Bill Ashe: A Lifetime of Conservation


Last Friday, the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge held a dedication ceremony for the Bill Ashe Visitor Facility, a beautiful new building that will host educational programs to connect people with nature. But who exactly is Bill Ashe, you may ask?


Bill and Betty Ashe, joined by their son USFWS Director Dan Ashe (front row), Deputy Director Jim Kurth, and Northeast Regional Director Wendi Weber, Credit: Susan Wojtowicz

One quick answer is that Bill Ashe is the father of Dan Ashe, the current director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. However, Bill was not always known as Dan’s father; in fact, it was quite the opposite. For a very long time at the USFWS, Dan Ashe was known simply as “Bill’s son”.


Bill Ashe

Bill Ashe began his career with the service as a realty specialist, identifying pieces of land that are particularly important for wildlife and working to purchase them, in effect creating and expanding our nation’s National Wildlife Refuges. During his career, he protected over 840,000 acres throughout the country, including land that is now part of the Ding Darling Refuge in Florida, the Okefenokee Refuge in Georgia, the Sevilleta Refuge in New Mexico, as well as the Oxbow Refuge in Massachusetts.


An alligator resting at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Credit: Stacy Shelton/USFWS

In 1975, Bill became the Deputy Regional Director for the Northeast Region of the USFWS, moving with his family to the town of Harvard, MA, adjacent to the Oxbow Refuge. He quickly became ingrained in his community, serving on the Harvard Planning Board and as as a Selectman. Bill also served as the president of the Nashua River Watershed Association, where he worked with partners to protect thousands of acres of land. When the Fort Devens Army Base was closed in the mid-1990’s, Bill helped ensure the transfer of another 836 acres of land from the Army to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, further expanding the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge.


Bill’s willingness to take on controversial issues for the benefit of America’s wild places and his knack for mentoring others inspired many who worked beside him. Several of the people lucky enough to know and work with Bill, including his son Dan, shared their experiences at the dedication ceremony. Here are some of the stories:


Members of the USFWS family celebrating Bill Ashe at Friday’s dedication ceremony.

Because of his many contributions to the Oxbow Refuge, just one piece of land protected by Bill Ashe throughout the years, we are honored to name the new visitor center for him. The facility will continue to be a testament to his life’s work conserving this nation’s natural resources for generations to come.


Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge, Credit: Susan Wojtowicz


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