Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
Airplane Crash Claims Lives of Two Fish and Wildlife Service Waterfowl Biologists

January 19, 2010


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220

Two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists died in the crash of their small aircraft on January 17th in western Oregon. Pilot-biologist Vernon Ray (Ray) Bentley, 52, from Blodgett, Oregon, and David Sherwood (Dave) Pitkin, 49, from Bandon, Oregon, died when their plane went down west of Philomath, Oregon. The two were returning from port, Oregon, after a day spent flying over estuaries along the Oregon coast, counting ducks, geese and swans for the Service’s annual mid-winter waterfowl survey. Pitkin was a contract employee and had previously been a biologist with the Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System for 15 years at the Oregon Coast NWR Complex.

“It is with great sadness I am confirming that we have lost a valuable part of our Migratory Bird Program and members of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service family,” said Director Sam Hamilton. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families, loved ones and friends of Ray and Dave as we all struggle with this terrible loss. They were wonderful men who were dedicated to wildlife conservation, and played a vital role in helping the Service fulfill its mission. Their professional excellence was matched only by their love of the outdoors.”

Director Hamilton also expressed his thanks to the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, which led the search and rescue effort. Approximately 50 persons participated in the search, including search and rescue volunteers as well as law enforcement personnel.

At present, the Service is cooperating with the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board, the agencies conducting the investigation into the cause of the crash. The exact location of the plane crash is not being disclosed pending the investigation by federal authorities.

Every winter, select teams of Service pilot-biologists and observers take to the skies to survey North America’s waterfowl during January in one of the oldest wildlife surveys, dating back to the 1930s. This effort is followed by additional surveys of waterfowl breeding grounds conducted during the spring and summer. The teams crisscross North America at tree top level, recording the number of ducks, geese and swans, and assessing the quality and quantity of wetlands and waterfowl breeding habitat. Service pilot-biologists fly more than 80,000 miles throughout North America during the multiple surveys. During their long history, their safety record of the Migratory Bird survey pilots is unparalleled.

These surveys are a model of partnership-driven conservation, with contributions from the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Canadian Wildlife Service, state and provincial biologists, and non-governmental cooperators. The program is believed to be the most extensive, comprehensive, and oldest annual wildlife survey effort in the world. Analysis of the information gathered helps determine the status of North America’s waterfowl populations and plays a significant role in the setting of annual waterfowl hunting regulations. It also provides a vital tool to guide the decisions of waterfowl managers throughout North America.

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