UW News

October 12, 2012

U.S. fish and wildlife director, a UW alum, considers challenges posed by landscape changes

College Of The Environment Communications

The challenges of managing and maintaining diverse wildlife populations across rural America and in the expanding footprints of our cities and suburbs, was the topic when Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, returned to his alma mater earlier this month, giving the UW College of the Environment’s Annual Dean’s Lecture.

“If we want more than raccoons, possums, and pigeons, then we need to make choices and think about how those choices fit into the modern landscape,” said Ashe, addressing attendees in Kane Hall. “We’ve got to think differently about how we interact with nature because we are increasingly disconnected from the natural world.”

Dan Ashe addresses students at seminar

Dan Ashe talks with UW students during a seminar arranged by Tom Leschine, director of marine and environmental affairs.M Russell/U of Washington

A graduate of the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, Ashe said he tries to promote a give-and-take, pragmatic approach to managing wildlife resources. He cut his teeth in politics on Capitol Hill, going to Washington, D.C. initially in 1982 through a National Sea Grant fellowship.

Ashe continued working for Congress for more than a decade as staff on the Merchant Marine and Fisheries subcommittee in the House of Representatives, where he said he learned the importance of compromise and incorporating multiple perspectives toward problem solving.  He tries to bring this same leadership to the service where he works with diverse groups including industry, tribes, non-profits and land owners to find solutions to wildlife management in a time of rapidly changing demographics, economic conditions and societal values.

Ashe credits much of his success from the lessons he learned from the UW School of Marine and Environmental Affairs.

“My time at SMEA let me branch out from biology into economics and law and helped me be successful,” he said. Ashe studied estuarine mitigation while at the UW. His advice to students, “Be experts, but be free of the intellectual stovepipes to think across boundaries.”

“It was great to have Dan back on campus,” said Lisa Graumlich, dean of the College of the Environment. “I am inspired by his leadership and approach not only with respect to the conservation of wildlife, but in his appreciation of the complexity of managing nature in a crowded, urbanizing, diverse nation.”

While on campus Ashe met with both students and faculty, sharing perspectives about how to manage wildlife in the face of climate change, effective ways to engage with policymakers, and the importance of enjoying our public lands as much as we can, whether in the wilderness or in the neighborhood park.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has long been an extension of Ashe’s family.  His father is a 37-year veteran of the service, and Ashe himself has been with the organization since the early 1990s.  Prior to being appointed director by President Obama in 2011, he served as the agency’s deputy director and chief science adviser.  He also served as chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System.