In his first job as a certified wildlife biologist, Dave Newhouse ’70 would take Iowa schoolkids out to the woods, sit them on logs and tell them, “Be real quiet and listen closely, because something important is happening.”
Newhouse has spent his career calling attention to important things in the natural world that few of us notice and implementing programs to protect them from the effects of our inatttention or abuse. Except for several years as a vice president for the National Audubon Society and a few more running a Wild Birds Unlimited store, he’s worked on National Forests in northern Wisconsin, the Intermountain West and now Michigan’s Lower Peninsula in the employ of the U.S. Forest Service.
As a forest wildlife biologist and the endangered species program manager for the Huron-Manistee National Forest, Newhouse is part of a multidisciplinary team that manages ecosystems throughout the nearly 1 million acres of that forest. He has special responsibility for its four endangered species: Kirtland’s warbler, Karner blue butterfly, Indiana bat and piping plover, as well as a threatened species, Pitcher’s thistle. Each one needs different protective measures.
“Kirtland’s warbler nests under jack pine trees that are between 4 and 15 years old,” Newhouse explained. “So we conduct timber cuts, prescribed burns and plantings of jack pine to ensure their nesting habitat. In 2008 we counted 1,789 nesting pairs—a new record. Karner blue butterfly is strongly dependent on wild lupine for nectar and as a host for its eggs and larvae, so we work constantly to make sure lupine isn’t overshadowed by shrubs in its savanna habitat. We survey our bat populations to detect if and when the white-nose syndrome that’s devastated bats in the East affects Indiana bats here. And with the piping plover, it’s constant public education, telling people why unleashed dogs and ATVs on the beach threaten these rare birds.”
If this conveys the impression that Newhouse spends his workweek outdoors, hear what he tells high school and college students: “I tell them, ‘If you want a career that puts you out in the field, become a farmer.’ On any given project, a Forest Service biologist spends maybe 10 percent of his time in the field.”
The other 90 percent, Newhouse said, is spent “administering programs, applying and accounting for funding, monitoring project results and reporting outcomes.” While Congress appropriates core funding, Newhouse looks for monies from other governmental agencies and private organizations and manages partnerships with them. “For example,” he said, “the Arbor Day Foundation bought a million jack pines last year for our warbler habitat.”
Newhouse attends many meetings, too: analyzing the environmental effects of timber cuts and road construction, for example, and consulting with advisory groups on the state’s deer and bear populations. “My goal is to raise awareness about long-term conservation issues, where others have shorter-term goals,” he said.
Bringing that long-term, big-picture view is, for Dave Newhouse, what it means to live Micah 6:8: “‘To walk humbly with your God’ is to walk in the woods as a friend of nature, recognizing that you’re just one of the species on earth, and that you are duty-bound, while meeting your own needs, to meet the needs of other creatures living here with you.”