From conservation to inspiration

May 1, 2019 | By More

Photo by Liz Chrisman

Steve Duzan has always had a fascination with wildlife. “As a kid, I either wanted to be a plant breeder to develop new foods or a wildlife biologist,” Steve says. During his childhood, he explored the land surrounding his home in El Dorado, mostly an area behind his house he called “The Valley.” Strolling among the pine trees growing in the sandy creek bottom, he observed life exuberating from the land. But then the bottomlands were cleared for development.

Initially, this devastated Steve. “I thought we were never going to have anything there again,” he says. Despite being upset, he continued to spend time in The Valley and as new varieties of foliage began to bloom, he noticed new wildlife utilizing the new habitats. This discovery enlightened and inspired young Steve. “Even with something that appeared to be bad, when you actually look at it you see that maybe it wasn’t so bad,” Steve says. “These animals needed that type of habitat. That inspired me to learn more and become a wildlife biologist.”

Steve started college at a small school in Missouri, but due to lack of funding, the wildlife program was struggling and it was suggested to Steve that he attend a larger school. So he carried on his education at New Mexico State University. He was able to stay with his grandparents while in New Mexico and worked at a trout hatchery for a summer. After graduation, he took temporary jobs out west with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) as a range  conservationist. He was tasked with calculating the land’s carrying capacity for cattle by estimating the amount and quality of the forage. Finally, in 1980, he was offered a permanent job with the USFS as a wildlife biologist. “Then I moved back to the Ozarks,” Steve says, “where I wanted to be.”

In Jasper, Steve worked as the district wildlife biologist. He was part of a program working to improve wildlife habitats in the Ozark National Forest by performing prescribed burnings, building ponds, and other projects to benefit the wildlife. From Jasper, he transferred to Russellville where he worked on the Wild and Scenic River Study that helped designate six wild and scenic rivers in the Ozark National Forest through federal action and Congressional designation. He did plenty more work as a forest biologist, including overseeing recreation, fire, and wildlife management in Magazine. “After I did that I came back to the office because they were redoing the forest plan,” Steve says. “And I was planning biologist, so I played a major role in writing the forest plan.”

After a rich history of working in wildlife biology for 39 years, Steve decided to retire in early 2017. Since then, he has revisited his old college hobby of photography. “I started photography in college when I could finally afford to buy a camera,” Steve says. “Of course, back then you used slides and it was expensive because you’d have to take a roll of film and then get it developed and you weren’t sure what you had so you didn’t know how many pictures to take of something,” Steve explains.

Because photography in the days of film was a fairly expensive hobby, Steve wasn’t able to keep it up during college. But about 10 years ago, he bought a digital camera. And since then he’s been able to take as many pictures as he wants.

Steve’s deep infatuation with nature has inspired his photography. Many of his photographs feature glimpses of wildlife in the somewhat urban area of Russellville. He frequently photographs the natural prairies found within the city limits. Steve enjoys going to the parks around the area and several of his photos are taken in close proximity to his house. One of his favorite photographs is of a fox lying on the bluff ledge behind his house. The fox had been sleeping but perked his head up when Steve called to him. “So I just said ‘hey, fox,’ and it looks up at me and I got probably the best picture I’ve ever gotten,” Steve says. “With my wife being there and a new camera and the fox and just getting this really cool picture, it just really spurred me into doing more photography.”

Photography has become very important to Steve as a way for him to stay connected with nature and share it with other people. “As I learn more and more about it, I focus more on the habitat and all the smaller things, the pollinators and the little animals,” Steve says.“When you’re taking close up photography of a flower then you see the little bugs and spiders and you learn about them,” Steve says. “It’s not like you get older and say ‘oh well I know everything so it’s boring.’ The smaller you go in photography, the more you see things you haven’t seen before and you think about it so it’s pretty stimulating.”

As someone who has a fascination with wildlife, naturally Steve is concerned with conserving our planet. He said he is happy with the activism and efforts going into combating climate change. “I think we’re getting better,” Steve says. “We’re on the right track and people are more open to learning now than they used to be; it used to be they thought they knew everything. There’s a lot of potential, great potential, and there’s a lot of pitfalls but I think really smart people will prevail and they’ll do the right thing.”

Steve is no stranger to working towards change. While he worked with the U.S. Forest Service, he was someone who implemented change. When he first started in the Ozarks, controlled burning was frowned upon. He worked with several people to educate the biologists in the program on the benefits of prescribed burning and how it was essential to keeping healthy plants and soil. Controlled burning is now a regular practice in the Ozark National Forest. “I did my part more when I was younger. I still care, I just probably don’t have the energy for it. I know younger people do.”

Steve’s efforts in helping shape a solid foundation for conservation in our Ozark National Forest is something we can build on today. His photography inspires us to continue these efforts for ourselves now and for the future.

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