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Director's Corner

Dan Ashe served as FWS Director from June 2011 until January 2017. The following is an archive of blogs authored by Director Ashe during that time. This content is intended for historical reference only and not as a representation of current Service policy or opinion.

Science is All about the Data – and You

FWS Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius (from left), Senator Amy Klobuchar and Dan release monarchs after tagging at an event in Minnesota.
FWS Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius (from left), Senator Amy Klobuchar and Dan release monarchs after tagging at an event in Minnesota. Photo by Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS

When you think of “science,” what comes to mind? People in white lab coats in white rooms, surrounded by beakers and complicated instruments? Geniuses like Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking or Marie Curie in front of blackboards filled with complicated equations?

What if I told you that science is as much about you, and people like you, as it is them? That science is all around you, waiting to be discovered? And that you can play a critical role in increasing our scientific understanding of the world?

It’s true. And yesterday, the White House, in collaboration with the GSA and Wilson Center, launched www.citizenscience.gov to help federal agencies engage and connect millions of Americans in citizen science projects across the nation. I encourage you to visit www.citizenscience.gov to learn about all the incredible ways that the federal government is working to engage the public.

Our world is changing rapidly. So rapidly that any predictions we can make about the future are likely to be incomplete at best, or at worst, wildly inaccurate. Unless we have data. The best scientific minds in the world can only work with the data at hand, and having more available data helps them draw more accurate conclusions.

Data – which can be anything from a temperature reading to the number of birds observed on a pond to the date that your roses start blooming – are the lifeblood of science. And even in the era of Big Data, someone has to collect it.

Why can’t that someone be you, or your family?


National Black History Month

Today is the last day in our nation's month-long celebration of African American history. I want to share a few things, and issue a challenge. First, the sharing.

I would invite you to read two things. An opinion piece from Saturday's Washington Post, authored by Colbert King; and a message to southwest region employees, written by regional director, Dr. Benjamin Tuggle.

In his piece, Colbert King recalls and recounts the suffering oppressions of racial segregation as a child growing up in the Washington, DC of the 1960's. He says, he learned the Ten Commandments at Liberty Baptist Sunday School, but "the others" from the civil authority of that day:

"Among them: Thou shalt not attend Grant Elementary School on G Street NW, which was for white children only. Thou shalt not attempt to enter the Circle Theater at 21st and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, where only whites were allowed. Thou shalt never think about dining downtown. Thou can purchase sodas and sandwiches at the drugstore at the corner of 25th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. But thou shalt not sit and eat. Thou must stand at the end of the counter and wait patiently to be recognized."

Dr. Tuggle recalls growing up in the Georgia of "Jim Crow" days:

"When I was scarcely a boy of 10, I was with my grandmother in Georgia at a restaurant. It had two drinking fountains, one labeled “White,” the other, “Colored.” Since I had never encountered this before, my curiosity got the best of me. In a moment of innocence that only a child can know, I tested each fountain and reported to my grandma that the “Colored” fountain was mislabeled. The water coming out of each of the fountains was clear, not “Colored” as the sign said. She reluctantly had to explain to me what the signs really meant, which confused me even further. That, I think, was among my earliest memories of being treated differently because of my skin color."

I also grew up in Georgia. Benjamin is a few years older than I, but probably around the same time as he joined his grandmother in that restaurant, I was watching minor league baseball in the days before the Braves migrated to Atlanta, from Milwaukee. The Atlanta Crackers were a fabled team, known as the "Yankees of the minor leagues." Their fans, black and white, were separated by seating, restrooms, and yes, water fountains. Thinking back on the injustices of those times, it seems improbable that Benjamin and I would become great colleagues and friends. But we are.

All that segregation was ended by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. By great sacrifice. By long struggle. By inspiring leadership. By enlightened politics and a political system that held to Martin Luther King's theory that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. It was a hard fought and well deserved victory. A victory for African Americans, but for all of us. We are better as a nation and as a people. We are better as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We will be better yet, tomorrow, but only if each and all of us are committed to the goal of growing diversity within our ranks. I am proud that the Service has found and nutured leaders like Benjamin Tuggle, Hannibal Bolton, and Jerome Ford, and is nurturing a new generation represented by people like John Heinz NWR manager Lamar Gore, and in HQ Shannon Smith, Charisa Morris, and Megan Reed. But we can, and must, do better.

And that leads to the challenge. As we are passionate in conserving biological diversity, we must be passionate in building diversity within our agency and our profession. Each and all of us must constantly reflect commitment to this goal. All our actions must demonstrate tolerance of diverse views among culture, race, religion, age, gender, sexuality and ethnicity. We must find, recruit, hire and retain a workforce that mirrors America's expanding diversity.

Thank you, in advance, for accepting this challenge. Now, make it so!


Malheur Refuge Occupation Ends Peacefully

Close up view of greater sandhill crane showing the characteristic red forehead
The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge provides important breeding grounds for greater sandhill cranes and other birds. Credit: Roger Baker / USFWS

As I write this, the armed occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge has just ended: 41 days of shock, disbelief, disappointment, frustration, anger, followed with dedication, preparation, perseverance, pride, compassion, and ultimately, relief that it is all over. And realizing that a new phase—repatriation and recovery of the refuge—is just beginning.

Malheur’s outstanding staff will move quickly to assess the damage and formulate a restoration plan. And the individuals who perpetrated these crimes sit in jail, or in home detention, awaiting trial for their actions. Of course, as Americans, we cherish the concept of presumed innocence, until and unless convicted by a fair and impartial court, so please, as difficult as that may be, make sure your public and personal comments reflect a respect for this most basic and important principle of our justice system.

I share your relief and joy that the occupation is over. It will take some time to repair the damage—both physical and psychological—that this occupation has left in its wake. But we will repair it! And like all adversity, squarely faced, along with our friends, neighbors and partners, we will emerge stronger than ever.

Even so, I’m acutely aware of the burden and stress that has been placed on so many employees. In particular, the staff and volunteers of Malheur who were displaced from their work, had their personal lives upended, and endured unwarranted harassment and intimidation. Through the entire ordeal, they maintained their flawless professionalism, aiding the response to the occupation, and continuing their contributions to the Service’s conservation mission. I cannot thank all of you enough, or adequately express my admiration for your conduct during a very dangerous and unpredictable time.

I also want to acknowledge staff from the regional office and across the nation who worked incredibly long hours in the Joint Incident Command Center and elsewhere to respond to this crisis. In particular, our Law Enforcement agents and Refuge Law Enforcement Officers, who coordinated closely with the FBI and local law enforcement to protect the public and stakeholders over the long weeks of the standoff, and played a key role in bringing the perpetrators into custody to face justice. But, our response represented the entire Service—one Service—the "Service family" we frequently and proudly speak about: Business administration, information technology, personnel, ecological services. Everyone who was asked jumped at the opportunity to serve. Also notable, the exceptional work of our communications professionals in external affairs over the course of the 41-day occupation. To all who supported this effort, thank you!!!

We also saw the importance of enduring partnerships. During this travail we enjoyed courageous and supportive statements from the Burns Paiute Tribe, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, the National Wildlife Federation, The Wilderness Society, the National Audubon Society, and Trout Unlimited. Their words and actions during this time of need will be forever remembered. These great partnerships are the result of your work!  Thank you again!!

Many others across the West have endured similar threats and intimidation because of your status as federal employees—not just during the Malheur standoff, but during the earlier Bundy Ranch incident and other flashpoints. I know that some of you continue to feel vulnerable. Please know, your safety and security is our highest priority, and I hope that you see our commitment reflected in our actions over the past 41 days. We have been in continuous communication with the Department of the Interior and the Justice Department throughout this entire process.

It is unacceptable, and criminal, for any Service employee to face threats of violence for doing his or her job. And it will not be tolerated. I urge you to contact law enforcement professionals if you experience any coercive actions or threats. We are committed to protecting you, and holding perpetrators accountable for criminal acts.

It’s an incredible testament to Chad Karges and his fantastic staff that the community of Burns rallied to the defense of the refuge and its work. The work of the Portland Ecological Services Office, in building sage grouse candidate conservation agreements for Harney County were reflected in calming statements by ranchers. And their voices were joined by people and organizations from across the nation and the world. The armed occupiers found almost no public support, in large part because for years, Service employees have worked to build and strengthen partnerships with local ranchers and landowners. Together, they’ve developed voluntary conservation agreements supporting private, working landscapes surrounding the refuge. These partnership-driven conservation measures benefit native species like sage-grouse, while also keeping local ranchers and their families on the land they’ve stewarded for generations.

I consider ranchers in Harney County and across the West to be an integral part of the landscape and culture of the West. They’re also vital to protecting and preserving native wildlife on millions of acres of interconnected public and private lands. They have our support and understanding, and they know it. Our task now is to reconnect with them and our partners, and to recommit to a strong working relationship.

Each and every one of you has much to be proud of, and I’m humbled by the way you’ve handled this crisis. I know you will move forward to pick up the pieces and knit them back together again—and that we will be stronger because of it.

Thank you again for all your courage, perseverance and professionalism. You are a credit to the Fish and Wildlife Service and public servants everywhere. Let's take a moment today and pause to be thankful.


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