Meadville Tribune

August 13, 2013

New Wildlife Refuge boss brings big-picture vision

By Konstantine Fekos
Meadville Tribune

GUYS MILLS — One week into her new position as manager of the Erie National Wildlife Refuge in Guys Mills, Vicki Muller is enjoying the environment — both the community and the local habitats.

Muller started her work in Crawford County on Aug. 5, succeeding Patty Nagel, the previous manager, who retired.

“I encourage people to come out and say ‘hi’ so that I can meet the community,” she said. “I look forward to working with them to move in the right direction.”

The physical move to Pennsylvania brought Muller and her family all the way from the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, known for its wintering habitat for the endangered whooping crane, North America’s tallest bird. She spent the last five years of her 10-year career there, working as a habitat manager and overseeing visitor services and volunteer programs.

Although she hails from Ohio, Muller has worked in several other states, including Montana and North Dakota, and is no stranger to Pennsylvania, having visited relatives for family reunions over the years.

“I’m really excited about this area,” she said. “Everybody seems very friendly and forthcoming. I look forward to working with the community, getting involved and making this our home.”

Muller moved to the area with her husband, Nick, and infant son, both of whom she says share her common interest in wildlife.

While Muller is no stranger to natural habitats, each one has its own individual personality based on its range of plants and animals. Even with a decade of experience, each wildlife refuge takes some getting used to, she said.

“I’m just trying to soak everything in and learn everything I can about the refuge,” Muller said. “The beaver are going to be a new challenge for me and I haven’t worked with bear before.”

Muller’s experience does give her a leg up on waterfowl, however.

“The areas I’ve worked with in the past were very waterfowl oriented,” she said. “Most of my experience in the past has been with waterfowl habitat and wetland management.”

Part of Muller’s responsibilities at the refuge will be to work with the staff and volunteers to make sure these and other animals can make their habitats work without disrupting their daily lives.

The ultimate goal is to “figure a way for us all to succeed together,” she said.

Her outlook on wildlife management fits right along with her overall goals for the future, which include stronger partnerships with nonprofit and government agencies working within the French Creek Watershed to benefit the larger area.

She also hopes to work closely with Friends of Erie National Wildlife Refuge and members of the community.

“This is very important for managing these areas,” Muller said. “The refuge covers 8,800 acres, but the watershed is larger than that. By working together, you can accomplish so much more on a landscape level than just working alone on the refuge.”

Although the refuge in Guys Mills houses a relatively small staff rounded out mostly by volunteers, Muller expects her three full-time members and many wildlife supporters to continue working together as a family of sorts.

“It’s thanks to volunteers that we’re able to accomlish as much as we are every day,” she said. “We’ve got a great group of folks here and I’m very happy to be there with them. It really is like a small family feeling.”

Muller hopes more community members will join the wildlife refuge family as the organization is always looking for volunteers, whether it’s one day a week or one day a year.

Anyone interested in donating their time to the refuge can call the main office, 11296 Wood Duck Lane, Guys Mills, at 789-3538 and ask for the volunteer coordinator.

Muller also encourages the public to take advantage of all the free services the refuge offers, including hunting and fishing opportunities, hiking trails and more.

“Get out and connect with nature,” she said. “The refuge is a great getaway place to come and enjoy with your family free of charge. It’s a good way to get outside.”