A Look Back: Elizabeth “Betty” Losey

Refuge Update May-June 2010

Elizabeth “Betty” Losey: “My favorite workplace was right in the middle of a marsh, listening to the birds and finding waterfowl nests and ducklings.”
Credit: USFWS

In 1947, Elizabeth “Betty” Losey – fresh from the University of Michigan with a master of science degree in wildlife management and conservation – said she couldn’t get a job with the Michigan State Game Division because no one wanted a woman out in the field overnight. Fortunately, a fellow Michigan graduate offered her a job. Then Chief of Refuges J. Clark Salyer hired Losey as a waterfowl research biologist at Seney National Wildlife Refuge, MI. She lived in a sparsely furnished cabin on the refuge and studied duck brood behavior; she remembers that the refuge installed an outhouse one year “as a Christmas present.”

“I made up my mind that no matter what they threw at me, I was not going to murmur, and I didn’t. They had opened the door a crack, my foot was in it, and I was going to go in the rest of the way.”

When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a transfer to North Dakota a few years later, however, Losey chose to stay in Michigan with her husband and returned to Seney Refuge as a volunteer in 1996, only after her husband had died. She was employed at Seney Refuge from 1947 to 1950, but her significant contributions as a volunteer continued almost until her death in 2005.  

She gave herself the title of biological historian; wrote a history of the refuge as well as a booklet about its first manager, C.S. Johnson; mentored summer interns; and assisted refuge staff with wildlife surveys. At 92, she wrote her final peer-reviewed paper on the history of sharp-tailed grouse at the refuge. The paper was published posthumously in 2007 in the journal The Passenger Pigeon.

Losey was always willing to read and learn, says Greg Corace, Seney Refuge forester, who recalls her “willingness to think on her own. When she was working here, she would go to the field with men to do surveys and she was ridiculed. Her passion for what she did drove her to overcome social norms. Betty was a leader in the way she thought and acted and held herself.”

Losey was still going strong when she was named National Wildlife Refuge Association Volunteer of the Year in 2003. Former Seney Refuge manager Tracy Casselman found Betty Losey a tremendous source of knowledge and inspiration, a woman with an “infectious smile, sharp wit, keen intellect and uncompromising determination.”