Seasoned refuge manager comes aboard at Tualatin River NWR
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's new manager of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge says she's looking forward to working with all the partners and community members who make the refuge such a huge success.
Rebecca Gómez Chuck took over Monday, Oct. 25, as the chief project leader for the expansive refuge, which sits within the Tualatin River floodplain on 1,350 acres just outside of Sherwood. It's part of a 712-square-mile watershed, with the refuge making up only 1% of that area.
"I love that this is such a community resource," Gómez Chuck said during a recent phone interview as she wrapped up her current job as deputy project leader at the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
Her new duties also will include overseeing a management team at the 952-acre Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge, just east of Gaston. Although not contiguous, the refuges are part of the same watershed.
Gómez Chuck holds a degree from Humboldt State University in California. In 1995, she began work as a refuge operations specialist at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
She most recently spent almost 20 years as the deputy project leader for the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which is headquartered in the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. Gómez Chuck replaces Larry Klimek who served as refuge manager for almost four years before his retirement in August. She said the major differences between the Tualatin River watershed and her most recent venture is the scope of her work in Newport encompassed the entire coast. There are other differences as well.
"A lot of the visitors that come to the coast refuges are tourists," she said. "We have millions of tourists every year that come here, spend a short time here and then are gone. So, the focus is creating opportunities that they can experience while they're here and then they go on."
Gómez Chuck continued: "What will be different at Tualatin is that this was created as a community idea. It succeeds with community support. The local community is very involved in being an everyday part of what goes on at the refuge."
The Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1992, thanks to the efforts of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and a push by the local community.
With seven full-time staffers at the refuge, Gómez Chuck said she also considers volunteers as types of staff as well because of their importance to the day-to-day workings at the area.
The refuge "wouldn't be what it is without them, and I'm really looking forward to meeting with all of them," she said.
Gómez Chuck said she's also interested in exploring the various different habitats at the Tualatin River NWR. While the coastal habitats consist of rocks, islands, the coastal prairie and tidal marsh, her new assignment focuses on a vast river habitat, oak savannas, a wet prairie and habitats that are undergoing restoration, something she's excited to become a part of.
Currently, for public safety, the seasonal wetland trail at the refuge is closed until May 1, which is in conjunction with the Chicken Creek restoration project. However, the 2-mile out-and-back river trail remains open.
According to its website, the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge boosts an estimated 200 species of birds, more than 50 species of mammals and 25 species of reptiles and amphibians.
Among the birds often spotted in the area are a longtime pair of bald eagles. While they once nested inside the refuge, branches that supported their nest gave way and the nest collapsed in August 2016. Luckily, the nest was empty at the time, and the pair had already established other nests outside refuge property, according to refuge officials. They still breed and nest in the area.
"We are so excited to have Rebecca as the new project leader for the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge Complex," Robyn Thorson, regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a news release."Her 30 years of experience with the National Wildlife Refuge System combined with her passion for public lands, conservation and community make her an ideal candidate for this position."
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