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Friday, May 6, 2016

Wildlife management biologist decides it's time for retirement

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mike Mahn
LAKE VIEW - "To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven, a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted..." Even those who are not students of the Bible will probably find familiar these words from Ecclesiastes 3:2--words seeming completely appropriate these days for Michael "Mike" Mahn of Auburn, wildlife management biologist for the Black Hawk Unit since 1983 who put in his last day for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) at his Lake View office on June 24--after deciding it was time to retire. (His position is slated to be filled eventually; for the present, day-to-day demands are being handled by current staff members.) Those familiar with Mike and his history with the Iowa Conservation Commission/DNR may well wonder what this wildlife zealot (still on the light side of 60) is doing in donning his retirement waders. During an interview held on his final official day of work, Mahn explained that retiring was something he was intending to do within 2 years anyway, so when the State offered an early-retirement incentive, he did some pencil pushing and some soul searching, ultimately reaching the decision that made the better sense because...because as he said, "I'll have more direct outdoor wildlife interaction away from the job." He clarified this statement by explaining that changes to his position over the years have taken away a part of the job that had him dealing directly with wildlife. Describing himself as a genetic anomaly, Mahn said that, unlike his father and brother, he was apparently born with a built-in, avid interest in wildlife. "I was fixated on creatures [found in] my environment. I was always interested; it was a passion I was born with. It was easy to choose a career," he said, adding that he finds it difficult to empathize with others who struggle with career choices, never having wavered with his. "I can't think of ever doing anything else. [If I were to choose again], I'd do exactly the same thing. I have no regrets," he said with feeling. Having grown up northwest of Alta, Mahn was graduated from Alta High School in 1973, then obtained in 1977 his Bachelor of Science Degree in fisheries and wildlife biology from Iowa State University at Ames. His career advanced quickly: Originally hired as a Natural Resource Technician I (a/k/a conservation worker), he began working in the fall of '77 at Saylorville just north of Des Moines. He was promoted to Technician II a year later and moved for the first time to the Black Hawk Unit here, maintaining that position until 1982. His ultimate goal was to be a wildlife management biologist, and that opportunity arose in '82, but it necessitated relocating to the Odessa Wildlife Unit, which put him in charge of five counties along the Mississippi. Mahn recalls that time as a very positive experience which included flat-bottom boat excursions and direct association with prairie pothole regions--natural wetlands and marshlands. Before too much more time had expired, however, Mahn transferred (in '83) to the Missouri River Wildlife Unit, reporting that he purchased a home there in Onawa with the intent of staying. BUT...but when an opportunity (again in '83) to return to Black Hawk knocked, he answered the door with a lateral transfer...having remained here ever since. Here, he first managed five counties, which increased to six just two years ago. "I gave up two and picked up three [two years ago]," he said, naming the current ones as Cherokee, Buena Vista, Calhoun, Pocahontas, Ida and, of course, Sac. When asked to offer his job description in a nutshell, Mahn hesitated, explaining that it is so broad and diverse and that he has worn so many hats, that a "nutshell" is inadequate. He did note, however, "The overall thread that ties everything together is wildlife habitat restoration and management." As a matter of fact, with regard to this, Mahn said with some pride that he believes one of his most memorable achievements was the enlargement of the nearby Kiowa Marsh. "When I first came here, it was 40 acres in size; today, there are about 1,200 acres," he said. Also with regard to satisfactory achievements during his 33-year tenure, he said, "Overall land acquisition and restoration back to what it was historically is most satisfactory. Wildlife will [continue] to benefit from islands of habitat which are key components for a tremendous number of species...People appreciate these natural areas where they can reconnect with nature." Speaking of reconnecting with nature, there is a great deal of that looming in Mahn's retired future--he's planning to increase by leaps and bounds the amount of time given over to hunting and fishing, not to mention ticking off the items on a to-do list that measures longer than the neck of a Canada goose, with tending a garden, fruit trees and perhaps a few chickens ranking right up there with organizational chores that might prove more demanding than, say, putting in an 8-hour day banding wood ducks. With list in hand, it's safe to say that Mahn won't be missing the job that has helped define him for over three decades, but he did note that he will miss his DNR family. "I couldn't have worked with a better bunch of people," he said, adding with some humor that he'll especially miss working with the DNR secretary--who just happens to be his wife Diane. Returning to Black Hawk in '83 proved fortuitous in more ways than one. Mike met Diane (formerly Williams) through their work proximity; and, long story short, they will be celebrating their silver wedding anniversary this coming April 5. Diane has no immediate plans for retirement. The Mahn family also includes daughter Stephanie (& husband Brett) Pyke of Cedar Falls, and daughter Stacey, an upcoming junior at Concordia College in Seward, Neb. "A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to build up and a time to tear down..." and now time for family, colleagues and friends (among whom this reporter is counted) to wish Wildlife Management Biologist Mike Mahn "congratulations and a satisfying, successful retirement.

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