Newsroom Midwest Region

Picking up the mantle for our newest midwest refuges

December 10, 2018

Todd Boonstra at informational kiosk. Photo by Cathy Nigg/USFWS.
Todd Boonstra at informational kiosk. Photo by Cathy Nigg/USFWS.

We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service know that hands-on experience and time in the field help build great land managers. With that in mind, we’re proud to welcome Todd Boonstra as the new project leader for Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge and Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area. Help us wish him well as he charts the next steps for two of our newest refuges here in the midwest.

Boonstra comes to the Midwest Region from Montana where he oversaw operations for more than 15,000 acres of Bowdoin Wetland Management District and functioned as deputy refuge manager and law enforcement officer for the overarching Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge Complex, where four refuges coalesce. This assignment sharpened an already strong understanding of habitat and easement management for Boonstra, as he was responsible for the development and expansion of the refuge and easement program, through local relationships and state and regional networks. Partly because of his fluency in general farming and ranching operations and partly because of his strong skills in wetland delineation and assessing property conditions, Boonstra was able to work with local landowners, elected officials and nonprofits to support active grassland management, battle invasives and protect vital landscapes in Big Sky Country. Ducks Unlimited awarded Boonstra with Partner of the Year Award and Wetland Conservation Achievement Award for his dedication to conservation in Montana.

"We are excited to have Todd in the Midwest Region. I know his experience and professionalism will help develop the management programs for these two important national wildlife refuges,” said Regional Chief of Refuges Charlie Blair.

Boonstra is well-suited for his new role that extends across parts of Wisconsin and Illinois, because he can see the big picture and can work with people from all backgrounds and interests to rally around the idea that public land has intrinsic value.

With a solid background in biological and ecological theories and how they apply to habitat management challenges, like invasive species management, wetland manipulations and active grassland management, Boonstra is a good fit for Hackmatack and Kankakee.

Born and raised in Minnesota, Boonstra was a child of the outdoors. Reflecting on his childhood memories, Boonstra remembers pretty much always being involved in some form of outdoor activity.

“Whether it was exploring the woods and lakes down the road or hunting and fishing with family and friends, there isn’t just one moment when I realized a love for nature. It was just who I was and who I still am. I consider myself lucky to have found a career that continues to build on that childhood joy of being outdoors,” said Boonstra.

Boonstra followed that natural curiosity to Minnesota State University at Mankato, where he completed his bachelor of science degree in ecology. He later completed his master of science in Fargo at North Dakota State University, focusing on the nesting behavior of Canada geese. It was while working and living in North Dakota when he became fascinated with the importance of habitat management and the role that local, state and regional partnerships have in conservation efforts.

Boonstra reported to his new position in mid-November and is co-located at the McHenry County Conservation District in Ringwood, Illinois. He will join the already strong partnerships that exist in these communities and determining where the agency can play a helping role.

Boonstra has three kids and a black lab named Gauge. Outside of work, you can find him hunting, fishing, hiking or camping with family and friends. Boonstra and his wife are excited to check out the area and see what new things the communities have to offer and explore. With having a tendency to become involved in community events it will just be a matter of time before figuring out where they can help out.

Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge was officially established on November 6, 2012 and will connect the dots of conserved land in southeast Wisconsin and northeast Illinois as it continues to grow. Working with our partners, the refuge will ultimately improve or restore wetland basins, historic prairie and forest habitats.

Kankakee National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area was officially established on May 25, 2016 with the acceptance of a 66-acre donation from Friends of the Kankakee, an organization dedicated to the establishment of a national wildlife refuge in the Kankakee River Basin. This parcel is already open to the public for deer and turkey hunting, bird watching and photography.