The 20,000 Hour Volunteer

August 2015 - Friends Forward
(Left to right) Assistant manager Larry Ulibarri and refuge manager Floyd Truetken join volunteer Jim Montgomery at a Bitter Lake Refuge dry lake bed.
Credit: Bill O’Brian/USFWS

“I like counting cranes,” says Jim Montgomery, only slightly understating the fact that he has 26 years of continuous weekly crane counts at Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, NM. And Montgomery is a volunteer!

“I’m nervous that he’s going to retire,” says the refuge’s volunteer coordinator Steve Alvarez. “On the books, Jim officially has 18,554 volunteer hours. (Refuge manager Floyd Truetken) and I are sure he is over 20,000 since he doesn’t claim all his time.”

Montgomery has a PhD in zoology and has spent his career teaching biology at New Mexico Military Institute. The refuge offered him an opportunity to do projects like counting those cranes, which he started in 1988. He has even presented papers to the North American Crane Working Group. “He is the refuge expert on cranes,” says Alvarez. Montgomery also participates in biweekly waterbird counts and monitors nesting terns to see if the eggs hatch.

Montgomery also leads a bimonthly “refuge discovery tour,” guiding families through closed areas of the refuge. “The theme is that the refuge is more than a place with a fence around it. The refuge maintains and creates habitats,” he explains to visitors. “Sometimes it seems kids have been dragged along; other times people seem very interested and there is good interplay.”

Once he was able to show off new habitat for three endangered snails and the tiny Noel’s amphipod. And why is this important? “It maintains the integrity of the ecosystem.”

Montgomery was an original board member when the Friends of Bitter Lake Refuge organized in 2000 and he continues to keep the books and make sure the nature store always has change.