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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Leah Eskelin Inspired by Kids' Curiosity and Fearlessness

Meet Your Fish and Wildlife Service
Leah Eskelin
Leah Eskelin leads kids on photo safaris. Photo credit: USFWS

Leah Eskelin serves as a Park Ranger for Visitor Services at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.  She describes her typical summer day as “diverse and fast-paced.” She spends part of the day staffing the Visitor Center front desk, answering questions, decoding regulations, and planning camping and trail activities with guests.  While she’s away from the front desk, she plans future interpretive programs, designs event flyers and Refuge signage and maintains the Facebook page, and a bunch of other stuff, too. In the winter, Leah catches her breath and starts planning for next summer.

5 Questions for Leah

1. What inspired you to work with young people?

I have always loved seeing that spark of excitement when a child gets inspired.  I call it the "ah-ha" moment. I sought out opportunities during high school to volunteer at aquaria and zoos where I could help bring programs to children that connected them to the natural world. Inspiring them in turn inspires me, feeds me and makes me optimistic about our shared future.

2. What is your favorite part of working with kids?

 My favorite part of working with kids is being able to use their native curiosity to engage them with their world.  As we grow, become more educated and also more distracted, we can lose the curiosity that leads to experiences like lying down on the cool earth looking up through the forest canopy and pretending to be bugs.  Kids are inclined to try this out. They have imaginations that connect them to the real world in remarkable ways.  Adults become embarrassed at the thought of shouting out "Cool! Look at this!" on a trail walk. Kids don't have that fear, and that makes working with them truly incredible. 


Teaching People To Live More Safely Among Big Cats


A tigress strolls through Tadoba National Park. Photo Credit: Harshawardhan Dhanwatey, Tiger Research and Conservation Trust

For 25 years, Fred Bagley has served as project officer for the Asia portions of the Service’s  Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Fund and the Great Ape Conservation Fund. In that position, he says, he helped "highly motivated local and international conservationists fulfill their conservation goals." After more than 40 years with the U.S. government (and 37 with the Service), Fred retired; Tuesday was his last day. The best part of his job, he says, was visiting the field projects and seeing on-the-ground conservation taking shape. And before he left, he shared this report from an October field visit he and colleague Cory Brown made to the vicinity of Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in the central India state of Maharashtra. The two were doing a field assessment of a project that is working to mitigate human-big cat conflicts. 


The gaur is a species of wild cattle and one of the tiger's principle prey species. Photo Credit: Harshawardhan Dhanwatey, Tiger Research and Conservation Trust

The more than 40 tigers of this reserve are doing well. They are protected and attract a steady stream of Indian and international nature tourists eager to glimpse a tiger or other wildlife such as wild cattle (gaur), spotted deer (chital), green pigeons, owlets, fishing owls, treepies, blue bull (nilgai), bee-eaters, night jars, mugger crocodiles, wild boar and black ibis.

But people living in the 1,100 square kilometer buffer zone outside the reserve are experiencing an increase in conflict with big cats (tigers and leopards). More than 90 people have died in big cat attacks on livestock and people since 2007.

This increase in conflict is probably tied to habitat degradation, insufficient wild prey in the buffer zone, an increasing human population and possibly rising numbers of dispersing big cats. 


The Return of Wisdom

Wisdom preens her mate.  Photo credit: B. Wolfe/USFWS

Wisdom, the world’s oldest living, banded, wild bird has returned to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge! Wisdom’s mate has been waiting within a few feet of the pair’s former nest site since November 19. Wisdom was first spotted on November 22. This isn’t the first time these two have readied their nest. Laysan albatrosses mate for life and Wisdom has raised between 30 to 35 chicks since being banded in 1956 at an estimated age of 5.  Laying only one egg per year, a breeding albatross will spend a tiring 365 days incubating and raising a chick.  

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Calling Up That First Turkey Gobbler was Enough for Gypsy Hanks, Even if She Didn’t Get Off a Shot

Meet Your Fish and Wildlife Service
Gypsy Hanks
Turkey-hunting is one of Gypsy Hanks' favorites. 

Gypsy Hanks is a wildlife biologist at North Louisiana Refuge Complex. She inventories and monitors wildlife and their habitats, and makes management recommendations accordingly on five national wildlife refuges totaling approximately 85,000 acres.  “I really don’t have typical days,” she says, “which is great!” She might be climbing trees to monitor endangered red-cockaded woodpecker nests or banding wood ducks or marking boundary or writing a habitat management plan. 

5 Questions for Gypsy

1. Do you hunt/fish and if so what?

I love to hunt.  My favorite is turkeys, ducks and squirrels.  I also do quite a bit of deer hunting and sometimes dove hunting.

2.Who got you into fishing or hunting?

Gypsy Hanks
Gypsy Hanks' husband, John, shares her passion for hunting. 

I started hunting on my own.  I’m not sure anyone really got me into it.  I bought myself a boat, a dog and a shotgun.  I would go shoot wood ducks or gadwall by myself.  Sometimes I would talk someone into taking me duck hunting with them.  I would be invited to come deer hunt on friends’ property or I would deer hunt public land.  But when I met my husband, who is an avid hunter, my hunting opportunities exponentially increased.  It helps to have someone who has not just the equipment and the know-how but also the places to go hunting.  He introduced me to hunting turkey and squirrels.  His knowledge of hunting is impressive and I still am learning from him.


A Tribute to the Hard Work of Biologist Heidi Keuler

Heidi Keuler
Service biologist Heidi Keuler is coordinator of the Fishers & Farmers Partnership for the Upper Mississippi River Basin. Photo Credit: Minnesota DNR

The Fishers & Farmers Partnership for the Upper Mississippi River Basin (FFP) is a self-directed group of interested, non-governmental agricultural and conservation organizations, tribal organizations, and state and federal agencies working "to support locally led projects that add value to farms while restoring aquatic habitat and native fish populations."  The Fishers & Farmers Partnership is organized and recognized under the National Fish Habitat Partnership (NFHP) and brings science and technical expertise to locally directed projects throughout the Upper Mississippi River Basin including Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin.

Service staff help guide the work of the partnership, which fosters collaborative conservation projects between farming landowners and natural resource managers. Using innovative strategies for land use and stream restoration, the partnership has designed practices to benefit farms and aquatic habitats. 

For instance, to improve water quality, Dave Dunn and his wife, Charlotte, installed grass buffer strips along creeks on their land in Missouri, put up fences and installed alternate watering systems for cattle. The project cost them some production land, but managing cattle was easier with the fencing, water quality improved after just a year, and the clearer water has meant cattle with fewer waterborne diseases.  

The following letter was presented to La Crosse Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office biologist Heidi Keuler, in recognition of her fantastic work as Fishers & Farmers coordinator:


Ensuring the Future of the Black Rhino

Fewer than 5,000 black rhinos still exist in Africa. Photo Credit: Karl Stromayer/USFWS

We are currently evaluating whether to approve two applications to import sport-hunted black rhino trophies from Namibia, and we are looking for information to help us make our decision.

The black rhino is endangered. Fewer than 5,000 still exist in Africa, according to 2010 data from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Poachers have massacred rhinos to take their horn, valued as a status symbol and carving material, and for its alleged medicinal properties.

No one wants a world where rhinos don’t exist, so why, people ask, are we even considering the permits to bring a sport-hunted rhino trophy into the United States? Another death won’t help bring rhino population numbers back, some may argue.

Actually, unless it does, we will not grant these permits.


Bears Choose Berries Over Salmon?

Kodiak brown bear
A bear fishing for salmon in the shoals of Karluk Lake. Photo Credit: Marie McCann/USFWS

Monitoring bear movements at Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska  has revealed the complicating role berries play in  bear ecology. Elderberries normally ripen in late August after most salmon runs have faded. In 2014, the berry crop was early and abundant. Remote camera and GPS collar data show that bears largely abandoned salmon streams in July and August to exploit elderberry patches, suggesting that they preferred berries over salmon. 

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‘Huge Smiles’ When Kids Catch First Fish Drive Steve Klein

Steve Klein
Steve (center) and friends hold up handfuls of spot prawn.
Meet Your Fish and Wildlife Service

Steve Klein serves as Chief of the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration (WSFR) Program for the Alaska Region.  He supervises a team of three biologists, a fiscal officer and an administrative assistant to review and approve more than $50 million in grants to states and tribes annually.  In partnership with Alaska, WSFR is conserving fish and wildlife, and providing diverse and abundant fishing, hunting, boating and shooting opportunities.  Steve is an avid outdoorsman, father of three sons and grandfather of two.

5 Questions for Steve

1. Do you hunt/fish and if so what?

I hunt and fish as much as possible.  This year, I have hunted for caribou, moose, mountain goat, turkey and waterfowl.  I have fished for chinook salmon, coho salmon, sockeye salmon, halibut, rockfish, shrimp and Dungeness crab.

2.Who got you into fishing or hunting?

My father got me into fishing and hunting.  Instead of going to the beach for vacation, we went fishing.  I was a lucky young man!


Innovative Research to Uncover the Unknown Lives of Whooping Cranes

Whooping cranes are one of the rarest, highly endangered and intensively monitored bird species in North America. Despite the monitoring and study, much about the bird remains unknown, and more research is needed to help keep the species on the road to recovery.

A new study is underway to help wildlife biologists discover some of the whooping crane’s secrets. Our biologists are teaming up with biologists from Texas Parks & Wildlife, U.S. Geological Survey, Crane Trust, Platte River Recovery Implementation Program and International Crane Foundation to tag and monitor adult whooping cranes to learn more details about their everyday life. The adult cranes will be tracked using satellite GPS technology, which can uncover unknown migration stops, habitat use, nesting areas and more.

We are doing this study in Texas because the cranes in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population, which breeds in northern Canada and winters in Texas, are the only remaining wild, self-sustaining migratory population of whooping cranes.


Living the [Genetic] Dream: Meet Christian Smith, Pacific Region Regional Geneticist

Christian Smith
Christian Smith samples steelhead. Photo credit: USFWS

Rebecca Smith from our Pacific Region shares a profile of Regional Geneticist Christian Smith.

Christian Smith’s passion for conservation genetics first expressed itself in the forests and beaches of British Columbia. The Pacific Region’s newest regional geneticist grew up in the Gulf Islands, and first connected with nature when his grandmother took both him and his brother on nature walks and pointed out plants and animals.

It was a very rich experience for my brother and me,” says Smith.

A seven-year veteran at the Abernathy Fish Technology Center, Smith now leads a “genetic dream team” of scientists that use advanced technology to help the Service decipher the genetic code for such imperiled aquatic species as salmon and Devil’s hole pupfish, and make smart, cost-effective conservation decisions.

The center and its Applied Research Program in Conservation Genetics is rapidly establishing itself as a regional and, increasingly, national agency leader and go-to facility when scientists need genetic analyses for hatchery populations or ESA-listed fish.


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