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Home arrow Features arrow Outdoors arrow New ODFW district biologist on the job

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New ODFW district biologist on the job

Nick Myatt ().
Nick Myatt ().

By JAYSON JACOBY

Nick Myatt just got a job in a place he loves and got rid of a gasoline bill he didn't much care for.

Myatt started work Feb. 5 as the district wildlife biologist at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Baker City office.

What this means, besides new business cards, is that Myatt can see the Elkhorn Mountains, the very vista he used to drive 350 miles to take in, by simply stepping outside his office at 2995 Hughes Lane.

Myatt's previous job was at ODFW headquarters in Salem, slightly beyond visual range of the Elkhorns.

"It's nice having the mountains so close," Myatt, 26, said on Tuesday. "I'd been wanting to move to Eastern Oregon, and a big part of that was having the mountains in my backyard."

Myatt relishes the region's recreational riches, as well.

He enjoys bowhunting for elk in the Elkhorns, for instance, and chasing chukar and other upland birds with his two English springer spaniels, Smokey and Emma.

"Almost every weekend my wife and I were heading to Eastern Oregon to hunt or fish," he said. "We like the climate and the country."

Myatt said his wife, Jill, also appreciates Baker City's proximity to Boise, where some of her relatives live.

The Baker City job was equally attractive in a professional sense, said Myatt, whose territory encompasses Baker County's four wildlife management units: Sumpter, Pine Creek, Lookout Mountain and Keating.

"The thing that appeals to me so much about Baker County is the diversity of wildlife here," Myatt said. "You have everything from sage grouse to pronghorn to bighorn sheep and mountain goats."

Baker County is unique among Oregon's 36 counties in harboring herds of mountain goats and both of the state's subspecies of bighorn sheep, Rocky Mountain and California.

This is Myatt's second job with ODFW.

He was hired in 2004 — the year he earned a master's degree in biology at the University of Arkansas — to direct ODFW's Access and Habitat Program.

The Oregon Legislature created that program in 1993. The program is designed to improve wildlife habitat on private land by awarding grants to landowners to do a variety of tasks, such as killing noxious weeds that can crowd out wildlife forage. In exchange, most landowners agree to allow hunters on their properties, provided they first ask permission.

Grant money comes from a $2 surcharge on hunting licenses, as well as from an annual auction and raffle of 10 deer and 10 elk hunting tags.

Myatt said he enjoyed the Access and Habitat Program job.

But he was waiting — and not with a surplus of patience, considering all those 700-mile round trips from Salem — for the Baker City job to open.

Myatt's wait lasted more than two years, a brief delay by the standards of the job.

During the past 41 years — a period spanning the administrations of eight U.S. presidents — just two men had the title of Baker District biologist.

Myatt is the third.

He replaces George Keister, who retired last year after 11 years in charge of the Baker City office.

Keister, in turn, took over for Dick Humphreys, who retired in 1995 after a 29-year stint.

Myatt said such longevity reassures him.

"That says a lot of about working for our agency," he said.

Myatt certainly has traveled often enough that he appreciates stability.

He grew up in Minnesota and earned a bachelor's degree in natural resources management, with an emphasis on wildlife ecology, from Northland College, a private school in Ashland, Wisc.

Myatt said he picked Northland in part because of its setting — much like Baker City, the college is close to thousands of acres of publicly owned forests.

After graduating from Northland in December 2001, Myatt worked as a research assistance or intern in places as distant, and different, as Alaska and Florida.

His task was similar in both states, however — he studied waterfowl.

While studying for his master's degree in Arkansas, Myatt studied the migration patterns of the American woodcock, a game bird.

Myatt was working for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, conducting a census of white pelicans and cormorants, when an ODFW official phoned him in late spring 2004.

Myatt had almost forgotten that he had applied for the director's job in ODFW's Access and Habitat Program.

"Two weeks later I'm driving out to Oregon," he said.

Myatt figures he'll need a bit more than two weeks to acclimatize to Baker County.

"My big thing now is to get to know as many landowners and agency people as I can," he said during a Tuesday interview which he wedged between a meeting with Fred Warner Jr., chairman of the county's board of commissioners, and a chat with local officials from the Forest Service and BLM.

Myatt said Keister is working part-time to help smooth the transition.

Myatt said he already knows, in a general sense, what the job entails.

"There's certain things you have to do every year," he said — counting game animals, for instance, and recommending to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission how many hunting tags it ought to sell.

Which is not to imply that a wildlife biologist is ever likely to suffer from boredom.

Myatt said he understands that once his name becomes as well-known as Keister's and Humphreys' were, the phone in his home could ring at any time, pulling him out of a sound sleep to deal with such dicey dilemmas as a skunk stuck under someone's deck.

Or a badger battling someone's beagle.

Wildlife, to put it another way, doesn't punch a time clock.

"This job is kind of unique in that it doesn't become monotonous," Myatt said. "When you come to work in the morning you never know what's going to walk through the door."

So long as it's not a badger.

Or a skunk.

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