California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Featured Scientist

Stella McMillin
Stella McMillin examining the remains of dead wildlife to determine the cause of death

Stella McMillin

I have been an environmental scientist for 15 years. I started out as a scientific aide at the Aquatic Toxicology Lab in Elk Grove. After a few months, I moved out to the Pesticide Investigations Unit which was located at Region 2. After about two years as a scientific aide, I started as a Water Quality Biologist at the Pesticide Investigations Unit. My job was to investigate pesticide impacts on fish and other aquatic life while another biologist was responsible for pesticide issues in terrestrial wildlife. Eventually, the positions were combined.  A few years later, the Pesticide Investigations Unit was disbanded and I moved over to the Wildlife Investigations Laboratory.

I still perform the same function, but now have the benefit of working with other environmental scientists and wildlife veterinarians that are studying disease in wildlife. This means we can work together on cases. It is often not obvious whether distressed wildlife is suffering from disease or contaminants, or a combination of the two. By combining our efforts, we are able to perform more meaningful investigations.

I also do a lot of outreach to pesticide applicators and community groups. I provide information on how pests can be controlled in ways that are easier on wildlife. It is encouraging for me to see the concern the public has for protecting wildlife. Part of my job is education them on how they can help.

Who or what inspired you to become a scientist?

My dad is a scientist. When I was growing up, we were always looking through a microscope or a telescope or hiking around watching wildlife. One of my sisters also became a scientist and the other became a teacher. We grew up eager to learn and appreciating nature. As an adult it feels great to work in an environment where these same things are valued.

What got you interested in working with wildlife?

I sort of fell into my job by chance. It was almost my first job out of college and I immediately enjoyed the work and felt that there was a lot to learn. Now that Iíve been in the job for nearly 20 years, I feel like I still have a lot to learn.

Who or what brought you to CDFW? What inspires you to stay?

There is a great sense of mission at CDFW. You can feel it when you walk down the halls. When you go into someoneís office, they are enthusiastic about what they are doing and happy to share their knowledge. Iíve noticed that most of the people here spend their time figuring out how to accomplish the departmentís mission rather than reaching for the next rung on the career ladder. I definitely feel like part of a team here. The people I work with are positive, enthusiastic, and committed to making a difference for wildlife. It is inspiring to me to be part of that

What is the most rewarding project that you've worked on for CDFW?

The project that has taken most of my time has been studying effects of anticoagulant rodenticides on predators and scavengers in California. Luckily, this has also been the most rewarding project Iíve worked on. While it is disheartening to see wildlife poisoned, Iíve always felt that there was a solution. It has been encouraging to see different groups working toward that solution, including wildlife rehabilitation groups, universities, environmental groups, and other state and federal agencies. While we havenít solved the problem yet, I feel like weíre headed in the right direction.

If you had free reign and unlimited funding, what scientific project would you most like to do?

I would commit to solving the environmental issues associated with marijuana cultivation. From stream diversions to exposure of wildlife to pesticides, the people who have been working on the issue have done a great job raising awareness about an issue that most of us didnít know existed just a few years ago. It is a big problem that will require continued commitment to solve.

What is the best thing about being a wildlife scientist?

Being a wildlife scientist can be hard work, but it is hard work for a great cause. I feel a lot of satisfaction in being part of the solution.

Any advice for young people considering careers in science?

My best advice would be to get as much experience in the field as you can. Iíd also encourage them in their choice Ė I canít imagine a better career!


Education

  • M.S. Biological Sciences, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, 1993
  • B.S. Biological Sciences, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, 1991

Scientific publications

Cypher, B.L., S.C. McMillin, T.L. Westall, C.L. Van Horn Job, R.C. Hosea, B.J. Finlayson, and E.C. Kelly. 2014. Habitat use patterns and rodenticide exposure among San Joaquin kit foxes in an urban landscape. Cities and the Environment.

Mineau, P., L. Lyon, and S. McMillin. 2012. Impacts of carbofuran on birds in Canada and the United States. In: Carbofuran and Wildlife Poisoning: Global Perspectives and Forensic Approaches. Edited by Ngaio Richards. Wiley-Blackwell.

McMillin, S. 2012. Protecting Nontarget Wildlife from the Effects of Vertebrate Pesticides. Proceedings of 25th Vertebrate Pest Conference (R.M. Timm, Ed.)131-133.

McMillin, S.C. and B.J. Finlayson. 2010. Investigation of Chlorophacinone-Related Goose Deaths in Monterey County, California. Proc. 24th Vertebr. Pest Conf. (R. M. Timm and K. A. Fagerstone, Eds.) Published at Univ. of Calif., Davis. 2010. Pp. 178-180.

McMillin, S. and B.J. Finlayson. 2008. Chemical residues in water and sediment following rotenone application to Lake Davis, California 2007. California Department of Fish and Game, Pesticide Investigations Unit, OSPR Administrative Report 08-01, Rancho Cordova, California.

Siepmann, S., M. Menconi, and T. Younglove. 2001. Declining concentrations of tributyltin in Lake Tahoe and San Diego Bay, California 1988 through 1996. California Department of Fish and Game, Pesticide Investigations Unit, OSPR Administrative Report 01-1, Rancho Cordova, California.

Siepmann, S. and S. Holm. 2000. Hazard assessment of the pyrethroid insecticides bifenthrin, cypermethrin, esfenvalerate, and permethrin to aquatic organisms in the Sacramento-San Joaquin river system. California Department of Fish and Game, Pesticide Investigations Unit, OSPR Administrative Report 00-6, Rancho Cordova, California.

Trumbo, J. S. Siepmann, and B. Finlayson. 2000. Impacts of rotenone on benthic macroinvertebrate populations in Silver King Creek, 1994 through 1998. California Department of Fish and Game, Pesticide Investigations Unit, OSPR Administrative Report 00-7, Rancho Cordova, California.

Trumbo, J. S. Siepmann, and B. Finlayson. 2000. Impacts of rotenone on benthic macroinvertebrate populations in Silver Creek, 1990 through 1996. California Department of Fish and Game, Pesticide Investigations Unit, OSPR Administrative Report 00-5, Rancho Cordova, California.