Wildlife biologist Bob Massey’s career spanned decades, touching both people and wildlife

As we chatted, Bob Massey fished with his son in an Iroquois County pond.

Why not? After nearly 34 years with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (Department of Conservation), Massey retired last month as a wildlife biologist in the district (Kankakee, Grundy, Iroquois counties) with numerous other positions.

He was a natural disease specialist when it was vacant, had a leadership role in managing chronic wasting disease (CWD), was on a sawing crew after Hurricane Katrina, and, in addition to many roles in firefighting/prescription burns, traveled throughout the West.

“The largest was in Utah, just under 400,000 acres in sage, grass and chaparral,” Massey said.

Newly retired biologist Bob Massey with a prescription burn.

Newly retired biologist Bob Massey with a prescription burn.

He received his bachelor’s degree in science education in Southern Illinois and then began graduate work at SIU’s Wildlife Research Lab. His career began as a wildlife technician at Dixon Springs State Park in Golconda in October 1988.

“I would have stayed there, but to get promoted I had to move and I had to go back to the home district,” he said.

Massey, who grew up in Frankfort and went to Lincoln-Way Central, moved in the winter of 1990 to become a district biologist, his “ultimate goal.”

He has flown and escorted striped geese in Canada’s Hudson Bay (“all done by helicopter”) for three weeks.

“Bob Massey was the first person I met at Wilmington Game Farm on my first day as an intern with the DNR,” reports wildlife biologist Stefanie Fitzsimons. “He immediately took me under his wing and has been my mentor ever since! In the 11 years I’ve known Bob, there are very few days that I haven’t had him on the phone to ask questions.”

Memory highlights include deer checkpoints.

“You get to see guys who are successful,” he said. “There are people I knew their fathers and now their children are hunting. They are really good.”

Recently retired wildlife biologist Bob Massey conducts a deer survey in northern Illinois from a helicopter.

Recently retired wildlife biologist Bob Massey conducts a deer survey in northern Illinois from a helicopter.

Massey held a key role at CWD, which changed the dynamic.

“The biggest thing that has changed is [the public] now sees the DNR as an adversary, not the people who are there to help,” he said. “That has changed a lot since I started. We are not the adversaries. I think a lot of that is CWD related. People think we’re out to decimate the deer hunt. It was a perfect storm from CWD, other diseases and changes in deer management. Things will get better, we just have to get over this bump.”

State Ranger Tom Gargrave shared an office with wildlife biologist Joe Rogus and Massey at the Des Plaines Game Propagation Center in Wilmington for 32 years.

“We worked many early mornings and very late nights and laughed our way through most of it,” said Gargrave. “Working in field biology for IDNR does not follow normal work rules, descriptions, labor negotiations or regulations. It is shaped by passion.”

For those considering a similar path, Massey advised, “I need to get a master’s degree because that’s all they’ll be looking at. Be willing to put in the time and be willing to relocate in search of a job. Don’t expect an 8-4 job, because you work all hours.”

Recently retired wildlife biologist Bob Massey (left) works with an owl chick while his Lab observes Lambeau.

Recently retired wildlife biologist Bob Massey (left) works with an owl chick while his Lab observes Lambeau.

When I asked about wildlife sightings, Massey admitted, “It’s a chore sometimes. for the amount of [cougar] sightings we get, you’d think we’re in the Black Hills of South Dakota. If your mind thinks you’ve seen one, that’s what you saw.”

Take the cougar who saw the neighbor’s dog or ‘The woman in Chicago who reported a cougar sitting on the roof and eating a raccoon. She had had a few drinks.”

He landed a 212-pound largemouth bass, caught on a small Rapala.

“We’re multitasking, another thing I learned from the state,” he said.

It was time.

Newly retired wildlife biologist Bob Massey with a caiman and an American alligator.

Newly retired wildlife biologist Bob Massey with a caiman and an American alligator.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.