When Great Salt Lake flooded and reached its highest level on record in the mid-1980s, inundating Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, it took a small army of volunteers to restore it so the public could enjoy it once again.
Leading that army was Bob Ebeling, who has dedicated decades and thousands of hours to maintaining the refuge as one of the best places in Utah for nature and bird lovers.
Three decades of leadership and service have earned Ebeling the coveted National Wildlife Refuge System Volunteer of the Year Award from the National Wildlife Refuge Association and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
“Volunteers are the lifeblood of the Refuge System,” said David Houghton, President of the National Wildlife Refuge Association. “Volunteers like Bob make all the difference in delivering conservation success on the ground and we salute Bob’s years of dedication to public service and conservation.”
Ebeling has dedicated more than 10,000 volunteer hours at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, including professional engineering skills, visitor services in the Education Center, and countless other invaluable efforts over the past 23 years. Most notably, Ebeling played a key role in the restoration of Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge after it was left in ruins by the flood of Great Salt Lake in the mid-1980s.
In just six months, Ebeling organized and led a group of 50 volunteers to complete the momentous task of restoring water impoundments while simultaneously repairing the 12-mile public auto tour route to allow the refuge to be opened to the public. The total cost of both projects was paid for in full by volunteer donations, including man hours and financial support.
“The refuge would not be what it is today without Bob’s tireless dedication to the ecological health and public perception of this important piece of ground,” Houghton said. “His steadfast vision not only rallied an entire community of volunteers, but turned the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge into one of the premier units in the system.”
Before beginning work at the refuge, Ebeling worked as a project manager and rocket scientist to advance the United States space program. Today, at age 84, Ebeling serves his shift at the Education Center as he is able. Whether using his engineering expertise to restore habitat or his communication skills to relate with refuge visitors of all ages, Ebeling’s long history of volunteer work epitomizes the “good stewardship of nature” he strives to promote and pass on to others, Houghton said.
Ebeling will be recognized for his selection as Volunteer of the Year during the 78th Annual North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference on March 28 in Arlington, Va.