Rikeem Sholes climbing in the Red Rocks. Photo courtesy of PDX Climbers of Color
Biology, books, and breaking barriers for newcomers to nature - Rikeem Sholes is our Fearless Voice this month.

Rikeem Sholes is a fish biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. When he’s not spending his time “spying” on fish at work, you can find him immersed in books at Powell’s, and at the climbing gym each week with PDX Climbers of Color. We were lucky to chat with Rikeem this month and spotlight him and May’s Fearless Voice.

Rikeem, thanks for chatting with us! Tell us about yourself. What do you love about living in the Pacific Northwest? 

I’m originally from New Orleans but I’ve lived in the western U.S. for most of my adult life. I’ve been officially living in the PDX/Vancouver area for a little over 2 years but I’ve been in and out of Oregon and Washington for work since 2009. I currently live in the Van Mall area of Vancouver with my partner. My favorite place by far in the area is Powell’s City of Books although I try to avoid spending too much time there for my wallet’s sake. For me, being surrounded by all those books is about as close to nirvana as a non-Buddhist will probably ever come.

You mention your work is like “spying on fish” – this sounds very interesting! Tell us more. 

I’m a Fish Biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I work with small scale computer systems and drones that let me enumerate fish populations and monitor their habitat. Basically I use electronics to spy on fish. My goal with my work is to allow humans to utilize nature’s resources in a way that is sustainable and has a minimal overall impact on its ecosystems. My work allows scientists to retrieve data in a way that is more efficient, less costly, and less invasive than conventional methods.

So in some ways your work helps inform conservation work, which is fantastic. What issues of Northwest conservation do you care about the most?

I care most about having a diversity of outlooks in the conservation field. I’m a firm believer that any problem will be better dealt with when the people working on it are from a variety of backgrounds. It’s like the saying: “If Your Only Tool is a Hammer Then Every Problem Looks Like a Nail” in the sense that any group of connected people will tend to see a similar solution that is largely based on how they interpret their surroundings. Increasing diversity increases options!

What do you love about the outdoors? What do you consider to be your places?

I help run a person of color climbing group and also run a POC hiking group in the area. I love the fact that the natural green spaces are so accessible here. It removes one of the biggest barriers to getting beginners into the outdoors. My love of the outdoors is deeply rooted in my work as a biologist. Surprisingly I didn’t discover the outdoors until after college so I love being able to make nature available to people for the first time.

I feel most at home hanging out with friends outdoors or in a climbing gym. Interacting with people at PDX Climbers of Color events is usually a high point of every week. There’s a certain level of trust that every climber has to have with their belay partner and I think that lends to some solid friendships. The climbing is fun but the real beauty of those events is seeing so many people of different races and cultures coming together to support each other. I like to think Martin Luther King Jr. would have been proud [laughs].