Wildlife Management


Sigurd Olson once said, “history means the warmth of human associations… while great events may find their place in books and museums, it is the people themselves who really counted.” This author echoes Sig’s view and also submits “it’s the characters that give the agency character.” Memorable wildlifers like Leopold, Grange, and the Hamerstroms mixed with Don “Bubba” Bublitz, Glen Kloes, Sam Moore, and Doris Rusch helped weave the rug of the profession that Leopold said would “not just warm the feet but add color pleasing to the eye and heart.”

It was the combination of people, a mixture of very talented and colorful individuals that built the profession of wildlife management. This group consisted of scholars, scientists, thinkers, and strategists. They were also blue-collar workers: laborers, conservation aids, and wildlife technicians. In the early years, many of the workers did not have a high school diploma. Later, a master’s degree was the standard academic training for biologists with a few Ph.D.s thrown into the mix. Who’s to say who the most important contributors were or who was the most influential?

Wisconsin’s Conservation Hall of Fame in Stevens Point honors great men and women who have provided outstanding contributions to the conservation cause. Historian Walter Scott listed 100 retired and 100 deceased conservationists as his tribute to great individuals during a 1967 speech celebrating a century of conservation. Outdoor writer Tim Eisele published an article entitled “The Century’s Honor Roll” in the December/January 2000 issue of Wisconsin Outdoor Journal that identified what he thought were the best conservation contributors in the last 100 years.

The Bureau of Wildlife Management’s selection of “Wildlife Manager/Biologist of the Year” and “Wildlife Technician of the Year” categories certainly identified important contributors to wildlife conservation (Appendix A). While all of these people are deserving of special recognition, it took the collective effort of every individual who ever served as a warden, laborer, conservation aid, game technician, wildlife technician, game manager, wildlife manager, wildlife biologist, researcher, and wildlife administrator to produce a successful program.

It is most difficult to weave personal stories within the story line and maintain an even flow of historical happenings; therefore, I’ve placed these stories within each chapter as separate boxed copy to give you a glimpse of the personalities involved in the profession and lighten up historical citations that can be tedious reading. These side-stories are not intended to be about the “best of the best” in the business, although some famous names will be involved. Rather, they will identify more of the rank and file folks who made the agency function and become a national leader in the field of wildlife management. Some stories are about characters, some about unusual events, and some are just about amusing happenings. The story telling will give the reader a kind of a behind-the-scenes look at the people that produced the spirit and camaraderie of what the old timers called “the outfit.”

Brush Cops (Popple Cops)

There is no doubt that the state’s first game managers were conservation wardens. These rugged individuals deserve credit and high praise for their dedicated work protecting the state’s vital natural resources, especially its fish and game. Law enforcement’s own historical writings rightfully honor Ernie Swift, Harley MacKenzie, and many Haskell Noyes Award winners, but every field warden should be cited for their outstanding wildlife conservation work.

Wardens couldn’t be all things to all people, so it’s a good thing game managers and fish managers came along when they did. It allowed “brush cops” to spend more time being cops. Eventually (my guess is after 1980), most wardens came to accept these managers as team members. Many game managers carried warden credentials over the years and committed considerable time to their local warden. However, when 240-hour training became mandatory in 1972, most turned in their badges because they couldn’t make that commitment or didn’t like certain aspects of the training. Some were “grandfathered in” or remained active by completing the training in small chunks each year.

The cooperation between the two programs continued to improve in the 1980s and 1990s, probably helped by retirements and the hiring of more college-trained wardens. Bureau-level cooperation was always good, and guys like Don Beghin, John Plenke Sr., Ralph Christenson, Tom Harelson, Harold Hettrick, Rollie Lee, Harland Steinhorst, Homer Moe, Dale Morey, Harley Lichtenwalner, Jim Chizek, Larry Keith, Doug Hoskins, Tom Solin, and John Daniel were always supportive.

Field warden cooperation was a bit more variable depending more on personality than program bias. When six-foot six-inch Larry Kriese, Roy Kubisiak, or Donald Knoke spoke in favor of some game program, people tended to listen. Pat Berhans at Horicon personally welcomed every game manager that helped with Canada goose enforcement and had them giggling with a hundred “you won’t believe” stories. Skip Cloutier’s hardnosed field tactics but softhearted coffee chats blazed the way for improved communications and respect between the programs.

While only a few conservation wardens are mentioned in the chapters that follow, which admittedly is biased by personal friendship, don’t construe the short list as an indicator that these were the only ones who helped along the way. Any attempt to include all of those who cooperated with their local wildlife manager or contributed to the management program would be too voluminous.

Game Men… and Women

While the “game man” terminology is not politically correct today, it was when the profession first started because women were not employed. The early literature was replete with references to game men, field men, or just plain men. When Aldo Leopold launched the profession in 1928, it was an all-male work force, and it continued that way for 50 years.

It also took about 50 years for the new profession to gain identity with the public. Initially called wardens or rangers, the game manager title didn’t stick until the 1960s, and it wasn’t until the 1980s that people began to call them wildlife managers. After reorganization in 1996, the title changed to wildlife biologist. Interestingly, even into the new millennium, many locals still called the person assigned to their area “my game manager.”

In the early days, there was a mix of colorful people who took the edge off the seriousness of the job. With politicians seemingly always criticizing the agency and the public accusing state employees of being lazy pigs feeding at the public trough, morale boosting was needed at frequent intervals. This was necessary to keep game managers working nights and weekends for no pay, but there was a lot of personal satisfaction that they were doing the best job they could for wildlife and the public.

Women pioneers were first hired by the agency in the wildlife research field but at a very slow rate. Ruth Hine was the first in 1949, followed by Fran Hamerstrom in 1950 (a University of Wisconsin employee earlier). It wasn’t until the 1980s that female researchers arrived in appreciable numbers.

Diana Hallett became the first female game manager when hired by Kent Klepinger in 1977. She was only with the Wisconsin DNR for a short time, but she left a positive impression on everyone. She was hired by the Missouri Department of Conservation as a research biologist in August 1978.

There was quite a gap in the hiring of female wildlife managers after Hallett left the agency. Four years went by before Doris Rusch and Cindy Swanberg were hired in September 1982. Genny Fannucchi replaced Tom Hauge at Spring Green in February 1985. Many more followed later and are noted in the appendices.

Research Icons

Where would wildlife management be today if science didn’t guide it and seek out new directions? That’s a very easy question to answer. The program would be quite primitive and certainly way behind the advances of other states.

Despite their intellect, the early research pioneers in the 1930s probably didn’t have much of an idea about the magnitude of future research contributions. However, they clearly knew it was essential if game management was ever going to amount to anything significant. The early leader, Irven Buss, gets credit for channeling Pittman-Robertson funds in the right places and building a core of information on key wildlife species.

Cy Kabat’s arrival in 1948 as research chief was not very exciting because of his rather stiff personality and dry rhetoric. However, the behind-the-scenes accomplishments of his career were strategic to the success of the entire research team. He hired Ruth Hine because he saw her valuable talent even though the proper vacancy wasn’t available. He facilitated the creation of the Technical Section of the four Flyway Councils. He helped organize Wisconsin’s first endangered species program and had the original thought of committing a full-time person to the program.

Jim Hale was another wildlife research staple from 1947 to 1983. Because of his impeccable credentials, people will probably forget he was John Keener’s supervisor when Keener was the project leader for the “Great Capercaillie Caper” (described in Chapter 3). He made his early mark as the chief editor of all research publications, and he was wildlife research section chief for over 20 years before becoming bureau director. His last career move was a lateral transfer to lead the state’s endangered resources program.

Hale set up the first Office of Endangered Resources in 1978 and was its director until his retirement in 1983. Upon his retirement, he received the Silver Eagle Award from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Enjoying frequent Elderhostel adventures, Hale wrote informative wildlife articles into the new millennium and contributed his editing skills to this book.

Richard “Dick” Hunt was another key link on the research side that extended from his career start in 1952 through retirement 34 years later. He brought more than biological knowledge to the table because he was the cheerleader for the profession. He never passed up a speaking opportunity to tout the accomplishments of wildlife biologists, both in research and in management. On the national level, he quickly established his professional credentials as one of the most knowledgeable waterfowl biologist in the country and served for years on the Mississippi Flyway Council’s technical section.

Later Research Bureau directors including Kent Klepinger and Bob Dumke came along at a time when program administration, meetings, reorganization, environmental protection emphasis, and just plain bureaucracy detracted from their main function and no doubt impeded wildlife research progress. Nonetheless, both made strides in improving operational strategies and accommodating increasing work needs with reduced staff.

But what about the rank and file? Fortunately, there were many that produced useful information about wildlife that improved its management in Wisconsin. Wildlife leaders included Arlyn Linde, Harold Matthiak, John Gates, Buzz Besadny, Fred Wagner, Bob Dorney, Larry Jahn, Donald R. Thompson, Al Rusch, Gene Woehler, Jim March, LeRoy Petersen, Chuck Pils, Ron Gatti, Bruce Kohn, Jim Ashbrenner, Bill Wheeler, Larry Gregg, and Jerry Bartelt. Some were legendary.

Standout Profession

Wisconsin wildlife professionals have earned their national reputation as belonging to one of the top ranked organizations because of the knowledge, integrity, and consistency of agency personnel over the years. This high honor did not come because of luck or circumstance. It happened because the foundation created by Aldo Leopold was solid, and the administrative structure developed by good people based on good science prevailed.

As the reader absorbs the history that unfolded over the past 150 years, be conscious of the contributions cited of the numerous individuals who played such a key role in the development of wildlife conservation into such a fine program. The trials and controversy within wildlife-related programs have been and remain headline grabbers as the wildlife program ages, but those who pay attention to what is called “the big picture” will clearly see the positive impact of people along the way.