After more than a decade overseeing eight national wildlife refuges in Washington and Oregon and the Hanford Reach National Monument, Greg Hughes is leaving the Mid-Columbia today.
Hughes has been transferred to Albuquerque, N.M., where he will be working out of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's regional office helping to develop a new inventory and monitoring program for Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
In more than 20 years with the service, Hughes has worked in Colorado, Louisiana, the Midwest, the Great Lakes region and even the Virgin Islands before coming west.
"I was at the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge in Othello for a while, then transferred to the Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Corvallis, Ore., before coming to Burbank in May 2000," he said.
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Here, Hughes served as project leader for the Mid-Columbia River National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which is headquartered at the McNary National Wildlife Refuge in Burbank.
"That's the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for you, they love their long names and titles," he joked.
But there was no humor in his voice when Hughes recalled what happened in June 2000 just one month after starting his new job. That's when the 24 Command fire ignited and raged across the Hanford site.
Before it was extinguished weeks later, the fire had destroyed 11 homes in Benton City, scorched 165,000 acres and threatened waste facilities in central Hanford.
"I'd helped fight wildfires in other areas," he said. "But nothing like that."
It took the efforts of more than 300 people from fire departments and government and tribal agencies drawn from throughout the Northwest to put out the fire, Hughes said.
But the aftermath of the fire was that it brought people together to form relationships between agencies, fire departments and people who built a good fire program, Hughes said.
"It's never been the same since then, which is a good thing," he said.
Hughes said he's looking forward to new challenges and opportunities in New Mexico but said leaving is bittersweet.
"I've never worked with more community support in any position. People here are engaged and give of their time freely. There's wonderful opportunities here planning for the future of the refuges," he said.
"It will be exciting working with new people and in new places, seeing a new area. Yet I'm leaving a dedicated and motivated crew behind and I'll miss my friends in the community," Hughes said. "I'm also dreading the packing and all stress that comes with moving."
He starts his new job March 14.