peril. They are broken up by roads, town, agriculture and now wind farms. We need them to live, but it takes away the native fauna and flora.

Plethora of degrees: I have a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry from Eastern New Mexico University as well as another bachelor’s in wildlife science and range management from New Mexico State University. I was the second female intern for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

On the job: Two things are my favorite parts of my job. First, I call kickin’ dirt. Standing out with a land owner, discussing their thoughts, concerns, hopes and aspirations. Second, field work. I like being outdoors, going out early in the morning to watch the wildlife.

In her spare time: I just got addicted to marathons. It was such a rush of adrenaline, I think it’s something I might get into. I’ve always been a backpacker, I’m a ferocious reader and I don’t like to be indoors.

Life skills: My father, as an editor and writer, taught us observation skills. We also learned the power of criticism and how to handle it.

Parental guidance: My parents used to take us on field trips everywhere. They gave me my love of nature. We’d go to Oasis State Park, Portales Springs, Running Water Draw. It taught us a sense of our involvement in nature.

First view of a prairie chicken: I was 9 months old, tucked into a cardboard box in the bed of my parents’ pickup truck.

That time of year: Our seventh annual Prairie Chicken Festival is this weekend in Milnesand. We have people from places such as Montana, Missouri, West Virginia, the Phoenix area and Lubbock.

Purposefully done: The purpose of the festival is to educate, those both near and far. For those near, of what they have in their backyard. For me, some don’t see the plains as beautiful, but they come here and find the inherent beauty.