Today, I am in Colorado's San Luis Valley with Secretary Salazar, celebrating the beginning of a new landscape conservation initiative -- the Sangre de Cristo National Conservation Area. Eventually, we hope to connect this area to a larger San Luis Valley Conservation Area, linking wildlife habitat from northern New Mexico up into western Colorado. We are celebrating a pledge by Mr. Louis Bacon to donate easements over the 90,000-acre Blanca Ranch to establish this new conservation unit. This would be the third-largest acreage donation to the National Wildlife Refuge System. The largest, establishing Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, occurred in 1973. It was engineered by then-Region 2 Realty Chief (and my father) William "Bill" Ashe, working with his friend and colleague Patrick "Pat" Noonan (The Nature Conservancy). Sunday is Father's Day, so I'm thinking of my dad, what he has accomplished in his life, and what that has meant for me.
He was born a Depression baby, in 1929, in the gritty industrial town of Ansonia, Connecticut. He was the oldest of 7. His mother was the daughter of Lithuanian immigrants. His father, a machinist, worked the industrial mills along the Naugatuck River Valley. My dad enlisted in the Army after high school, served briefly in the post-WWII occupation of Japan, and then the GI Bill took him to the University of Connecticut, where he studied forestry. He married a girl from Bridgeport and took a job with an outfit called the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They had 5 boys, and when I think of Father's Day, I often think of a quote from the Rev. Theodore Hesburg --
"The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother."
He did, and he does. He also taught me and my brothers to love the outdoors. He taught us to camp and fish and shoot and hunt, although he was never an avid camper, angler, shooter or hunter himself. He played handball, and did it well. He worked to improve his communities. He took Thanksgiving meals to the poor when we lived in Atlanta. He won many greased watermelon contests at our neighborhood pool, and taught us to win. He taught us to be competitors and to hate losing, but also that there is no shame in losing if you have given your best. He could "wrassle" and pin all five Ashe boys at once. He took us to NWRs throughout the Southeast, where we would vacation while he worked on acquisitions. Some of my best childhood days (and to be honest, at times some of the most tedious and boring for us restless boys) were spent with him, visiting refuges and fish hatcheries.
My dad took this photo of me and two brothers, with friends, banding ducks at Piedmont NWR, in 1968.
My brother Jeff is holding the wood duck. I am second from the right and was 12 years old.
And life comes full circle. When I was National Wildlife Refuge System Chief, I took my family camping at Chincoteague NWR. Then-manager, John Schroer took us on a tour of the Refuge. After about two hours riding around, he looked over his shoulder and asked my two children, "Is there anything else you'd like to see?" My daughter replied, "I just wanted to go to the beach."