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Refuge project director enjoys North Dakota...

In a career with the federal government that spans more than 30 years, Suzanne Baird finally got her chance to come to North Dakota.

6/20/17 (Tue)

In a career with the federal government that spans more than 30 years, Suzanne Baird finally got her chance to come to North Dakota.

Baird who has worked around the country, especially in the last 26 years with the Fish & Wildlife Service, became the project leader for the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge, the Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge, the Lostwood Wetlands Management District and the Crosby Wetlands Management District in September 2015.

In addition, two unmanned refuges, Shell Lake and Zahl, are part of her responsibility.

Growing up in the San Antonio, Texas area, Baird started out working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Texas and as a civilian biologist working for the Air Force in Florida.

But in the past 26 years, she has been in Minnesota, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Nevada and California.

She called it an exciting opportunity to learn at each station and to understand management styles and habitat at each station.

“My career goal was to make it to the Dakotas,” Baird said. “I’m at heart a waterfowl biologist and this is the place to be.”

Her job includes working together with Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge Manager Chad Zorn on a regular basis, but she isn’t at the refuge every day since she does much of the same at the other stations that include waterfowl production areas and grassland production areas.

“It’s a collection of counties where we service waterfowl areas that are smaller than a refuge and may have different rules,” she said. “It’s a big area and it keeps us busy.”

Her territory is big geographically that includes the gooseneck of Ward County, Burke, Divide, Mountrail and Williams counties.

“I try to spend a little time in these offices each week,” Baird said. “They make decisions and I oversee them.”

She does, however, consider the Des Lacs Refuge her base of operations. When she found out she was being transferred, she realized the project leader’s base was in Crosby.

“When I got here I had to choose between Crosby and Des Lacs,” she said. “I chose Des Lacs.”

The biggest difference in a refuge and a management area, according to Baird, is that hunting is allowed within the boundaries of a management area but hunters have to go through steps to hunt on a refuge. As an example, coyotes can’t be hunted on the refuge.

She said the Fish & Wildlife Service secures waterfowl and grasslands easements, basically for waterfowl production.

“We buy the rights so the easement can’t be drained, filled or leveled,” Baird said. “Ranchers can graze their cattle on grasslands easements but they can’t turn it over. We encourage haying and grazing.”

Baird added that long before humans were in this area up until the present, fires and bison have had a way of helping maintain grasslands in pristine conditions.

Thus, the Fish & Wildlife Service uses prescribed fire, grazing and haying to manage the native grasslands.

In her free time, Baird loves to hunt and fish, which is another reason she is so pleased to be living in North Dakota.

“Hunting and fishing is one of the joys of being here,” Baird said. “I like hunting pheasants and grouse and there are plenty of fishing opportunities here too because my favorite fish is walleye.”

She fishes mostly on smaller lakes and is hoping to get to Devils Lake sometime this summer.

In addition, she said she and a group of friends go to a lodge in Ontario once a year to get away from it all and relax.

“I just love the outdoors,” she said. “And that’s one way to enjoy it.”

Baird has two yellow labrador dogs and she says it’s often more fun watching the younger lab work than the hunt itself.

Baird talked about projects in the works at Des Lacs. They include replacing the toilet facilities at the Boat Docks and Tasker’s Coulee.

The kiosk in the interpretive center is also being updated. The crew just finished a water control project.

“I’m hoping to get the toilets in place by Greenwing Day or the haunted hay ride,” Baird said.

One item is now going through the system and Baird hopes it is implemented in the fall. She said everything her crew does depends on funding.

Moose and turkey hunting in the works

“We’re hoping to open Des Lacs and Lostwood to moose hunting,” Baird said. “There won’t be any additional tags, we’re just opening up the areas.”

The same rules will apply for moose as for deer and the tentative hunting opportunities will include the Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge and the J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge.

Additionally, turkey hunting is expected to opened for the first time on the Upper Souris.

“After it becomes official, we’ll put out a news release,” Baird said. “Then hunters will have to abide by state regulations.”

Many people are used to hunting deer on the refuge, but she cautioned that moose and deer hunting are quite different on the refuge than on private land.

“It will be interesting to get a moose off the refuge,” she said. “It’s a little different experience. It’s more of a primitive hunt.”

In fact, she said a moose would have to be butchered and quartered because tractors can’t be used to carry or drag it off the refuge.

Baird praised Zorn and his staff for doing such a good job, not only for the refuge, but representing the refuge in the community.

“There’s an opportunity here at Des Lacs to work closely with the local community and Chad has done a phenomenal job with that including special events with school children and the Scenic Backway,” she said. “This is a great station with a great staff and they’re doing great work. But there’s always room for other great opportunities.” ... Read EVERY WORD on EVERY PAGE of The Kenmare News by subscribing--online or in print!