Refuge chief persevered despite critics

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THE ISSUE: Departure of refuge manager.
OUR OPINION: Michael Lusk showed dedication and grace through painstaking tenure.

Shortly after being named Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge manager in 2009, Michael Lusk described the position as “a dream come true.”

Those who recognize the challenges of managing the Crystal River Wildlife Refuge portion of his territory can appreciate that that “dream” has often been a nightmare. He’s been the target of stinging criticism from those with personal agendas for areas where human and wildlife activities overlap. 

Given that his job has been to safeguard and enhance the refuge, conflict was inevitable. 

While the Crystal River refuge only comprises a tiny portion of a territory that stretches southward to the mouth of Tampa Bay, our unique circumstances have demanded a disproportionate amount of attention. In striving to execute his job, he’s been under a microscope from citizens seeking to thwart initiatives intended to enhance the refuge. Through it all, he’s remained a mild-mannered, approachable and conscientious manager.

Fortunately, there are many here who respect and appreciate that his assigned mission has been to regulate activities that negatively impact “fish and wildlife” — most notably manatees — and their habitat. 

Lusk has faced challenges around every corner — be it residents living near Three Sisters Springs not wanting the public to see their property from manatee-viewing areas, residents opposed to the expansion of manatee sanctuaries and slow-speed zones so they can boat with minimal restrictions, trying to call the public’s attention to the long-term management of the greater Chassahowitzka Wildlife Refuge or …  well, the list goes on.

Michael Lusk has been cursed at, called bad names and painted as a heartless bureaucrat.

At the extreme, he’s been pegged as an emblem of federal government overreach.

Now with his departure and transfer to Georgia’s Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, his harshest critics may come to appreciate his willingness to engage public input in pursuing his job. It’s possible his replacement will be less sympathetic to a volatile, harsh public.

Both Lusk’s detractors and admirers should acknowledge that he has been accessible, articulate and genuinely concerned about the multiple facets of his job.

It’s unlikely Michael Lusk could have foreseen the hostility that awaited him in his dream job, but he’s persevered and served the refuge well.