Hudak Retired But Still Kicking Butt For Fish and Wildlife

by Don Jordan


From the Hoosier Times, 1/7/01

When Dave Hudak retired from his job as supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Bloomington Indiana regional headquarters last year, some of the world’s 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 one—Congressman 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 they’re 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.

It’s a bad idea to fight it out with Hudak, especially in the press. That’s because he is a friendly Rottwieler type of guy—big grin, big chest, mussed hair. He greets you with that big smile and sincerity. He’s 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 Dirt."

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 his favorites:

*"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. That’s one engineer I’ll never forget.

*"We established three new national wildlife refuges. It wasn’t 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 couldn’t get at it, and a lot of it wasn’t harmed. That place has more unique and endangered plants and animals than anywhere in the state. Some places in there haven’t 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 wasn’t very active when I was still working because of conflicts of interests. I had to be careful. He doesn’t have to be so careful these days.

"I will never stop doing this stuff, and I volunteer for the Service periodically. Here’s 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 don’t 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…they are Discovery channel biologists, not naturalists. There are no well-rounded biologists. They don’t know the the flora and the fauna. They’re 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 ain’t 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…you can’t 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. That’s what I am doing with the land trust. You can’t isolate yourself. You have to live in the real work and save the dirt," he said.

Hudak’s 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 dirt—buy 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 Hudak’s job—providing a voice for those voiceless critters and carrying a club into battle on their behalf. We all owe him.


2001. 2009. Copyright Jordan Communication

Inverness, Florida