New manager takes helm at wildlife refuge

Courtesy photoBill Peterson, the new manager of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, comes here from Arkansas.

PLUM ISLAND — Starting later this month, the island’s piping plovers will have a new overseer as Bill Peterson takes over as manager of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. 

The challenges for the Arkansas resident, who last worked at the Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge in that state, will be plentiful. But the 40-year-old Peterson said he is ready for the challenges. First among them, he said, is getting acclimated to different cultural and regional approaches to conservation issues. 

As for the piping plovers, the endangered species that breeds on the island prompting 6 miles of popular beaches to be closed for much of the summer, Peterson said he was fully aware of the controversy. Asked if he had any thoughts on the matter, Peterson said it was too early to draw any conclusions. 

“I need to spend more time learning about it and see things on the ground,” said Peterson, whose first official day as the refuge’s new manager is Monday, Sept. 29.   

Established in 1942, the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge provides a feeding, resting and nesting habitat for migratory birds. The refuge encompasses 4,662 acres on the southern three-fourths of the 9-mile-long barrier island, as well as extensive holdings in the Great Marsh. It is part of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service family and is monitored by wildlife service personnel, and draws about 250,000 visitors each year. It’s one of the most popular attractions in the Newburyport area.

Perhaps chief among his goals is completing the refuge’s comprehensive conservation plan that will guide the refuge for the next 15 years. 

“I’m also excited to implement the salt marsh hydrology restoration project and expand visitor opportunities so that people can enjoy all of the national wildlife refuges that fall under management of Parker River,” Peterson said. 

Peterson has been in the nature conservation business since 1994 when he joined the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as a summer intern at Sherburne National Willdlife Refuge in Minnesota. 

“I’ve always loved exploring the outdoors and this internship motivated me to pursue a career in conservation,” Peterson said. 

Peterson was hired as a wildlife biologist at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin in 1999, then worked as a biologist for its Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in 2002. He returned to Necedah as a refuge operations specialist in 2003 and since 2009 oversaw the Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas. During that time, he managed bottom land hardwood forests for wintering waterfowl, oversaw construction of a new visitor center, and expanded birding, hunting and fishing opportunities.

The opportunity to work in a different part of the country, he said, was one of the major factors in pursuing and then accepting the position. He also said working in a coastal setting after many years working inland was a major plus. 

Peterson and his wife, Stacy, will be moving to York, Maine, where they plan on living for the first year as they become acclimated to the region.

Despite his limited exposure to Massachusetts and the Northeast region as a whole, Peterson said he has been to the Bay State on more than one occasion. His first trip saw him take in a Red Sox game in 1991, he added. 

“We’re moving in a week!” Peterson said. 

Information from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service was used in this report.

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