What do you do?
I am the Nongame Wildlife Program supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. I was selected for this position in 1977. I develop and implement wildlife conservation initiatives for non-hunted wildlife that includes birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and selected insects like butterflies and dragonflies. I have collaborated with other conservation groups involving bald eagle restoration and management, loon conservation, Blanding’s turtle and Wood turtle research and management, Timber Rattlesnake research and management, surveys for water birds and prairie birds, land acquisition of sites important for nongame wildlife, reintroduction of Trumpeter Swans, River Otters and Peregrine Falcons, and educational efforts for school children through Project WILD workshops for teachers.
How did you get into this work?
I have been interested in wildlife since I was about five years old. I grew up on a farm in central Iowa where my parents and grandparents encouraged an interest in nature by pointing out bird nests, building bird houses and providing me with books and birds and nature. I got a B.S. in zoology and a minor in botany at Iowa State University in 1968. I got my Master’s degree in 1970 from the University of Georgia where I studied wildlife management, dendrology, ecology and took courses in journalism, feature writing and public relations. I did my thesis on “Fish and Wildlife of Costa Rica, with Notes on Human Influences.” I spent four months in Costa Rica through the Organization for Tropical Studies, where I did research on the factors affecting the wildlife populations there and then prepared recommendations for the Costa Rican government to improve the effectiveness of their game laws.
What are you working on now?
Our newest project is called the “Digital Photography Bridge to Nature,” which will involve presenting 80 teacher workshops (grades 3 - 9) throughout Minnesota during the next two years. We will teach teachers how to take their students outdoors, with digital cameras recording their experiences in nature on short “photo safaris.” After taking the workshop, teachers will be able to check out kits with cameras that the children can use on their photo safaris. The children will then use their nature-related photos to prepare curriculum-based projects related to science, math, geography, art and language arts. It is our goal to use the attraction that children have for digital photography to direct their interest to Minnesota’s outdoors, where they can develop a lifelong interest in nature just as I did while growing up on a farm in Iowa. We hope to reach 1000 teachers over the two-year project and reach 30,000 children. The primary funding comes from the Environmental Trust Fund lottery proceeds, which are administered by the Legislative-Citizen’s Commission on Minnesota Resources, and from additional funds provided by the DNR Division of Parks and Trails.
What books have you written?
I have written five books for the DNR, which have sold over 250,000 copies, with all royalties going back to the Nongame Wildlife Fund: Woodworking for Wildlife, Landscaping for Wildlife, Lakescaping for Wildlife and Water Quality (co-author), Wild About Birds: the DNR Bird Feeding Guide, and the Traveler’s Guide to Wildlife in Minnesota (co-author).
I have also written four books on my own time, including the Field Guide to the Wildlife of Costa Rica, Oology and Ralph’s Talking Eggs, Birds in Flight-the Art and Science of How Birds Fly, and Birds of Costa Rica: a Field Guide, which is just coming out this month. I have three more books coming out in 2010: Butterflies, Moths, and other Selected Invertebrates of Costa Rica (May), A History of Bird Feeding (co-author) in July, and Mammals, Amphibians, and Reptiles of Costa Rica in November.
What advice would you give future naturalists?
This is an enormously satisfying work. I was initially discouraged from going into the wildlife conservation career field because others said “it didn’t pay well.” I began taking courses in engineering science at Iowa State University. I did not enjoy the studies, and only lasted a quarter before I decided to follow my instincts and my heart by switching to zoology and botany. After that I really enjoyed my college studies.
Other advice: Cross pollinate your studies and skills by taking coursework that will give you a competitive edge over others when you begin looking for a job. For example, I studied wildlife management, ornithology and conservation, but I crossed over to the liberal arts college at UGA and took courses that taught skills in communication: public speaking, working with the media, writing and writing both news releases and feature stories. I learned photography, which has been very important in promoting wildlife conservation and in learning about wildlife. Then I went to Costa Rica and learned Spanish. Learn a foreign language!
Finally, be persistent in your quest for doing the work that you love. If you succeed, you will look forward to every day of work; for me, even after 33 years in the same job, I find it incredibly rewarding and meaningful to be helping not only preserve and manage nongame wildlife, but also to help stimulate young minds to care as much for wildlife in the future as we do now.