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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Fisheries People Needn't Fish for Compliments; They're Great!

Meet Your Fish and Wildlife Service

Fisheries people are unique and awesome individuals.

man with microphone interviewing man in FWS uniform on a boatJim Smith is interviewed by NPR’s Richard Rodriguez at the base of the Red Bluff Diversion Dam. Photo by Steve Martarano/USFWS

Jim Smith, project leader for the Red Bluff Fish and Wildlife Office, left Humboldt State University more than 40 years ago with a Bachelor of Science in Fisheries but shows no indication of wanting to slow down.  

The people he has had the pleasure to work with over the years keep him going. And then there’s the fish.

“The fish will fool you,” he likes to say, and Jim Smith likes deciphering that fish puzzle.

woman writes on clipboard in front o stream, while someone roots through crateWhile bearded, hatted men are common, more women are joining the ranks. Photo by Katrina Liebich/USFWS

The deadline for the seasonal fisheries technician positions has passed, but read this if you want a good look at what fish biologists in Alaska do. Like Jim, it’s the people and the challenges.

In Alaska, you also have, as one biologist says, “The opportunity to work in spectacular, pristine, remote locations that very few people ever have the opportunity to visit.”

Generations Continuing Traditions on National Wildlife Refuges

Bonnie Campisi, of Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge in Dayton, Texas, tells us about a few of the hunters we are honored to host at national wildlife refuges across the nation. These hunters share their traditions and their love of the outdoors with their friends and families.  They truly care about public lands. 

Nick, Raylan and David, 2017.     Nick and Raylan Messersmith and David Stevens, 2017. Three generations of hunters. Photos courtesy David Stevens

David Stevens is one of the first hunters I met while working the waterfowl hunt check-station at Trinity River Refuge.  One of our conversations was about how, “People just don’t take care of the outdoors for future generations.”  He said this in dismay as he unloaded the ducks he had just harvested and the trash he collected to and from the boat ramp.  To him, taking his sons, Eric and Hunter, then 16 and 12, hunting was a tradition passed down from father to sons.  His favorite stories came from hunting with his boys, like the time Hunter received a new shotgun for waterfowl hunting. 

  2 boys in knee-deep swamp with shotguns Eric (left) and Hunter, Christmas Eve 2006. Hunter holding his new Christmas present.

On Christmas Eve, like a good father, David snuck the shotgun out of the box in the garage and handed it to Hunter giggling, “We’ll just ‘try it out.’  Don’t let mom find out.”  But then Hunter dropped it in the water while hunting at Trinity River Refuge that morning.  He was absolutely mortified when he arrived at the boat ramp with a swamped gun, Dad laughing hysterically and Eric looking on shaking his head, but they snuck it back in the box and Hunter opened it with great surprise on Christmas morning.  They may have pulled a fast one on Mom, but big brother Eric snickered in the background when he saw mud still caked on the barrel.  A year later, wouldn’t you know it, Hunter dropped his gun in the water, again, this time in the Sabine River near Sabine National Wildlife Refuge.  He dove for hours but never found it.  Poor kid, he just wasn’t meant to have that gun.

David’s other son, Eric, is now happily married.  He still hunts deer on Trinity River Refuge, but now hunts waterfowl from a blind about 10 feet from the bank of the Sabine River near his home.  No doubt reminiscing, with every blow of his duck call, stories of his childhood hunting with family and friends.

 Man in camo with harvest  Hunter, 2017.

Speaking of friends, last year, Hunter brought a few new friends to hunt waterfowl, Nick Messersmith and his 3-year-old son, Raylan. Nick was so excited to share the outdoors and hunting with Raylan.  Raylan loved using the little paddle Hunter used to oar with as a kid.  This season, Nick pulled out a photograph from his phone.  It was a photo of him, Raylan and David, three generations of hunters.  Traditions have to start somewhere, and here is where it comes full circle.

man and son in boat   Nick and Raylan (left) paddling in 2017. Raylan with his inherited paddle.

“You see,” Nick explained, “my family and Hunter’s family were friends from church.  My family didn’t hunt, but I had heard many great stories from my buddy, Hunter, I wanted to learn too.  I was 12 years old.  It was David, Hunter’s father, who taught me everything I know about hunting.  Now I want to teach my son, Raylan, everything David taught me about hunting.”

child with face painted

As an Administrative Officer/Check-station Operator, I admire young fathers showing their sons a love of the outdoors at such young ages.  David and Nick with their sleepy-headed boys, Hunter, Eric and Raylan. The boys mumble about how it is too early for this but then are always the first ones out of the truck getting the boat ready to go.  There they are, the same stories, repeating themselves with each generation of hunters at 4:30 in the morning on boat ramps to lakes, rivers and coastal marshes on public lands.  When they return, ole seasoned, whiskered hunters wink and tell the same tall tales of the ducks that got away and young hunters come in laughing with bright eyes and big smiles holding up their limited-out harvest. The best part of my morning is giving those kids a big high-five. 

My job allows me to hear those same ole stories, and somehow, those stories get even better with each season.

Curator's Corner: Shooting Birds, Not Dinosaurs

3 men in front of a dinosaur skeleton, one with a big gun, 2 with oars

This large-caliber weapon shown off by Biological Survey officer George Lawyer is not the real reason dinosaurs met their doom. Actually, It is a confiscated “punt gun,” which was mounted onto the front of a “punt” boat, loaded with shot or even nails, and fired at groups of waterfowl to illegally harvest large numbers of ducks and geese for sale on the black market by bootleggers, or “duckleggers” as they were called. Either way, dinosaurs or ducks, extinction could be the result. Luckily our diligent law enforcement officers saved the day and prevented waterfowl extinction in the early 20th century.

Jeanne M. Harold, curator of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Museum and Archives at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, says the history surrounding the objects in the museum gives them life.

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  • This article is from the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine.

Curator's Corner: Our First Modern Logo

  early FWS logo

After using a series of embroidered felt patches adorned with rudimentary birds and lettering in various configurations to signify the U. S. Biological Survey, a more modern or intricate logo was needed to depict the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. So where did our first modern logo, which mirrors our current logo, come from? The idea came from Doug Swanson on February 22, 1948. Doug found some color pictures of a Canada goose in flight in an Ethyl advertisement in the Saturday Evening Post. Then he shopped for a can of salmon that had a properly sized picture of a salmon on the label. He arranged these cutouts within a circle. Then he added the Department of the Interior and Fish and Wildlife Service lettering in black and orange in the bordering circle. A flying waterfowl over a salmon has been used from then until modern times. Our logo story began with a salmon can and an advertisement.

Jeanne M. Harold, curator of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Museum and Archives at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, says the history surrounding the objects in the museum gives them life.

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Fish & Wildlife News  
  • This article is from the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine.

Curator's Corner: An Artistic File Clerk

 early  logo

In February 1950, with Doug Swanson’s prototype patch as a guide, Mary Westfall, a file clerk in Juneau, Alaska, drew two watercolor designs for Regional Director Clarence Rhode. She drew one with a male mallard duck in flight and one with a Canada goose. Rhode thought that the Canada goose design “would be ideal for use as a shoulder patch and for decals on Service aircraft.” Director Al Day approved the final design. In 1952, a patch was made from the marriage of her design and that of Doug Swanson. It was used first in Alaska in 1958, then Region 2 in 1959. It, along with the taupe uniform, became official for the entire Service with the adoption of the National Uniform Policy on June 30, 1962. Special thanks to retiree Jim Shaw for all the information he has sent me about patches and uniforms.

Jeanne M. Harold, curator of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Museum and Archives at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, says the history surrounding the objects in the museum gives them life.

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Fish & Wildlife News  
  • This article is from the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine.

Curator's Corner: WWII Mini Subs and Us

Kiska Mini Submarine

Russ Earnest, one of the first Service folks to work on forming a Heritage Committee, has a favorite “object” that he always wanted to preserve. It is one of two 78-foot-long mini submarines located on Kiska Island, far out on the Aleutian chain in Alaska. The battery-powered subs were abandoned 14 months after they were deployed there in July 1942 by the Japanese after they failed to deploy the subs at Midway Atoll. The subs’ range was only 90 miles at about six knots, and they could only dive to 100 feet. Batteries could not be recharged at sea, and they were meant to be recovered by a ship. Subs like this were used during the attack at Pearl Harbor. The old subs, one on the beach and one inland a bit on a grassy area, along with the rails to move the subs into and out of the ocean, are just rusting away in the salty air. Colder temperatures in Alaska have helped them to survive, but they will be gone soon enough. I must admit, as a curator, I would love to have one in our collection (it is on property we manage), but it is just too darn big and fragile, and rotting batteries are not exactly safe. Logistics are the enemy of museum curation! Photo Credit Brian Hoffman, Flickr Creative Commons

Jeanne M. Harold, curator of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Museum and Archives at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, says the history surrounding the objects in the museum gives them life.

Previous Curator's Corner | Next Curator's Corner

Fish & Wildlife News  
  • This article is from the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine.

Shop With a Cop: Refuge Wildlife Officers Help Make Holidays Merrier for Youth

  2 officers in store with a family of 5 Federal Wildlife Officers Shane Kempf (far right) and Greg Burgess (center), from Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex in California, shopped with two brothers from schools in Yuba City. Each student received a $100 gift card to shop. Photo by USFWS

By Brent Lawrence and Byrhonda Lyons, Public Affairs Officers for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Federal Wildlife Officers had youth right where they wanted them: Shopping for holiday gifts. 

The “Shop With a Cop” concept has grown across the nation as a way of improving relations between police officers and young people. The program gives elementary school students a chance to purchase holiday gifts for themselves and their family, and an opportunity for law enforcement officers to build camaraderie within their communities. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Federal Wildlife Officers (FWOs) in several regions grabbed the chance to help brighten the holiday season for families.

On Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula, FWOs Dan Huckel, Ryan Wagner and Gary Poen volunteered earlier this month. They were joined by 18 officers from Long Beach Police Department, Pacific County Sheriff’s Department, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, Washington State Parks, Washington State Patrol and NOAA in an event organized by the Peninsula Rotary Club. 

   officer with childIn Wyoming, a youngster shops with Federal Wildlife Officer Zachary Arnold. Photo by USFWS

In Wyoming, FWO Zachary Arnold and Senior FWO Bryan Yetter of the National Elk Refuge joined members of the Jackson Police Department, Teton County Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Forest Service, Wyoming Game and Fish and Jackson Fire/EMS in their annual event, which give some 20 local kids a $100 gift card donated by local civic organizations.  Arnold, Yetter and other officers took the kids to see Santa, drink hot chocolate and shop for Christmas. 

In California, FWOs Shane Kempf and Greg Burgess from Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex shopped with two brothers from schools in Yuba City. Each student received a $100 gift card to shop and bought scooters for themselves, a bracelet for their mother and other gifts. “After the boys were done shopping, I spoke to their mother,” Burgess says. “Teary eyed, she told me that she did not know how she would have provided a Christmas if it were not for this program.” 

Adds Huckel, who is based at Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Washington: “[Willapa National Wildlife Refuge Project Leader] Jackie Ferrier told me that a lot of in-need kids could participate, but the number is limited by how many officers sign up asked me to participate. That really hit home so I made the four-hour round-trip drive to do it. It was a huge pleasure to participate.”

Kempf presented the idea to other officers at Sacramento.  “I’ve known about (Shop With a Cop) for a few years now,” he says. “It’s kind of stressful when you’re running around the store with the kids, but it’s worth it in the end knowing that they will have a good Christmas.” 

   Officer and child meet SantaRegional Refuge Law Enforcement Chief Gary Poen takes a girl to meet Santa. Photo by Jackie Ferrier/USFWS

Wagner, who is based at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington, participated for his second year. He helped 7-year-old Lexi pick out gifts. “She had a great time, and she picked out stuff for her siblings. That’s a nice thing when the kids end up shopping for other family members, too. This is part of the community I work in, so I want to give back to them.”

In addition to seeing a 20-car procession, complete with lights and sirens, as it went through Long Beach, the kids there were treated to breakfast, got their photos taken with Santa and were given a $100 gift card for shopping at a local retailer. Ferrier, event co-chair and a member of the Peninsula Rotary Club, says the event is a huge positive for the community and kids.

“I’m very proud that our Service wildlife officers took their time to make a difference in my local community,” says Ferrier. “It means a great deal to me, the community and in the lives of these young people.” 

FWOs are looking forward to volunteering again next year. “We’ll definitely be back,” says Poen, Chief of the Division of Refuge Law Enforcement in the Pacific Region. “This was as important to us as it was the kids. Next year, we hope to bring even more officers.”

A Man Who Teaches Lessons Worth Knowing

4 photos. From top right: Man with beard in sunglasses and hat, man outside with 3 co-workers, man sitting in control room, man sitting on barrel in stream   Mike Spindler through the years. From top right, a close-up a few years ago; at Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge with colleagues in 2012; at the radio studio in the late 1990s; on Agattu Island in 1976. Photos by USFWS 

With the retirement of Mike Spindler next month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is losing a consummate professional, an inspiring mentor and an extraordinary storyteller.

From his early days on the marine research vessel Aleutian Tern to his most recent work as Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge manager and co-chair of the Northwest Boreal Landscape Conservation Cooperative, Mike has profoundly shaped conservation in Alaska – a legacy that will continue far into the future.

When the Aleutian Tern was delayed, sometimes for weeks, the small crew on remote Agattu Island – now part of Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge – survived by eating from the seashore. With no radio communications and difficult logistics, the crew still successfully worked to make the island nearly fox free, enabling the recovery of several bird species not long afterward. Mike was on that crew in 1976– it was his first Service job. 

He went on to become the first wildlife biologist at Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. There he helped shape techniques for shorebird, sheep and moose surveys.  He also spent more than 400 hours with pilot and mentor Don Ross. When fog made it impossible to land where they wanted to and fuel was low, Ross found a clearing and landed in the hills, where they simply made camp for the night. This taught Mike that stopping is OK when it’s too risky to continue, and to be prepared for anything.  Mike didn’t know then that he would become a skilled instructor-pilot and mentor in his own right for more than two decades – but one senses that Ross probably did know.

In 1984, Mike flew Selawik National Wildlife Refuge’s first plane, making connections between inland waterfowl nesting areas and coastal estuaries; then he moved to Koyukuk and Nowitna National Wildlife Refuges, where he discovered a significant decline in white-fronted geese.  Mike worked hard to reverse the decline, but he didn’t know those efforts were truly successful until years later – when former chief of the village of Allakaket, P.J. Simon, pointed to Mike and said, “You, you brought back the geese – thank you.” 

Those efforts led to a radio show. The show, Raven’s Story, co-created by Mike, encouraged elders to tell what they know – to benefit present and future generations. The late Catherine Attla, from the village of Huslia, once told Mike on the show, “I used to feel different. I used to hide with my belief because I was ashamed ... but so many people tell me, ‘Your knowledge is as good as or better than what we know.’ ” She went on to become a respected author of traditional Koyukon Athabaskan stories.

Mentors like Mike help us learn the lessons worth knowing, and they inspire us to act on those lessons. I have worked with Mike at Kanuti Refuge for over a decade. His greatest lesson and greatest conservation accomplishment might be these three words: “Share our story.”

Mike taught me that stories, once shared, are infinitely and profoundly powerful. They can, and do, change minds, hearts, circumstances and the future.

KRISTIN REAKOFF, Interpretive Park Ranger, Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge

Sunrise 14,089: A Pronghorn Hunt

New Mexico sunrise

Text by Nathan Wiese; photos by Andrew Miller

A trout biologist muses on the path from his first whitetail hunt as a boy on his grandfather’s farm in Wisconsin, to waiting out a pronghorn buck beneath an immense sky on the New Mexico shortgrass prairie. 

Homo sapiens will witness thousands of sunrises in a lifetime. Of course, we don’t awaken for many others, but the sun still rises, and time ticks along to an eventual end. But some sunrises are special. Yes, every day, the sun rises at a mathematically measured time and place and enlivens an amalgam of stratus, cirrus and cumulus clouds predicted with a relatively degree of certainty.

New Mexico sunrises stand out. Experiencing a sunrise on the broad prairie is a spectacle to witness. Northern New Mexico prairie is truly mile-high country. Perched in the atmosphere, the horizon stretches 86.6 miles wide and the stage is always set to impress.

New Mexico sunrise sky

It’s still dark and I’m hunkered in this arid short-grass prairie near the Kiowa National Grasslands with my good friend Andrew Miller. Miller carries his camera and all the accoutrements of an ardent photographer. He makes his living with a lens. My .270 rifle scarred by years of use lies across my lap. Each year I strike adventure to harvest free-range organic meat to feed my family.

New Mexico sunrise   land

This year, I got a coveted public-draw pronghorn antelope tag for an August hunt. Last night, we watched the monsoon thunderheads light up to our west. To the east, absolutely terrifying electrical storms crashed from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Hunter looks through binoculars under New Mexico sunrise

This is Miller’s first antelope hunt. We’ve settled down in the cholla cactus near an old arroyo. The dawn is still inky black, but the tips of our rusty windmill landmark are just showing. The windmill marks a water tank, an oasis on the prairie for cattle and wildlife alike. The centurion steel has long since been retired, the water instead delivered by miles of poly pipe. The spire is now only a landmark—at once a reminder of past, and maybe a symbol of the future.

black and white of hunter

Sitting on the prairie under the blinking stars stirs memories from 9,000 sunrises ago. It’s cold, but not breath-stealing like so many of the Wisconsin winters of my childhood. A chill seeps into my toes to remind me of when my mother would slip bread bags over my feet to keep them dry, the only Gore-Tex I knew. My father is there to wake a 12-year-old boy to his first opening-day deer hunt in the North Country. But I haven’t slept all night; I tossed and turned dreaming of a white-tailed deer, the hunt, the excitement, growing up into the tradition. Opening day: always the Saturday before Thanksgiving. A young boy doesn’t give much thought about tradition—but I hurtled into it by envy of fathers and peers.

I’m half awake, but packing candy bars hoarded from Halloween bags. I groggily amble to the old Chevrolet. The passenger door is hopelessly mangled, so we slide across the bench seat from the driver’s side. The engine groans to life under the strain of sub-zero mercury. The drive drags on, but it is only eight miles to my grandfather’s farm. Short legs struggle behind an invincible father, but finally we arrive to the woods where I will hunt. I’m small, so I skip the broken block steps in favor of the remaining nail spikes and upward I go into the tree stand. It was a real coming-of-age moment that I can see now put me on a trajectory to my contemporary role with Gila trout conservation. The past begets the future. The past and present conjoin here, surrounded by prickly cholla on the prairie at first light while I mentally chew on the matter of conservation. The North American model of public ownership of wildlife makes this possible—for a kid in the North Country or a grown man in the West.

 hunter looking through binoculars

“There!” Miller hisses in restrained excitement, stirring me back to the present. Antelope mix around us. The inky sky transformed to crimson and blue as the sun starts to bleed over the horizon.

The antelope doe is at only 20 steps, her eyes boring holes in our cholla cover. Miller’s shutter snaps don’t bother the antelope, but I keep my eyes to the side. There will be a buck. My muscles cramp in the cold. Mere moments stretch into eternities. The sun keeps at its clockwork climb.

Hunter and harvest

Big eyes keep us pinned, motionless on the prairie, waiting. Pronghorn have phenomenal eyesight. More antelope materialize in bands of sunlight as if from vapors. Time ticks. The horizon is huge, but our vantage between the cholla is narrow.

When I see the buck, there isn’t time for rangefinders or second guesses. I fire, and the buck stands. I send a second round with practiced quickness and the same result. Pause. Exhale. I’ve held my breath on two shots. The buck is much closer than my first estimate. I resettle the crosshairs and squeeze off the last round as the golden light of the dawn illuminates the ghost of the prairie.

Sunrise 14,089 has seared a permanent memory.

Nathan Wiese is the manager of the Mora National Fish Hatchery in northeast New Mexico, where he and his crew oversee the captive stocks of Gila trout, a threatened species. 

Lost Marbled Murrelet Found in Roadway, Returned to the Sea by Wildlife Heroes

2 kayakers in water, one on left has a box attached in front of him on kayakExpert sea kayakers, Bruce Hales (left) and Damon Maguire transport the marbled murrelet out to sea. Courtesy photo Laura Corsiglia

You’re driving down the road on a Sunday night and you see what looks like a child’s stuffed animal in the middle of the road. Curious, you pull over and discover that it’s a young bird needing help.

Learn what happened next to a marbled murrelet fledgling in California.



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