Kenai refuge manager headed to new job: West leaving state after 31 years in Alaska

Posted: Friday, July 31, 2009

To some he is the manager of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, others know him as a fellow hunter, and many others consider him a friend, but regardless of how people know Robin West, they will soon be saying goodbye to him.

"It's a great job that I'm going to," said West, who after 31 years of working in Alaska, will soon be moving to take a position in Portland, Ore., as the Refuge Supervisor for Region 1 of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"I'll be supervising eight refuge complexes," West said, and explained he will have responsibilities for refuges and refuge complexes in Oregon, Washington and Nevada, including: Willamette Valley, Malheur, Ridgefield, Willapa, Tualatin River, Oregon Coast, and Sheldon-Hart Mountain.

West has worn various hats while working all around the state over the past three decades.

"I started working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska in 1978. Ironically, one of my first positions was working on evaluating the most fish and wildlife habitat-friendly route for the proposed natural gas pipeline," he said.

West has also worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's Sport Fish Division in Yakutat, did a little commercial halibut fishing and worked with walrus and walrus hunters on Saint Lawrence Island.

"My first permanent job came a couple years later. I was stationed in Fairbanks, but worked on contaminants issues throughout northern Alaska, again for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I worked on oil reserve pit issues at Prudhoe Bay, placer mining issues in Denali National Park, and helped evaluate the most environmentally friendly route from the Red Dog Mine deposit to a port site on the coast," he said.

West then transferred to the Fish and Wildlife Service Fairbanks Fisheries Office as an Assistant Project Leader and did baseline studies of fisheries on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- work mandated by Congress as they evaluated whether to open the refuge to oil and gas exploration.

"I also worked at Tetlin NWR, near Tok, on a variety of fisheries issues. From there I became the Assistant Refuge Manager for the 8.63 million-acre Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, and then went to a Refuge Manager position at Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Cold Bay starting in 1988," he said.

West and his wife, Shannon, had three children (Alexandra, Remington, and Hannah) while living in Cold Bay. West then moved to Anchorage in the early 1990s to become the Regional Migratory Bird Coordinator for Fish and Wildlife.

"I worked with researchers and regulators to conduct annual surveys of ducks and geese throughout the state that helped set annual hunting regulations for all four flyways. I also worked to amend the 1916 Treaty with Canada to legitimize and regulate the spring subsistence waterfowl hunting in rural Alaska," he said.

West came to the Kenai refuge in 1995, serving as the Refuge Manager, and has been there ever since. He said he will miss much about living and working in this area.

"The nicest thing about the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is working right on the refuge. From my window I can see the mountains and the wildlife. But also, this is a great community with a lot of people interested in recreation and conservation, so I'll miss that too," he said.

West's children are all in college and attending the University of Alaska Anchorage, so he said he the time for a move is right, but he intends to return often for visits

"Hopefully, we'll keep a cabin in the Kenai area, a place that will always be very special to us," he said.

While moving for a job that is new, Oregon is not unfamiliar to West, who will be living in the Portland area. He also plans on eventually retiring near the Rogue River region in southern Oregon.

"I'm from Oregon originally. My wife was also raised there, and we still have family there," he said.

To celebrate West's time in Alaska and to bid him a fond farewell, there will be a dinner at the Soldotna Sports Center on Aug. 29 at 6 p.m. Cost is $25 per person and attendance is by RSVP only.

RSVPs can be made by e-mailing them to kenai@fws.gov or by faxing them to 907-262-3599. All RSVPs should be made by Aug. 19. Payments can be made by mailing checks made out to the Kenai Refuge Employee's Association to P.O. Box 2139, Soldotna, AK 99669.

For more information, call the refuge at 262-7021.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.



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