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‘Ding’ Darling refuge manager announces retirement

By REFUGE / DDWS - | Sep 1, 2020

PHOTO PROVIDED Refuge Manager Paul Tritaik

Paul Tritaik, refuge manager for the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge for the past 12 years, recently announced that his retirement will be on Sept. 30 after 38 years of service.

“I have been fortunate to work with an outstanding staff, exceptional friends group, top-notch volunteers, superb concessionaire, and a great supportive community on Sanibel,” he said. “Together we accomplished a lot from land acquisition to habitat restoration to new and improved facilities to expanded education and wildlife-oriented recreation.”

Tritaik began his career in 1982 at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, working with bald eagles and Andean condors. He then worked at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia as an outdoor recreation planner in 1989, where he helped run visitor services at that unique swamp wilderness.

In 1991, Tritaik transferred to start a new refuge, the Bond Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, as refuge manager. Two years later, he took the position of refuge manager at the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, the first refuge in the entire system, on Florida’s East Coast. There, Tritaik restored the island, expanded the refuge, and oversaw the centennial celebration in 2003. He also coordinated the establishment and growth of the nearby Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, a sea turtle sanctuary.

Tritaik was hired as the refuge manager of Sanibel refuge in 2008. During his tenure, he expanded the boundaries of the refuge and worked with the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge and Lee County to acquire over 170 acres on the islands (Wulfert, Woodring). He oversaw the wetland restoration of over 200 acres of marsh and mangrove habitat (Bailey Tract, Alligator Curve). Tritaik also added many improvements to the Visitor and Education Center, Wildlife Education Boardwalk and Birding Observation Platform. In 2019, he was assigned on a long-term detail with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s regional office in Atlanta, where he worked to expand and enhance access to hunting and fishing to refuges throughout the region.

“It was my dream to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and an honor to work at some of the most exceptional and historic places in the refuge system,” Tritaik said. “To work on Sanibel the last 12 years and raise our son here has truly been a blessing for me and my wife. We appreciate all of the support we have received over the years, and we look forward to continuing our friendships in this one-of-a-kind community.”

Tritaik said that he and his family will continue to live on Sanibel after retirement and participate in community activities as well as natural resource conservation endeavors.

Acting Refuge Manager Kevin Godsea, who has been serving during much of Tritaik’s regional detail, will continue to serve in the position until a new permanent manager is hired.

“Paul has been an exceptional colleague and friend, we thank him for his dedication and commitment to conserving the resources, and preserving our country’s rich conservation heritage,” he said. “We wish him and his family a happy, long and healthy retirement.”