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Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex
Pacific Region
In Memory of David Pitkin and Ray Bentley
On January 17, 2010, the conservation community lost David S. Pitkin and V. Ray Bentley, two men who were dedicated and passionate about preserving and understanding the natural world. This has been a tremendous loss and one that will affect many people for years to come. Dave and Ray had been conducting a mid-winter count of migratory geese and ducks for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service along the Oregon Coast when on their return to the Corvallis airport, their small plane crashed just west of the town of Philomath, Oregon.
Dave Pitkin in the field - Photo by David Ledig USFWS
Photo by David Ledig/USFWS
Dave Pitkin began his association with the USFWS on the Oregon Coast in 1992 when he started volunteering for and living on Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge near Pacific City, Oregon. During this time he worked with Aleutian Cackling Geese, Peregrine Falcons, and Brant. Recognizing his skill and dedication, the USFWS was able to bring him on as a biological technician in 1993 and in this position he continued his work along the coast on these and other species. In 1999, he was hired on as the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex's Fish and Wildlife Biologist and he remained in that position until 2007. At that time, he left the USFWS and moved to the south coast of Oregon where he worked on a large ranch, which was one of his favorite field sites, teeming with birdlife. He continued to be actively involved with the conservation of coastal ecosystems and cultural resources through contract work for the USFWS and other organizations until his passing.

To know Dave was to know his extreme dedication in working on behalf of wildlife. We can't recall meeting anyone who held more compassion for birds and their welfare. He was a seasoned naturalist whose depth of knowledge ranged from falcons to salamanders to bog plants. He was also one of the hardest working people we have ever met, working tirelessly every weekday and many weekends. Dave was always juggling a multitude of projects for his work at the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex: conducting seabird and waterfowl counts, surveying tidal marsh elevations, helping to reintroduce the threatened Nelson's checkermallow, creating relationships with local communities, mentoring aspiring biologists, and much more.

We would be remiss if we omitted anything about Dave’s exceptional love for the Semidi Island Aleutian Cackling Goose. As the refuge biologist he spent countless hours watching them, reading their tarsus bands, and getting to know them individually. He once remarked to a coworker that he had learned so much about himself and life in general through watching these geese day in and day out. The "Artist" was his favorite goose -- a blotchy, speckled, and elegant goose.

Dave was also an accomplished nature photographer who contributed his beautiful images of coastal scenery, plants, and wildlife to many projects, both personal and professional. In addition to his patience, dedication, love of nature, and kindness, another big part of Dave's personality was his great sense of humor, often self-effacing. When he laughed, he laughed loud and it was infectious to those around him. He loved telling stories and if you got to know him at all then you were in for a treat as he was bound to share a story (or twenty) about his much-admired grandfather. Dave also loved wood working, building, and creating. Dave believed that everything in this world was imbued with meaning and beauty.

Ray Bentley with his Cessna - Photo by EPA
Photo by EPA
Ray Bentley, who lived in Blodgett, was a highly respected pilot-biologist for the USFWS Migratory Bird Program. Following years of work for state and federal agencies as a field biologist studying a diversity of species including carnivores, raptors, and small mammals, Ray joined the USFWS in 1999 as the primary pilot-biologist for the Pacific Flyway (essentially the entire west coast of Canada, the United States, and Mexico). This position allowed him to use his rare combination of skills to support wildlife conservation and management throughout the western United States, and beyond. Every January, May, and July, Ray and another seasoned observer would take to the sky to conduct annual waterfowl population surveys. Ray also flew in support of surveys of brown pelicans and marine mammals in the fall, raptors in the spring, and shorebirds in the spring and late fall. Due to treaty agreements, U.S. pilot-biologists also typically fly surveys in Canada and Mexico. Ray's particular survey and monitoring station, which included pre-season waterfowl banding, was in south-central Alberta. He had also recently flown above Chesapeake Bay, the western Dakotas and eastern Montana, and was scheduled to fly to the Arctic to complete wildlife surveys there.

Ray always said that he had two passions: one was wildlife biology and the other was aviation. He considered himself fortunate to have those two lines of passion converge in a job where he could fly to cover huge areas in short periods of time, capturing accurate snapshots of wildlife numbers and habitat use . An avid outdoorsman, Ray also enjoyed hunting, fishing, birding, scuba diving, skydiving, tending his apple orchard, and travel.

Both Dave and Ray's reach to people was far and wide. Dave and Ray were our friends as well as our colleagues, and we at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service express much sorrow for their loss. Our thoughts and deepest condolences go out to the families, partners, and close friends of the deceased.


Memorial Gifts in honor of Dave and Ray

If you are interested in making a memorial gift in honor of Dave, his family and loved ones have established a David Pitkin Memorial Fund at the West Coast Bank. Contributions can be made at any branch. Please make checks out to The David Pitkin Memorial Fund and mail it to the West Coast headquarters office:

West Coast Bancorp
5335 Meadows Rd., Suite 201
Lake Oswego, OR 97035
1-800-895-3345
Fax: 503-684-0781

In honor of Ray's life long devotion to conservation/protection/preservation of critical lands and waters and all of their natural creatures you can send a gift to The Nature Conservancy of Oregon. Please send your donation to:

The Nature Conservancy
821 S.E. 14th Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97214
Phone: (503) 802-8100
Fax: (503) 802-8199
E-mail: oregon@tnc.org
Please identify on check/contribution: Contribution in Memory of Ray Bentley

Additionally, you can make a donation memorializing Ray to the Benton County Search and Rescue. Make checks payable to the Benton County Search and Rescue and mail them to:

180 NW 5th Street
Corvallis, OR 97330
Please mention in your correspondence that the donation memorializes Ray Bentley.


Websites and Blog Tributes to Dave and Ray


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Site last updated March 8, 2011