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home : outdoors : features May 25, 2016

6/22/2012 4:35:00 AM
Wildlife biologist Woodford enjoys the Northwoods
Likes the large areas of forested land
Michele Woodford, DNR wildlife biologist
Michele Woodford, DNR wildlife biologist

Craig Turk
Outdoors Writer/Photographer

By Craig Turk

A lifelong fondness for wildlife, experiences as a student at a natural resources college, a chance to fall for the upper midwest, and previous roles with the DNR led Michele Woodford, DNR wildlife biologist, to her current post.

Woodford has been working out of the Woodruff DNR office since July of 2011. She had been, and still is, living in Rhinelander, where her husband also works for the DNR.

"I've been working as a wildlife biologist since 2008, and the job that I took then was actually in the Eau Claire office," said Woodford. She was managing Chippewa and Eau Claire counties.

Woodford got a chance to work as a wildlife biologist in the Northwoods area after both Linda Winn and Ron Eckstein retired in December of 2010. Winn worked out of the Woodruff office, and Eckstein worked out of the Rhinelander office.

Eau Claire to Woodruff

Woodford talked about some of the differences between the Northwoods and the Eau Claire area.

"Doing deer management over there in farm country, and all the herd control units and lots of deer, and moving up to this area ... little bit different management."

Woodford also notices a difference in the human populace here.

"Eau Claire was ... a little bit more of a populated area, a little bit more of that city to urban interface ... here, it's more of the wildlife, nature, more smaller town. It's kind of nice [here], the number of calls that come in about different animals is a lot lower here just because people are more used to living with wildlife."

Woodford described area residents as "attuned with their wild neighbors."

Though she was happy to assume the post further north, Woodford said she loved the Eau Claire area.

Previously, Woodford had worked in the area as a limited term employee (LTE) as a furbearer technician. She said the experience kept her interested to come back to the area and get into bear issues.

Woodford said she likes working with the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest and its expanses of forest land.

"Here we get to work with existing large tracts in already pristine conditions versus, sometimes, down south, we worked with more small woodlots."

Woodford said the scattered parcels were challenging to manage for wildlife.

The job

Most of the area Woodford works in is in Vilas County, though she sometimes works in Oneida County as well. Woodford said near-future projects include banding doves and geese, but a lot of other stuff is going on.

"A wildlife biologist, sort of by nature of the job, has to be a generalist just because we get asked so many different questions, and we have our fingers in a lot of different things. It's very seasonal what we do."

Right now, there is work being done concerning bear populations.

"This time of year ... we're doing a lot of different surveys, trying to have science behind our numbers, and we'll do the bait surveys we have for bears."

The bait surveys are done by placing out small bags of suet and simply monitoring them for activity.

Woodford said she also fields calls about nuisance animals and sick animals, and many other issues. There is one type of call she'd like to get more of.

"We don't get many calls about some of those rare animals that we could potentially try and help with."

Woodford asks that people contact the DNR quickly if they see a rare animal, such as a cougar, a feral pig, or even a moose. The sooner someone can be in the field to inspect the area, the more likely it is that there will be evident sign of the animal.

"We depend on the public for a lot of our information," said Woodford.

Rare animal sightings relates to another part of the job--mapping things. Using technology called Geographic Information Systems, wildlife managers can plot information and look for trends in animal movement. Woodford enjoys the visual aspect of tracking things in this manner.

She said mapping programs were a handy way to track bears in more southern reaches of the state. They simply had people report sightings and added the information. That's not as necessary for bears here.

"We have a really good handle on the bears we have in northern Wisconsin. We have hunting seasons and we get a lot of information from them. South of a certain portion of Wisconsin, we don't have a lot of people regularly hunting (bears) and we don't do our surveys down that far."

Woodford likes working collaboratively with foresters, noting the need of habitat management to align with management of the wildlife itself.

"We want to do good things for our wildlife; both the consumptive and non-consumptive species that are out there.

"There are animals that need young, early kind of stuff, and then there's animals that need the old."

Woodford noted that it isn't easy.

"Everything is really complex when it comes to making management decisions. I mean, like when it comes to deer, there's not one simple solution for deer. There's always all the other things that we have to consider."

Woodford would like to be as much hands-on as possible, but the day-to-day doesn't always allow as much of it as she'd like.

"I don't get to get out in the field as much as I'd like to, just because there is a lot of work [in the office]. The phone is blinking, there's people that have questions about that otter that ran across their yard, or other issues.

"I also work pretty closely with some of the regulatory people. If someone's got a building permit, and they're looking for rare, threatened, or species of special concern, some of the other programs in the DNR are reviewing these things and they might come to me and ask my advice.

"The public isn't just my customer, but also the internal people I work with."


Discussing wolves, Woodford made the point that wildlife managers haven't had as much to do with them in the past as they probably will in the future.

"The wolves are just being de-listed, so the majority of the work that has been done with wolves has been an endangered species program," said Woodford.

"Their program tracks and manages and does the population estimates."

Woodford said she did some work involving wolves in the past in one of her LTE roles.

"I think in the future, it's definitely going to roll onto wildlife management."

Woodford envisions being more involved with wolves as the hunting and trapping season gets underway.

The path to managing wildlife

Woodford became interested in her field of choice while growing up in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her father was an accountant by trade, but he was always interested in wildlife.

"I guess I've always loved animals. I probably came into [wildlife management] more for the animal aspect ... than other people that think about the habitat part," said Woodford. "I started with animals then realized it's the habitat that's important to keep them, to retain animals and have them for future generations."

Her experiences working with animals started when she was young.

"When I was in jr. high I ended up volunteering at a zoo. I spent a lot of time working with animals hands-on."

Woodford earned her degree at Logan, Utah State University, a natural resources college. She got her first summer job in the Northwoods, working with loons as a university project, then later with the DNR.

"That's where I got my first taste of Oneida County," said Woodford. She liked what she saw.

Woodford moved to Wisconsin about 1997, and filled several roles before taking the wildlife biologist positions in Eau Claire and then Woodruff.

Woodford not only enjoys working with wildlife as a biologist, she also enjoys drawing and photographing it.

Craig Turk may be reached at cturk@lakelandtimes.com

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