Illinois DNR retirements include top waterfowl biologist

Springfield — More than anyone else, Ray Marshalla knew that adding a fourth duck hunting zone last fall would bring both cheers and jeers from the state’s passionate hunters.

Implementing the new zone turned out to be one of the last acts of his distinguished career.

Marshalla, who spent more than 34 years working for DNR, retired on June 1, joining a long list of agency staffers who got out due to concerns over lingering changes to state pensions.

How DNR plans to fill the rather sizeable pothole Marshalla leaves is still unclear.

“That position is of critical importance to this agency, and we will work to find a solid replacement, though no timetable has been set yet,” DNR Director Marc Miller said when asked about Marshalla’s retirement.

Miller praised Marshalla’s efforts over the years, including his role in securing the fourth waterfowl zone.

“Ray’s passion and contribution to the State Waterfowl Program has been invaluable,” Miller said.

Like many at DNR, including roughly 25 state park site superintendents (see Page 6), Marshalla said he really didn’t want to call it quits.

“My career was extremely rewarding,” he said. “Probably the best part of working in this field is the enthusiasm and dedication of most of the other biologists I worked with.”

Marshalla, who was named state waterfowl biologist in 1995, has also been Illinois Technical Section representative for the Mississippi Flyway Council for the past 17 years. In that role, he was basically a conduit between Illinois waterfowl hunters and the Flyway Council.

It was during those sometimes-tense Flyway meetings that Marshalla fought and argued over season lengths and bag limits for hunters back in Illinois.

“My work with the other states and federal agencies with the Flyway Council was very challenging and rewarding,” he said. “That group of biologists were all a pleasure to work with – although we had our share of disagreements quite often.”

At DNR, Marshalla was responsible for a lot of paperwork and typical management duties. But he made it into the field as often as possible.

“Some of the field work that was particularly enjoyable included banding waterfowl and doves, conducting various wildlife surveys and field work in Canada on the MVP Canada goose breeding grounds,” he said.

Michelle Horath, long-time biologist for the Illinois Natural History Survey at the Frank C. Bellrose Waterfowl Research Center in Havana, said she often worked closely with Marshalla since he became the state waterfowl biologist.

“I’ve always admired Ray’s passion for waterfowl and his desire to do what’s best for the waterfowl resource while trying to satisfy the waterfowl hunters,” Horath said. “It is not an enviable position, but Ray always appeared to be up for the challenge. He has been very supportive of our research, and I appreciate the fact that he always solicited our research results when making decisions.”

Decisions have always been part of the DNR waterfowl program – long before the fourth zone proposal came to fruition. Even when Marshalla was fresh in the field, he found himself involved in the lead-vs.-steel shot battle.

“As far as my favorite field work, I’d also have to include the spy blind operations back when steel shot was being considered,” he said.

Marshalla began his DNR career in 1978 as a district wildlife biologist in the Wilmington office – that after working as a conservation officer and wildlife manager for the Vermilion County Conservation District the year before.

He earned a master’s degree in wildlife ecology from Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 1977, after getting a bachelor’s degree in ecology, ethology and evolution from the University of Illinois in 1974.

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