by Darcy Thomas
Beverly Skinner’s love of the natural world dates to her childhood when her heart was molded by her maternal grandmother – a “wild crafter” from the Missouri Ozarks who Beverly lived with for a while when she was very young. This country grandmother taught her granddaughter about birds and believed everyone should own a pair of binoculars and a bird book. She gave Beverly her first field guide to birds, but it was many years before she owned her own binoculars. Her grandmother taught her other important things about how to get along in the natural world such as using liver on a string to catch crawdads for dinner, the fact that black snakes are not out to hurt you but to watch out for the smaller ones with rattles, and to not be embarrassed to strip naked every night for “tick checks”. That was good advice as Beverly was always covered by them at the end of a day in the woods. It is no wonder that she became a wildlife biologist that led to a career spanning almost thirty years. Beverly, in turn, passed on her love of the natural world to her three children.
Beverly earned two BS degrees, one in Wildlife Management and one in Plant Sciences as well as a MS degree in Wildlife Management from the University of Missouri. Her federal career started with the USDA Forest Service in the Missouri Ozarks working on birds and endangered plants. She then worked as a Land Operations Specialist with the Bureau of Indian Affairs on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Next, she took 10 years off be a full-time mom – the best job ever! The next move was to interior Alaska where Bob and Beverly both worked as wildlife biologists on the Innoko National Wildlife Refuge for 13+ years. When her elderly parents needed her to live close to them Beverly and Bob returned to the lower 48 for jobs at Charles M Russell NWR in Lewistown, MT. Beverly partnered with the City Council and the Lewistown Birding Bunch, to achieve, along with the FWS, Urban Bird City designation for Lewistown through the FWS Urban Bird Treaty Grant program. She also assisted the Refuge with co-hosting the first Audubon Society annual meeting in Central Montana. After 11 years there and with a husband ready to retire after 35 years of federal service, Beverly was offered an opportunity to transfer to Lost Trail NWR in 2013. She and Bob live in one of the historic houses on the refuge sharing their home with their much-loved Tibetan Mastiff whom visitors mistake as a bear! Doing the work of several Beverly holds down the fort at Lost Trail as the only paid employee. Bob has been extremely supportive of Beverly’s work and assists as her ready volunteer. Her personal plans are to remain at Lost Trail NWR until official retirement age, which means at least four more years of the second-best job ever!
“Beverly was absolutely instrumental in getting a 100,000 ac Conservation Area established around Lost trail”, says Gael Bissell, past President of Flathead Audubon Society and FWP colleague of Beverly. “You can’t imagine how much work that took internally and externally to get something like that accomplished within a very understaffed bureaucracy. Nothing would have been done for lost Trail had it not been for Beverly and her husband Bob. They had the vision, and she had the means. She approached the conservation plan using her experience and knowledge and then orchestrated the establishment of this larger conservation area within her agency.”
Bissell also credits Beverly with inventorying all the species within the Lost Trail NWR. “Beverly is just a great all-around person dedicated to wildlife resources and has done a yeoman’s job with less staff and support than usual for a refuge of that size,” Bissell adds. “I am so glad we are giving her this award as it is so well deserved.”
Flathead Audubon has been lucky to have Beverly lead many field trips around Lost Trail NWR where she takes participants behind the locked gates to her special spots and shares information about the plants, animals, restoration work and so much more. She has also recently organized a state-wide birding festival.
When Beverly tries to narrow down her favorite bird, she has trouble doing so. Geographically the Road Runner is her favorite in the Missouri Ozarks, Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Hudsonian Godwits are favored in Alaska, and Sandhill Cranes and Green Towhees are the winners for CMR. At Lost Trail she believes Great Gray Owls are her favorite but then she remembers Lost Trail has four species or hummingbirds. Suddenly it occurs to her she can’t leave out the wonderful Trumpeter Swans and the prehistoric-like Sandhill Cranes. Oh my, there are just too many birds to choose a favorite in her beloved Lost Trail. Time to put the binoculars around her neck, the bird guide in her pack and the bear spray on her hip. Beverly is hitting the trail!