WON Landing Page OCT 2022

National Wildlife Refuge Managers Say Seed Was Planted Early

Their moms instilled a love of nature and inspired their careers: National Wildlife Refuge Managers say seed was planted early.

National Wild Refuge Bulletin — (Women’s Outdoor News) — Add this to the long list of things we owe to our moms: a love for conservation. Many careerists in the National Wildlife Refuge System and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service credit their mothers for sparking a lifelong interest in nature.

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Erin Holmes, right, and her mother Karen Maier share a hug on a 2009 camping trip at LaPine State Park in Oregon. Holmes, now manager of Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, credits her mom for instilling in her an early love of nature. Photo credit: Joseph Maier

Whether they worked in the home or out seems not to have mattered ─ no more than whether they raised their kids alone, raised them in the city or country, or used fancy tools or dime-store trinkets to bring nature closer. What mattered was that they shared their obvious joy in nature, say those paying tribute.

“My mom absolutely 100 percent is responsible for my interest in conservation!” says Erin Holmes, manager of Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. “It is one of my favorite things to tell people…my memories of being a little girl with my mom out in the outdoors and how that led to where I am today.”

A single mom, Karen Maier took Holmes and her sister camping, fishing and hiking in remote, exotic places. She’d pile both girls into the car at four in morning and wake them up when they were close to their destination. “One of my fondest memories,” says Holmes, “is the time, right after I saw ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind,’ she woke us up and right there was Devils Tower,” the otherworldly Wyoming monolith that served as an alien landing pad in the movie.

“My love of the outdoors came from moments like that,” says Holmes. “She instilled a sense of wonder in me, and a sense of the moment, to appreciate what is right in front of us, to want to protect that. She does that to this day.”

Molly Stoddard, who introduces tens of thousands of youngsters to nature each year as an instructional systems specialist at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center, a Service facility in Fergus Falls, Minn., likewise credits her mom, Ann Nordstrom, for her career path.

“The first way my mom influenced me in my career choice was her repeated mantra:  ‘Go outside and play!’ So I was blessed with plenty of unstructured, unsupervised play time outdoors. I collected rocks, inchworms, earthworms, fireflies; played with roly polies, watched ants in the sidewalk cracks, and ran freely around from yard to yard” in her Chicago suburb.

From the backyard bird feeders her mom made out of milk jugs and plastic soda bottles, Stoddard learned to recognize common redpolls and pine siskins.  That made her curious about other birds. “So my mom and I explored nature areas and went ‘swamp tromping.’  Thanks to her, I aced my high school ecology class.”

Jane Griess’s mom, Margaret, found other ways to open her children’s eyes to the wonders of nature.

A biologist by training, she found biology lessons close at hand. “One of her favorite things to do for us was to find monarch caterpillars on milkweed plants along the highways and feed them til they turned into a chrysalis, and then watch as the butterfly emerged,” recalls Griess, manager ofSavannah National Wildlife Refuge and the six other refuges along the South Carolina and Georgia coasts.  “She even gave me my own caterpillar cage for my birthday one year.”

“We fed birds, raised baby squirrels, incubated eggs, raised ducks. My mom was pretty much the instigator of everything. She allowed things my dad never would allow. She’d take us on nature hikes, because they were free and fun. For entertainment, the family would pile in the car – two adults and seven kids — and drive around the undeveloped fringes of the Oak Ridge Lab in Tennessee, competing to spot groundhogs and wild turkey.

“I had the best childhood ever,” says Griess. “I attribute a lot of that to her.”

Refuge women aren’t alone in expressing a debt to their mothers. Gary Stolz, manager at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Philadelphia, credits his mom, Sandy, with encouraging his interest in nature and “always putting up with my menagerie of reptiles and other pets, even though she would never hold a snake or lizard herself.”

Sometimes, though, even the most understanding mother can be pushed too far.

“One day, when I was in third grade, I was out on the back patio, flipping rocks,” recalls Stolz, “and I found my first spotted salamander. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. I was so excited I picked him up and ran in the house yelling, ‘Mom! Look what I found!’ She screamed, ‘That could be poisonous!’ Startled, I threw the little salamander in the air. It landed on the carpet all covered with fuzz. I took it outside and released it unharmed.”

It’s okay, mom. The larger message is the one that stuck ─ the one about the joys of nature.

For more photos of national wildlife refuge staff and their moms, see this Flickr set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwshq/sets/72157629568505280/


This Retro WON first appeared April 30, 2012.


  • About Barbara Baird

    Publisher/Editor Barbara Baird is a freelance writer in hunting, shooting and outdoor markets. Her bylines are found at several top hunting and shooting publications. She also is a travel writer, and you can follow her at https://www.ozarkian.com.