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TPWD Wildlife Director Mike Berger Announces Retirement
Career Spans 4 Decades Involving Game, Nongame, Private Land Conservation
AUSTIN, Texas — Michael E. Berger, Ph.D., today announced plans to retire Oct. 31 as Wildlife Division Director for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Berger capped a 40-year career by serving the last five as TPWD wildlife director, leading a team that greatly increased the acreage of Texas land under wildlife management plans, expanded public hunting and recreational opportunities, and improved science-based conservation.
"All those who love wildlife and wide open spaces should thank Mike Berger for a lifetime of service," said Carter Smith, TPWD executive director. "Mike will tell you that he led teams, that he worked with many partners, that he didn’t do it all himself. But his strong leadership and principled commitment to values helped show the way and get things done. He will be sorely missed, and we wish him the best."
Since Berger took the reins as wildlife director in 2003, the TPWD Wildlife Division has expanded statewide acreage under approved wildlife management plans from 14.5 million acres to more than 22 million acres involving some 6,000 landowner cooperators. The division also expanded public hunting opportunities, implemented new state-of-the-art wildlife surveys in response to an external science review, and developed and began implementing the Texas Wildlife Action Plan to proactively aid hundreds of wildife species before they become rare by studying, restoring and protecting critical habitats.
The division held the Governor’s Symposium on North America’s Hunting Heritage in 2003 to explore ways to keep the hunting tradition alive, an effort Berger strongly championed. In recent years, the division began looking to the future by developing the Texas Wildlife Information and Management Service (TWIMS) computer information system that will enhance service to constituents and make field operations more efficient.
"Over 40 years ago I graduated Texas A&M University as a fresh, new and excited wildlife biologist," Berger wrote in a letter announcing his retirement. "Since then I have been privileged to work in Africa and several locations in the U.S., including Washington, D.C., and with peers in the U.S., Europe, Canada and Mexico. Most recently I have been privileged to lead the Wildlife Division. Now it is time for another phase in my life, involving primarily the spoiling of grandchildren and helping them appreciate and enjoy the outdoors, and traveling with my wife to places we have long wanted to visit. Therefore I will retire from Texas Parks and Wildlife at the end of October, following completion of our hosting of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies annual meeting in Corpus Christi."
In the past five years, the Wildlife Division has conducted more than 200 research projects in coordination with university partners. These multi-faceted investigations have involved game, nongame and rare reptiles, birds, mammals and other species, including quail, turkeys, doves, lesser prairie-chickens, and white-tailed deer. The division has also helped Mexican states as they attained authority over resident species and developed state conservation programs similar to those north of the border.
"I have watched Mike Berger rise through the ranks here and succeed in a series of increasingly important leadership roles," said Scott Boruff, TPWD deputy executive director for operations. "In every case he has been the consummate professional, focused on doing the right thing and doing it well. He is one of those people who knows how to deal effectively with folks from all walks of life, from the field technicians and wildlife biologists out on the landscape, to our commissioners and legislators. Through it all, he’s stayed focused on practical results."
Berger received a B.S. in Wildlife Science from Texas A&M University in 1968. He earned a Masters degree from A&M in 1971, studying "Habits and Population Parameters of Olive Baboons in the Laikipia Basin, Kenya." For his Ph.D. from A&M in 1974, he turned to the human dimensions of wildlife science, completing a dissertation on "Texas Hunters: Characteristics, Opinions and Facility Preferences."
In 1968 he got his first conservation job as manager of the Southwest Primate Research Center in Kenya. In 1972, he became Recreation and Parks Specialist with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, where he developed and delivered educational programs for private landowners statewide to help develop recreational opportunities on private lands.
From 1975-1981, he was the National Wildlife Federation’s Assistant Director of Conservation, directing the nonprofit’s involvement with a broad range of wildlife and land conservation issues.
From 1982-1990, he served in several posts with Ducks Unlimited, first as a regional director, later directing national/international relations and finally leading government relations, a post in which he established DU’s first office in Washington, DC.
Through much of the 1990s he worked in the private sector, in wildlife and environmental roles for the Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Corporation and for the American Forest & Paper Association, with a two-year stint leading the United Conservation Alliance, a national coalition of 40 organizations and businesses.
In 1997, he came to TPWD as coordinator of the Harvest Information Program, a national effort to collect data on hunter game bird harvest. The next year, he became TPWD’s Wildlife Federal Aid Coordinator, managing federal grants worth millions of dollars. In 2002, he took a new role to lead the division’s Private Lands Branch, working to encourage wildlife conservation on private land, an important function since more than 95 percent of the state is privately owned.
Smith said TPWD will soon begin a nationwide search to fill the wildlife director position.
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