A Midwesterner with a background in environmental biology is poised to take over as the next manager of the National Elk Refuge.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced this week it selected Frank Durbian to lead the historic 24,700-acre preserve immediately north of Jackson. The shift to Jackson Hole will be a change of pace, one he’s welcoming.
“I’ve spent my whole career working in riverine prairie-wetland systems, and I was looking for a new challenge,” Durbian told the News&Guide. “I’m looking forward to working in a new ecosystem with some new flora and fauna that I haven’t spent the first 23 years of my career working with.”
Durbian succeeds Brian Glaspell, who departed in July 2019 to take a job as the Fish and Wildlife Service’s assistant regional director for Alaska, where he was born and raised. Since then the top job at the refuge has been held by acting personnel, including Ketti Spomer and Deputy Refuge Manager Cris Dippel.
It’s been an eventful and, at times, tumultuous year for the National Elk Refuge. The refuge took its first-ever steps toward scaling back its 108-year-old feeding program, operating on a timeline that was meant to stave off litigation challenging the agency’s inaction. Environmental groups sued anyway, arguing the plan failed to meet commitments from a 2007 elk and bison management plan.
Durbian says he’s no stranger to working in the spotlight on divisive issues, including in his current capacity as the project leader for Fish and Wildlife’s Northwest North Dakota Wetland Management District. He’s been involved in a conservation easement program that attracted no shortage of detractors.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have experience in working with partners and stakeholders to resolve these larger-level political issues,” Durbian said.
A Kansas native, Durbia holds a master’s degree in environmental biology from Emporia State University, where he researched macroinvertebrates in wetlands managed for waterfowl. After seasonal gigs, his first permanent job with the Fish and Wildlife Service was working on a black-footed ferret reintroduction project at the Bowdoin and Charles M. Russell national wildlife refuges in northeastern Montana.
Durbia stopped at Missouri’s Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge before following the management track with a deputy job at Minnesota’s Morris Wetland Management District. Most recently he’s worked three management-level jobs at North Dakota refuge districts.
Durbian takes over in early July, when he’ll move to Jackson Hole, along with his wife, June.
“I enjoy the outdoor activities that area has to offer,” Durbian said, “and I’m looking forward to it.”