Our Regional Leadership
Nationally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is led by a Director, a team of Assistant Directors and eight Regional Directors. (See our headquarters organizational chart.)
The conservation actions of the Southeast Region are guided by the Southeast Regional Director, Deputy Regional Director, and a team of Assistant Regional Directors and Chiefs who guide regional operations.
Leopoldo “Leo” Miranda-Castro
Leopoldo “Leo” Miranda is the Southeast Regional Director of the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He oversees the work of approximately 1,300 employees in carrying out the Federal Government’s partnership role in conserving fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats within 10 southeastern states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Leo began his work with the Service as a Private Lands biologist in his native Puerto Rico, later becoming the Program Supervisor of the Service’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office in Annapolis, Maryland, followed by Assistant Regional Director of the Southeast Region’s Ecological Services Program. An advocate of public-private conservation partnerships, he points to the success of the shade-grown coffee industry as an example of how government organizations and private landowners can work together to achieve win/win outcomes for people and for wildlife. On any given weekend, you are likely to find Leo in a tree stand or by a river, hunting or fishing with his son, Pablo. Leo attributes much of their shared love of nature and commitment to conservation to the pursuit of these outdoor recreational pastimes. Leo holds a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology from the University of Puerto Rico and a Master of Science in Zoology from North Carolina State University. He and his wife, Jessica, Pablo, and their four-legged family members live in Marietta, Georgia.
Deputy Regional Director
Mike Oetker is the Deputy Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southeast Region where he oversees the agency’s operations involving more than 1,300 employees spread out over 10 states and the Caribbean islands. He has been with the Service for 19 years.
Before coming to Atlanta, Mike worked in the Southwest Region where he was involved with conflicts over endangered fish and water management. He also worked on fisheries management issues in the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basin for the Service’s Midwest Region.
Mike got his start in natural resource management and policy development as a Knauss Sea Grant Fellow, where he worked for the Committee on Natural Resources in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is a graduate from Iowa State University and Michigan State University.
Chief of Staff
Laurel Barnhill has served as the Chief of Staff since October 2019. She joined the Service in 2011 as the National Wildlife Refuge System Inventory and Monitoring Coordinator and then as the Chief of the Migratory Bird Program. Laurel’s prior positions were as the Bird Conservation Coordinator for South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Biologist for the USDA Forest Service – Savannah River, and Passerine Bird Coordinator for Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
Laurel earned a M.S. in Zoology from the University of Arkansas and a B.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Biology from the University of Vermont.
Assistant Regional Director, Fisheries and Aquatic Conservation
Allan has worked for the Fish and Wildlife Service for 36 years. After graduating from Michigan State University in the spring of 1984, Allan held temporary positions at Senecaville National Fish Hatchery (NFH) in Ohio and the National Fishery Center in Lamar, Pennsylvania. As a permanent employee, Allan served at the Jackson NFH in Wyoming and then moved to Wolf Creek NFH in Kentucky as the deputy project leader. In 1994, he was selected as the project leader for the Welaka NFH in Florida. Allan spent 20 years at Welaka as the hatchery manager and program supervisor for warmwater hatcheries for the Southeast Region. He was selected for his current position as the Assistant Regional Director for Fish and Aquatic Conservation in the Southeast Region in September of 2014.
Allan has been married for 38 years with three adult children, all of whom are married. He and his wife have three granddaughters and one grandson. Allan and his wife like to travel and go boating and hiking. They keep busy taking care of two wonderful, but poorly behaved labs.
Special Agent in Charge
Stephen Clark has over 26 years’ experience in natural resource law enforcement that started by patrolling the bayous as a state game warden in south Louisiana (1994-2001), serving proudly in the United States Army in Operation Desert Storm, and ultimately leading complex investigations as a Fish & Wildlife Service Special Agent (2001—Present). Additionally, Stephen served as a Fish & Wildlife Service Special Agent Pilot where he provided investigative air support across the nation. Throughout his career, Stephen has served in several different leadership capacities including, Resident Agent in Charge in Lacombe, La. and Assistant Special Agent in Charge in Albuquerque, NM. In addition, he has served as acting Special Agent in Charge for the Branch of Investigations at Fish & Wildlife Service Headquarters, and multiple acting Regional Special Agent in Charge assignments for the Southeast and Southwest Regions. Stephen holds a bachelor’s degree from Southeastern Louisiana University in Economics and Management. During his time away from work, Stephen enjoys spending time outdoors with his wife Nicole and two sons—Zachary and Andrew.
Assistant Regional Director, Gulf Restoration
Michelle Eversen is the Assistant Regional Director of the Gulf Restoration Program which oversees the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment Restoration (NRDAR), including coordination for the RESTORE Act, as well as all other NRDARs in South Atlantic-Gulf and Mississippi Basin Interior Regions. After working in the private sector as an environmental scientist, she began her career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2002 as a field biologist with the Chesapeake Bay Ecological Services (ES) Field Office before moving to Headquarters into the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program where she worked on national policies and budget formulation. In 2012, Michelle joined the leadership team in the Atlanta Regional Office as the ES Program Supervisor responsible for supervising the ES Field Office Supervisors across the Southeast.
On any given Sunday Michelle can be found on a body of water, be it rafting a river, paddle boarding in a lagoon, or sitting by an ocean, all with her husband and latest rescue pup. Michelle attributes her love of nature and critters to her childhood time spent with her grandparents either on the farm in Virginia, trying to catch bullfrogs out of the pond, or in the brook in New Jersey, looking for salamanders. Michelle holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Biology from Virginia Tech University and a Master’s of Science degree in Environmental Toxicology from Clemson University.
Mara joined the Service in 2016 as a Presidential Management Fellow (PMF). Her appointment began with the National Wildlife Refuge System in headquarters and led to working with the International Affairs Program and the Office of Business Management and Operations where she was converted into a project management role. In this capacity, she led a complex space consolidation project in Denver, Colorado, and worked on the JAO Project Management Team, supporting our reorganization of budget and administration to a centralized, shared services model.
This reorganization led to new opportunities across the Service, including the creation of Regional Business Offices within the Office of Regional Director in each of the Service’s eight regions. Mara began serving as the Regional Business Advisor in the South Atlantic Gulf and Mississippi Basin Interior Regions in October of 2019, tasked with guiding the Regional Business Office in Atlanta, Georgia. Under her direction, this small team of professional budget and administrative personnel advises the Regional Director, the Regional Directorate Team and their staff on business matters, provides budgetary support and guidance, evaluates various business and management practices for improvement and efficiencies, supports workforce initiatives, oversees internal controls, and manages regional office operations.
Prior to joining the Service, Mara spent about 10 years working in the private sector in marketing and communications. She holds an MBA in management and entrepreneurship from Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio and a BFA from the University of Akron in Ohio.
Mara enjoys spending time outdoors, hiking trails with her husband and their dog. She also is an avid gardener and loves to travel to national parks and refuges.
Dr. Catherine Phillips
Assistant Regional Director, Ecological Services
Catherine serves as the Assistant Regional Director for Ecological Services in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southeast Region. She has been with the Service since 1998 and got her start through the Career Awareness Institute at Mescalero National Fish Hatchery in New Mexico before working at Uvalde National Fish Hatchery and San Marcos Fish Technology Center in the Southwest Region. She also served as Deputy Project Leader and Project Leader at the Panama City Field Office in the Southeast. Catherine especially enjoys working across Service programs and with a variety of partners in non-traditional ways and is an advocate of finding solutions to achieve mutual mission success.
Catherine grew up in a large family in San Antonio, Texas, and did not realize that careers in conservation existed prior to her first internship with the Service. However, she quickly fell in love with the field and the mission. She is an advocate of continual learning and mentoring and working with diverse groups from all backgrounds to achieve innovative conservation success. Catherine loves spending time with her family: her husband, Craig and her three kids, a son in high school, daughter in middle school, and a one-year-old boy. She can be found gardening, in the water paddleboarding or snorkeling, and watching and attending college football games in the fall.
An avid reader and practitioner of adaptive leadership, Catherine continually reminds herself that real growth is in the discomfort zone! That being said, she thinks there is nothing wrong with taking time to seek a little comfort, respite, and self-care before tackling the next big challenge.
Assistant Regional Director, External Affairs
Daffny Pitchford is the Assistant Regional Director of External Affairs for the South Atlantic-Gulf and Mississippi Basin Interior Regions.
Her path to this position, to which she was named in late 2020, began in 1998. She’d recently graduated that year from North Carolina Central University with a degree in biology. When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offered her a spot in its Outstanding Scholar Program, Daffny said yes.
Her career has included several stops within the Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System. Daffny taught youth about all things wild in Virginia Beach as an Outdoor Recreation Planner. As an Assistant Refuge Supervisor, Daffny oversaw Refuge operations from Virginia to Maine. She also served as an Assistant Refuge Manager and Project Leader in the field. Moving to the Southeast, Daffny worked as both a Refuge Supervisor and Lead Division Chief.
No matter what job she has held, Daffny has been guided by a love for the natural world and a desire to help others. She brings that commitment to External Affairs, too.
In her latest position, Daffny wants to ensure that she and her colleagues are an extension of all other programs – with a role in communicating the excellent accomplishments and stories of the people and events that make strides in conservation every day. She is excited about the potential External Affairs offers. Daffny is just as enthusiastic to work with other programs and lead what she calls “an amazing team.”
Dr. Bill Uihlein
Assistant Regional Director, Science Applications and Migratory Birds
Bill serves as the Assistant Regional Director of the Science Application and Migratory Bird Programs. Science Applications and Migratory Birds provides a mission-driven relationship-building forum that focuses on defining the conservation landscape of the future to sustain fish, wildlife, and plants. Both programs are within the South Atlantic Gulf and Mississippi Basin. They are comprised of incredibly skilled individuals working to support decision making to sustain fish and wildlife by addressing and integrating efforts such conservation adaption planning and coordinating science within the Service’s interest in the Regional Vision through science capacity development, landscape planning and integration, supporting the work of Joint Venture partnerships, informing targeted conservation actions, measuring results, and evaluating uncertainties.
Bill says his background and love of outdoors came from working for his dad, the foreman, on several ranches in Wyoming, California, and New Mexico. He earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Biology from Eastern New Mexico University and a Ph.D. from Mississippi State University. Bill’s Service career has been in Migratory Birds, serving as the Science Coordinator and eventually the Coordinator of the Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture partnership and then in his current role of Assistant Regional Director. Most of Bill’s work experiences have centered on leadership, relationship building, and leveraging technical expertise in landscape assessment, ecosystem modeling, and monitoring for waterfowl and landbirds.
Regional Chief, National Wildlife Refuge System
“In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock.” – Thomas Jefferson
David Viker is a 28-year veteran of the Service, starting his career in 1992 as a wildlife biologist trainee in what’s now the Migratory Bird Program. While at the University of Florida, David was a volunteer at Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuges. David worked up refuge management ranks on five field stations in five states. Along the way, he earned a federal law enforcement commission, obtained a fire management wildfire “red card,” and operated an array of heavy equipment pieces to manage habitat. David moved up to the Atlanta Regional Office as a Deputy Refuge Supervisor, helping to lead several dozen refuges in four states.
David then stepped up as Regional Chief and then Assistant Regional Director of the Migratory Bird Program, working closely with states and other partners in the Joint Ventures System and system of Flyways to set migratory bird regulations. David returned to the National Wildlife Refuge System after more than five years with the Migratory Bird Program.
Since January 2011, David has served as an Assistant Regional Director and Regional Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, leading more than 650 permanent employees on 131 refuges in 10 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. These refuges, visited by more than 17 million people annually, range from just a few acres for an endangered species to the 400,000-acre Okefenokee wilderness.
David’s areas of greatest professional interest include connecting wildlife habitats through landscape linkages, connecting people with nature, and compatibility and appropriate use policy. David’s greatest passion, though, is helping others grow. He has served over the years as the regional youth programs coordinator; member of the Diversity Committee; he founded the regional Leadership Development Council; helped establish the E-4 Mentoring program; has taught several courses at the National Conservation Training Center; speaks frequently on the power of diversity; and helped coach the Advanced Leadership Development Program.
David has been a volunteer youth sports coach for more than 40 teams, ages 4 to 18, in basketball, baseball, softball, track and field, and soccer. His favorite times are spent with his wife of 25 years and their four children, doing faith-based volunteering, fishing, canoeing, hiking, camping, hunting, and other outdoor activities.
Assistant Regional Director, Wildlife and Sport Fisheries Restoration
As Manager of the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration pProgram (WSFR) Paul administers a variety of grant programs in the Southeast Region in cooperation with the Fish and Wildlife Service’s partner state agencies. With a cumulative total of approximately $305 million annually, these grant funds are used to enhance the state’s ability to manage their fish and wildlife resources for the benefit of the public.
Paul began his career at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources as a field technician in 2012 where he worked in the Lake Fisheries Research Unit. He then served as the Aquatic Nuisance Species Biologist before moving to Assistant Director of the Fisheries Division where he coordinated Fisheries grants and worked with local partners on boating access projects. Prior to joining the service Paul was serving as the Acting Fisheries Director in Kentucky, working with the agency’s Commission on fisheries regulations and overseeing management of the Commonwealth’s fisheries.