BRI Student Spotlight: Maya Ressler

BRI graduate assistant Maya Ressler taking in the view on the South Rim trail in Big Bend National Park.

Maya Ressler fell in love with Big Bend and West Texas when her father took her to Big Bend National Park for her sixteenth birthday.

“It totally changed my world,” said Maya. “I was trying to figure out what I was going to do career-wise and where I would go to school. I learned about wildlife biology from the park rangers, and I decided right then and there that I wanted to do something that puts me outside in a beautiful place like West Texas.”

Growing up mostly in Austin, Maya decided to stay close to home for her bachelor’s, and she earned a degree in wildlife biology from Texas State University in San Marcos in 2020. She began building her conservation network and some wonderful field experiences further cemented her interest in a wildlife-related career. In 2019, the year before she graduated, she did an internship at Davis Mountains State Park, where she met more West Texas folks working in conservation, including a young man named Zach Vaughn.

Several of her mentors and friends encouraged her to continue her education, and she continued to volunteer for field work, including for a project in West Texas.

“That’s when I met Dr. Ryan Luna, who told me about the quail research program at Borderlands Research Institute. I enrolled, was accepted, and am just thrilled to be out here in West Texas.”

Maya’s thesis project revolves around Montezuma quail, an elusive little-researched species.

“I am interested in the different things that are affecting the population viability of Montezuma quail. When I was surveying for them in the Davis Mountains, I noticed a ton of feral pigs. So, one part of my study is examining their impact on the quail population. I’m also researching how extreme climactic events like droughts and extended freezes affect Montezuma quail population dynamics.”

She hopes to defend her thesis in the summer of 2023. As she wraps up her project, Maya is also planning a wedding: her own!

Not only did she fall in love with West Texas, she fell in love in West Texas. When she came back for her first grad semester in 2020, she and Zach re-connected.

“Right before the pandemic happened, I came back here to volunteer for another project during Spring Break 2020. We were out of relationships and spent a lot of time together outdoors during COVID times. Both of us were into the same things, and we just clicked.”

Maya and Zach on the Dixon Water Foundation Mimms Ranch in Marfa.

Maya and Zach may be among just a few people who will recall the pandemic as a happy memory! Zach graduated from Sul Ross in 2019 from the Sustainable Ranching Program and is now the ranch manager for the Mimms Ranch, a Dixon Water Foundation facility near Marfa.

“We’ll be married in October, and I am hoping to land in a conservation-related position here in West Texas that will allow me to help conserve and protect the beautiful landscapes and wildlife of the Big Bend region,” said Maya. “We want to put roots down here. I love this country so much, it just kind of feels like home.”