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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Rocket Scientist and Bear River Volunteer Bob Ebeling Dies

 Bob Ebeling
Al Trout and Bob Ebeling repair a water structure.

Kathi Stopher, the visitor services manager at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, remembers a wonderful member of the Bear River family who passed away March 21.

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge has lost a great friend with Bob Ebeling's passing.  His legacy spans the generations: As a rocket booster engineer, conservationist, community organizer, fundraiser, and refuge Friend and volunteer for more than 27 years, Robert Venon Ebeling began a second career when walked into the office of Bear River Refuge Manager Al Trout and announced that “he was here to help" restore the 50 miles of dikes and 50 water-control structures that had been lost to the Great Salt Lake flooding, circa 1983-89. 

 Bob Ebeling
Bob Ebeling prepares bulrush seeds for reseeding the marsh.

Bob immediately took charge of the restoration project, unparalleled by any in the Refuge System, as the sole volunteer and with a budget of zero dollars and no equipment. Enlisting the assistance of fellow engineers, using personal trucks and airboats, and supplied with lumber from generous business owners, Bob and crew set forth to bring the salt-inundated marshes back to life for the water birds he so loved.  Bridge decks were reset, roads were re-graded, dikes were reinforced, and marshes were reseeded.  By 1990, the first impoundments were holding water and alkali bulrush was growing once again! 

In the years since those monumental first steps in the restoration phase, Bob continued to champion the refuge through fundraising, conducting public relations tours, advocating for land acquisition, and promoting the construction of the James V. Hansen Wildlife Education Center. In his later years, when age restricted his once unbounded energy, he volunteered at the new wildlife education center (part of his dream) answering questions of visitors and admonishing youth to care for their backyard (Bear River Refuge).  He told at-risk students, “Stay in school, do well in math and science, and start a career in conservation.”  As a well-deserving recipient of the National Volunteer of the Year Award in 2012, Bob’s contributions of time, talents and personal possessions have been invaluable to restoring the refuge to its present state. 

 Bob Ebeling
Bob Ebeling (front row, second from right) still hard at work in 1993.

His passion for sharing education about the refuge and its need for engaging youth was inspirational.  The words Bob spoke in 1989 ring true today, “The benefits to wildlife viewers and hunters, both local and travelers, is immense and carries great aesthetic and financial rewards to the community”. 

 “In my opinion,” says Al Trout, refuge manager 1989-2006,   “the entire process of reconstruction was based on innovation and problem solving.”

“Without Bob’s presence, inspiration and technical expertise in mechanical engineering, the process would have been delayed…When Bob Ebeling showed up at my doorstep, it changed the future of the Bear River Refuge, to the good.”  

Adds Bob Barrett, current Bear River refuge manager: “We owe Bob a debt of gratitude, for which we can never repay. The refuge is here for future generations.”     

Editor’s Note: Even if you have never been to Bear River, Bob's name might be familiar to you. He was an engineer who warned against the disastrous launch of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986. Bob spent years blaming himself for not  warning hard enough.

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