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Mike Graybill, who is stepping down as head of the South Slough after 28 years, stands on the spot of the campus of the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology where a conversation with Dr. Paul Rudy changed the direction of his life almost 40 years ago.

 

CHARLESTON -- When Mike Graybill first came to Oregon in the mid-1970s, it was for the birds, but in a good way. Over the past four decades, the manager of the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve has broadened his interest to cover a wide range of creatures.

Graybill was a biology undergrad in Pennsylvania in 1975 when he saw a poster about a summer opportunity at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology in Charleston. He drove across the country to continue his education with a focus on sea birds and marine mammals.

It was love at first sight.

'I was completely blown away by the seals at Cape Arago, and by the sea birds off the coast, and by the incredible richness of this place," Graybill said as he looked out a window in his office on the OIMB campus.

He soon became intimate with the South Slough Reserve, visiting clear-cut forests each evening to study birds.

'I learned a lot and saw 60-70 species of birds out there," he said.

He also found a wife.

Jan Hodder is associate professor and academic coordinator at OIMB. She nearly had Graybill's job at the South Slough.

After finishing their studies at the University of Oregon in 1983, Hodder and Graybill stayed on to teach at OIMB. When the South Slough sought a new manager, they both applied in hope of sharing the job. But the South Slough Management Commission wanted a sole manager, and the two ended up competing.

'She was the only person more qualified for the job than me," Graybill said.

Graybill got the job and began a nearly 28-year career as head of the reserve.

'I think the one thing that I'm most proud of is that during my tenure here the whole concept of ecological restoration has come into play," he said. When his career began, 'There was just this people-versus-nature kind of orientation, and the news wasn't good. We were just kind of making a mess out of things, and ecosystems were unraveling in really kind of dramatic fashion."

The new reserve's mission was broad. Officially, the goal was to improve the understanding and management of estuaries in the Lower Columbian Biogeographical Province, a coastal region stretching from northernmost Washington to California's Cape Mendocino.

At first, four people made up the whole staff. It has since grown to 16, managing tens of millions of dollars worth of research and educational programing. Graybill is proud of the reserve's contribution to the area's economy.

'Those 16 people have family-wage jobs, and those jobs wouldn't be in this community were it not for the fact this community committed to designating this inlet as this research and education area," he said.

Graybill intends to stay in the area, pursuing his 'distractions," which include woodworking, hunting and traveling with his wife. Those birds still call him, too.

'My earlier career history involved time at sea that I've got fond memories of, out there in the Pacific Ocean on a research ship watching dolphins and sea birds," he said. So Graybill has a temporary job lined up as a deck hand on a fishing vessel.

He leaves a legacy of demonstrating that humans can take deliberate actions to restore damaged ecosystems.

'I'm terribly proud of all the people that work here," he said.

If you are ready to tell The World about an outstanding individual in the community, contact reporter Tim Novotny at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or at tim.novotny@theworldlink.com.

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