Protecting wildlife through the eyes of a refuge manager

We continue our series on women in conservation for Women’s History Month. Today we hear from Virginia Rettig, refuge manager at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Oceanville, N.J. 

After college, while she was enrolled in a graduate program at Louisiana State University, Virginia Rettig was introduced to the Service and began her conservation career. Now the refuge manager at E B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey, Rettig looks forward to the evolving techniques that will help conserve land for wildlife.

Virginia Rettig

Virginia Rettig

Q: How does your work impact wildlife and conservation, and what is most rewarding about your work to you?

A: Being a refuge manager is about more than just managing a piece of land. We have an opportunity and an obligation to educate the public, both locally and virtually, about the importance of natural areas. They are important for the wildlife that requires them for their survival, and they are important for humans to not only enjoy living, but to thrive. I also have many opportunities to work outside refuge boundaries with partners and to lead as an employee of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The most rewarding part of my work is introducing people to nature and helping people make the connection to nature.

Q: Do you have a female role model or a woman that you admire or look up to?

A: Dr. Jane Goodall has always been a role model for me. She had the courage to go to a foreign land to study wildlife at a time when women did not do “that type of thing” and has subsequently used her research to educate people about the threats to the ecosystem.

Rettig clears debris from E.B. Forsythe Refuge after Hurricane Sandy left behind a 22-mile debris field. Credit: Dave Blood

Rettig clears debris from E.B. Forsythe Refuge after Hurricane Sandy left behind a 22-mile debris field. Credit: Dave Blood

Q: How did you join the Service, and what do you see yourself doing 20 years from now? Will conservation still play a role in your life?

A: My master’s degree research at Louisiana State University was funded by the Service, which provided opportunities to meet Service staff in Louisiana and Mississippi. I was hired for a few temporary positions after I got my degree, which no doubt was facilitated by those contacts. I started as a term at the Lafayette Field Office doing Section 404 wetland consultations, and then was hired for my first permanent position at Southeast Louisiana Refuges Complex as a refuge operations specialist. I’ve been a manager ever since. In 20 years I see myself as retired! But my hope is to have a nursery to raise native plants to combat the overabundance of non-native plants that have no value for wildlife.

Q: The theme for this year’s Women’s History Month is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination”; how might this theme play into your work?

Read about more women in conservation!

A: We are at a challenging yet exciting time in wildlife management. We have learned a lot about how to manage for wildlife, but understand that our efforts moving forward are really more about anticipating climate changes and not so much about figuring out which acre of land to burn next year. We also have an unprecedented amount of knowledge using remote sensing technology.

At this time in our history, I think we need to imagine the possibilities (e.g., regarding sea level rise) and take some risks so we can continue to learn. Saying it doesn’t matter what we do now because in 50 or 100 years habitat will be lost, is unacceptable and doesn’t advance our field or benefit wildlife.

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