Amanda Sankey

Environmental Consultant, Crouch Environmental Services, Inc.

Education: B.S. in Resource and Environmental Studies, Concentration in Geography (Texas State University, San Marcos), Minors in Communications and Geology (Texas State University, San Marcos)

Describe your job and the primary tasks and duties for which you’re responsible as an Environmental Consultant at Crouch Environmental Services, Inc.
Crouch Environmental is a small company of about 18 employees, divided into two departments: the Communications department and the Environmental department. I am responsible for managing projects relating to both teams.

In support of our Communications team, I help facilitate public meetings, deliver presentations, and produce high-quality materials featuring content that directly relates to environmental issues and events happening in the Gulf Coast region of Texas. This requires expertise in developing appropriate messaging tailored to audiences of varying backgrounds.

In support of our Environmental team, I secure different types of environmental permits so that my clients comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and other state and federal regulations. This requires a working knowledge and expertise across a wide range of environmental legislation. It also requires an understanding of hydric soils, native vegetation of the Texas gulf coastal plains, hydrological indicators, and understanding and abiding by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers policies and procedures.

What substantive geographic knowledge is important and useful to know in your position? For example, this includes knowledge and understanding of geographic terminology and substantive concepts (e.g., alluvial plain, metropolitan area, ethnic group, tertiary economy, coniferous forest, geologic fault, etc.)
When I started out doing fieldwork for the environmental team, I used geographic terminology when mapping rivers and streams and characterizing biological environments. In this work I regularly used technical terms and concepts such as bank width, bank steps, ordinary high water mark, sediment sorting, discerning forest communities (a successional community or a mature forest), identifying types of forests and herbaceous communities (such as deciduous or hardwood pine forests), identifying active margins and passive margins, measuring riparian buffers, and identifying contours and benchmarks.

As I have integrated into our communications team, I have found an understanding of public needs relating to environmental justice, metropolitan areas, and limited English proficiency (LEP) to be crucial in serving our clients, as we often explain geographic concepts relating to water quality, flooding, watersheds, and drainage basins to the general public.

What conceptual geographic knowledge is important and useful to know in your position? For example, this includes using “big ideas” in geography such as location, place, region, interconnection, spatial relationships, etc., to think about people, places, and environments, from the local to the global.
When operating under the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act, I rely heavily on my understanding of concepts relating to hydrologic flow in river basins. When I’m determining flow direction of waterways in my study area, I will often use clues in the landscape, including topographic gradients and dendritic drainage patterns in order to determine what is considered “upstream” and “downstream.” Signs of sediment or refuse collecting in the landscape can be really helpful when I am investigating a landscape.

Other spatial concepts I learned in environmental geography, such as eutrophication, help me figure out where certain wildlife species may be located. For example, if you have a lower dissolved oxygen content in certain areas, you are going to have different types of fish species present. Metrics like dissolved oxygen or presence of e. coli can also help identify potential contaminants present. These concepts are geographic in nature as they relate to the effect of drainage patterns in the landscape.

What procedural geographic knowledge is important and useful to know in your position? For example, this includes spatial analysis with a GIS or other geospatial technology, designing a geographic inquiry and research study, collecting spatial data in the field, etc.
When I was in school, I actually had no intention of learning ArcGIS; however, it was a requirement for my degree at Texas State. I think the fact that I had a basic GIS class may have been what ultimately secured my position at Crouch Environmental when I first started interviewing with them. When I applied for a position at Crouch, their GIS person had just left for another company, and they asked if I could learn this skill quickly to take his place. Without that class, I’m not sure if I would have been able to initially land this job. This skill is extremely helpful to have in your arsenal regardless of what you plan to do with it.

As far as fieldwork goes, prior to heading to the field, the lead field biologist will determine how we will conduct the study based on the size and shape of the area. Our team of biologists will measure the edge of wetlands and the ordinary high water mark along streams by collecting data points with our GPS unit. Once they return from the field, the data is transferred from the GPS unit into ArcGIS. Our GIS specialist then maps out exactly where that stream was located based off of our field data.

In your time at Crouch Environmental, can you give specific examples of where geography really made a difference, and had an impact through the work of the company?
Absolutely! What’s great about working at Crouch Environmental and the industry in general is the type of clients that we get to work with. We get to work a lot with public entities, like Harris County Engineering Department and Harris County Flood Control District, on a regular basis. These entities rely on our environmental studies, public involvement and facilitation, and coordination with leading agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers in order to build public infrastructure projects such as roadways, utility lines, and storm water management detention basins. We get to help expedite environmentally conscious development that is crucial for supporting safe and efficient travel throughout Harris County.

What is it about geography that inspires you and connects with your aspirations, both as a private citizen and as a professional in your field?
As a professional I really love the idea of identifying the least environmentally damaging, practical alternative that still allows people to meet their needs. It’s an evolving, exciting challenge that I get to partake in every day as an environmental consultant. Development is going to happen no matter what, and I get to help make sure that it happens in an environmentally consciousness manner. The credibility and weight that comes behind that is so important!

On a personal level I love that the biology side of my work is geographic in nature. It is a constant reminder of how organisms within the same space all impact each other. My understanding of geographic concepts allows me to take all the details from the raw data that we collect and put them into the bigger picture. The work we do is so important because it directly affects the quality of the streams and water that we drink every day. It amazes me how much we are affected by the world around us and by the different chemicals you’ll find wherever you are.

When did you first make the connection between geography and career possibilities and opportunities?
I first got the idea about going into geography from my father, who also has a geography degree (he’s actually in my field too!). I saw geography as a career possibility early on, but I didn’t quite connect with it until college. In my environmental geography class, I had the opportunity to choose an environmental problem to research and present to the class. I studied the Chinese tallow tree, an invasive species common to the Houston area. From this experience, I learned that invasive species can pose major problems to native environments, and that these problems can be exacerbated by poor environmental management. I realized when I was doing that presentation and putting it all together that I could actually address some of these issues as an environmental consultant. Ever since then, it’s kind of been my path. It’s been three and a half years since I graduated and started with Crouch and I’m still happy to be here.

Beyond your work life, do you ever use your knowledge of geography to inform other aspects of your behavior or your personal life in terms of lifestyle, driving, public transit, shopping, etc.? Are there any other ways you find geography to have a personal value?
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! I can’t say that enough! One big example that stands out in my mind was the fallout from Hurricane Harvey. This was a really scary event for everyone last year! Something I learned from my water resources class was how to pick where to live to minimize damage from flooding. I knew which public databases to go to and how to access information on floodplains and drainage to select a home with the best possible chance of staying dry during a major flooding event. I’d like to think this was a contributing factor in my home not incurring flood damage from Hurricane Harvey.