- Associated Press - Thursday, May 22, 2014

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - Wayne Hubert was a toddler when his neighbor showed him three fresh-caught fish.

Staring at the olive-colored walleyes, which his neighbor - an avid fisherman - had hauled from the nearby Kankakee River, Hubert could hardly contain a curious urge.

He wanted to poke the fish in the eye.

“That was probably my first fascination with a fish,” said the retired University of Wyoming fisheries biologist. “I don’t know what made it fascinating. That animal came out of the water. How did it live? What was it made out of?”

Hubert’s neighbor let him poke the walleye. That touch inaugurated a lifelong captivation with fisheries.

Hubert retired from the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at UW in 2010.

He was the first assistant unit leader for fisheries, a position he held for 23 years before becoming the Unit’s leader for his tenure’s final five years.

Of the roughly 70 fish species in Wyoming, in one way or another, Hubert’s research dealt with nearly all of them.

“I had one of the neatest jobs in the world,” Hubert said.

Reflecting on his career, he said the most rewarding aspect was mentoring students - that, and carrying on his lifelong passion for learning about what dwells beneath the surface of America’s waters.

Hubert grew up in Kankakee, a small Illinois town named for the river that flowed through it.

He spent his boyhood years “wandering the banks, fishing and turning over rocks.”

By the age of 12, he owned a seine - a fishing net that hangs across the water.

The variety of organisms he caught in the seine astounded him.

“I didn’t really have any idea of what I was looking at, but it was just this fascination with the diversity - all the kinds of things you would pull up with the seine,” he said.

“I wanted to know. I was fascinated by what I was looking at.”

But Hubert also recalls something less savory about the Kankakee.

His riverbank explorations took place in the 1950s - before passage of the 1972 Clean Water Act.

Often Hubert’s nets and hooks brought in trash, and he avoided fishing downstream from sewer pipes, which dumped sludge directly into the river.

“The revulsion associated with that, and recognizing the impacts that people were having on nature stuck out in my mind, and it’s probably what led me to the profession,” he said. “Just thinking, ‘Something’s got to be done about this.’”

Hubert’s early research focused primarily on enhancing sport and commercial fisheries.

However, a gradual philosophical shift starting in the 1970s began to change how agencies viewed natural resource management, he said.

“The public started recognizing, ‘Maybe there’s some damage going on here,’” Hubert said. “‘Things are disappearing.’ A large part of that focus was on grizzlies and bald eagles, but it led to the Endangered Species Act of 1972, and that was really a pivotal change in the philosophy, because it forced federal and state agencies to consider the ramifications of what they did.”

Agencies, for example, would no longer stock new species of fish in a body of water without considering how it could affect native fishes, Hubert said.

In the latter part of his career, research projects with graduate students focused on three species native to the Green River drainage: Bluehead sucker, flannelmouth sucker and roundtail chub.

“The research I did, along with other things, has contributed to a substantial management effort by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and federal agencies to restore these populations,” he said.

The most rewarding part of his career was guiding graduate students, Hubert said.

“These are young people who are highly motivated and enthusiastic, so working with youngsters like that was just a ton of fun,” he said.

The first question he typically asked students was, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Hubert said.

“I’d ask, ‘What’s your dream job? Where do you want to go with your life?’” he said. “With that, we would talk about a lot of different things, planning what courses they were going to take as well as the research.”

But the job entailed more than overseeing thesis projects and budgets. Hubert knew management roles involve interacting with people. For that reason, he emphasized verbal and written communication skills, advising many students to join Toastmasters International, which he participated in as well.

One of his former students, Greg Eaglin, said Hubert was “fastidious” in his advocacy for communication skills.

Now the resource team leader for air quality, fisheries, soil and water sheds in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, Eaglin said he would often get nervous prior to presentations before committees or fellow graduate students.

Wayne would always say, ‘Look, make sure that when you start, take a deep breath and be sure to speak slowly,” he said. “‘If you catch yourself speaking quickly, that’s an indication for you to somehow regain your composure.”

Eaglin said the advice worked. He still uses it to this day.

“He is a great mentor,” Eaglin said. “He helped me in a variety of ways during my time at UW, and for that, I’ll always be grateful.”

Hubert still spends time fishing and keeping track of fisheries research.

When he thinks back on his career, he said the fondest memories are of working with students.

“The mentoring, that’s what I enjoyed the most,” Hubert said. “And being retired now, that’s what I really miss.”


Information from: Laramie Boomerang, https://www.laramieboomerang.com

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