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.
Ashe 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.”
Ashe 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.”
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
Ashe 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 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.”
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