KANGAROO RATS, GROUND SQUIRRELS, AND TORTOISES, OH MY!​

By QK

Forty years of Firsts

Throughout a decades-long career, Curtis Uptain, principal biologist at QK, has enjoyed pursuing his passion of working with plants and animals and safeguarding their future. Uptain is renown in the environmental sciences world for conducting biological resource inventories and studies in the southwestern United States focusing on endangered species. This regard resulted in Uptain recently receiving a prestigious award from the Environmental Business Journal (EBJ) recognizing significant life-long contributions.

Uptain holds federal and state permits to trap numerous threatened and endangered species. Among the animals he can trap, handle, and relocate are three species of the kangaroo rat, Buena Vista Lake shrew, California red-legged frog, Mojave ground squirrel, California tiger salamander, five species of branchiopods, and the Desert tortoise. He has extensive experience with environmental permitting and coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and California Department of Fish and Wildlife on biological permitting and natural environment studies. His expertise as a biologist identifies the presence of a protected species on a project site and creates a plan avoidance for permanent relocation to a safe environment or temporarily to allow natural migration back to the habitat once work has completed.

Uptain’s geographical areas of focus include California’s San Joaquin Valley and Mojave Desert and includes projects in housing and urban development, transportation, pipelines and transmission lines, cogeneration plants, solar and geothermal, mining and waste treatment, and restoration and management of retired farmlands. In a field that must continually balance responsible development and progress with environmental protection, Uptain has forged many firsts including:

Industry Impact. Uptain has been instrumental authoring reports that have changed industry-wide processes and providing recommendations benefiting both human and animal populations. His work helped change protocols for active-relocation programs resulting in more effective rollouts that evaluate both an animal population’s originating location as well as the new habitat, considering possible effects of introduction on the native species.

Uptain is a regular speaker for professional organizations and educational forums and served as an instructor for both The Wildlife Society and California Department of Fish and Wildlife. He is a long-term member of the Mojave Ground Squirrel Technical Advisory Committee and has conducted research on many species in the Central Valley for the past 30 years.

Award-Winning Recognition. Uptain is the recipient of the Environmental Business Journal’s inaugural Earth Science Pioneer Award, which marks lifetime contributions of leaders and innovators across the earth sciences. He also received a Certificate of Appreciation for the conservation of endangered species from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Forty years doing what I love means going to work isn’t work — it’s a passion that I enjoy every day,” said Uptain. “Recognition from these organizations is important to me because it shines a bright light on protecting vulnerable and endangered animal populations.”

Pivotal Research. Publications resulting from Uptain’s work includes documentation of research, surveys, and biological analyses, as well as technical reports and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents. He has also authored mitigation and monitoring plans and habitat conservation plans.

Innovative Projects. Uptain believes one of the most interesting projects he has been involved with is a first-of-its-kind undertaking for the solar industry. A self-formed farming entity serving as their own developer, approached QK and Uptain to work with Kern County, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to obtain CEQA and NEPA approvals and Incidental Take Permits (ITP) to ready a site for future solar development. Uptain successfully guided the project through a complex three-year approval process resulting in the Obama administration providing federal support of the project. A major solar player developed 160 acres of the site for solar production with a grass-roots farming conglomerate recouping not only their original investment, but also receiving profit from the venture. A second solar developer is currently working on additional projects to produce a total of 700 megawatts in capacity.

Whether it’s a solar project revealing a newly-discovered population of the endangered Stephen’s kangaroo rat, a 600-mile pipeline project through the Mohave Desert requiring a massive survey to determine endangered plant species and wildlife including the desert tortoise and kit fox, or a 20-acre cogeneration energy project that discovered the protected antelope squirrel along 20-miles of its transmission lines, the services provided by Uptain help to maintain the delicate ecosystem while fueling responsible development. “You will find no better partner than Curtis whose driving force involves producing results that benefit everyone: the environment, clients, and business,” said QK’s CFO/COO Amber Aguayo.

A Career Well-Lived

In a career capped by many milestones, Uptain gives credit freely, noting that his many mentors were instrumental in guiding his path. He also counts many dedicated and enthusiastic friends and colleagues in the biological community who share information freely to benefit the environment. This sense of unity is mirrored in the care and devotion to the animal kingdom that Uptain and this tight-knit community hold dear.

Callout Quotes:

There’s no aspect of this job I don’t like. Working with animals and writing the final reports are really the most rewarding parts of my job. What I write helps inform the future of an entire species in a given area — that’s something I take very seriously, every day.

Curtis is known through the profession as a first-rate biologist, but what really establishes him as the best is how he cares about continually developing those around him. His legacy for excellence will continue far beyond his career.” —Amber Aguayo, CFO/COO, QK

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