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Matt Robus Retires as Director
of the Division of Wildlife Conservation
A bizarre bed-wetting incident involving a black bear, hair-raising goat captures and four and a half years as leader of the division of Wildlife Conservation are a few highlights from the career of wildlife biologist Matt Robus.
After working 30 years as a biologist, including 26 years with the State of Alaska, Director of Wildlife Conservation Matt Robus retired at the end of July.
Growing up in New City, New York, Robus spent his first year of college at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and then obtained a B. S. degree in wildlife management from the University of New Hampshire in 1974. His interest in wildlife and wild places drew him to Alaska, and in the summer of 1974 he drove across the United States and Canada and enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. He began his career in July 1977 as a fisheries technician working at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Holitna River weir.
In August 1977 Robus took a job as a biologist with the Bureau of Land Management in the Arctic/Kobuk Resource Area, based in Fairbanks. He became involved in a host of activities and led a range inventory project focused on resolving conflicts between reindeer herds and the Western Arctic Caribou Herd. Surmounting the logistical challenges of running a field crew in a remote area for extended periods probably taught Robus more than did the results of the study itself. He served with BLM through 1981 when he went to work for Fish and Game’s Habitat Division in Fairbanks.
For his first six years with Habitat Division, Robus served in a planning role, representing ADF&G on large interagency land planning teams. In 1987 he was assigned as the lead habitat biologist for the Red Dog Mine development project north of Kotzebue.
The biggest accomplishments during this period were maintaining fish passage in streams along the road constructed from the Chukchi Sea coast to the mine, and in reducing unexpected mine effluent problems that cropped up during mine development.
Long interested in working more directly with wildlife, Robus moved to Juneau in late 1991 to become the Juneau area wildlife biologist with the ADF&G’s Division of Wildlife Conservation. Robus “fondly” recalled many late-night calls from police dispatchers and forays through the streets of Juneau, looking for and dealing with nuisance black bears. Among his notable recollections was the time he darted a bear at the Mendenhall Campground with a full busload of German tourists looking over his shoulder.
On another occasion, Robus arrived in a Juneau neighborhood to find a group of spectators looking up at a black bear as it dozed on a tree limb next to a house. Responding to public concerns about the bear becoming injured as the result of falling, Robus agreed to allow people to position bed mattresses around the base of the tree. This done, he successfully darted the bear and then watched as the bear urinated profusely all over the mattresses. “The looks on the peoples’ faces reflected a rapidly changing attitude towards the bear (and us) as their mattresses got a good soaking,” recalled Robus. “When the bear hit the mattresses, my partner and I grabbed it and quickly exited the neighborhood, thinking that it was a poor time for further discussion.”
In addition to responding to bear calls, managing hunts, and flying wildlife surveys, Robus enjoyed other field work as an area biologist, including capturing and collaring mountain goats as part of the environmental studies associated with the proposed AJ and Kensington Mines. Robus remembers those helicopter captures as “exhilarating but hair raising!”
In 1999 Robus moved from the Douglas area office to headquarters, where he assumed the duties of deputy director with the Division of Wildlife Conservation. Following Wayne Regelin’s departure in 2003, Robus took over as the division’s director, a position he held for the four and one half years leading up to his retirement. It was a big change going from a field position to a position of leadership. “Exchanging blue jeans and a flannel shirt for slacks and a tie definitely took some getting used to,” he said.
During his time at headquarters Robus has been struck by the level of staff expertise and knowledge about wildlife and conservation issues across the state. “It’s hard to convey just how impressed I’ve been with the level of knowledge our staff has of Alaska’s wildlife,” he said. Besides his deep respect for the staff he’s worked with and led for the past 26 years, Robus reflects favorably on his career-long efforts to work cooperatively with other divisions, agencies, and organizations.
Following retirement, Robus plans to spend time with his wife Teri, catch up on long-neglected home improvement projects, and enjoy time on his boat.
Doug Larsen is the supervisor of the Southeast Alaska region of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
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