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Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010

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Graduate leads division of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, refuge system

All Jeff Rupert wanted after graduating nearly 20 years ago from Baker University was to count birds for a career. Never in his wildest dreams did he envision a job where he could play a vital role supporting hundreds of biologists and overseeing 550 refuges across the nation as part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.Jeff-Rupert2

As the new chief of the Division of Natural Resources and Conservation Planning headquartered in Washington, D.C., Rupert provides leadership to the National Wildlife Refuge System, the cornerstone of conservation in the United States.

“For anyone who places a high value on conservation of fish and wildlife populations and conservation land management, which describes me well, the Fish and Wildlife Service is a remarkable organization and the 150-million acre refuge system is a great place to work,” said Rupert, ’91. “I really have a strong desire to make good on the opportunity I’ve been given and to do good things for wildlife and conservation.”

Field Work Leads to Leadership Position

Before rising through the ranks of the nation’s premier habitat conservation system, Rupert worked in the field on refuges at the National Ecology Research Center in Fort Collins, Colo., the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Texas and the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Oklahoma.

“Much of my job now is trying to build consensus for a program or project, or responding to concern coming from stakeholders,” Rupert noted. “There is an incredible diversity of stakeholders — all with different agendas — associated with the refuge system. The issues are very interesting and at times very challenging.”

Rupert believes his experiences as a bio-tech, refuge biologist and refuge manager have prepared him well for his latest career move. He knows firsthand the vulnerability of many of the nation’s wildlife populations and how hard work and strong partnerships help maintain conservation efforts.

“At the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma, I learned about the power of people,” he said. “If we can show Americans that the work we do is relevant to their lives and relevant to the quality of life their children will lead, they will support conservation. There is hope.”

Rupert and his wife, Corinna, have two children, a daughter, River, 7, and a son, Indiana, 5. Jeff met Corinna, also a biologist, at Fort Collins. She was a professor at Cameron University in Oklahoma before the Ruperts moved to the East Coast.

A supportive family has helped Rupert transition in his career.

“I’ve never had to wrestle with the kind of pressures that can result from a job that is sometimes demanding with long hours away from home,” he said.

From Biology Classroom to Dream Job

As an undergraduate in Baldwin City, Rupert visited the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Stafford, Kan., as part of one of the study sites directed by biology professor Roger Boyd. Seeing the refuge manager in uniform sparked the young student’s interest.

“Up to that point I had never set foot on a national wildlife refuge and really had no idea such a place existed,” he said. “I clearly remember thinking, ‘Wow, you can have a job working at a place like this. I’ll never get a job like that.’ Thankfully, I was wrong.”

He also remembers sitting in a general biology class at Baker, overhearing a classmate talk about summer jobs counting spawning salmon in Alaska. He was intrigued by the idea and became inspired by other biology majors focused on ecology.

By the time he graduated he had worked for Boyd, assisting with his work on the Baker Wetlands, and with the professor’s avian research in Southern Kansas and Oklahoma.

“We had really good access to Dr. Boyd who gave us opportunities to get involved with projects at the Baker Wetlands and Boyd Woods,” Rupert said. “It was fun and exciting. Baker was really good about not allowing me to fall through the cracks, and I had to get involved because of all the opportunities. I owe a lot to Roger Boyd. He took me under his wing — pun intended — and pointed me down the path that I’m walking today.”



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