Every so often it's good to look into the past to revisit the people who got us where we are today. 'Looking Back' is a series on the people who helped shape the National Wildlife Refuge System. The series is based on "A Look Back," a regular column written by Karen Leggett from the Refuge System Branch of Communications, which appears in each issue of the Refuge Update newsletter.
During a 1939 Audubon trip to southeastern Oregon, 13-yearold Dave Marshall decided he wanted a career being paid to watch birds. Birding was already in his genes.
His great-great grandfather traveled by covered wagon to Oregon carrying a pair of field glasses, and his parents were early members of the Audubon Society of Portland. Wildlife photographer and conservationist William L. Finley was a family friend.
Marshall began working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Nevada and California in 1951, returning to Oregon and Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 1955. Asked to locate lands in the Willamette Valley for wintering dusky Canada geese, he identified habitat that would become William L. Finley, Ankeny and Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuges, in addition to portions of Tualatin River, Lewis and Clark and Willapa Refuges.
Dave Marshall, who died in November 2011 at age 85, cradles a young red-winged blackbird in 1947. (Photo: USFWS)
“He felt that uplands were important to the health of the wetlands,” says Doug Spencer, recently retired manager of the Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex. “Because of Dave Marshall, today we have a great mix of habitats on these refuges.”
During a 30-year career in the Service, Marshall also worked as a regional refuge biologist, producing an inventory of wildlife on remote Pacific islands and working to return musk ox to Alaska.
He was once asked to deliver two greater sandhill cranes to Tokyo as a gift for Japan’s Emperor Showa. When the flight was delayed, he arranged to have the cranes spend the night in the pilots’ lounge.
Marshall retired in 1981 but kept on working, developing a non-game wildlife management plan for Oregon that became a model for other states. While writing that plan, he told Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge manager Roy Lowe how happy he was that the refuge now includes 1,854 islands off the Oregon coast. In 1963, he had been told that only rock islands with large seabird colonies could be added to the Refuge System — and he could identify just 28.
Also in retirement, Marshall wrote an autobiography — Memoirs of a Wildlife Biologist — and edited the definitive Birds of Oregon: A General Reference.
He had a certain disdain for birding lists because “he wanted people to appreciate birds for their natural history,” recalls Lowe. “He was a conservationist at heart.”