Joe Doucette: Conservation Educator at the Nevada Department of Wildlife

Whenever I (Anthony Crosby) interview somebody for AAT, I try to ask about my guests’ heart and perspective for the Elko area. Some of them were born and raised here, and some landed in our county after traveling the world; therefore, I like to hear their thoughts on the community! One subject many individuals bring up when I ask these questions is their love and appreciation for our beautiful outdoors scene! Our nature and wildlife are things many people adore and look forward to interacting with. Today, we’re going to be joined by somebody with a great appreciation for the outdoors, not only because that’s part of his job, but because he believes it truly is spectacular!

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Today we’re joined by Joe Doucette of the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW). Joe works as a conservation educator, so you may find him out doing public education gatherings and appearances on the feathery, furry, and scaly friends found in our state. Furthermore, Joe knows his stuff when it comes to fishing, hunting, many things that would fall into the outdoor category, pertaining to our area.

Thank you for joining us this week, Joe! Can you please kick off our conversation by sharing some of your story with us; how did you come to love and appreciate the outdoors as much as you do?

“My dad was in the military, so we moved everywhere; I changed schools fourteen times by the time I graduated high school. We spent some time in Okinawa, Japan where I got into scouts, backpacking, and hiking. So, I’ve always loved the outdoors.

“When we moved back to the United States my dad was stationed in the Black Hills of South Dakota, which is an outdoor paradise! That’s where I graduated from high school, and the joke in the family was wherever dad was when you graduated, that’s where you got dumped off! Well, I got dumped in South Dakota because they left right after I graduated. I went to school for mining engineering, while working as a photographer for the college paper and yearbook. However, there was a surplus of guys going to school to become mining engineers because, in the ’70s, the price of gold, oil, and coal went way up. Therefore, nobody was hiring in mining, but I had been working at a TV station after getting a job from my photography work at the school; they offered me a full-time job directing newscasts. I took it and spent the next twenty years bouncing around the country doing that for small markets.

“Eventually, I ended up in Vegas where I was promoted to production manager of Channel 4 in Reno. I joined a crew of three people who were in charge of building the Channel 10 station here in Elko. In the early 2000s, my wife was offered a job by (then) The Elko General Hospital. I told her that if I could find a job in Elko too, then we should move here full-time because I really liked it here. I didn’t want to work at the TV station because market size means everything when it comes to salaries, so I would have had to take a seventy-five percent cut in pay to work there.

“I had been doing a fishing report, outdoors report and campfire cooking segment on the radio, so I had spent a lot of time calling NDOW to get information for those reports. I mentioned to one of the guys there that I was thinking about moving to Elko, and he told me to talk with his boss. They had a position open here that fit with what I did, overseeing wildlife education.

“They had never had that position here before, so I was able to make it what I wanted. I cover all four counties in the Eastern region of Nevada: Elko, Lander, Eureka, and White Pine County. I do a lot of traveling; however, I get paid to do what I love. I get to take many pictures, shoot videos, tell people about our outdoors, and teach kids how to hunt and fish! I got lucky, and here I am today!”

Joe, it would be easy for one to imagine you all stay busy at the Department of Wildlife, dealing with all the critters in our area. Is this a fair assumption?

“We get hundreds to thousands of calls every year, from deer eating flowers to a robin falling out of a nest. One time I went to take a sharp-shinned hawk out of somebody’s basement!”

Joe, some people may be reading this feature who are not the biggest fans of government agencies. What would you say to them when it comes to addressing how you all at NDOW approach your work?  

“At the Department of Wildlife, people are not there like they are at some of the other departments around the state; the people of NDOW are there because we’re doing what we love to do! We have the longest average tenure of any agency in the state. When I first came on board in 2000, the average tenure in office was about twenty-five years!”

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your job, Joe? Mountain lions? Badgers? Snakes?”

“Social Media! People will take misinformation about NDOW or wildlife in general and believe it as correct. A lot of what we call news and information these days is really just opinion. For example, guys and gals are putting in for their big game tags; there is a group that says NDOW mismanages deer. Every year, when I read/hear things like this, I’ll pull out our hard data and quotes going back to the 1800s and show how their information is wrong. Although a small town in Elko is awesome, I’ve found that once we make our minds up about something here, it’s hard to change it! That’s one of my biggest challenges.”

Joe, you mentioned earlier that you grew up moving around a lot due to your father’s work. As someone who has lived all over the world and has settled down in Elko, what’s your perspective on the community?

“Elko is very similar to an air force base. Air force bases need much space to function and are often isolated because of the noise. Everybody on an air force base knows everybody else, not unlike Elko! I love our community orientated nature here. If you go to a town, like Reno, you’ll be able to attend many events, but you’re never seeing the same people twice. Here, you can go to the fair, Basque Festival, or Cowboy Poetry, and you’re seeing the same people all of the time. An Air Force base is almost the same in those regards.”

That was a fascinating response, Joe! Now, let’s take that last question and expand on it. What’s your perspective on the Elko area outdoor culture?

“Back in the early 90s, the Elko County commissioners decided to do a study on the economy of Elko because they were sure they were going to prove that agriculture was doing all of these big things. It may have changed a little bit since then with the increase of the mines, but the number one driver in the economy (after government) was outdoor recreation! We have these incredible resources here! A few years back, South Fork reservoir was ranked as one of the top ten still-water trout fisheries in the United States; it puts out footballs! We have sixteen high mountain lakes to where if you’re willing to hike from anywhere between forty-five minutes four hours, you can a have a lake to yourself! We do have a lot of out of town people visiting; I get calls from them all the time, but we’re not inundated by them. It’s really a perfect storm; it doesn’t get any better!”

Tremendous! Thank you, Joe! Is there anything else you’d like to share with us before we release you back into the wild?

“Whether it’s from a business, an individual or an agency, don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Do you own research, and give somebody the benefit of the doubt before you jump into something. Just because it’s on a thread on Facebook or Instagram, doesn’t mean it’s true.

“Have an open mind, and be mindful of the outdoors. Take nothing but pictures, and leave nothing but footprints! Get out; enjoy it! Nobody else has what we have. Go, Elko!” 

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See you around, Elko!

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