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Eight employees in USFWS uniform pose for a photograph in front of a slash pine forest.
Information icon Front: Brantley Boatright; Ladies (l to r): Sara Aicher, Gracie Gooch, Judy Drury, Dartha Campbell; Men (l to r): Reggie Forcine, Howard McCullough, Rocky Chesser. Photo, USFWS.

Okefenokee proud of its employees with many years of loyal service

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge has many profound distinctions; but, none as great as the loyalty of its staff. 40 percent of the 20-person staff have more than 20 years of experience at Okefenokee, and all but one of those employees grew up around the Okefenokee Swamp. In fact, 12 refuge employees are from the local area. These staff members are well known in the communities around the refuge and have worked closely with surrounding landowners and local businesses that provide services to the refuge. In turn the communities benefit from the preservation of natural landscapes as well as the eco-tourism that the refuge brings to the area

The eight employees with over 20 years at Okefenokee NWR are: Dartha Campbell, administrative officer with 42 years; Gracie Gooch, volunteer coordinator with 35 years; Reggie Forcine, assistant fire management officer, with 34 years; Howard McCullough, forest technician with 31 years, Judy Drury, office assistant with 30 years; Sara Aicher, biologist, with 27 years; Rocky Chesser, heavy equipment supervisor, with 25 years; and Brantley Boatright, dispatcher with 22 years. These eight employees serve as the backbone for the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, and they are the ones all other employees look to for information and background about this extraordinary place we all call home.

They provide continuity through the years, training new managers and staff, evaluating changes in our natural resources, and continuously striving for the long-term restoration of the native landscapes. During their tenure, these employees have worked with seven refuge managers and 10 deputy refuge managers, seen changes through 10 large wildfires, and have increased the restoration possibilities through the acquisition of 23,412 acres.

All refuge programs are represented in this group (Administration, Maintenance, Visitor Services, Biology, Forestry and Fire), and these employees have worked closely together, each contributing their expertise to fulfill the mission of the refuge: The Okefenokee is like no other place on earth; where natural beauty and wilderness character prevail. The vision for Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is to protect and enhance wildlife and its habitat, ensure integrity of the ecological system, and embrace the grandeur, mystery, and cultural heritage that lead visitors to an enrichment of the human spirit.” Another goal is to further the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System: “to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitat within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.”

As these employees retire over the next 10 years, other refuge staff members will strive to build upon the legacy of these employees. Much of the work we do requires an awareness of ecological subtleties and patience to manage an ecosystem with long-lived species that simply cannot be learned nor accomplished in a few short years. The refuge’s longleaf pine habitat is just one example of a habitat managed based on a 300+ year cycle. The longer the life cycle of a habitat, the more consistency is needed in its management. As Herbert L. Stoddard, Senior, a great southern conservationist once said “Land management is an art that builds on history and is based in science.”


Sarah Clardy, Refuge Manager, Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, (912) 496-7365

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