We celebrated the life and work of conservation workhorse and former Midwest Regional Director Jim Gritman this weekend, out among the lands and waters that he fought to
Current Regional Director Tom Melius joined Fergus Falls Wetland Management District Project Leader Larry Martin and staff as we unveiled the Jim Gritman Waterfowl Production Area near Wendell, Minnesota. As the sun burned off morning clouds and the dew glistened, we had the prefect backdrop of prairie and blue sky to mark the occasion.
“Thinking outside of the box and coloring outside of the lines is what fueled Jim’s strategy for bringing back habitat for our trust resources here in the Midwest,” said Melius.
Gritman said it best, “If we could start restoring wetlands rather than draining them, then I could say we were making headway." Making headway with what would become the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program was a highlight of Jim Gritman's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service career.
Born in Geneseo, Illinois, in 1932, Gritman grew up loving to hunt and fish with his dad and uncles – and later with his grandson. He graduated from the University of Missouri with a forestry degree after serving with the Marine Corps during the Korean War.
Gritman first worked for the Service at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin in 1964. There he developed forest management plans and mapped the islands of Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. At that point, he thought that if he could be the manager at Upper Mississippi Refuge, it would be the best job he could ever have.
But the Service had other plans for Gritman. He moved to Washington, D.C., to run the Refuge System's forestry program and then returned to the Midwest as area manager in Bismarck, North Dakota – a position he said he particularly liked because he was "closer to the resources, and closer to the problems." One of the recurring problems of his career was persuading his three daughters to move, often during critical adolescent years. The move to Bismarck came with the promise of horses.
In Bismarck, Gritman wrote the first plans to restore drained wetlands, but he would have several other positions in regional offices and headquarters before he could begin implementing those plans on a larger scale as Midwest Region director, a position he held from 1987 until his 1992 retirement.
Gritman began working with farmers who had signed up for the Agriculture Department's Conservation Reserve Program, which provided a yearly rental payment for planting grass on grain fields to reduce erosion. His team initiated the concept of putting water back on drained wetlands instead of just planting grass to benefit waterfowl. "It was very difficult to get it going. But once it started, it went like gangbusters."
Indeed, Partners for Fish and Wildlife has now worked with more than 44,000 private landowners and 3,000 partner organizations to restore more than a million acres of wetlands.
Learn more about how we are moving Jim Gritman’s mission forward every day: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/partners/