INTERVIEW WITH CHARLES “ART” HUGHLETT
MAY 2004 BY MARK MADISON, NCTC SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV
DR. MADISON: Tell us about your career with the Service. How did you start with the
MR. HUGHLETT: After I had served in World War II, I went back to college and got a
degree in Forestry from Michigan State. I also got a degree in Wildlife Management from
the University of Wisconsin. Then, came the big question of where do I find a job. It just
happened at that time that the FWS was short twelve or thirteen trainee type positions. I
was fortunate enough to be picked as one of the fortunate few that got hired by the
federal FWS. I had been going to school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and
then I went to Valentine, Nebraska, which was my first assignment with the FWS. I was
what we later called a Refuge Manager Trainee. Originally, it was called a Junior Refuge
Manager. I served under a man named Alistair D. Campbell. He was from the old school
that thought that people should be kept off of a wildlife refuge because they would cause
nothing but trouble. I learned how to deal with angry fisherman, especially those who
had gone into places on the refuge where they weren’t supposed to be, and as a
consequence, got stuck in the mud. They were not a bit shy about telling how they felt
about the government not keeping suitable roads for fisherman. This was on a NWR that
was designed primarily for puddle ducks; mallards, gadwall, blue winged teal, green
winged teal, that group of birds. And Valentine was a real fine producer of those species;
especially blue winged teal and mallard. They were the favored species at that time.
After I had served at Valentine for about two and a half years, I was transferred to
Lake Andes in southern South Dakota. I was green as grass about public relations. I did
my best despite my lack of knowledge or lack of guidelines. But I only lasted a year
there. I was transferred to the Horicon Refuge in Wisconsin. This was right close to my
original home and my wife’s home.
DR. MADISON: Where are you from?
MR. HUGHLETT: I’m from Waukesha.
DR. MADISON: I’m from Wausau, Wisconsin!
MR. HUGHLETT: My wife is from Fort Atkinson. I really enjoyed by time at Horicon
Refuge. At that time we were trying our best, and by “we” I mean the FWS, we were
trying our best to keep birds out of what was known as the ‘slaughter house’ in southern
Illinois. So we concentrated on providing food on the Horicon Refuge that would be
attractive to Canada Geese primarily and to any other birds that happened to find that
particular wonderful supply of food. I was at Horicon for about three years and was
transferred to the Chautauqua Refuge in central Illinois. My oldest child, my daughter
Laurel started school at a little country school called Kikauski and you have be German,
and have a mouth full of beer to pronounce that right.
After serving my time at Chautauqua Refuge I was transferred out Lacreek Refuge
in southern South Dakota. This little refuge is about 10,000 acres or so, but it’s highly
productive. Everything that we did on the refuge to attract wildlife paid off. I had a
wonderful time. By that time we had two kids and they loved living there. We brought in
a bunch of Trumpeter Swan signets from Red Rocks Lake Refuge in Montana. We were
highly successful after we learned that we had to control the Horned Owl population.
They were preying on the signets. These rascals were up to about twelve pounds by that
time, and with a four and a half or five foot wingspread. You’d think that they could
defend themselves against the Horned Owl. But they were not successful in doing that.
They needed some help. Although I was Vice President of the South Dakota
Ornithologist’s Union, we didn’t tell the folks off of the Refuge that we were doing some
selective control on Great Horned Owls.
As it turned out, the transfer of young birds from Red Rocks Lake Refuge to
Lacreek Refuge in South Dakota was a tremendous success. The birds paired up and
nested at an earlier stage than they normally did in Montana. We always said that this
was because we had such wonderful clean water and air in South Dakota. Some of the
birds nested when they were three, going on four years old. This was at least a year
earlier than they were nesting in Montana. It always grieved me when somebody would
shoot a trumpeter swan instead of a tundra swan. I did my best to make them pay for it.
Law Enforcement was a part of my job on every refuge I was on. I didn’t necessarily like
it, but it was part of the job; a necessity. And I did my best to make people realize that
they were not going to able to get away with doing things on the refuge that were adverse
to the relationship in that part of the country.
I was then transferred to the Seney Refuge on the upper peninsula of Michigan.
This was one of those areas where based only on a scenic quality protection by the
government was justified. We had great numbers of pine trees there and all manner of
conifers that provided good habitat for everything from a northern gyrfalcon to the blue
winged teal and mallards that I was familiar with in the west. After a period of time at
Lacreek and seeing the transplant of the trumpeter swan signets, it looked like it was
going to be a success…
I was transferred down to the regional office as a Planning Specialist. I did my
best to follow the guidelines that I had learned while I was in the military about how you
plan for every eventuality that could happen; and hope that none of them did. I made
great inroads into the number of master plans that were available in the region. I seemed
to have a knack for being able to pull out things that were of great importance from things
that were of lesser importance. Then, I had a chance to go to Washington on an extended
training program that lasted about six or seven months. When I was through with that I
thought that it probably wouldn’t be a very arduous task if somebody suggested that I
might go in to Washington and work there at some time. I had discovered with that long
training assignment that people were doing things that I wanted to be a part of and that I
could contribute to. So that’s what I did. I was transferred to the Washington office and
my children found that country schools still existed. My daughter especially really liked
living on the refuge because she had her own horse. My son had a little pony. How
much better can it get?
I enjoyed that time in the Washington office especially because I ran into some of
the people I had been in college with. They were looking for jobs and here I was with
several years of experience and had the job in my pocket. I didn’t look down my nose at
anybody’s effort but I was very happy that I had a job. And I really loved what I was
A lot of the structures and water control structures on the refuge at Lacreek in
South Dakota were left over work projects from the CCC and WPA. They were make
work jobs but they taught people skills that were very valuable later on when we got into
the War. I found that all of that field experience was valuable to FWS. So I ended up
being able to fill in for people who were scheduled to make presentations of one kind or
another; especially those that had to do with wildlife. I enjoyed working with the Park
Service and the Forest Service and BLM. All of these had a different slant as to what was
important. We were able to reach an accommodation with each one of those agencies that
was amenable to what we were there for primarily. That was to protect wildlife habitat.
After a suitable period of time in the Washington office; somebody told me it was
six years, but it went so fast I could hardly believe it, I was transferred back to
Minneapolis as the Deputy Regional Director. I spent ten years there as the DRD. I
liked that job probably best of all.
DR. MADISON: What years were those?
MR. HUGHLETT: That was 1971 to 1981 I think it was.
DR. MADISON: Those were interesting years to be a Deputy RD. What were some of
the issues that come up while you were in Minneapolis that you dealt with?
MR. HUGHLETT: This was the time when the powers be decided that we would better
serve the wildlife and it’s habitat by having area offices. Not everybody thought that was
the way to go. I was one of them that raised all of the objections that I could think of that
were valid. Then, since the boss was still adamant that he wanted to make some changes,
I decided that I’d get line with him and help him. That was a big transformation from
being a line outfit with headquarters being in the Washington office and regional offices
really not having much power; to a reversal where the regional offices had just about as
much power as before, but the area offices which were usually made up of two or three
states, had quite a bit of freedom to experiment or follow proven wildlife management
practices. It was fine for the area managers, but it took a lot of autonomy away from the
staff in the Washington office. I think that was the big problem that happened during my
time with the FWS.
DR. MADISON: When were you born? I should have asked you that earlier.
MR. HUGHLETT: 9/11/1922. I cause all of it!
DR. MADISON: Well, that’s an important date you share. You had a long career in the
Service, from after World War II until 1981. What changes did you notice during your
MR. HUGHLETT: One of the things that was most pleasing to me was that the general
public was beginning to value wildlife and its habitat. There were some times when I’d
just shake by head wondering if they would ever learn not to do certain things. Of course
when you are right down close to where the mud is you’re more sensitive than if you
were isolated somewhere.
DR. MADISON: Your last year or so was under James Watts, is that right? Who was
our Director then during your last years?
MR. HUGHLETT: Lynn Greenwalt can in at just about the time I was going out to
Minneapolis. [Taking a drink of bottled water] That’s good water, Deer Park, right out
of the faucet! [Laughs all around]
DR. MADISON: Are there any other interesting things you’d want to share while we
have you here for a few more minutes?
MR. HUGHLETT: Let me say that you don’t have to expand on this if you don’t want
to, but I think that all of my time with FWS I was involved with intelligent, well-educated
people. They had a work ethic that was reflective of the Scandinavian heritage. It was
quite a shock to go from that kind of work ethic to one where people just didn’t give a
damn if they did anything. I remember I was in the regional office in Minneapolis when
we had a mini-recession. The personnel officer there was “Goody” Larson. He was a
good personnel officer. He tried to keep all of us going in the direction of equal
opportunity and trying to match that up with what the Secretary of the Interior and the
Director though was important. So it was walking a tightrope for a while in that I
couldn’t do some of the things that I wanted to see done. There were a few things that I
know were being done that I couldn’t condone if I had known them officially. So when
you get to the point where you have to conceal something that shouldn’t be … this, I
don’t want to….
I got to the point where I had to sign off as DRD on land acquisition and
personnel actions. There where times when I knew darn well that the person selected
was not the best qualified. That was hard to take. Because my whole philosophy is
based on being ethical and making sure that everything that’s presented in a case for the
boss’s signature has been researched and there weren’t any surprises. Everybody could
go along with whatever decision had been made. If the Director made a change, that was
his prerogative. But I didn’t want to put anything on Jack Hemphill’s desk that would
make him turn red around the gills or shoot sparks out of his eyes. He has a short temper
when he is really concerned about something. I learned a lot from him because I learned
how to get along with the Corps of Engineers when that was a major step in itself. I
learned how to use the friends that we had in the Audubon Society and just whole raft of
It’s a real blessing to me, to be able to come back to the Service environment that
we have here. I am so please that we’ve found a way to work closely with some
influential people. I’d gotten really concerned about some of the things that were
happening. Then I came here and saw what could happen by a partnership. I had a
dream this morning that involved Congressman Dingle from Michigan. He was advocating
a facility like this in the state of Michigan primarily based on fisheries. When I woke up
from that I thought, ‘My God, I’m even dreaming about it’!
DR. MADISON: Had you met Congressman Dingle when you working?
MR. HUGHLETT: Yes, I met him.
DR. MADISON: I’m curious, what was he like? You met Dingle, Sr. right?
MR. HUGHLETT: Right.
DR. MADISON: His son is coming out here and we’re going to dedicate a Hero’s plaque
to Dingle, Sr.
MR. HUGHLETT: Oh boy, that’s great!
DR. MADISON: We’re going to do that this summer. His son is coming in September.
We’re going to dedicate the plaque to him for the Dingle/Johnson Act and all his work for
conservation. What were your interactions with him like?
MR. HUGHLETT: Everything that John Dingle proposed was based on good rational
thinking and if it was good for the state of Michigan then it should have been good for the
whole country. John was not out for anything for himself. And he was pretty patient
with some of us who got carried away with our defense of wildlife. He was instrumental
in getting a small refuge along the Detroit River. I remember coming back from a trip with
the Coast Guard on a big old military scowl of one kind or another. The side of the boat
was just thick with some kind of caustic that had been dumped in the river upstream. I
was bubbling over with anger that things like that could happen. And one of Dingle’s
staff was there and said, “I wish Mr. Dingle was here and could hear you talk like just the
way it is!” I said, “I can go where ever he is!” And this young fellow said, “No, we’d
better just let it drop”.
DR. MADISON: What did you work with the Congressman’s office on? Was it
primarily the Detroit River Refuge?
MR. HUGHLETT: There are so many things that are the same about refuges and yet so
many things that are different. Every refuge has it’s own personality. That’s a reflection
of the supervision that the person gets and that which they pay heed to. John Dingle was
doing whatever he could behind the scenes to make sure that foul smelling stuff and
caustic looking stuff got cleaned up so that people weren’t afraid to get into the river.
Some of that stuff would just about take your fingernails off!
DR. MADISON: Thank you Art this was a wonderful. I really appreciate it.
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