Open Spaces: The Story Behind the Storyteller

The Story Behind the Storyteller

You've been reading his series, "The Fish & Wildlife Service You Don't Know."

But who is David Klinger?  Anita Noguera set out to answer that question.

For the past several years, David Klinger has been putting the “people” back into the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The NCTC writer-editor, a veteran of 34 years with the agency, has been ferreting out some of the untold stories of the wildlife agency in a running feature called, “The Fish and Wildlife Service You Don’t Know,” that appears in Fish and Wildlife News and other publications.  “They’re a cross between in-house chatter and ‘urban legend’ – all true, most largely unremarked and unacknowledged, every one of them fascinating,” says Klinger.

“It’s been my good fortune over the course of a career to be an observer on the periphery of some fascinating wildlife stories, from California condors to sea otters, from spotted owls to peregrine falcons.  Absorbing as these stories have been, I find my attention increasingly turning to those more exotic of creatures, the men and women of the Fish and Wildlife Service, whose pursuits take them around the globe and into interesting endeavors.  Their stories read better than novels.”

David Klinger and his dog JacksonDavid Klinger with his dog Jackson

In spare moments from his duties as writer for NCTC’s new learning resource management branch, which is launching an expanded series of online courses and broadcasts, Klinger putters around the attic of the Fish and Wildlife Service, pulling out whatever sparkles and fascinates from musty old trunks, retelling the agency’s “family history” to a new generation of readers.“

So I’ve dug through the sands of a national wildlife refuge and discovered a buried Egyptian city – the remains of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 movie set for The Ten Commandments.  I’ve tasted a few recipes at the Fish and Wildlife Service test kitchens in Maryland, where wine-fried muskrat and marinated eel were on the 1940s bill-of-fare.  I’ve even ‘walked on the moon’ with one of our own, Jim Warren, who discovered that moon rocks and fish can mix.

“I’ve taken some trips down dark alleys, too.  I’ve been in the operating room with Dr. Walter Freeman, the ‘father of American lobotomy’ – an Interior Department alumnus – and sweated it out with the refuge and hatchery managers who were marked for assassination on the Manson family’s ‘hit list.’”

Klinger’s preparation as a member of the Service’s external affairs program has served him well as a teller of stories.  After a stint as a writer in the old biological services program beginning in 1977, he joined the public affairs office in Washington, D.C., where he was a national press officer.  In 1988, he became assistant regional director for public affairs in Portland, Oregon, just as the “forest wars” in the Pacific Northwest began to rage.  In 1998, he came to NCTC.

“If I’ve learned anything about the Fish and Wildlife Service, it’s that there’s a good story around every corner.  I think it says something about the essential strength of an agency of good people like the Service that we can tell our stories – warts and all – and, in so doing, learn from our experiences, celebrate our successes, laugh over our foibles, and remind ourselves just how unique we are.  Not every bureaucracy is that strong or self-confident, and I think such honesty resonates with the American public,” says Klinger.

What’s next on this storyteller’s agenda?  “There are some fascinating stories in the wings, about which I can only tease you.  I’ve been talking with the “Deep Throat’ who blew the whistle on the National Aquarium’s long-established practice of servicing the fish tanks in the halls of Congress … and the goldfish bowl in J. Edgar Hoover’s office,” says Klinger.  “And, on a more somber note, I want to tell the untold tale – as related to me by an FBI agent – of the plane crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and the supreme sacrifice made by one of our own, refuge manager Rich Guadagno.  It’s important to me that, 10 years after 9/11, the complete story be told.”

Comments (Comment Moderation is enabled. Your comment will not appear until approved.)
John Fisher's Gravatar David is an excellent write, always enjoyed his writing and storytelling ability over the years.
# Posted By John Fisher | 4/3/12 9:47 AM
Nan Rollison's Gravatar Thanks for this nice tribute to Dave. Whenever I read Dave's work, I always think he's a 'journalist's journalist.' His writing helps the public see the complexity and implications of conservation work in a way that answers "Why should I care?"
I hope we'll see more of his contributions in the future. All the best, Dave.
# Posted By Nan Rollison | 4/6/12 10:08 AM

Last updated: June 21, 2012