George Mushbach knew all too well that refuge managers don’t always win popularity contests when they try to conserve habitat or wildlife. He managed Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma in the late 1930s.


For years, local ranchers had been allowed to graze their cattle on refuge land, possibly as a way to control wildfires by reducing vegetation. When overgrazing became a problem, especially for the bison and longhorn cattle the refuge was intended to protect, Mushbach ended grazing. “Elimination of cattle from the refuge in 1938 precipitated a campaign on the part of disgruntled graziers to discredit the administration; petitions were in circulation; the Lawton Chamber of Commerce investigated; and many public officials were importuned to act on behalf of the cattle interests,” Mushbach wrote in an annual report. He stood his ground. The ranchers and cattle left. And, he wrote, “After a hectic two months, the recriminations ceased.”


The following year, Mushbach went on the offensive: “In carrying out a desire to keep the local public informed of refuge activities and to keep the name of the refuge and the Biological Survey to the forefront, more than 100 news items were furnished to the local press during three months. When one Lawton newspaper showed relish for wildlife stories, another Lawton daily also demanded similar ‘wildlife yarns.’ They were supplied regularly to both.”


Some of those wildlife yarns may have involved Texas longhorn. Once the primary beef cattle in the United States, longhorns were forced into virtual extinction by improved breeds. A nucleus herd of 20 was brought to the refuge in 1927 and is still maintained as the Wichita Refuge bloodline.


In 1939, Mushbach left Wichita Mountains Refuge for the National Bison Range, MT, where he tackled other problems, such as trying to control goatweed (now popularly known as St. John’s wort). It took 133 man days of hand hoeing, horse–drawn and power mowing, and Chrysolina beetles to stay on top of the weed.


In 1947, Mushbach filmed “Buffalo Lore,” a 10–minute documentary about the importance of bison to Native Americans. He remained at the National Bison Range until retiring in 1950 after 35 years with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The years at Wichita Mountains earned him the Refuge System’s designation as a conservation hero for his “steadfast dedication to a mission in the face of adversity.”