DNR’s choice for waterfowl manager has habitat focus
Havana, Ill. — DNR didn’t have to look far to fill its top waterfowl biologist position, which went vacant in May after migratory birds program manager Ray Marshalla retired along with several others in the wildlife division.
Randy Smith, who had been a waterfowl scientist for the Illinois Natural History Survey, was DNR’s choice. Smith, who had been working at the Forbes Biological Station in Havana, took his new post on Jan. 16.
Smith joined the INHS in 2007. He earned his undergraduate degree in wildlife and biology from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and has a master’s degree from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.
Heath Hagy, the director at Forbes, was Smith’s supervisor.
“Randy did a really nice job here,” Hagy said, noting that INHS hopes to refill his position. “We were indeed sad to see him go.”
Smith studied waterfowl migration and feeding ecology, shorebirds and wetland management and ecology at INHS.
“The responsibilities are quite a bit greater than with my previous position,” said Smith, a native of the northern Wisconsin town of Eagle River. “I’ll be a lot busier with this position.”
Would he miss his old job, which required more field time than his new job?
“The old job was just a blast,” said Smith, a married father of two children. “There was a lot of field work. The best way to describe it is I would come home and I would tell my son I got to ride around in a four-wheeler and catch ducks. So there is a little bit of remorse [in leaving that job behind], but this is a great opportunity. I will be able to have a much bigger impact.”
Smith comes to the DNR at a time of that staffing levels are way down, following a mass exodus brought upon by uncertainty with the state’s pension benefits.
DNR wildlife chief John Buhnerkempe said the wildlife division lost 14 staffers to retirement or other reasons last year.
So it’s worth noting that filling positions from outside the department has not been the norm in recent years.
And bringing in Smith, 33, is also notable because of his age. Buhnerkempe said most of the division’s employees are over 50 years old.
“It’s been a while since we’ve seen folks in their 20s and 30s,” said Buhnerkempe. “It is a breath of fresh air and increased level of energy.”
He said getting through the waterfowl season with the position vacant was a difficult task that required the services of three people, including himself, waterfowl project manager Dan Holm and urban goose project manager Roy Domazlicky.
“It’s certainly been challenging,” Buhnerkempe said. “It’s been a team effort.”
Buhnerkempe said he wants Smith to focus more on habitat-related issues.
“I was really happy with his experience and thoughts on how to put together a habitat management program,” Buhnerkempe said. “I want this position to spend more time on habitat than the position had in the past.”
Asked to elaborate on how Smith could do that, Buhnerkempe said it meant bringing together common conservation partners such as Ducks Unlimited and, “being able to work together with the limited number of folks and dollars to efficiently use those resources.”
Smith talked about developing a wetlands campaign for the state.
“Basically, you can boil a lot of what happens to wildlife to the habitat they rely on,” he said. “In Illinois, we have some major habitat regions that we need to focus on. … The way to affect wildlife is to affect the habitat that they rely on.”
Smith described himself as a big waterfowl hunter. He said he has done a lot of duck hunting in his native Wisconsin, pursuing diving ducks, puddle ducks and geese.
“I am kind of a non-discriminatory waterfowl hunter,” he said, adding that he also hunted grouse and deer. “But those were the things I did to fill in time in between duck hunting.”