TWS member wins Refuge Manager of the Year award

By Dana Kobilinsky

Keith Weaver looks through binoculars on a swamp in Cache River National Wildlife Refuge. ©Wade Pearrow (USFWS)

Longtime member of The Wildlife Society Keith Weaver was recently recognized as Refuge Manager of the Year after committing over 30 years to working with national wildlife refuges.

“When I look back at other managers that have won the award, I’m honored and humbled,” said Weaver, who is currently the project leader at the Central Arkansas National Wildlife Refuge Complex. He received the 2016 Paul Kroegel Refuge Manager of the Year Award, which is sponsored by the National Wildlife Refuge Association.

Weaver began his career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1984 in different temporary positions after completing his master’s degree in wildlife ecology studying beavers under direction of Dale Arnerat at Mississippi State University. His first duty station was at the Hillside National Wildlife Refuge complex in the Yazoo River Basin in Mississippi. Then, he took his first permanent position at Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Louisiana as a forestry technician, where he oversaw logging contracts, participated in reforestation activities, dealt with nuisance beaver control and more.

Weaver later became the first Wildlife Biologist on Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge. Here, he conducted the first research ever on the Louisiana black bear (Ursus americanus luteolus) population when they were first being petitioned for listing. “It’s very rewarding to think that the work that I did helped in some way for the bear to move towards recovery,” Weaver said.

Keith Weaver and his dog Sadie chukar hunting near Grouse Corners, Utah. Image courtesy of Keith Weaver.

Keith Weaver and his dog Sadie chukar hunting near Grouse Corners, Utah. ©Craig McLaughlin

Weaver then obtained a doctoral degree from the University of Tennessee and became a wildlife biologist and assistant refuge manager at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Weaver became the first refuge manager for a new refuge, the Nulhegan Basin division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Vermont.

In 2007, Weaver took his current position as the project leader at the Central Arkansas National Wildlife Refuge Complex. He’s responsible for managing six refuges in Arkansas, five of which are primarily managed for wintering waterfowl. One of the refuges he manages, Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, is designated a wetland of international importance and is deemed the most important wintering area for mallard ducks in North America.

Weaver said all of his management actions are based on biological objectives. Refuges also act as outdoor laboratories for environmentally based research, he said, such as the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, which serves as a good place to study summer habitat use for federally listed Indiana bats (Myotis sodalist) and northern long-eared bats (Myotis septentrionalis).

Managing refuges has a lot to do with partnerships with agencies such as the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission as well as numerous organizations including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Ducks Unlimited and the Nature Conservancy, Weaver said. “We simply can’t do it alone,” he said. But some say Weaver is just as responsible for the success of the refuge complex.

“[Keith’s] strong work ethic, excellence in developing partnerships and passion for the mission of the Service is evident on a daily basis,” said David Houghton, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association in a press release. “He is loved by the community, respected by colleagues and highly skilled in protecting wildlife.”

Weaver, on the other hand, says it’s his staff that makes everything possible. “Becoming refuge manager of the year speaks highly of the staff,” he said. “They’re the ones who do all the work that enables these accomplishments. It’s easy to look good with the right staff.”

Dana KobilinskyDana Kobilinsky is a science writer at The Wildlife Society. Contact her at with any questions or comments about her article. You can follow her on Twitter at @DanaKobi.

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