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Director's Corner

Meet Service Director Dan Ashe.

Reflecting on Black History Month

African-Americans have made immeasurable contributions to conservation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  In honor of Black History Month, I wanted to take a moment to reflect upon the significance of these contributions, both past and present.

Through the vision of these leaders, the conservation community  confronted the challenges of yesterday and today with clarity and courage.  Leveraging their strength, we’ve built a solid foundation to support our work in the face of an uncertain future.

Born into slavery in 1840s, Holt Collier fled plantation life at 14 to become a legendary hunter and tracker. Collier’s skills were so well renowned  he was asked to join Teddy Roosevelt for one of his most famous hunts.  Collier’s legacy lives today in the 1,400-acre National Wildlife Refuge in Darlove, Mississippi that bears his name

Col. Charles Young was one of the first African American graduates of US Military Academy at West Point, and the first ever African-American superintendent of a national park.  Colonel Young worked tirelessly to clear miles and miles of wagon roads to keep Sequoia National park accessible to the public.  Those same roads—while very different today—helped millions visit Sequoia over the last century, solidifying its place as an iconic destination in the American natural landscape.

Keenan Adams found his love for nature in an urban setting very different than the historic Florida wildlife refuges he manages today.  Inspired by his heritage and family history, the Deputy Manager of Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex focused his doctoral research at Clemson University on the land ethic of African American forest landowners. Recently, Dr. Adams’ diverse life experiences and subject matter expertise helped the Service work more closely with local community members during the establishment of the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area.

There are many others, of course: African-Americans like Shannon Smith, Maury Bedford, Robin Nims Elliott, Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, and Jerome Ford, who currently play essential leadership roles in the Service.  Rising to meet the conservation challenges of tomorrow will require all of us to summon the same courage of vision and strength that was  summoned by our past leaders. As we confront concerns over the rapid urbanization of the American natural landscape; adapt to the consequences of a changing climate; and attempt to mitigate the impact of habitat loss on wildlife, the Service is fortunate to have these individuals who long ago made the decision to devote their careers to the cause of conservation.  Their expertise and diverse perspectives are reservoirs of strength from which the Service can continually draw today and tomorrow.


A River of Grass

I'm finishing up a great trip to Florida this week. Tuesday morning, I was with Secretary Salazar and Senator Bill Nelson, along the Tamiami Trail.

No, it's not actually a trail.

It's basically a fill causeway through the heart of the Everglades that was constructed in the early 1900s, connecting Tampa and Miami; hence "Tamiami."

It constricts water flow through the Everglades, and a major part of the Everglades restoration is a project to elevate a 1-mile stretch of the road, allowing water to flow more naturally and letting the "River of Grass" behave more like a river.

But we weren't there to celebrate that project.  

We were there to announce our new Lacey Act rule to list 4 species of large constrictor snakes, including Burmese python as injurious and to ban their importation and movement in interstate commerce. Believed to be derived from discarded or escaped pets, there is now a wild, naturally reproducing population of Burmese pythons likely totaling in the tens of thousands.

They can grow to over 20 feet and exceed 200 pounds. On Tuesday, we had a relatively small one on display for a battery of media cameras; a mere 13-footer, weighing about 90 pounds. Plenty of snake for me, thanks very much!  

Photo Credit: (Tami Heilemann/Department of Interior)

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