Inside Region 3
Midwest Region
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Meet the Northern Tallgrass Prairie NWR

The Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge was established in 2000 to address the loss of America’s grasslands and the decline of grassland wildlife. Scientists estimate the original tallgrass prairie in Minnesota and Iowa covered about 25 million acres. Now, there are only about 300,000 acres left in the two states, therefore representing one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. The refuge was created to work with individuals, groups and government agencies to permanently preserve and restore some of the northern tallgrass prairie.

The Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge encompasses all or part of 85 counties in western Minnesota and northwestern Iowa with the long-term goal of protecting 77,000 acres through conservation easements and government ownership. The coordinating office for the refuge is housed at Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge and Wetland Management District in Odessa, Minnesota. Easements and purchased lands are managed or overseen by the refuge or wetland management district office covering the area where the lands are located. Today, the refuge includes 128 parcels of land totaling over 11,400 acres. 96 units are protected through conservation easements, totaling m 6,200 acres. The 32 units owned by the refuge system total 5,108 acres; these parcels include five units in Iowa (602 acres) and 27 units in Minnesota (4,578 acres).

Scott Simmons

Scott Simmons

Scott Simmons is the Project Leader for the Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, and the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge and Wetland Management District. Originally from Nashville, Tennessee, he started his federal career as a wildlife biologist at U.S. Marine Corps Base, Quantico in Northern Virginia. Following his passions for waterfowl, he then transferred to the Service working on refuges in Regions 2, 4 and now the Midwest Region. He graduated with a B.S. degree from Austin Peay State University, Tennessee, followed by an M.S. degree from Tennessee Technological University. He enjoys soaking in life's journey and spending time in the outdoors with his wife, Robin and his children, Tanner and Leah. He has also been making and collecting duck calls for over 20 years.

Paul Nelson

Paul Nelson

Paul Nelson is a Maintenance Mechanic at Big Stone Refuge and Wetland Management District. He started his career with the Service in 2006 at Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District in the Mountain-Prairie Region in Nebraska. Eventually, he transferred to Windom Wetland Management District, Minnesota, to be closer to family. In March of 2013, he joined the staff at Big Stone Refuge. Nelson grew up in Stockholm, South Dakota, about 30 miles from the refuge. Therefore, he considers himself very fortunate to be able to work so close to his hometown, family and friends. Away from work, Nelson enjoys hunting, fishing and spending time with family and friends.

Deborah Hoffman

Deborah Hoffman

Deborah Hoffman is the Administrative Support Assistant for Northern Tallgrass Prairie Refuge She finds satisfaction in working on the budget, and thrives on the anticipated thrill of the fiscal year-end, when everything falls into place. The variety of tasks she does at the office headquarters in Odessa, Minnesota, is diverse, where she is able to work with different Service programs, finance, IT, purchasing, property, planning, human resources and completing numerous reports. She enjoys her role as receptionist and is the first person you will see when you stop into their office. Hoffman also likes to take advantage of the courses offered by the Department, and appreciates the learning opportunities her station offers. When she is not at the office, she spends her time trying new recipes, creating and putting together penny rugs, reading, going for quiet walks in the country and watching classic movies while eating popcorn with her family. She invites you to stop in and visit the Northern Tallgrass Prairie headquarters and go for a drive on the auto tour route in the Big Stone refuge.

Maria Fosado

Maria Fosado

Maria Fosado is the Assistant Manager for Big Stone Refuge and Wetland Management District. She obtained a B.S. in biology from the College of Saint Benedict and an M.S. in Geographic Information Systems from Saint Mary’s University, both in Minnesota Summer of 2005, she was hired as a temporary Park Ranger at Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge and absolutely loved it!  Summer of 2006, she pursued a Biological Science Technician position at Upper Mississippi National Wildlife & Fish Refuge, Winona District, where she was nominated and selected for the Student Career Experience Program. She went on to complete two field seasons at Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge during which time she worked on her thesis. The last six months of her Student Career Experience Program appointment were spent at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Wetland Management District. Her first permanent placement was at Fergus Falls Wetland Management District as a Wildlife Refuge Specialist. She enjoyed working there and learning about land management and habitat restoration from December 2009 until starting her position at Big Stone refuge in July of 2016. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with family, friends and her black lab, camping, hiking, paddling, hunting and traveling.

Stephanie Bishir

Stephanie Bishir

Stephanie Bishir joined Big Stone refuge as a Wildlife Biologist in June 2017. Prior to coming to Minnesota, she was a Pathways student, working with St. Croix Wetland Management District, Wisconsin, Mingo National Wildlife Refuge, Missouri and Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge, Indiana while attending graduate school. Bishir holds an M.S. degree from Southeast Missouri State University, where her studies focused on wood frog movements and habitat use. Here, she wears many hats and is involved with many diverse projects, from vegetation and waterfowl monitoring surveys to prescribed fire to orchestrating goat grazing management efforts. When she is not in the field for work, she enjoys being in the field for hiking, backpacking and photographing nature.

Chris Mursu

Chris Mursu

Chris Mursu is a Regional Fire Management Specialist. His role as fire planner supports the Service’s fire management programs at Midwest refuges and wetland management districts as fire data manager, remote automated weather station coordinator, firefighter and Geographic Image System specialist. He also travels to wildfire and all-hazard incidents throughout the U.S. as a single resource emergency responder, usually acting within the operations or planning sections of those incidents. Back home in South Dakota, he is raising three boys with his wife, Twila, when not lending a hand to Service staff and projects.


Last updated: June 8, 2020