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Aerial of Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Joyce Kleen, USFWS.

New manager at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge Complex

Michael Lusk, a 14-year veteran of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is the new refuge manager at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Crystal River, Florida. He began his new duties on August 2, 2009. As manager, he oversees activities at three refuges, Chassahowitzka, Crystal River, and the Tampa Bay National Wildlife Refuges.

“Michael has worked for the National Wildlife Refuge System for more than 10 years, serving in the Washington Office and in several Service regions,” says Cynthia Dohner, acting Southeast Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “He has traveled across most of the United States on a variety of work assignments and has extensive experience in dealing with invasive species, law enforcement issues, and endangered species.”

In his previous position, Lusk served in Washington D.C., as the National Invasive Species Coordinator for the National Wildlife Refuge System. His responsibilities included bringing resources to field offices to help combat invasive species and keeping Congress informed about progress toward invasives control. Lusk helped provide funds to support the eradication of Gambian pouch rats from the Florida Keys and increased funding for invasive species control on A.R.M. Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuges.

He also helped develop a national training course on invasive species management for refuge staff and on-line training for refuge staff and volunteers. Lusk co-authored a handbook about invasive species and fire management and a scientific journal article on using wading birds as an indicator of Everglades restoration efforts.

“Working at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge Complex is a dream come true for me,” says Lusk “I was born in Florida and spent time here while in college. Ever since then, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to return to the state. Over the past five years, I’ve worked to find opportunities that would expose me to issues in Florida and familiarize me with state partners.”

Established in 1943, the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge is a haven for the West Indian manatee and the wood stork, both federally listed as endangered, and for the eastern indigo snake and the green sea turtle, both federally-listed as threatened. About 250 different bird species inhabit the refuge, including double-crested cormorants, great blue herons, ospreys, and white pelicans. Visitors also may occasionally see black bears, bobcats, deer, river otters and turkeys. The refuge encompasses about 31,000 acres of saltwater bays, estuaries, and brackish marshes. Its eastern boundary is fringed by hardwood swamps. Its northern boundary parallels and includes some of the Homosassa River. For 12 miles, the refuge extends southward across the Chassahowitzka River.

The 46-acre Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge consists of several islands surrounded by the spring-fed waters of Kings Bay. Established in 1983, the refuge provides warm water spring habitat for West Indian manatees that migrate there each winter.

The Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge Complex also includes three refuges in the Tampa Bay area: Egmont Key, Passage Key, and Pinellas National Wildlife Refuges. Located at the entrance to Tampa Bay, Egmont Key was established in 1974 to protect such species as least terns and gopher tortoises. Passage Key was established in 1905, as one of the first refuges in the system. The 30-acre barrier hosts the largest royal tern and sandwich tern colonies in Florida. The 394-acre Pinellas National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1951 and serves as a breeding ground for colonial bird species like herons, egrets, and cormorants. It has the largest brown pelican rookery in Florida.

“My goal for the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge Complex is to help the public access and enjoy wildlife while finding ways to protect federally-listed and native species,” says Lusk. “I want to make these refuges national and international examples of wildlife management done properly.”

Prior to his previous position as National Invasive Species Coordinator, Lusk served as a law enforcement officer, deputy refuge manager, and acting refuge manager at the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in Ajo, Arizona. Earlier, he was deputy manager of Bond Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Hillsboro, Georgia. He joined the Fish and Wildlife Service as an endangered species biologist in Hawaii. His first job as an endangered species biologist was for the Department of Defense, where he monitored populations of the federally listed red-cockaded woodpecker at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He also worked on remote islands in Micronesia as a local biologist specializing in highly endangered birds.

Lusk was born in Plant City, Florida, and raised in Wilmington, North Carolina. He earned an associate’s degree from Florida College in Temple Terrace, Florida, and a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Fish and Wildlife Biology from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina. In his spare time, he enjoys wildlife photography, kayaking, and diving.


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