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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Director Dan Ashe, Key Member of the FWS Family, Steps Down

Appreciation for the people who work with him drove Ashe when he served as director and throughout Service career. His last day is January 20.

   Dan and Scout polant milkweedAshe and a Girl Scout check on a milkweed planting, done to help monarch butterflies.  Photo by Lisa Cox/USFWS

Dan Ashe has garnered his share of accolades over his 22 years with the Service, the last five and a half as Director, but when it comes to naming what he thinks are his greatest accomplishments, he hesitates. “I think I will let other people decide whether things have been great.”

That’s not to say there aren’t things he is proud of. In summary, Ashe says he is proud of his work with the Service “in a variety of capacities” and his “work on things that are important and consequential.”

Specifically, he mentions the Refuge System Improvement Act in 1997 – a framework document for managing the National Wildlife Refuge System – the Service’s first scientific integrity policy, the climate change policy, landscape-scale conservation and more.

Fish and Wildlife Service Family

But when you speak to Dan Ashe, what you hear is his appreciation for the people who work with him. He doesn’t say he is proud he did this or he did that. Instead he says “we developed,” “we drove conservation.”

   Dan diving with Susan WhiteAshe and the Service’s Susan White see the sights around Palmyra National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific. Photo by USFWS

Fitting with that, Ashe says what he will miss most at the Service when he leaves are the people.

“We use the word family a lot here in the Fish and Wildlife Service,” he says, “and in many regards it feels that way.” And he will miss working with that family on issues big and small.

Chad Karges, the manager of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, was thankful for Ashe’s help dealing with a major issue a year ago: the illegal occupation of the refuge. “Dan's engagement was fundamental to lessening impacts to Service employees and resources,” Karges says.

But the Service family needs to grow to remain relevant, and Ren Lohoefener, who just retired after 27 years with the Service, including eight years as Pacific Southwest Regional Director, credits Ashe for seeing that, calling him “a force for change within the Service.” 

  Dan with Sigma members Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity International President Jonathan Mason (left to right) chats with Ashe, Sigma Deputy Director Steve Ballard and retired Service Deputy Director Rowan Gould in 2014 after the Service and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity signed a historic agreement to encourage urban youth to experience the natural world and promote their interest in conservation and biological sciences. Photo by Tami Heilemann/DOI

Lohoefener lauds Ashe’s support of diversity in our hiring to expand our family so we better reflect the diversity of our audience.

The Service family has always played an important part in Ashe’s life. His dad, Bill, was a career employee with the Service, and Dan Ashe grew up around the refuges of the Southeast.

At an event in June, he told an audience that he used to be known around the Service as “Bill Ashe’s son.”

The idea of family extends also to some of the advice Ashe has for his successor. “Love the people that work for you,” he says, “and they’ll go to the ends of the earth for you.”

Supporting the Field

   releasing black-footed ferrets: Dan holding carrierAshe and Mountain-Prairie Regional Director Noreen Walsh release black-footed ferrets. Photo by USFWS

His father, Ashe says, taught him that. Bill Ashe was very supportive of the people in the field, and Ashe says he learned to always support the field because much of the work “that gets done in the Fish and Wildlife Service gets done by this thing we lump into ‘the field.’”

Don Campton, science advisor and fish biologist in the Pacific Region, recalls meeting Ashe at a national meeting of science staffs back when Ashe was Science Advisor to the Director at the time.  “At the meeting, Dan asked all of us, ‘What are your needs?’” Campton told him that the Service needed online electronic access to scientific journals, something that Campton says was relatively new at the time. Campton says he is sure Ashe had heard that need before, and he “made that request a reality.”

“It is impossible,” Campton says, “to overstate the value of those contributions to the Service.”

Challenges that will be Overcome

That kind of support may be key as the Service faces challenges in the years ahead – the biggest in Ashe’s mind is the growth of human population, 10 billion by midcentury. The increase, he says, means that “every day is the best remaining day” for wildlife.

He tells people this when he talks to them – because it is true, he says, and integrity is important to Ashe, something else he got from his father.

But it doesn’t mean “we won’t have success.”

Ashe is optimistic.

What it does mean, he says, is that people “will have to make places for [wildlife species] to survive.” People will have to be “energetic enough and skilled enough to make places for them to survive.”

And Ashe thinks they will.

aSHE AND mEGAN rEED   Ashe with the Service’s Megan Reed, who presented a resolution on youth engagement at the 17TH Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in October. Ashe says he’ll “remember that moment for the rest of his life.” Photo by USFWS

“I see young people who are talented and energetic and dedicated, and they have tools and will have tools we have never imagined possible to bring to the task, so I am optimistic about the future.”

Lohoefener agrees there are challenges ahead and says Ashe positioned the Service to overcome them. “Dan will be recognized as a pivotal director during a time of global challenges.”

Bryan Arroyo, the Assistant Director for International Affairs, has seen Ashe work on the world’s stage. “Dan's leadership has transcended borders, taking the conservation mission of the Service global.” 

And thanks to Ashe, Arroyo adds, the Service has become a key player worldwide. “His balanced approach between conservation and sustainability has made him and the Service a trusted partner around the globe, allowing us to be influential on both domestic and international conservation policy.” 

Advice

 Dan speaks at Ivory Crush

Ashe speaks at the Ivory Crush in New York City, the second such event designed to raise awareness of the poaching crisis that threatens the existence of elephants. Photo by USFWS

Whoever follows him will find plenty of notes on how to succeed from Ashe, who says he has been gathering advice for a while. Some are quite basic, he says, such as “don’t answer your cellphone if you don’t know the number; let them leave a message.”

More seriously, he reminds the next director that “the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is an institution, not a person … your job is to maintain it so that you can hand it off to the next temporary custodian in as good or better condition than you received it.”

And he quotes President Lyndon Johnson when he describes what he calls “the dark side of the job.” Johnson once said, “Being president is like being a jackass in a hailstorm. There's nothing to do but to stand there and take it.” Sometimes, Ashe says, that is the director’s job.

But he was proud to represent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, something he has called “the greatest professional honor of my life.”

As he prepares to walk out the door as director one last time, Ashe thanks everyone. He knows he’ll still be working with the Service in his new role as President and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. He also knows the Service will succeed, “and I’ll be watching.”

-- Matt Trott, External Affairs


Fish & Wildlife News   This article is a preview of the winter issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The issue is due online in finished form in early February.

Immigrant Children Connect with Nature in Their New Home

Student hugs a plant Dirt flies as students dig in a garden, the sound of laughter bouncing across the schoolyard. “There’s sand in my shoes, but that’s not stopping me!” exclaims Maryna, a third-grader digging holes for new plants at Anza Elementary School. Most of the children who attend Anza, in El Cajon, just east of San Diego, have emigrated from war-torn countries such as Iraq and Syria, and now they are are transforming themselves into confident young girls and boys through a schoolyard habitat project.

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Students at Anza Elementary are learning to love being outdoors. Photo by Lisa Cox/USFWS

Gila Trout Swim Mineral Creek

 helicopter with big tank hanging beneath it
Gila trout arrive at the treetops over Mineral Creek. Photo by Craig Springer/USFWS

How do you move a thousand captive-raised fish from their hatchery to their release site miles away? Answer: Carefully! It helps to have a helicopter, too. That’s what it took (along with a big truck and a lot of shoe leather) to get that many Gila trout safely out to the remote headwaters of Mineral Creek, well inside the Gila National Forest of southwestern New Mexico.

On November 18, the Service, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, and U.S. Forest Service released the young Gila trout, ranging from 6 inches to a foot in length, into Mineral Creek. These rare, yellow trout were spawned, hatched and raised in captivity in 2015 and 2016 at the Service’s Mora National Fish Hatchery. Hatchery fish are carefully paired and spawned to maximize genetic diversity of offspring, improving chances of their survival in the wild. The captive fish were also purposely subjected to rigorous swimming conditions in the hatchery to further ensure their fitness when released.

These trout traveled by truck eight hours to meet a helicopter at the Gila National Forest’s Glenwood Ranger Station. The aircraft made multiple flights carrying an aerated tank at the end of a long line, each time full of Gila trout. Biologists from the three agencies had hiked several miles into the rugged country to meet the trout and place them in the cool, shaded runs and pools of Mineral Creek, a tributary of the San Francisco River near Alma, New Mexico.

   Andy Dean releases Gila trout into Mineral Creek.
  Andy Dean releases Gila trout into Mineral Creek. Photo by Craig Springer/USFWS

This release is a large step forward in conserving Gila trout, which live only in New Mexico and Arizona along the Mogollon Rim, notes Andy Dean, lead Gila trout biologist with the Service’s New Mexico Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office. “This repatriation into Mineral Creek adds another stream to harbor Gila trout, as outlined as a necessity in the Gila Trout Recovery Plan,” he says.  “Not only does this add a population within the San Francisco River drainage, it also helps establish Gila trout populations across a larger geographical area. More Gila trout over a larger area adds greater security to this rare fish.”

That desired security will be achieved when the Mineral Creek population is naturally reproducing, and fish of multiple ages swim its waters, perhaps in 2018.

Mineral Creek came to the attention of biologists as a candidate stream to receive Gila trout after the massive Whitewater-Baldy Fire of 2012. Destructive as it was, the forest fire actually made Mineral Creek suitable for Gila trout. The fire burned in the headlands of the stream and summer rains washed a slurry of ash and debris down the creek, removing unwanted competing non-native fishes. Though the mountain slopes and streamside vegetation are not fully stabilized post-fire, sufficient habitat exists to harbor Gila trout in Mineral Creek.  With so few suitable streams available to repatriate Gila trout in the watershed, biologists seized the opportunity.

Mineral Creek was not the only stream to receive Gila trout from Mora National Fish Hatchery this autumn.  More than 8,600 Gila trout were placed in several other waters to advance the species’ recovery and entice anglers to go after native trout in native habitats of southwest New Mexico. 

The Gila trout is protected under the Endangered Species Act. The species was listed as endangered in 1973, and due to conservation measures, was downlisted to threatened in 2006. A year later, select Gila trout populations were opened to angling for the first time in 50 years. 

Craig Springer, External Affairs, Southwest Region


Fish & Wildlife News   This article is a preview of the winter issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The issue is due online in finished form in early February.

Virtual Tour: Visiting the Winter Home of Western Monarch Butterflies

Monarch Butterflies Overwintering in Pacific Grove, CaliforniaDuring sunny winter days, monarch butterflies overwintering along California’s central coast will disperse from their clusters on trees, when they exhibit their underwings to disguise themselves as dead leaves, to bask in the sunshine until dusk. Photo by Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS

Public affairs specialist Joanna Gilkeson recently traded in a job in our Midwest Region in Minnesota for a job in California. She is a big monarch person, so when the time was right, she packed up her camera equipment and drove north along California’s coast to see monarchs overwintering in California for the first time.

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See Joanna's Photos