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How long have you been with APHIS?
I’ve been with APHIS for 27 years. Prior to that, I spent a few years with the National Park Service and U.S. Customs.
Most memorable APHIS
Living and working in some wonderful places! Having grown up in Colorado and grouching about Texas tourists invading my Colorado home “state,” I ended up spending nearly 20 years working in the Lone Star State for Plant Protection and Quarantine. It turns out all those Texans really did offer genuine hospitality and friendship. I worked along the U.S./Mexican border for many of those years and experienced an incredible blend of people, culture, agriculture, and community.
Priorities for the coming months?
I want to continue to help build a strong APHIS leadership team in the regional hubs and build up our emergency response capabilities in APHIS. Within PPQ, I hope to contribute to the strengthening of our plant pest detection programs.
Accomplishment most proud of?
I’m proud of being selected as Regional Director to lead an outstanding group of employees in PPQ’s Western Region.
Last book read?
Neither Wolf nor Dog - On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder, by Kent Nerburn.
No guilt here; I love spending time around our house in the country with my wife Debbie. Star gazing on a cold, clear winter night is awesome!
A really good steak.
Les Miserables; Milagro Beanfield War and the Lord of the Rings.
Fly fishing, skiing and snowboarding, bicycling, rock climbing and fly fishing (oops, I already mentioned that..)
Success! The Stars Come out at APHIS
By John Scott
Throughout the country’s numerous Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) areas, APHIS employees have embraced local CFC themes for giving and actively contributed to their respective campaigns. At headquarters, APHIS is close once again to meeting its CFC National Capital Area (CFCNCA) goals. Together, employees have so far raised more than $171,000 toward the agency’s 2006 goal of $184,602. With the agency’s mounting contributions, USDA is making its way ever closer to its CFCNCA contribution goal of
In response to the CFCNCA theme “Be a Star in Someone’s Life,” many of APHIS’ brightest stars came out to make individual donations and to take part in organized fundraising events.
“It has been a very successful and busy campaign year for APHIS,” said Michael Gregoire, the agency’s CFC National Capital Area Campaign Manager. “I have to give a big thanks to everyone who contributed and also to those who pitched in everywhere and held fundraisers.”
Among others, this year’s events at headquarters included CFC bay auctions, bake sales, a chili cook off, an all-day donut sale, and an “Everything Chocolate” market. Both the Veterinary Services (VS) and Plant Protection and Quarantine programs even held karaoke events where agency employees braved the stage for the cause.
“We had a really good time with the karaoke. It was hilarious and all for a good cause,” said Tami Smith, CFC Team Captain for VS in Riverdale.
Still Time to Give
Although many CFC activities nationwide are now winding down, it’s not too late to do your part for the CFCNCA and in other area campaigns as well. In Riverdale, the CFCNCA was scheduled to close on December 15 but has been extended through January 31. For more information concerning deadlines and contribution options, contact your local program CFC keyworkers.
Snapshot from the Field:
By John Scott
Even though we’re all public servants, many of us haven’t experienced what it means to go “public” and represent the agency at large meetings or events. For some of us, the prospect is hard to imagine. But, agency employees are asked to step into the public spotlight quite often. Here are some of their stories, along with the challenges and surprises they found.
Keeping it Positive
Adam Grow, a Center Director with Veterinary Services, recently attended a Farm Bureau meeting of about 500 producers in Arkansas to talk about the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). As it neared time for his presentation, Grow said the local Bureau representative advised him, “This group’s not real high on the NAIS right now and, by the way, there’s a newspaper reporter here that wants to talk to you.”
From there, the immediate challenges didn’t get any easier. The program began with local politicians presenting their views on NAIS. None were supportive, and some were quite vocal in stating their opposition. Just before Grow took the stage, one of the local candidates wore a “No NAIS” jacket as she addressed the crowd.
Despite what many would consider a thorny situation, Grow was able to give his talk and speak to the benefits of NAIS. Although he didn’t know it at the time, his presentation was to be followed by a group vote about whether to support the program. And, because the group represents a particularly intensive cattle-producing area of the State, the vote was important to the organization’s State-level support for the program.
“I got to see then and there whether I did my job or not,” said Grow with a laugh. As it turns out, the audience had warmed to his message, and they unanimously passed a resolution in support of the program.
As a speaker, Grow focuses on a couple key practices when talking to an audience. He credits them for the outcome that day. “First, I make sure I know my subject, and I always try to keep everything on a positive note,” Grow said. When presenting or handling questions, he aims for an even tone and gives concrete examples of the genuine benefits to his audience about the agency activities that he’s discussing.
Grow also credits the importance of trying to know his audience and to finding common ground. He listens closely to questions, and he also asks questions of his audience to better understand their situations. When that happens, the result is often that the speaker and audience become more human to one another and communicate better.
As Area Veterinarian in Charge (AVIC) for New England and senior AVIC in the country, Bill Smith has participated in many public meetings and made countless presentations.
“I’ve spoken at public meetings, industry conferences, and in classrooms to all ages, from grade school to vet school,” said Smith. His advice echoes that of others: know your stuff and know your audience. And to this, he adds another important tip. Be willing to admit when you don’t have the answers.
“If you don’t know the answer, just tell them you don’t. Then ask for their name and if you can get back to them. If you take a chance and talk about things you don’t know about, it only comes back to bite you.”
The majority of Smith’s speaking experiences have been positive, but he knows that events can get emotionally charged or personal. “In some cases, it helps to step in and at other times it’s best to let people vent. It’s part of knowing your audience,” said Smith.
At a pseudorabies meeting, Smith recalled
one producer who wanted to use the event to air personal grievances about a particular agency veterinary medical officer in the State. “His comments were way off-topic,” Smith said. “In that case, I had to step in and say, ‘This is not the best time or place for this discussion. Can I talk with you after the meeting about your concerns?’”
At other times, tension is best defused by lending a listening ear. This advice is perhaps best illustrated by his recent experience at an early
December meeting in Maine about NAIS. The meeting was the first gathering since a March meeting, at which some attendees surprised speakers by hurling cow manure at Maine’s
“I wasn’t at the previous meeting, but it went a lot better this time,” Smith said. Sometimes it’s just better if the message is simply ‘I’m not here to preach. I’m here to listen.”
Surprises: The Good Kind
As Fred Bourgeois, a field Veterinary Medical Officer in Louisiana, found out, surprises at public events can sometimes be good things.
In late September, Bourgeois was invited to an event in Cameron Parish, Louisiana, commemorating the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Rita. The event was well attended and featured numerous politicians, including the governor, lieutenant governor, and Senators Vitter and Landrieu. U.S. Army Lieutenant General Russel Honore, a notable figure in response efforts to the hurricane, and Freddie Richard, the Director of Emergency Services for Cameron Parish, also were there to mark the occasion.
At the very end of the event, Richard surprised Bourgeois by calling him on stage for special recognition. He said that when Bourgeois took on the task of running the cattle rescue effort, he lifted a huge burden from Richard’s shoulders and enabled him to focus attention on restoring critical services to the community. On stage, General Honore hugged and thanked him. The politicians all shook Bourgeois’ hand, saying that they were happy to meet the man that the General had been speaking of so highly all day long.
“It was overwhelming to be suddenly pulled into the spotlight,” said Bourgeois, who credits the work of many others in Veterinary Services and also USDA for supporting hurricane relief efforts. “It was great to get this kind of feedback from the people we helped. We left a real positive impression on folks with the work we did.”
The Scoop on
For some of us, winter means enjoying outdoor, seasonal fun like skiing, hiking, or skating. For others, winter is more of an indoor time that is best spent near a woodstove or under a blanket reading a good book.
Whether you’re an indoor or outdoor winter person, you’ll likely find yourself at some point this winter clearing snow from your sidewalk or digging out your car.
To stay healthy and safe, the National Safety Council offers this advice on shoveling snow.
• Individuals over the age of 40, or those who are relatively inactive, should be especially careful. If you have a history of heart trouble, check with your doctor before shoveling.
• Do not shovel after eating or while smoking.
• Take it slow! Shoveling can raise your heart rate and blood pressure dramatically, so pace yourself. Stretch out and warm up before taking on the task.
• For your back, don’t pick up too much at once. Use a small shovel. Also, push the snow as you shovel. It’s easier on your back than lifting.
• Shovel only fresh snow. Freshly fallen,
powdery snow is easier to shovel.
• Lift with your legs bent, not your back. Keep your back straight. By bending and “sitting” into the movement, you’ll keep your spine upright and less stressed.
• Do not work to the point of exhaustion. If
you run out of breath, take a break. If you feel tightness in your chest, stop immediately.
• Dress warmly. Remember that your nose, ears, hands and feet, need extra attention during winter’s cold.
For more tips, visit the National Safety
Council Web site at
USDA and Chinese
Scientists Partner on Avian
By Gail Keirn
In April 2005, scientists first saw the potential
effects of the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian
influenza on wild birds. More than 6,000 wild
migratory birds died from the virus at Qinghai Lake nature reserve in central China. This event was highly unusual and likely unprecedented. Prior to the event, wild bird deaths from highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus were extremely rare.
To obtain a better understanding of how the virus entered the Qinghai Lake ecosystem and
resulted in the death of so many birds, scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Zoology and APHIS’ Wildlife Services program are studying wild and domestic animals in the vicinity of Qinghai Lake. Broadly, the goal is to study the role of wildlife as carriers of avian influenza. Specifically, the study’s objectives include: identifying reservoirs of avian influenza through surveillance of wild and domestic species; developing a risk assessment of avian influenza to people, poultry and wild animals in Qinghai and Xinjiang Providences; and, making recommendations for biosecurity and conservation on farming in northwestern China.
The 2-year study is part of a cooperative agreement funded through APHIS and implemented collaboratively through the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service/International Cooperation and Development.
“It’s important that we develop a better understanding of the role wildlife species may serve as vectors or reservoirs for highly pathogenic H5N1 and the risk these species pose to domestic or farm animals. Working with the Chinese near Qinghai Lake is an excellent opportunity to further our current understanding,” said Dr. Dale Nolte, program manager for Wildlife Services’ National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) and project lead for the collaborative avian influenza work in China.
Putting the Plan to Work
Initial trips to China by Wildlife Services’ representatives in December 2005 and June 2006 helped determine the study’s objectives and finalize an official cooperative agreement between the USDA and Chinese Academy of Sciences. During August 2006, three wildlife biologists from Wildlife Services spent 3 weeks surveying the wildlife and habitats in and around Qinghai Lake. Together with their Chinese counterparts, they captured and sampled approximately 200 birds for avian influenza research.
The team also collected more than 1,000 environmental samples from water, soil and feces. The samples will be diagnosed in China, then the international team will cooperatively analyze the data to develop risk assessments and make recommendations.
“In addition to waterfowl, the Chinese government is interested in the potential impact avian influenza may have on other wildlife species, such as mammals and other birds,” says Dr. Jeff Root, research wildlife biologist at Wildlife Services’ NWRC. “While in China, we collected blood and tissue samples from several species in order to determine whether they were exposed to the virus and to begin to assess if they might serve as possible vectors or reservoirs of the virus.”
Wildlife Services has invited Chinese scientists to the United States later this year to observe avian influenza surveillance activities and other wildlife management techniques. They also plan to revisit Qinghai Lake in 2007 to conduct additional sampling.
“This project is one part of the United States’ commitment to assist countries to control and eradicate highly pathogenic H5N1,” said Dr. Thomas DeLiberto, APHIS’ National Wildlife Disease Coordinator responsible for managing APHIS’ national and international avian influenza surveillance efforts in wild birds. APHIS is also assisting countries in Asia, Europe and South America, as well as Mexico, to monitor and control avian influenza in wild birds.
Michael Marlow, who traveled to China with fellow Wildlife Services wildlife disease biologist Carl Betsill, summed up their experiences this way, “Working with scientists in China provided us with new perspectives on wildlife management and disease issues in other countries. We value the new relationships and partnerships we made while working overseas.”
Chinese and U.S. scientists prepare traps in hopes of
capturing animals around Qinghai Lake. Left to right:
Michael Marlow (Wildlife Services), Mr. Yin Zouhua, and
Dr. Guo Junging (Chinese Academy of Sciences).
(Photo by Jeff Root, USDA)
Qinghai Lake is the largest inland saltwater lake in China. At 10,500 feet above sea level, the lake spans 1,789 square miles and attracts large flocks of migratory birds, including geese, gulls, sandpipers, and cormorants. (Photo by Alan Franklin, USDA)
APHIS Among the Best
By John Scott
APHIS recently earned recognition for its innovative use of technology to better serve agency customers and improve the agency’s permitting activities. In early October, APHIS’ ePermits System was announced by Government Computer News as one of the publication’s 2006 Gala Award winners. The publication hosts the annual awards and gala event to honor distinguished project teams and programs in the field of government information technology. APHIS was 1 of only 10 organizations chosen from among 150 award candidates.
“We are extremely appreciative and honored to receive the 2006 Gala Award,” said Administrator Ron DeHaven.
Even before the 2006 Gala Award announcement, feedback on the new system was decidedly positive. Users from both inside and outside of the agency recognized the system as a “winner,” especially from a customer service perspective.
Senior Plant Pathologist Eileen Sutker sees firsthand many e-mail responses from satisfied ePermits System users. “Folks who try it, love it,” said Sutker.
One ePermits System user wrote, “Thank you so much! That is the most amazingly fast and efficient service that anyone could dream of.”
Another e-mail said, “Thanks. My last permit took 7 months. This time it was done very, very efficiently.”
Customer feedback on the veterinary side has also been positive. “…The user interface is very clear and easy to use, and both the application and renewal processes are more streamlined….The ePermits system is a welcome improvement to the previous system,” wrote one user.
Released in multiple phases, the ePermits System is a Web-based tool that allows agency customers to apply for, track, receive, and pay for agency permits. The system, which became available to the public on April 3, 2006, offers both security and improved processing speed. For some types of permits, turnaround time was reduced from 4 days to 1 day.
Because the ePermits System is an agency-wide initiative, it benefits the full range of APHIS customers. People who apply for a permit through Biotechnology Regulatory Services, Plant Protection and Quarantine, or Veterinary Services can use the system. All of the agency’s permits are now available through e-Permits.
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