This past summer, Keith Ramos joined the Northern Maine National Wildlife Refuge Complex as its new Refuge Manager. This Refuge Complex includes Moosehorn, Aroostook, and Sunkhaze Meadows National Wildlife Refuges. To help you get acquainted with him, I asked Keith to answer a few questions about his past and share his hopes for the future of the Refuge Complex. Here is what he had to say…
How did you become interested in pursuing a career in environmental conservation?
I grew up in Puerto Rico and my parents are not outdoors people, but I remember watching the show “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” in Spanish on the Telemundo TV station. It came on Saturday mornings and I loved seeing the wildlife. Growing up we would visit my family in Connecticut and it was always so exciting to see white-tailed deer and go fishing with my uncle. When I started college, I thought I would become a pediatrician but that changed after my freshman year. I went to visit my parents in Swaziland, Southern Africa for the summer, while my dad was stationed there for the Coca-Cola Company. My dad took us to see Kruger National Park and that’s where I learned, after seeing the park rangers, that people could actually get paid to work with wildlife. I returned to UMass that following semester and found out that they had a Wildlife Conservation degree. I changed career paths right away, much to my dad’s dismay, but I’m very grateful to have made that decision and my dad now knows how much I love it.
What other types of work have you done with the US Fish and Wildlife Service?
I have been truly blessed throughout my 17 years with the Service. I have been able to work in four different regions and have seen some incredible places. I have spawned Atlantic salmon in freezing raceways to support Connecticut River restoration and have climbed to the top of the canopy at El Yunque rainforest to survey for Puerto Rican parrots. I got to fly over western Alaska surveying for musk oxen.
There were countless hours spent searching for nesting Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles on the Texas coast.
I have rescued manatees in the Florida springs and tracked ocelots through the south Texas brush.
I have stood under a flock of thousands of ducks and geese while trying to count their wings to divide them by two (haha), and have worked with some of the most caring and dedicated people in the World. I have the best job in the World!
How is Northern Maine National Wildlife Refuge Complex different from other refuges you’ve worked on?
This is my first opportunity to work in New England since my college days and I love it. I have spent most of my career working in flat coastal refuges, with the exception of my time in interior Alaska. Northern Maine has some incredible forests and it sure is nice to work in a refuge with some contour to the land that is accessible by roads. The three refuges within this complex have a lot of similarities and at the same time they provide very different challenges. We are protecting habitat for migratory birds, just like in some of my previous refuges, but the forest and management practices are very different. It is a good thing for me that I have an excellent staff with a lot of experience that I can depend on to help me make the right decisions.
What are your hopes for the future of the Northern Maine National Wildlife Refuge Complex?
My biggest priority as the new manager for this Complex is to guide our staff in the completion of the Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for the Moosehorn NWR, which has been in the works for several years. There are various exciting projects going on in our three refuges, but the CCP for Moosehorn is the number one priority. We are doing important work with aquatic connectivity projects within and outside our boundaries, which is reopening habitat and providing for fish passage to millions of anadromous fish. These projects have brought together multiple partners, including our local tribe, and are helping us to support the Service’s priorities.
How do you spend time enjoying the outdoors with your family?
As a family we love spending time outdoors, especially hiking, hunting, fishing and doing wildlife photography. My wife home schools our two older boys and she takes them out on the refuge trails often. Not having grown up doing a lot of outdoor activities with my parents, it has been a top priority for me to make sure that my boys do and that they grow to love the nature around us. My wife grew up in Zambia and did a lot of camping, hunting and fishing with her parents, so I’ve been learning from her as well. There is so much to learn and explore and I want to pass that love on to my children. The only way they will love nature is to be out in it, exploring it, and learning about it. It’s awesome that my job and family life can join together in so many ways.