Following Her Roots
For as long as she can remember, Joyce Gibbons has been interested in biology and the environment.
“I had an aunt who lived up in Wisconsin. We used to go visit them when I was little,” says Gibbons. “She was very knowledgeable about the native plants and some of the medicinal qualities of them. We would go for walks together, and she would explain to me and point out things about the environment. I really treasured those moments.”
And so began a lifelong interest for Gibbons, who’s earned degrees in wildlife biology and entomology and worked at places as diverse as the Natural Land Institute and the University of Illinois College of Medicine-Rockford. She now works at the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency as an environmental protection specialist.
“I visit factories and oversee how they’re handling their hazardous waste, making sure that all the rules are being followed,” she says. “I inspect landfills, open dumps and clean construction or demolition debris operations.”
At times, Gibbons can feel overwhelmed by the environmental damage she sees at work. During times of anxiety, she often asks herself, “What can I do?”
The answer has involved getting back to her roots.
Gibbons loves to volunteer with Forest Preserves of Winnebago County, the Natural Land Institute, the Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, doing her part to help restore the region’s natural ecology.
But perhaps her favorite work is related to a project in which she monitors dragonfly populations in the region. It was while working on that project that Gibbons and her colleagues found species of dragonflies known to occur in other areas of the state and country, but never before in Winnebago County.
The work involves hiking through area forest preserves from April through October.
“I walk through various habitats such as pond edges, stream and river banks, woodland pools and prairies,” says Gibbons. “I observe the various species that I find in the different habitats and record them. It’s not always easy, and it takes a lot of patience and skill.”