With two radio stations, no fast food establishments, no stoplights, and soon after the "glaciers had retreated from the Kenai lowlands," Jim Frates arrived on the Kenai Peninsula in 1977 as the new manager of the Kenai National Moose Range. He is now retiring, after seeing the moose range renamed Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in 1980, and with a total of 34 years with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Jim's departure marks the end of an outstanding career and leaves a space in the refuge's organizational chart that will be tough to fill. His jobs have ranged from refuge manager to his current job of refuge operations specialist, where he oversees mechanical and facilities operations as well as oil and gas activities on the refuge.
Oil and gas operations on a national wildlife refuge are a delicate matter. Since 1957, the oil companies have had a congressionally mandated right to explore and develop petroleum resources on the non-wilderness parts of the refuge. Jim's job was to assist oil and gas activities, so that the work could be done without compromising the refuge's purpose of protecting wildlife habitat.
As one can imagine, this is no easy task. Years of experience, a personable style and a quick wit have served Jim well in this balancing act. Brian Millyard, a Marathon Oil field operator, says, "I really appreciate all Jim has done; he is just a really good guy."
Jim's co-worker, mechanic Al O'Guinn, echoes Millyard's comments.
"He is one of the nicest guys I've ever worked with. He is highly respected and will be greatly missed."
Jim's path through the Fish and Wildlife Service to Alaska's Kenai National Wildlife Refuge started in the Lower 48, where Jim graduated from Colorado State University in 1963. Upon graduation he worked as a pheasant research biologist for both the Nebraska and South Dakota game commissions, moving in 1965 to district game manager for a seven-county region in northeastern South Dakota.
This job led to his 1966 entrance into the Fish and Wildlife Service as an assistant refuge manager at the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota. Between 1968 and 1973, Jim served as refuge manger on the Lostwood, Desoto, and DesLacs refuges. Four years later, in 1977, Jim saw his first moose outside of a zoo setting.
"Oddly enough, (the moose) was the first local resident I saw after entering the Kenai city limits."
That began his 17-year stint on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
Jim was refuge manager from 1977 until 1980, when he transferred to Fish and Wildlife's Anchorage office to participate in developing long-range conservation plans for refuges in the Bristol Bay/Aleutian Islands region.
In 1985, Jim returned to the Kenai refuge to undertake his current position.
As Jim takes a look back on his career, he notes, "Working with people who passionately care about the resources and critters which they are charged with protecting and managing was kind of a personal glue which kept me so attached to my job for so many years."
One of Jim's most memorable moments was initiating the construction of the new headquarters/visitor center. The building atop Ski Hill Road in Soldotna would not be the hub of the 1.92 million-acre refuge without his efforts.
Upon retirement, when the beginning of the work week approaches, Jim plans on sleeping a bit later and enjoying the fact that an alarm clock will no longer be a trigger to the start of the day. He plans on staying in the Kenai-Soldotna area, where his wife, Marlene, will continue working with the Kenai Peninsula School District.
Jim's son Brad works for Phillips Petroleum on the North Slope, and son Bobby is director of Parks and Recreation for the city of Kenai, while daughter Barbara lives in Boise, Idaho.
Jim expects that writing, photography and yard work will be taking the place of meetings, e-mails, reports and deadlines. With honor, accomplishments and years of dedication in his wake, Jim exits the Fish and Wildlife Service noting that, "Even though it's sometimes a staggering concept, I'll miss the feeling going to work each morning with the recognition that the entire public was my employer."
Samantha Bartling is an intern with the Student Career Experience Program at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
More information on the refuge, and previous Refuge Notebook columns can be viewed on the Web at http://kenai.fws.gov.
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