TWS policy internship program renamed to honor Joe Burns

By David Frey

Joe Burns stands along a portion of the C&O Canal trail near the Paw Paw Tunnel in Maryland.
Credit: Kim Winter

The Wildlife Society has renamed its policy internship program after Joe Burns, one of its first interns. A devoted TWS member, Burns went on to a 33-year career in federal agencies before his death due to a heart attack on Thanksgiving Day last year at the age of 58.

“He was an embodiment of what the internship was all about,” said Tom Franklin, a former wildlife policy director at TWS who hired Burns as an intern about 35 years ago.

Burns came to the program as a biologist interested in policy, Franklin said, and after returning to the field, he came back to Washington, D.C. for a successful career in policy. That experience, plus his longtime commitment to TWS, “made him an ideal person to represent the program and what it is all about,” Franklin said.

Burns was mourned by friends and colleagues from across the country after his death. He was remembered for his career-long dedication to protecting habitats for threatened and endangered species and a commitment to environmental justice.

Growing up near polluting industries alongside the Mississippi River in East St. Louis, Illinois, sparked that commitment, said Kim Winter, a friend and fellow wildlife biologist who worked alongside him at the U.S. Forest Service, where Burns spent 21 years of his career. “He went into an area really to try to lend a hand and lift people up,” she said.

“He really was a curious person, an avid learner, always trying to learn something new and embrace different cultures,” said friend and colleague Estelle Bowman, assistant director of the U.S. Forest Service’s Office of Tribal Relations. She recalled Burns greeting her family members and singing happy birthday to her in her native Navajo, a language he began to pick up while working in the Southwest.

Burns was a member of TWS for 38 years, including 20 years as a Certified Wildlife Biologist®. Donations to The Wildlife Society in his name benefit the Endowment Fund to support the internship program, which offers recent graduates opportunities to work in Washington on issues of importance to the wildlife profession. That program is now called the Joe Burns Memorial Policy Internship Program.

TWS was an organization Burns was passionate about, said Dixie Porter, a friend and colleague at the Forest Service. “I can’t think of a better tribute to Joe,” she said.

David Frey is managing editor at The Wildlife Society. Contact him at dfrey@wildlife.org with any questions or comments about his article. Read more of David's articles here.

You can follow him on Twitter at @davidmfrey.

Joshua LearnJoshua Rapp Learn is a science writer at The Wildlife Society. Contact him at jlearn@wildlife.org with any questions or comments about his article.

Read more of Joshua's articles.