Those exceptional and influential mentors, then and now

A younger Bob Timm working on his PhD project at UC Davis.

Over time, the number of people you interact with grows and grows.  Your brain registers these interactions.  Superfluous or incidental interactions go into short-term memory (or don't register at all).  Sometimes we remember snippets of conversations, a face, or a situation, but that's enough.

On the opposite end, however, are interactions that have profound impacts on you.  Although these impacts could be direct or indirect, and positive or negative, they shape you. They affect your future behavior.  

One form of positive interaction is the mentor. The Cambridge Dictionary defines a "mentor" as "an experienced and trusted person who gives another person advice and help, especially related to work or school, over a period of time."  Another way of looking at a mentor is as "a trusted counselor or guide."

I received notice last week that Professor Howard Wiegers was turning 103.  And this year, 3 of my mentors passed away.  So I've been thinking about who shaped the "professional me."  The "professional me" is different than the "personal me," although these 2 are certainly entwined.  Unfortunately, the World Wide Web didn't exist when I was younger.  Obviously, there was no Facebook, email, Google, or free long-distance calls.  It was hard to keep in touch, and a paucity of printed records takes a toll on my ability to recollect my past.

So while I can still remember, I want to note some of my mentors. This project took a great deal of time, as I sorted out my thoughts.  Who changed me?  Who made me better?  Who was a role model?  After a month, I came up with this list.

•  Donald Fisher - biology teacher, Xenia High School.  What can I say?  Dissecting a fetal pig taught me 2 things.  One, I love biology.  Two, the guts of a formalin-preserved pig all look the same.  No medical school for me!

Cooking merit badge
•  Scoutmasters Frank Wagner and Duane Starbuck.  These two men demonstrated patience, commitment, and a "be prepared" ethos.  The camping experiences, along with my annual family camping and fishing trips, focused my interest and resolve in natural resource management.  Poor Mr. Starbuck... my first merit badge at summer camp was the cooking badge.  I was given a raw (whole) chicken, a knife, some carrots, two potatoes, and two matches (you better know how to make a fire).  I had been warned about the chicken.  I used a pay phone two days earlier to call home in a panic. "How do you cut up a chicken?!"  My mom said, "Just cut it everywhere it bends."  That worked.  But Mr. Starbuck had a dinner of mostly cooked chicken, barely cooked carrots, a potato baked on the coals in foil, and something to drink (I can't remember... probably tea).  He tasted everything, commenting on how good it was. In hindsight, he probably left me, had his stomach pumped, and ate a real dinner.  BUT... patience, commitment, and a "be prepared" ethos!

•  Dr. Ernest E. Good - School of Natural Resources, Ohio State University.  Dr. Good was my advisor, as well as an instructor.  His specialty was songbirds, land use, and pesticides.  But he was the professor in charge of 
the 15 credit course that occupied every day of the spring quarter for all seniors at the The Barnebey Center.  Dr. Good championed the donation of this 1278 acre forest in southeastern Ohio in 1969 as a center for instruction in environmental education, forestry, and wildlife management, and the location of a capstone course for in-residence seniors like myself.

Clear Creek near the Barnebey Center.

Dr. Good's requirement for the course?  "Know everything about this place."  I have these notes in my journal from that time.  "6-7:30 AM.  Bird hike with Dr. Good.  About 55 degrees, overcast, foggy, light rain during the night, 2-5 mph wind.  Walked to Old Vesper Hill, to bird blind, then back to camp.  Birds observed: crow, chipping sparrow, tufted titmouse, morning dove [should be "mourning"], field sparrow, eastern phoebe, Bewick's wren, bluebird, yellow-bellied sapsucker, rufous-sided towhee, pine warbler, evening grosbeak, goldfinch, cardinal, brown-headed cowbird, sharp-shinned hawk, rooster, grackle, flicker, brown thrasher, Carolina wren, pileated woodpecker, kingfisher, red-bellied woodpecker, red-winged blackbird, house sparrow."  Then, at 9:10 AM [I assume after breakfast], a team of students went to Clear Creek and identified 10 species of trees, 3 mammal species, 10 bird species, a number of flowering plants plus lichens, moss, ferns, and fungus, 1 insect, and a little bullfrog, a dusky salamander, a two-lined salamander, and a red-backed salamander.  At 1 PM, we left for our third hike of the day, focusing on flowers!  Dr. Good refined and enhanced our skills at identifying everything around us, which was good, because the final for this course was to go out with Dr. Good and identify everything, wherever he took you.  We (Peggy, Nancy, Mick, and the others) felt the pressure!

Belted kingfisher

Jim Barborak. Today, Jim is the Co-Director of the Center for Protected Area Management and Training at Colorado State University.  But "back then," he was a member of our neighborhood gang that would roam Xenia looking for pick-up basketball games, then go to Kettering to drink beer and play air hockey.  Jim was a year ahead of me at Ohio State (and took the Barnebey course the year before I did).  We rented a house his senior year, spending our Saturday evenings watching the original Saturday Night Live, and eating a lot of pizza.  Jim ran a trap line on campus (!) for muskrats, and through him I met a fur dealer who eventually was my source of specimens for my honors project.  After graduation, Jim accepted a position in the Peace Corps (in Honduras, I think, helping people there plan their first national park).  Jim stayed in Central America for years before returning to the US.  He was my inspiration for partially filling out my application for Peace Corps 2-3 times (unfortunately, the Smithsonian-Peace Corps program Jim was in had ended by then), and demonstrated to me what a commitment to natural resource management was all about.  Telling Wesley the story of my multiple application attempts may have influenced his own application.

•  Dr. Ron Case - Professor Case was my graduate advisor at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.  The transition from an undergraduate to a graduate student is interesting for lots of reasons.  An undergraduate is simply a student.  A graduate student is an embryo colleague.  I had a departmental research assistantship, and found myself in the situation of needing to develop my own graduate research project (as opposed to working on my professor's project... Ron specialized in pocket gophers).  Ron gave me the freedom to explore a variety of projects.  A project on interior least terns turned into a project on coyote-red fox interactions, and finally became a project on red foxes and optimal foraging theory.  But Ron's real contribution to my development was just interacting with him daily, discussing biology, philosophy, and... everything and anything.  As an undergraduate, you know you are different from the faculty.  Ron was my portal into a new world, the world of academics.  I've lived in this world now for the past 40 years.

•  Professor Howard Wiegers - Howard was the department head when I was a graduate student in Nebraska.  He was also legendary among the undergraduates for his commitment to teaching and students.  Howard led an annual wilderness canoe trip to Poohbah Lake in Quetico Provincial Park (western Ontario, north of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness), but the trip had always been for undergraduates (he interviewed every applicant).  Pat Cole and I were the first graduate students he had ever allowed on this trip.  I learned a lot.  Here's an excerpt from my journal:

"16 May (Saturday), 2000 hrs.  Fishing good last night.  I caught 4 walleye (1-2 pounds) and Pat [Cole] caught a 16 pound northern [pike].  Lots of luck for everybody.  Total of about 30+ walleye caught.  Put fish in a live well to keep them healthy until ready for slaughter." 

"Forgot to mention that I took a bath my first night here.  Cold water!  Not as  cold as the Cedar Point plunge [below the spillway of Lake McConaughy in western Nebraska], but sufficient to shrink the gonads plenty.  The water is very soft, so you don't need much soap to get a good lather.  We use lake water for drinking, washing dishes, cooking,... everything.  Try not to drink the same water you clean your fish in."

"Howard taught us a little lesson this morning. Last night we cleaned and filleted 3 northerns along with 7-8 walleye.  Howard cooked them up for breakfast and said we couldn't eat the walleye until the northerns were gone.  So after we got tired of picking out all the little bones in the northern pike, we ate walleye.  Moral of the story - don't keep the northern unless you want to eat them."

Black fly captured between the pages of my journal. 

Camp Foxfire.  Pat Cole is third from left, then Tom Christiansen (he provided this photo), then me holding an antler above Howard Wieger's head.
Howard Wiegers demonstrated a real commitment to experiential education.  Later, I became the Service-Learning Coordinator for Utah State University.  There was a seed planted here that took fruit.

•  Dr. Robert Timm - I've known Bob Timm since 1978, when he was hired as an extension vertebrate pest specialist at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, specializing in rodent control in animal facilities, particularly swine.  For a guy who got his PhD studying coyote behavior, that seemed like an odd transition!  I was a graduate student then and Bob opened doors that I never dreamed possible.  He taught me about vertebrate pest management, which was new to me, since like 99% of all other wildlife students in the country, "vertebrate pests" was a phrase that just didn't come up in our training.  He exposed me to Cooperative Extension, which influenced the way I look at natural resource conflicts.  And he introduced me to Howdy Howard, who ended up being my PhD advisor.  If our interaction ended there, I would still call Bob a significant mentor.  But, there was more...

While I was a graduate student at UC Davis, Bob spent some time there during his sabbatical.  I believe he was working on a draft of a textbook on vertebrate pest management (whatever happened to that project, Bob?), and our friendship continued over pizza and beer.  Bob co-edited a very successful edition of the Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage manual (a best-seller in wildlife circles), and encouraged me to write the chapters on red foxes and shrews.

Just before I graduated from UC Davis, I got a position as a Natural Resource Specialist with UC Berkeley, and was stationed at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center (it was called the Hopland Field Station then). Lo and behold, who is hired as the station director the very next year?  Bob Timm!  Over the next 4 years, we were just 4 offices apart (and for a while, next door neighbors with Jan and Bob). We worked on projects together and went to conferences together. We cut firewood, inspected fence, and put on workshops dealing with sheep predation and black-tailed deer management.  We edited each other's manuscripts, co-edited a national newsletter, and talked story... a lot.

Bob Timm and I shared an interest in how to manage coyote predation on sheep.  Photo by Guy Connolly.

One project that didn't get off the ground was the testing of the "sonic-spook collar," designed to scare coyotes.

A unique paper we contributed was on the management challenges using livestock protection dogs to guard sheep.

In 1991, I left for a position at Utah State University.  Bob and I continued to work together on the Vertebrate Pest Council, attended conferences together, and even worked on a few projects.  Bob is now retired from UC, and we come into contact less and less. However, I am forever grateful to him for his sage wisdom, his humor, his willingness to share his experience and knowledge, and just being there for me for decades.

Here are the titles of 3 of my favorite coauthored papers:

Management problems encountered with livestock-guarding dogs on the UC Hopland Field Station. 

Bad dogs: why do coyotes and other canids become unruly?

•  The coyote lure operative device revisited: a fresh look at an old idea (lead author, Are Berensen).

Here's the sobering thing. Bob Timm was more valuable to my career than I was to his. That moves him from being an invaluable coworker and friend, to being a mentor.  Bob rarely lost his temper.  He was meticulous in his writing and his work.  He could type and talk at the same time!  As an extension specialist, he was committed to solving real-world problems, and sharing his knowledge.

Bob used to keep a framed copy of a letter over his desk, telling him that, sorry, he didn't make the cut in choosing finalists for the director position at the Hopland Field Station.  Later, when the search was reopened, they gave Bob an interview, hired him, and kept him on for 27 years.  Somebody noticed what I knew all along.  Bob Timm was a keeper.

•  Howdy Howard, Rex Marsh, and Terry Salmon - Each of these men deserves accolades for developing my professional trajectory, and it really was a team project. 
Dr. Walter (Howdy) Howard, Rex Marsh, Dr. Terry Salmon and I had hundreds of conversations at 10 AM over coffee when I was at UC Davis.

Howdy was my PhD advisor.  I would walk into his office, and he would always be writing something (strangely, I don't have memories of him reading).  He would put his pencil down, turn his chair toward me, smile, and ask, "What's up?"  He was always busy, yet he would put everything aside when I walked in.  That is a model I've strived to emulate, putting students first, during my career.

Howdy and Betty on their 75th wedding anniversary.
Howdy passed away in 2018 at the age of 101.

Howdy's impact on wildlife damage management is... ginormous.  He was responsible for developing the successful Vertebrate Pest Conference (beginning in 1960), and the Western Section of The Wildlife Society.  His work with "pest animals" drew the ire of some administrators who wanted him fired from the UC system (they were successful, but he was rehired soon after.  I think he describes this in his memoirs, Saved by Bedbugs).  His students became the new front for a professional approach to wildlife damage management:  Mark Tobin, Terry Salmon, Charlie Crabb, Mike Avery, Bob Timm, and many, many others.  Howdy lobbied to move the Animal Damage Control program from USDI to USDA, which was successful.  I was his TA for his vertebrate pest management course, attended many conferences with him, and coauthored publications (our first collaboration, with Terry Salmon, was titled, "An effective method for improving communication skills."

Howdy hiking the Sierras in 1935
Howdy loved to debate animal welfare issues.  He would decry how brutal nature was, noting that nothing humans do to animals could ever be that cruel.  However, he was really just using this tactic to get listeners to think about the issue of wildlife management fitting in with the other ways we interact with wildlife.  We did not see eye to eye on this issue, but I never felt threatened in our discussions, and I absolutely believe that these discussions crystalized my thoughts and actions on the topic.  One summer I was his house-sitter when he and Betty were traveling (China, I believe).  Just days after he left (and was out of communication... before email and cell phones), the main water pipe into the house sprung a leak.  I spent the summer with the water turned off, just opening the faucet when I had to water the lawn or do laundry (he lived just a block from campus, when I spent most of my time).  When they returned, leak or not, Howdy was just as positive as he always was.  Opinionated, yes.  Thoughtful and encouraging, yes.  

I last saw Howdy in 2017 when Caroline and I drove through Davis.  He was reading the paper, but a bit confused about who I was, I think.  We were planning on visiting again this month.  Never again...

Rex Marsh and Howdy Howard were joined at the hip.  Rex didn't have a graduate degree, yet he was probably one of the most prolific authors in the wildlife department during his tenure.  He was a rodent specialist, with an international reputation in rodent control and pesticide use.  I worked for Rex, managing the UC Davis coyote "farm" near the Primate Center.  Rex helped shape my worldview toward pesticide hazards and risks and vertebrate control, although he told me at his retirement dinner that he hoped that I "would finally get it."  I think I was a bit too much of a bunny hugger for his taste.  I remember the day we were chatting in TB1 about the "CLOD"... the Coyote Lure Operative Device, and we developed a new design.  This was going to be part of my research project, a method for delivering contraceptive agents to coyotes, but the funding fell through.  Like Howdy, Rex was always sharing ideas with the graduate students hanging around the lab.  He and Howdy had an extraordinary reprint collection (tens of thousands of reprints, all cataloged and filed) that was invaluable to us in the pre-World Wide Web era. Rex passed away in 2018.  One of our first joint publications was titled, "Secondary hazards to coyotes of ground squirrels poisoned with 1080 or strychnine." 

Then there was Terry Salmon.  Terry was the "newer" version of Rex and Howdy.  He was the Cooperative Extension Vertebrate Pest Specialist (until he moved into extension administration).  Terry was on my PhD examination committee.  I still have flashbacks to that experience!  When my original project funding didn't come through (contraception and coyotes), I started developing my own project dealing with coyotes and dogs in Yosemite National Park.  Then one day, Terry made me an offer.  If I worked for him on his pocket gopher and ground squirrel projects, I could use the rest of my time to work on whatever I wanted.  I think we kept up this arrangement for 2 years until I graduated.  Then, lo and behold, when I applied to be a natural resource specialist with UC, who was the chair of the search committee?  That worked in my favor.  In addition, Terry's long involvement (with Rex and Howdy) with the Vertebrate Pest Council resulted in him nominating me to be a member, which was professionally very rewarding.  One of our first joint publications (with Dennis Stroud) was titled, "Decision-making variables in California ground squirrel management."

Howdy, Rex, and Terry.  This trifecta, along with Paul Gorenzel, Sydni Gillette, Bob Timm, and a few others, launched my career in wildlife damage management.  I owe all of you a great debt.

•  Bobby Acord - In 1990 or so, USU developed a MOU with USDA to form a model academic program in wildlife damage management.  I was hired at USU as part of this initiative.  Over the next decade, I developed a relationship with the Deputy Administrator of Animal Damage Control in APHIS, Bobby Acord (ADC later was rebranded as Wildlife Services).  In 1998, I was invited to spend 6 months in DC working with Bobby as the de facto Assistant Deputy Administrator (basically, on loan to ADC from USU).  This was an eye-opening experience, living and working in the DC area.  Bobby was the ultimate professional, eventually becoming the Administrator of APHIS.  He had to navigate the politics of federal wildlife damage policy, interacting with a very diverse public (including people who were dedicated to eliminating his agency), budget planning, NEPA, personnel development, and more.  He gave me tasks ranging from planning a blackbird management summit to summarizing a survey of eastern region employees.  I remember being asked if I wanted to polish my shoes while we were in the elevator going to meet an Assistant Secretary of USDA, and another time coming in one morning, unlocking the office door, and stepping on a "While you were out" memo from the Secretary's office dealing with a complaint that an employee was lobbying against the trap ban initiative in California (and thus in potential violation the Hatch Act).  At the bottom of the note was scribbled, "Deal with it."  Okay, when the Secretary says deal with it, Bobby said you drop everything and deal with it! (No violation, Gary!)

I lived in the academic universe.  Bobby lived in a political universe.  He helped me understand his world (thanks also to his then Associate Deputy Administrator, Bill Clay, who recently retired).  This was an incredible experience, and I am thankful to have had this experience.  There were many 9 AM briefings over coffee, and I am humbled that Bobby allowed me to experience these complex, detailed, and often frank discussions.  And we coauthored a paper (with Donald Hawthorne) titled, "Professionalism in wildlife damage management: issues and directions."

This review of my professional mentors is taking FOREVER!  Almost done.

•  Tiffany Evans - I suspect Tiff would be surprised to find her name here.  When I was appointed as the USU Service-Learning Coordinator, I was given an office in the jumble of Student Services programs in the Taggert Student Center.  Eventually, Tiff was given oversight of my budget (and thus, me). There were no other academics in Student Services.  The VP of Student Services, Juan Franco, appointed me, and Dr. Franco came with a great deal of academic experience, being a professor, department head, associate dean, and more at other universities.  When he left for a position at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, I don't think the new Student Services VPs (I lived through 2 more) knew what to do with me, since neither had ever been an academic. By that time, Tiff, the Director of the Student Involvement and Leadership Center (SILC), and I had a good working relationship.  She moved me to an office within the Center (the "green room"), and for a number of years I spent my mornings in my faculty office in Natural Resources, and my afternoons in the SILC office.  Tiff would stick her head in and say, "How the hell are you, Doc?"  She was always a bright spot of the day.  Her sudden departure one day was painful, dramatic, and totally, totally unexpected.  I am glad she was able to rebuild her career, bigger and stronger.

So how was Tiff a mentor for me?  She was the most "can do!" person I have ever been around.  Since her unit was responsible for student government (including arts and lectures, the service center, and all the elected student officers, the cheer squad, the Greek system, clubs and organizations, GEAR-UP mentoring, service-learning, and more), she had a lot on her plate.  Working with students is job that requires both structure and flexibility, and Tiff excelled at both.  She was dedicated to the students, and I'm sure she continues that tradition with UVU.  She taught me to jump up and say, "we will get it done."  Her sincerity in discussions with her staff and the students was genuine and sincere.  Remember that television series, The Office?  Tiff was the opposite of Michael Scott, except for the part when Michael would talk about his employees as his family.  The SILC was family to Tiff. Thanks for the memories, and the inspiration.  I remember her inviting me to share her seats in the first row near the 50 yard line at one Aggie football game.  Man, did we give the visiting team a hard time!

•  Dr. Barrie Gilbert - Barrie was a bear biologist in my original department at USU (Fisheries and Wildlife).  When he was much younger, he was mauled by a grizzly.  If anything, that made him more dedicated to understanding and protecting bears.  Barrie was probably the closest to me (or me to him) in the department in terms of our views toward environmental issues.  Animals weren't just things to be hunted.  Forests weren't just trees to be cut.  National and Provincial Parks weren't just playgrounds.  Predators had a place, and a role.  I'm guessing Barrie was the most "Edward Abbey-esque" person in the college, and he was criticized at times for having that position in a wildlife department (especially regarding predator control).  But Barrie had a "take no prisoners" type of personality and he wouldn't compromise on his ethical positions.  His departure at retirement left a hole in the college that has not been filled, not even by me.  One of Barrie's unique working philosophies was that you didn't need to trap, wrestle, and tag bears and other animals to study them. You just had to watch them.  I think Barrie would be a fan of Carl Safina's newish book, Beyond Words: What Animals Think And Feel.  What we have learned from long-term observations of gray wolves, African savannah elephants, and killer whales!  Barrie, you were just ahead of your time!

•  Professor Mark Brunson - Mark was hired around the same time as I was at USU, with him in the Department of Forestry and me in Fisheries and Wildlife.  However, for years our offices were right next to each other.  As new faculty, we worked long hours, and supported each other.  We had many discussions and debates, in addition to sharing projects and graduate students.  We both thrived on undergraduate student advising, and students knew that you could get all your questions answered on the third floor of NR.  We both had a "open-door" policy rather than depending simply on office hours to meet with students.  Mark has a thoughtful personality that suddenly erupts with laughter at times.  When the College of Natural Resources was reorganized, Mark and I both chose to be members of the new Department of Environment and Society.  Eventually, Mark became department head, and we had a falling out that never recovered.   His office is now on a different floor, and we don't have that same interaction we used to have.  My loss.  

One thing I am absolutely certain of is that I would never have been awarded tenure if it wasn't for the cooperation, collaboration, and support of Mark Brunson. Our publication, "Public attitudes toward wildlife damage management and policy" (with graduate student Doug Reiter), has been cited by 190 other authors, and continues to be influential. This was a project championed and funded by Bobby Acord.  

Mark crystalized my career trajectory toward the human dimensions of wildlife management, which meant that I needed to understand a different body of knowledge than just wildlife biology.  I've not come close to mastering it, but I understand it more.  Mark was instrumental in helping me forge this path.

•  Dr. Dennis Dolney - I had to think whether Dennis' impact on me fits under "professional mentor," and I decided that it did.  Work-life balance is something I strive to have in my life.  About 10 years ago, Caroline was asked to participate in some type of relay race, called the "Wastach Back."  I can't remember why she couldn't do it, but she nominated me.  The team, named "Kinetic Connection," was captained and organized by the Department Head in what is now the Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences, Dennis Dolney.  I had the days open (it was a 2 day race), and Caroline put me in touch with Dennis, who sat down with me and scared the bejeezus out of me... a 188 mile race?  Each of 12 runners taking on 3 segments?  Running at 3 AM, no matter the weather?  I don't think I had ever run a distance greater than 5 miles.  Well, Dennis settled me down.  I remember a practice run on our treadmill, running 3 miles in the afternoon, then another 3 miles at 2 AM.  Again, a run was something you did once every other day, at most!  To make a long story very short, with the support of Dennis and his daughter Meghan, I packed my sleeping bag, extra shoes, a variety of foods and drinks, and we were off in Dennis' van (a perfect vehicle for this race).  I can't remember exactly, but I think I had a couple 3-4 mile runs, then a 9 mile run (in the rain) for my last segment.  And I finished it!  I did it!  And we did it again the next year!
Caroline holding a Ragnar race flag in Nevada.  It snowed during her first run!

Since then, Caroline and I have run numerous Ragnar races in Utah, Nevada, California, and Washington.  I've spread my "running wings," running marathons and even two 50 kilometer ultra-marathons.  In fact, I ran 10.2 miles this morning, just as a local run getting ready for the Top Of Utah races.

And my running was inspired by one Dennis Dolney, who passed away in 2018.  Running has been a critical part of work-life balance for both Caroline and I, and we recognize his positive influence here.  

Caroline Shugart - I can't say enough about the impact and support Caroline provided me at every step of my professional life.  I remember her bringing the kids to my office some evenings with a packed dinner when I was working late.  I'll comment more on Caroline at some future time.  She just needed a sincere shout-out here!

Caroline and Artemis in Florida.

•  Homer Simpson - Homer?  For years, he gave me something to laugh about every evening, no matter what happened that day.

•  Captain Jean-Luc Picard - Okay, I'm a Trekkie.  


That's a long list of mentors, but pretty complete.  My life is still being shaped, professionally and personally, but I'll end with this quote from Edward Abbey:  "One word is worth a thousand pictures.  If it's the right word."  So my word to all the folk I mention above is... thanks.


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