Alumni spotlight: Jerry Cegelske

1974, B.S. Wildlife Management

Advisor(s): Dan Frenzel / Jim Cooper

Current organization/ employer: Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Ketchikan, Alaska

Favorite memory of campus:
Professors working with you to help you succeed. The Itasca summer session and field trips.

Why did you choose CFANS as a college?
From the time I was a 12 year old farm kid I wanted to be a game warden. My other desire (from reading Outdoor Life) was to go to Alaska. Being on a farm or being in an office was not for me, I was adventurous and wanted to do things out of the ordinary. Since I have achieved those two goals, I consider myself a success at life, no matter what else happens.

I wanted to be a game warden and in the 70's you could qualify by coming from the Highway Patrol or with a college degree. I thought a degree would be more beneficial for working in the field and promotion. As a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent/Criminal Investigator, a degree was not necessary but you were in competition with others that had degrees. After being away from school for four years, I was ready to study and chose the wildlife program at CFANS- it was a good choice. Upon returning this year my wife said the campus was like a park. It was easy for a farm kid to adapt to.

Why do you think the University of Minnesota is great?
The professors and instructors who are working to help you succeed. They didn't give you the answers but directed you on where to look and explore to find the answers. They challenged you to do your best allowing you to grow.

In returning this October to the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, I found the professors, instructors, and administrative staff continued to promote that desire to help and direct the undergraduate and graduate students, the continuation of a fine tradition. Sometimes I think the students are not fully aware of the quality of instruction and educational opportunities available to them, or how to make the most of it in furthering their education. I hope they challenge themselves to the best of their ability.

Career information/ professional achievements:
I spent 28 years with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Law Enforcement which allowed me to travel and work in eleven states as well as Canada, Russia, and Ecuador. I was able to meet many dedicated people who were working to protect many different species of wildlife and ecosystems for the future. I was exposed to some of the background information that the tourist or general public was not aware of.

My instructor partner and I learned of the problems rangers faced in the Galapagos Islands. One of the park rangers I instructed in the Galapagos Islands had been shot and was lucky to be alive. Their pay was extremely low about $100.00 per month compared with a tour boat naturalist that got $7.00 per day per guest for their work. They are on the remote islands and at the far from main food sources and medical facilities.

After we began our course of instruction, one or two of the rangers were thinking of leaving as they could not afford to stay as they couldn't pay their motel bill and pay for food. I was able to help out and keep the class intact by going out each day and buying food for their lunches so they could make sandwiches to eat.

In working with wildlife managers in Russia, it was hard for them to understand the number of deer harvested in the US each year- to them it was unbelievable as they were living in the Russian Far East, many at a latitude much like Canada where there is little game. The endangered tigers in Russia would thrive on the deer in the US!

In 2001 after 9/11, I was one of many U.S. FWS Agents to work as a Federal Air Marshal. It was a time when people were scared and suspicious of everyone else on the plane. Nobody cracked a joke as is done when things are normal. We would begin work at 6 a.m. and fly 2700+ miles only to board another plane and fly back another 2700+ miles, and finishing at 11 p.m. if all went well. One day we didn't get back to our base until 2 a.m. but we were at work again at 6 a.m. It was grueling work and the public never knew I was working 1000 miles from home or that my partner and I were on board.

The best compliment I ever received was from a flight attendant who on the second week we were flying with her said, "Thank you for the job you are doing and for being here. Last week when you were aboard the flight attendants were talking about how different it felt to work with you here. You took our fear away. We didn't worry about who was going to kill us anymore." After that I would have flown with her everyday because she told me that I made a difference in her life and the lives of the other people on board. It was a good lesson for me- thank those that make a difference in your life!

What's your passion? What do you love about your work and your field?
Being in Alaska and fishing! Minnesotans should be able to understand that with the number of people fleeing to the northern lakes and woods to recreate on the long weekends. On my drive to work I have seen humpback whales, orcas, sea lions, seals, bears, deer, and it is rare that I haven't seen an eagle.

Working for the Fish and Wildlife Service allowed me to see and experience many of the wild places in the U.S where wildlife concentrates and is heavily hunted. It was rewarding working with other wildlife professionals from various states and countries to protect our worlds wildlife resources and helping to train them.

One thing I regretted was that my children could not see the things that I saw in my daily work with the Fish and Wildlife Service, floating the Yukon River from Canada to the Bering Sea, native villages with whale and walrus hunts, flying over snow covered mountains, and being at Horicon Marsh watching 500,000 Canada geese in flocks coming in to roost for the night, stretching for miles and miles from the west. This year I was able to take my two boys to one of the most beautiful places in Alaska that I found out about during an international investigation of a hunting guide who was taking U.S. hunters into Alaska to shoot game. No, I will not tell you where that is! I owe my daughter and grandkids a trip yet and don't want to spoil it!

Currently in working for the Borough (county) I have worked in cleaning up seven miles of shoreline which was used for dumping derelict boats up to 65' long and 50 years of logging debris, as well as household trash, and debris from the open ocean. Another cleanup involved cleaning up past dump sites and helping people get rid of trash and junk vehicles.

How did your education at the U of M help prepare you for what you are doing today?
Much of the course work in wildlife helped to explain to wildlife users the reasons for the regulations and why managers enact the rules they do. Some of the unexpectedly helpful courses (creative writing) helped in communicating with U.S. Attorneys and U.S. Wildlife Management when you are trying to get funding for an expensive under cover case or preparing a report on a violator for prosecution, it also helped in audits for explaining the work Agents have done.

I would like to thank the people associated with the University (CFANS) as it was my education at the University of Minnesota that prepared me to qualify and be selected for the position of Special Agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Wisconsin and Alaska and thus achieve my dreams.

It allowed me to experience things far beyond what that 12 year old farm kid ever imagined, Russia, Ecuador, Alaska, British Columbia, Yukon, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Federal Air Marshal, travel around the U.S., and working with many many great people along the way. Without the help of CFANS, I would not have been able to achieve those dreams or be as effective in the things I have done in my career.

What advice do you have for current students (and future alumni)?
Get outside your comfort zone and think of things in a different manner, and learn from all your life experiences. Many life events and college courses can help you in the future if you are open to what you are experiencing. My experience cleaning cow barns allowed me to point out a wildlife violation that a well experienced Agent doubted and said never happened. You don't walk in a field after you spread manure!

Another example is when I was in London eight hours I came down with food poisoning. Twenty years later in Yakutia, Russia, I was prepared to deal with it when I was offered food that had previously made me deathly sick. I didn't get sick but a team member did and I was able to give him my prescription medicine to help him get better. You never know when a life experience will help you in the future. Be willing to accept help- a good team will beat a single person every time.