Biological Monitoring for MoCo

Field Reports from Department of Environmental Protection Staff

  • March 2019
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Meet the Scientists

Rachel Gauza | Jennifer St. John | Eric Naibert | Dave Jordahl | Keith Van Ness


Rachel Gauza

Rachel Gauza with some male spotted salamanders

Rachel Gauza with some male spotted salamanders

Rachel Gauza joined the monitoring team in August 2007 as a biologist specializing in stream biological monitoring and amphibians and reptiles. She conducts biological monitoring for the County, and when office-bound, manages the Special Protection Area Best Management Practice Monitoring Program.

Before working for Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection, Rachel was a Natural Resources Biologist for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Maryland Biological Stream Survey. In addition to stream work, she also has professional experience conducting bat, songbird, and woody vegetation surveys. Rachel is a Maryland-native, growing up in Carroll County and attending Hood College in Frederick, MD where she majored in Biology and Music Performance.

Outside of work, Rachel volunteers for the National Zoo’s Amazonia exhibit and Maryland Amphibian and Reptile Atlas.  Even in her free time, Rachel can’t steer clear of streams and wetlands, and can often be found hiking and looking for amphibians and reptiles. Additionally, she enjoys tennis, field hockey, and playing the clarinet, as well as spending time with friends and her pets: Bailey (the Chihuahua-mix), Frick and Frack (ferrets), and Tank (the hedgehog). 



Jennifer St. John

Jennifer St. John holding a White Sucker fish

Jennifer St. John holding a White Sucker fish

Jennifer St. John has been a member of the Montgomery County stream monitoring team for three years, analyzing water quality and studying biological communities to determine watershed health. As a water quality specialist and lifelong Montgomery County resident, Jenny feels a strong responsibility to understand and protect her community’s precious resources.

 When not in the field, Jenny watches over the stream restoration monitoring program, assists in the management of the Special Protection Area program, and helps produce maps and reports. An advocate of public outreach and awareness, she manages the volunteer and student intern program, facilitates many outreach events, and updates the monitoring group’s website.

 Before working with Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Protection, Jenny received a Bachelors degree in Environmental Science from the University of Maryland, College Park. Throughout her studies, she fostered a particular interest in soil science and spent much of her free time competing on the Maryland soil judging team. By studying soils in California, Utah, New Hampshire and Maine, she was given a unique perspective of time and place by understanding how the soil formed over hundreds of thousands of years.

 Even in her free time, Jenny enjoys playing in the “dirt”, searching for amphibians, reptiles, and crayfish with her biologist buddy, Rachel Gauza. She can be found hiking in the woods with her dog, Elvis and husband, Jesse. Other members of her family include two cats, Chester and Sunshine, and soon-to-be-born Charlie– their first baby due in June!


Eric Naibert

Eric with a crustacean hanging off his cap

Eric with a crustacean hanging off his cap

Eric joined the biological monitoring team in August of 2006.  His principle responsibilities within the department include the collection and evaluation of stream data.  He studies the fish and bug communities, conducts geomorphic stream surveys, and collects information on temperature, rainfall, and stream flow which is used in key reports provided by the County.  Eric is also involved with the Special Protection Area (SPA) Best Management Practice (BMP) monitoring program. He provides oversight over the developers who are required to monitor the effectiveness of stormwater management structures in reducing the impacts of construction and development to the adjacent stream communities.

In addition to his other responsibilities, Eric finds that he is often relegated to the position of “the tall guy.”  This somewhat dubious representation often requires that he goes through the woods first to clear out spider webs, wade through swift streams to see if the others have a chance of making it, and be on call around the office to reach items previously placed on top of all those dust-laden bookshelves.  His mechanical aptitude makes him a perfect candidate for maintaining the field equipment.  His favorite activity is fixing the garage door when it jams.

Eric loves the outdoors.  He is an avid fisherman, boater, and motorcyclist.  He has a freshwater and a saltwater aquarium.  He also likes to travel.  One of his goals is to visit all seven of the Ancient Wonders of the World.  So far, he has been to Machu Picchu in Peru, and to Chichen Itza in Mexico.  Only five more to go!


Dave Jordahl

Dave Jordahl in a tight spot

Dave Jordahl in a tight spot

Dave Jordahl joined the monitoring section in March 1995 during its early days; at that time the program had been in existence for less than a year.  Dave specializes in biological monitoring for the County and is also in charge of procurement for the section, managing consultant contracts, and is in charge of inventory. Dave works with the Special Protection Area program, baseline monitoring, and special projects (e.g., monitoring the streams draining the Dickerson yard trim compost facility).

Dave worked for nearly seven years with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) at the Annapolis headquarters as a Natural Resources Biologist. He specialized in aquatic toxicology and biological monitoring in coastal plan ecosystem including both tidal and non-tidal environments. At the time that Dave was employed with the Maryland DNR he worked within the Chesapeake Bay Research and Monitoring Division. He was involved in investigating the toxic effects of airplane deicer fluids that were flushed into streams draining the Baltimore Washington International (BWI) airport and the toxic effects of leachates from used tires in varying salinities. Used tires were at one time proposed to serve as artificial reefs within the Chesapeake Bay. Dave was co-author for both projects which were published in Water, Air, and Soil Pollution and Environmental Contamination and Toxicity, respectively.   

During his free time Dave is an avid canoeist and whitewater rafter, bicyclist, hiker, and skier. Dave is actively involved with the Vienna, VA based Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC), which is one of the largest trail maintaining organizations that maintains the Appalachian trail, along with shelters and cabins serving those who use the trails from central Virginia to southern Pennsylvania. Dave is an overseer to five hiking trails and a corridor monitor along the AT. He is also the president of the West Chapter of PATC.


Keith Van Ness

Keith Van Ness handling snakes (yes there's a little one in his palms)

Keith Van Ness handling snakes (yes there's a little one in his palm)

Keith Van Ness started working with the Department of Environmental Protection in 1994 as the County’s Senior Water Quality Specialist. His first task was to plan and implement the Countywide Stream Monitoring Program. Being very short-staffed in the early years of the monitoring program, Keith developed a self-standing, one person kick seine net, allowing for one field person to collect benthic macroinvertebrates. Keith started the County’s Biological Monitoring Work Group (BMW Group) through which consistent stream monitoring protocols were adopted for the County. Keith is one of the primary authors for the Countywide Stream Protection Strategy and the County’s Special Protection Area regulations. With the monitoring program fully staffed, Keith finds himself office-bound more and more analyzing data, writing reports, and always looking to improve the way monitoring results are communicated to County residents.

Since 2002, Keith has been working with Federal, State, and academic partners to examine the full range of changes that occur to small streams in the Clarksburg Special Protection Area as a result of land-use change. Information on long-term changes to overall landuse, hydrology, geomorphology and biology is being collected. Keith also manages the Watershed Restoration Effectiveness Monitoring. This program measures the success of restoration projects in attaining their design goals.

Keith is currently the Chair of the Maryland Water Monitoring Council. The Council provides a forum for effective communication, cooperation, and collaboration for all involved in water monitoring;

Outside of work, Keith volunteers with the Frederick Challenger Little League and tries to keep up with home chores.


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