Dave Hudak retired from his job as supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services
Bloomington Indiana regional headquarters last year, some of the worlds biggest
polluters up in Lake County probably smiled, but their shrouded glee is misplaced. The
fired up fed is still at work, doing what he does best.
"Most of my big controversies were on Lake Michigan and the Ohio
River," said Hudak. 60, whose retirement ended 32 years of battling the forces of
evil. "But I think my most memorable victory was helping to stop the Cross-Wabash
Barge Canal. You remember that oneCongressman John Myers (R-Covington, now dead)
wanted to connect the Ohio River and Lake Michigan via the Wabash River. It was a huge
battle, and the conservation groups helped us stop that---every organization in the state.
Permitting was done by the corps of engineers, and we (USFW) did voluminous pages on the
effects on fish and wildlife."
"Then there was the Toxic Island up in Lake County. The corps was going to
dredge the toxic sediment in the harbor up there and load it into Lake Michigan. That was
a huge, huge battle that was fought out in the media. I really got ripped by the corps
commander up there (Chicago) for going to the press. He had actually gone to the press
first. There were some social justice issues involved, a lot of poor neighborhoods where
they were going to put the stuff. I think theyre still trying to figure out where to
put it," explained Hudak from his Bloomington home.
Through much of is career, especially in Indiana, the USFWS and the U.S. Corps
of Engineers faced off on many controversial issues. Most of them pitted Hudak against the
powerful corps. The engineers usually came away losers.
Its a bad idea to fight it out with Hudak, especially in the press.
Thats because he is a friendly Rottwieler type of guybig grin, big chest,
mussed hair. He greets you with that big smile and sincerity. Hes one of those guys
you just like to most people. But, as Congressman Myers found, Dave Hudak buried his foes
with overwhelming mountains of USFWS scientific data and an ability to tell his side of
the story through the media.
It was Hudak who came up with: "Indiana is the Mississippi of the
Midwest." The reference put Indiana in the same league with pollution-friendly
Mississippi. In this interview, Hudak repeated his new favorite: "Save The
Hudak tracks his love of nature back to an Ohio housing development for
veterans. His father moved the family there from McKees Rock, Pa., where Dave was born.
The development was ringed by a park system where he learned to appreciate the outdoors
and the animals he saw there. Later, he graduated from Ohio State University in 1964 with
a B.S. in Wildlife Management.
"While I was there, the only people hiring were the feds and the state.
So, I got on the civil service register when I was a junior," he continued. Hired by
the USFWS within 9 months, the young biologist spent 12 years in Lebanon, Ohio, with the
river basins study group. When the USFWS opened its Indiana office in 1978, he volunteered
to move here.
He led the Indiana headquarters from the time he transferred until his
retirement, and there were so many bad ideas he had to thwart that the list reads like a
list of top environmental news stories from the last two decades. Here are some more of
*"In 1980, the Indiana DNR wanted to snag and clear 30 miles of the
Kankakee River. Thousands of trees were leaning off the bank. It was habitat for all kinds
of animals. We worked with the Illinois Attorney General on that one. There was this one
U.S. Corps of Engineers colonel in Chicago at the time who denied the permit. He quit
within months after that. He did the right thing. Christos Dovas was his name. Thats
one engineer Ill never forget.
*"We established three new national wildlife refuges. It wasnt our
job, but I just got tired of save the same places five or six times and then having to
come back and do it again. The Kankakee is still ongoing in land acquisition. The Patoka
is one of the biggest wooded wetland complexes left in the state, and we finally got the
55,000 acre Jefferson Proving Grounds.
"We had a lot of problems there with unexploded ordinance, but is one of
the best preserved areas in the state. It was purchased in 1940 and fenced. Humans
couldnt get at it, and a lot of it wasnt harmed. That place has more unique
and endangered plants and animals than anywhere in the state. Some places in there
havent been set upon by a human foot in 60 years," said Hudak.
If it sounds as if Dave Hudak had fun, he did. But after 32 years, he added:
"I guess part of the reason [I retired] was that I had seen everything there was to
se so far as problems goes. The projects were always the same. I guess I got a little
bored. It was a a great one though
a lot of good fights."
"I wanted to travel, do some genealogy and stay involved in saving the
dirt, but on my own terms. I was one of the original founders of the Sycamore Land Trust,
but I wasnt very active when I was still working because of conflicts of interests.
I had to be careful. He doesnt have to be so careful these days.
"I will never stop doing this stuff, and I volunteer for the Service
periodically. Heres one. The Potowatami Indians called me and said they had heard
about the refuge on the Kankakee. They said that was their homeland, the million acre
marsh, and they wanted to buy it back and restore it. We met with them and established a
treaty together. We met on the site they were trying to buy. They promised us they were
going to restore and bring back their national heritage. I am still working with them. It
is right on the Kankakee in St. Jo County. This way we have the Indians to the east, the
refuge in the middle and the North American Waterfowl Management Plan on the Lake County
end," he continued.
The North American Waterfowl Management Plan had a goal of to put 100 million
waterfowl "in the air" by the fall flight of 2000. It happened, says Hudak, but
mainly because of wet weather.
"I dont miss it [his old job] at all, because I am stil so
involved," he said.
He also has 36 major conservation awards on his scalp pole to remind him of
those days, and 14 different states issued special recognition upon his retirement. Dave
Hudak is a big time "dirt saver" as he might put. He is a lttle worried about
the future of his former employer, however.
"The biologists that are coming into the Service now
Discovery channel biologists, not naturalists. There are no well-rounded biologists. They
dont know the the flora and the fauna. Theyre all city slickers, and hunting
is anathema to them. Well, it cannot become the U.S. Fish and Endangered Species Service.
We have to be more than that. We have lost our well-rounded biologists and now have
designer biologists," he complained.
No matter, Hudak aint hangin up his guns, even though they are
blazing now for the Sycamore Land Trust, a group founded in Bloomington with an aim to
help more people "save the dirt."
"You just gotta keep fighting, trying and striving
give up. One of the big mistakes our current director (Jamie Rappaport Clark, Director of
the USFWS) made was not going in there, as an example, in her first week and called every
major conservation organization in the country and sought coordination of efforts. And
that can be screwed down to the state and local communities. Thats what I am doing
with the land trust. You cant isolate yourself. You have to live in the real work
and save the dirt," he said.
Hudaks advice to those who want to do something with that
"dirt:" "Buy those Heritage Trust and environmental license plates. We have
just pulled in $200,000 for Monroe County land acquisition this year. Buying them is the
best way to save the dirtbuy land. It is the best program going."
Dave and his wife Mary Kathryn celebrated their 36th wedding
anniversary on Dec. 18.
"We have been in Bloomington 22 years, and barring any major changes in
our lives, intend to stay here," he concluded.
You know, when I close my eyes real tight and listen real hard, I can hear the
thanks of millions of fishes, birds and mammals who have no voice. They would be cheering
their thanks if they had voices. Of course, that has always been Dave Hudaks
jobproviding a voice for those voiceless critters and carrying a club into battle on
their behalf. We all owe him.