by Gael Bissell and Cory Davis
We are excited to present our first 2017 Conservation Achievement Recognition to Steve Gniadek who is clearly one of the most dedicated conservation-minded people in the Flathead. Steve, who has assimilated extensive and diverse wildlife experiences throughout his career, is now a happily retired wildlife biologist living in the Flathead Valley. But Steve is no ordinary retiree, he is one of those passionate and committed individuals who believes that his fortunate and exciting life of public service requires that he continue to give back his time and energy to the local community.
Steve G. (as many of us call him) grew up in Illinois and became a budding birder in high school. He graduated from college in 1970 with his B.S. in Wildlife & Forestry from the University of Michigan where he was an invited member of Xi Sigma Pi, the National Forestry Honor Society.
Always drawn to the field, Steve then joined the Peace Corps and traveled to Colombia, South America where he began the first bird inventory for a newly created National Park. His species list was the first for that area; can you imagine learning all the birds of the Colombian highlands before there were hardly any field guides?
The following years, Steve worked a diversity of field positions in Montana and across the U.S. such as being a seasonal interpreter in Yellowstone National Park, wildlife biologist undertaking bird surveys for the BLM in central Montana and doing similar work on refuges for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Texas and Maryland. In the mid-1980s, Steve earned his M.S. from the University of Montana working with Drs. Jack Lyon and Bart O’Gara on elk and cattle interactions in the Gravelly Mountains. While in school, Steve worked as an Ornithology teaching assistant for Dr. Hutto and at Yellow Bay Biological Station and after graduation as a biologist in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area mapping potential grizzly bear habitat. Steve, a Certified Wildlife Biologist, has been an active member of the Montana Chapter of the Wildlife Society since 1979 and has only missed one annual meeting in 38 years since becoming a member.
In 1987, Steve finally got the call that he most wanted from Glacier National Park. After moving to Glacier, Steve worked on an incredible number of projects until retiring in 2009. Highlights of Steve’s work included surveys for Common Loons, Harlequin Ducks, Bald and Golden Eagles, cliff-nesting raptors, nocturnal owls, Northern Hawk Owls, and songbirds. Steve supervised trail-side bird inventories and systematically reported observations of bears, mountain goats, and general wildlife through the park’s Wildlife Observation Report system. Steve also initiated and coordinated research on Canada lynx, wolverine, pikas, bighorn sheep, Harlequin Ducks, and Brewer’s (timberline) Sparrows. And, of course, Steve represented Glacier National Park on numerous interagency wildlife working groups including forest carnivores, Bald Eagles, Common Loons, bats, grizzly bears, and the Montana Bird Conservation Partnership (formerly Partners In Flight). He represented the National Park Service on the national Canada Lynx Biology Team (1998-2008) and shared in the team award from the U.S. Forest Service.
Steve worked closely with Dr. Riley McClelland who became his mentor and told us that, “Riley believed that the protection of the natural resources came first, not worrying about your career path.” Steve clearly carried on that mantra as he participated in and reviewed numerous Glacier Park proposals for general management, road and parking improvements, and other public uses. Putting it in Steve G.’s words, “I steadfastly believe that doing what is right for the wildlife and habitat is our highest priority and is consistent with the purpose of the National Park Service even if it sometimes puts me at odds with other resources or Park staff.”
Steve accomplished much during his 22-year tenure as a Biologist at Glacier, especially for birds, including sustaining surveys for Loons, Black Swifts, and Harlequin Ducks, organizing the Glacier Christmas Bird Count, and leading countless Flathead Audubon field trips. He also started two Breeding Bird Survey routes in the Park, plus continuing one in British Columbia, one on the Blackfeet Reservation, and one in the Missouri River Breaks, that he still completes every year. He is coming up on his 100th Montana BBS survey!
As we mentioned above, Steve now “works” full-time as a volunteer. He continues to dedicate his time and energy to the Montana and local community serving on the editorial board of the Intermountain Journal of Sciences; participating in the Conservation Round Table; leading field trips for Flathead Audubon; helping with numerous Bio-blitzes, the Jewel Basin Hawk Watch, and other surveys; and serving on the boards of non-profit organizations such as the Montana Loon Society and the North Fork Preservation Association. He is past co-chair of Flathead Audubon’s Conservation Committee and one of our past board members. Steve, we congratulate you on your consistent life’s work to protect our rare and incredible natural resources and for being the voice for wildlife. See you in the field!