In the first Flyway story series in 2021, the Secretariat is honored to feature Mr. Pete Probasco. Until January 2021, Pete was the Chair of EAAFP and Representative of U.S.A. Pete has over 40 years of experiences of management on wetland-related work, especially in fisheries. In the past seven years, he had served the EAAFP as Chair of Finance Committee and had taken the role of leadership as Vice-Chair of EAAFP in 2015 and EAAFP Chair in 2018.
EAAFP: Hi Pete, it is sad to hear you step down as the Chair of EAAFP. Can you tell us your story with EAAFP, how did you start the relationship with EAAFP?
Well, it all started when my friend and Supervisor, USFWS Regional Director Geoff Haskett asked me to take over the position as the Assistant Regional Director (ARD) for Alaska’s Migratory Bird Program and State’s Program. Prior to this position, I served as the Assistant Regional Director for the Office of Subsistence Management. The Federal Subsistence Management Program is a very important program in Alaska and is committed to providing the most up-to-date information on the subsistence way of life for all rural Alaskans. The main focus is to maintain and provide the opportunity for a subsistence way of life by rural Alaskans on Federal public lands and waters while maintaining healthy populations of fish and wildlife.
This dependence on wild resources is cultural, social and economic. Alaska's indigenous inhabitants have relied upon the traditional harvest of wild foods for thousands of years and have passed this way of life, its culture, and values down through generations. Subsistence has also become important to many non-Native Alaskans, particularly in rural Alaska. I suppose this is why it was such an easier transition for me to take the reins of Alaska’s Migratory Bird Program.
One of my first tasks as the new ARD for the Migratory Program was to organize and host the Seventh Meeting (MOP 7) of the Partnership which was held in Anchorage and Seward, Alaska in June 2013. I have to admit, that I really was not sure what this Partnership was all about but during MOP 7, I quickly realized that I was amongst some very dedicated people who shared the same goals and objectives to protect migratory waterbirds, their habitats and the livelihoods of people dependent upon them. When you take this desire and combine it with the fact that this effort focuses on the part of the World from the most northern parts of the USA and Russia through East and Southeast Asia to Australia and New Zealand it leaves you in “Awe” and a strong desire to be part of this Partnership. After MOP 7, I was all in and ready to make this one of the United States priority Migratory Bird Programs when it came to International work.
EAAFP: What brought you to a career about nature? Please tell us more about your experiences in nature conservation?
It really started when I was a little boy. My parents and especially my father had a very strong love of the outdoors and when time allowed, we were always out in the woods or on some remote water body, fishing, hunting, camping and exploring. Growing up in Alaska and living in very rural areas I’m sure played a big role in my strong desire to be immersed with nature. By the time I reached college, I knew I wanted to be involved, one way or another pursuing a career where my efforts would be focused on fish and wildlife. My career in fish and wildlife management and research started in 1975 when I was hired as a fisheries technician working for the State of Alaska, Department of Fish and Game. For the next 25 years my career with the State of Alaska presented him with many challenging and rewarding positions to include overseeing the management and research of some of North America’s largest commercial fisheries along the Aleutian Chain, Alaska Peninsula, Kodiak Island, Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. In July of 2000, I retired as the Westward Region Regional Supervisor in Kodiak, Alaska. Shortly after my retirement from the State of Alaska, I joined the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska (USFWS) where I held a number of positions including serving as the Assistant Regional Director overseeing the implementation of the Federal Subsistence Management Program. I completed my career with the USFWS as the Assistant Regional Director of State and Migratory Bird Programs assuming direct responsibility for overseeing the research and management of fish and wildlife resources for Migratory Bird Management, Permit Administration, and the North American Waterfowl Management Plan.
EAAFP: You have actively engaged in and lead EAAFP for seven years, what changes did you see in EAAFP?
Through the leadership of our Chief Executives Spike Millington, the late Dr. Lew Young and now Doug Watkins, the EAAFP has seen many positive changes to its organization and future development. I was well supported with a group of very experienced and dedicated individuals who made up the Management Committee. Some of the more notable changes include the development of the Finance and Technical Committees, the expansion of our Task Forces, the continued growth of the Flyway Network Sites, the establishment of the Science Unit with the Beijing Forestry Unit, the hard work resulting in the development of the 10-Year Strategic Plan, the CEPA action plan, renewed focus on the conservation of the inter-tidal habitats of the Yellow sea and the welcoming of many new Partners, to include the Wildlife Conservation Society, Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna, Convention on Biological Diversity, Myanmar, ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, Vietnam, Hanns Seidel Foundation, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Paulson Institute, Hong Kong Bird Watching Society and the Mangrove Foundation.
EAAFP: In your view, what would you hope to see the development of EAAFP?
The key to the EAAFP successes can be boiled down to one topic, the conservation of key habitats important to migratory waterbirds and its people. Without good habitat the plant, wildlife and the human inhabitants who rely on these special places will always remain in jeopardy. To be successful in this endeavor, the EAAFP must put more emphasis on the Flyway Site Network system to enhance and improve the monitoring and management of these sites. Having these sites recognize is important but more important is the work that needs to be in place to ensure that these habitats are safeguarded. To do this and as reported during MOP10, the EAAFP should support and promote capacity building workshops for site managers and to collate and disseminate good practices for the management of these sites.
EAAFP: Can you share a few most memorable things related to EAAFP?
There are many fond memories I hold as related to my involvement in the EAAFP. The support and direction I received from the Secretariate is second to none. The staff of the Secretariate are very good at what they do and are very dedicated to the Partnership and its goals and objectives. The friendships I have made over the years I will always cherish. The lost of our dear friends Jim Harris and Dr. Lew Young will always be with me but it’s through people like these and their leadership and contributions which have made it possible for the Partnership to grow and make significant contributions to the conservation of migratory birds and their habitats. Spending meaningful time with my international friends and experiencing their country and culture, trying to develop a better understanding of their conservation challenges is so important to the continued success of the EAAFP.
EAAFP: As an immediate past Chair, what advice would you like to give to Partners, the Secretariat and collaborators of EAAFP?
Conservation of wild species and their habitats is probably the most important aspect of your job if you are involved and committed to this endeavor. To recognize that as an individual you cannot do it alone and as a country, animals and especially migratory waterbirds know no borders. We must all work together. To help reach this goal, the EAAFP is the type of organization needed to help make this possible. Stay involved, stay focused and recognize the fact you do make a difference.