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Nomadic spirit and work – Part 3

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

I roamed the country surveying bird nesting populations, animal life cycles, and pursued butterflies. The practice continues.

While teaching in Manistique in the 1980s, Steve Mueller discovered a breeding colony of butterflies previously unknown in Michigan called the Northern Blue. Photo by Ranger Steve Mueller.

After college graduation, I became nomadic. My college advisor assisted me in acquiring a position as an urban forester to revegetate Midland, Michigan, where pollution had killed most trees. The 1970s environmental laws were created to improve human health and reduce deaths from air and water pollution. The Endangered Species and Wilderness Acts were established to protect species and wilderness areas that are natural “libraries” essential for maintaining biodiversity for economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

Post college years included teaching in Kentucky, where I explored the Red River Gorge on weekends. With parents, I took our high school ecology club on a weekend campout. While teaching in Wisconsin, I explored its natural areas. Summers in those years were at Bryce Canyon National Park. I became director of environmental education at the nature school where I supervised three college student teachers annually. Parents would explore the park by themselves and their kids explored with our environmental educators. 

During college years, I led weekend adventures like a winter overnight canoe camping trip on the South Branch of the Au Sable River. At Bryce Canyon I led backpack trips where participants learned backcountry skills. 

Butterflies remained a passion and my graduate degree became focused on butterflies of the Greater Bryce Canyon ecosystem that included the Dixie National Forest. The region was remote and little-studied. Twenty-five species were known from the area and by conclusion of my research, I had found 63 species. That has now increased to 83. My discovery data were published in the book “Butterflies of the Rocky Mountain Region.”

Enjoyable nomadic travels expanded my naturalist knowledge and energized my spirit. The teaching degree and scientific graduate research led to Bemidji State University hiring me part-time to teach introductory biology. That essential experience provided background to be hired at Jordan College in Cedar Springs. After three years, I left Jordan to pursue a doctorate at the University of Florida, while working fulltime as chief naturalist for the City of Gainesville in Florida at Morningside Nature Center.

Karen and I had a newborn and a 20-month-old. I realized working at the nature center 40 plus hours weekly and many additional hours on a PhD would prevent me knowing my daughters until they were about 7 to 10 years old. I decided not to earn the advanced degree and moved to Manistique, Michigan to teach high school. During summers, I conducted field research and discovered a breeding colony of butterflies unknown to Michigan called Northern Blues. The Michigan DNR listed the species as threatened and provided a grant for me to conduct life history research. 

With budget cuts, I was laid off from teaching in Manistique, when replaced by someone with more seniority. I moved again to fill a sabbatical position at Brainerd Community College in Minnesota, where I taught human anatomy in a nursing program and Earth science courses. When the sabbatical work was completed, the college retained me part-time and I began projects with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on Peregrine Falcon reintroduction and studied butterflies at the Paul Bunyan Arboretum (now Northland Arboretum). I created the video “Butterfly Time” for the arboretum. I was enlisted for a project to document county distribution of butterfly species in Minnesota counties for a larger Eastern US butterfly publication. 

Part 4 ‘Nomadic Travel Broadens’ next week. Link to parts 1-2 at: http://cedarspringspost.com/category/outdoors/ranger-steves-nature-niche/

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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