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Ranger announces retirement from Sanibel refuge

By REFUGE / DDWS - | Oct 16, 2020

PHOTO PROVIDED Ranger Jeff Combs and Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland during a recent volunteer luncheon that celebrated Combs's 20th anniversary with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

After nearly 24 years of service at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Ranger Jeff Combs announced his retirement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, effective Oct. 30.

“I will really miss working with you and feel like I am leaving family,” Combs, who worked several of his years at the refuge as volunteer coordinator with visitor services, wrote in an announcement email. “Thank you for all of the good times at the refuge and for being such good friends.”

“For over two decades, Jeff has served the visiting public by providing an informative, educational and enjoyable experience to so many,” Acting Refuge Manager Kevin Godsea said. “Either directly or indirectly, the number of people who benefited from his service is immeasurable. We will miss him.”

Combs started working at the refuge in December 1996 as an interpreter. He transferred to the Assateague Island National Seashore to work for one summer in 1997, but returned that fall permanently. During his years at the refuge, Combs filled roles as fee collector, educator and overseer of permits, contracting and concessions. He also assisted the maintenance and biology departments.

Combs will be most remembered for his position as volunteer coordinator, however. Training, scheduling and working with more than 300 volunteers brought the respect of everyone associated with the refuge. Combs was protective of his worker bees, and each year was in charge of planning a volunteer holiday party and end-of-season awards luncheon.

“Jeff is like this refuge icon,” Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland, who has worked with Combs for 10 years, said. “The volunteers just love him. And he is an expert on so many facets of wildlife and refuge management. The refuge will definitely be a different place without Jeff Combs.”

“Jeff was absolutely dedicated to making sure every one of the refuge’s nearly one million visitors each year had the best experience possible,” “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge Executive Director Birgie Miller said. “He is one-of-a-kind — tough shoes to fill.”