DOINews: Why I Got Into Conservation: USFWS Regional Directors Weigh In

Last edited 09/05/2019

USFWS NewsMuch is made of the growing disconnect between people and the outdoors. The Service, like many conservation organizations, is putting great emphasis on attracting the next generation of scientists, communicators, economists, technicians and anyone passionate about wild things and wild places. So we asked some of this current generation what got them into conservation.

From the winter edition of Fish & Wildlife News*

USFWS Regional Directors

Robyn Thorson, Pacific Region
Robyn Thorson“Girl Scouts. Really. The summer before 9th grade I accompanied a neighbor to Scout camp and went backpacking for the first time — 50 miles! I was immediately hooked on backcountry camping, outdoor skills (knots and lashing, anyone?) and understanding our natural world. This changed the course of my life: At a time (the ‘60s) when careers and opportunities for girls seemed narrow, I found an activity and an organization with challenging adventures, high purpose and strong friendships. And this was BEFORE John Denver made Rocky Mountain High a national mantra! Scouting (which I bought into with the passion of the newly converted) emphasized nature and the environment, and also instilled ethics and values — I am certain my interest in public service comes from that.”

She adds that “good fortune, good role models and good parents" got her to where she is today.

Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, Southwest Region
Dr. Tuggle“My father was in the military when I was growing up, so we lived in places all over the world. But some of my fondest memories, when we were state-side, were spending long summer days on my grandmother's farm in rural Georgia. After finishing my chores, I can remember the joy of spending the rest of the day being outside, making wonderful discoveries in the fields and streams on and adjacent to our farm; and the freedom I felt. How you could almost see the whole world from the right branch in the top of a tree, how there was a certain tranquility about fishing whether you caught something or not, and how animals and all living things have a place, a value and a purpose in the world. Those experiences taught me to value the natural world and gave me a curiosity of nature that I carry with me to this day.“

“Stewardship of land and all living things, along with hard work, were very strong values for my grandparents and they did their best to instill those values in me. I didn't realize it at the time, but through those experiences and their teachings, they were establishing my conservation foundation. Years later those values and lessons would resurface when I decided to pursue my undergraduate, master's and doctorate degrees in biological sciences. I've never regretted that choice, and I still love every facet of being in the outdoors. I started my Fish and Wildlife Service career in 1979 at the National Wildlife Health Research Center in Madison, Wisconsin, working in wildlife disease biology. The Service is the only agency I have ever worked for and as I've moved through my career, I have been and remain continually honored and grateful to be able to work for an agency that shares my conservation values, and allows me to share those values in service to the American people.”

Tom Melius, Midwest Region
Tom Melius“With nearly four decades of conservation work on the books since my 1975 professional start, I can vividly recall gaining interest in conservation as a youngster growing up on a farm in South Dakota. That's when I first enjoyed the wonders of pheasants, foxes and the wide variety of birds and other wildlife that graced our fields. I also fondly recall, as a young boy, taking pheasant eggs that were left in the alfalfa field after mowing and putting them in chicken nests to hatch and then releasing them. Wildlife always caught my eye and fascination growing up. Those experiences fueled my earliest interests in later pursuing a bachelor's degree in wildlife biology and a master's degree in fish and wildlife science from South Dakota State University.“

Cindy Dohner, Southeast Region
Cindy DohnerCindy Dohner fell in love with the outdoors while fishing Pennsylvania's Susquehanna River with her dad, and tagging along on his deer hunting trips. Her first job — unpaid — was cleaning out bird boxes on state-owned land. As a teenager, she saw a “whole new world“ on her first scuba diving trip in the Florida Keys. She grew up in the era of declining eagle and pelican populations due to DDT, rivers catching on fire and other well-known environmental disasters. Dohner wanted to help ensure the outdoor way of life she enjoyed would be available to her generation and the generations that follow. Those experiences set her on a course that led to a bachelor's degree in marine biology and a master's degree in fisheries and a long career protecting fish and wildlife and the wild places upon which they depend. About 30 years ago, she made conservation her career. She has worked for a private environmental consulting firm and held positions in several state and federal organizations up and down the East Coast before joining the Service in 1993. “I thought I could make a difference. I hope I have. I know together we all are.“ These days you can find her leading the Service's Southeast Region and more than 1,500 employees in a daily mission to make a difference. At any given moment you are likely to find her working with and supporting them on issues as big as the Gulf of Mexico restoration following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and as small but no less consequential as the partnership work and proactive conservation that led to removing the Yadkin River goldenrod in North Carolina from the list of candidate species under the Endangered Species Act. “If you think about what we get to do, it's pretty special.“

Wendi Weber, Northeast Region
Wendi WeberWendi Weber was a pre-med major at the University of Rhode Island when an inspiring professor introduced her to nesting sea turtles on Cumberland Island in Georgia. “I fell in love. I went back to school and changed my major to zoology. The rest is history,“ she says. Before entering graduate school at the University of Georgia, Weber studied sturgeon as a fisheries biologist for that state's department of natural resources. Later, master's degree in hand, she saw a Service job announcement for a position working on the illegal trade of sturgeon and caviar. “I was intrigued to combine my knowledge of the species with the chance to work with CITES, the ESA, and enforcement. It was the best career move I ever made.“ Weber has been regional director for the Northeast's 13 states since 2011. She was the region's deputy regional director for several years before that, and previously held leadership positions in the Midwest and Pacific regions. Before joining the Service in 1998, she worked for the states of Florida and Georgia as a field biologist.

Noreen Walsh, Mountain-Prairie Region
Noreen WalshBeginning in elementary school, Noreen Walsh (on left in picture) knew she wanted to pursue a career in wildlife conservation. Having parents who let her roam outdoors, visiting Seney National Wildlife Refuge in Michigan each summer and her experiences with Girl Scout adventures all sparked an interest that led to a major in wildlife biology as a natural choice for Walsh. Walsh's first job out of graduate school was with the Service. Now, 23 years into her career, there is nowhere she would rather be. “I've been blessed to have participated in the work of the Service across our country: from my first job with caribou on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to Florida springs where manatees congregate, to the ‘High Plains' where lesser prairie-chickens still dance on the leks every spring. If our role is to be stewards of the planet and ensure that those who come after us have wild places and wild things to enjoy, then I'd rather fulfill that role with the Service than anywhere else.“

Geoff Haskett, Alaska Region
Geoff HaskettGeoff Haskett began his 36-year career with the Service in 1978 as a realty specialist in the Northwest Region. “I read Silent Spring when I was a junior in high school and was inspired to pursue a career in conservation.“ Haskett has led conservation efforts across the country in his positions as assistant regional director of Refuges and Wildlife in the Southeast Region, chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System in Washington, D.C., and in his current role as regional director for the Alaska Region. Most recently, Haskett was appointed by the president as the commissioner to the U.S.-Russia Polar Bear Commission. “I feel privileged to have the opportunity to represent the United States and work nationally and internationally on polar bear and other conservation issues.“

Ren Lohoefener, Pacific Southwest Region
Ren Lohoefener Ren Lohoefener grew up in a farming and ranching family in the northwest corner of Kansas. For Lohoefener, watching and learning about wildlife and wildlife habitat was part of his everyday life. As a child, he wrote letters to the local newspaper calling for change to what he saw as harmful farming practices and predator control, an action that, on occasion, made him one of the less popular members of the community. Pursuing a biology education was a natural result of his rural upbringing and land stewardship principles. Lohoefener joined the Service in 1989 after working for six years as an ecologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service. Since joining the Fish and Wildlife Service, Lohoefener has been a field director for Ecological Services for the Southwest Region, assistant director for Ecological Services in Washington and regional director of both the Pacific and Pacific Southwest Regions.

Submitted by: USFWS

April 10, 2014

*Direct link to the winter edition of Fish & Wildlife News:

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