Wildcats@Work with Doug Duncan

By Aviva Doery,
Doug Duncan
Doug Duncan is a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We caught up with him to hear more about how he turned his passion for nature into a career.

Tell us about your career path from the UA to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

I knew what I wanted to do when I was 13. I chose my high school classes based on that and so I went into wildlife studies at the UA in the late '70s and graduated in the early '80s. That was a time when there weren't a lot of jobs. I worked for a professor after I graduated and was able to get into a master’s program. I was more marketable with the master's degree and with that experience I was able to parlay that into a federal job after graduate school.

I think one of the other key things in my collegiate career was being involved in many things, especially in the student professional groups. The Fish and Wildlife professors encouraged students to belong to the student clubs. I belonged to the student chapter of the Wildlife Society for my entire stay, the Natural Resources Club, and the Field Hockey Club. We were also encouraged to attend the annual Arizona/New Mexico Fisheries and Wildlife Conference. Being involved makes a big difference because it gives you a greater depth of experience and allows you to make additional connections. I belong to multiple professional groups, have served in membership capacities within them, and attend as many professional meetings as I can. Networking is the only way to succeed and I believe is one of the marks of a professional.

Now I am a fish and wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. I work almost entirely on endangered species, though sometimes we work with unlisted species that are of conservation concern. A large portion of our work is regulatory or bureaucratic in nature, implementing the Endangered Species Act. However, we also facilitate, promote, and do actions on-the-ground that help conserve and recover listed species.


What’s your day-to-day?

Most of the time, unfortunately, I sit in front of the computer and that’s really what happens to a lot of people in this field the longer they are in it. Generally, most of the people who do field work are entry-level, temporary or internships. I do get to go out periodically, maybe five to 10 days a year, to do actual field work but it doesn’t happen very often. Most of what we do is regulatory. One of the more exciting parts of my job is actually getting to work on recovering threatened and endangered species which is our purview here.

What is one of the more interesting species that you have gotten to work with?

I’m basically responsible for two fish species native to Arizona. One is the Gila Topminnow which are similar to guppies. It is the only live bearing fish we have naturally in Arizona and is showing positive recent developments. They’ve shown up in the Santa Cruz River in the last three years. Last year they showed up in Tucson, which was something hugely unexpected. They live upstream and it’s a 50-mile reach by stream but apparently they made it to the Santa Cruz.


What is your favorite part of your job?

The main thing is doing fieldwork; that’s always exciting. The thing that’s most rewarding to me is working with partners. More and more we do things with partnerships. We can’t recover species on our own and we have to engage multiple partners from all sides of the spectrum. It can definitely be challenging, especially when you bring in new partners, which takes a lot of communication and trust-building. But at the end of the day, the biggest accomplishments that I look back on are ones that have been done in partnerships. For example, we recently started partnering with Pima County and Arizona Game and Fish Department to curb the use of mosquito fish for mosquito control. The problem is, mosquito fish aren’t native and are causing problems with our native species. So we worked to use the native Gila Topminnow in vector control as mosquito treatment instead of mosquito fish.


You mentioned that you knew what you wanted to do at age 13. Where did that passion come from?

I think there were a couple things. The first was that my parents had a cabin by Flagstaff and that’s usually where we did our summer vacations. We would always drive out through the forest later in the day and see what animals we could find. I also did hunting and fishing before then so I had this passion for being outdoors. The second component that helped kick start that interest was getting National Geographic magazine. I would read a lot of the articles about the outdoors and got very interested in the maps that were included and what they represented.