Renowned Point Reyes Natural Historian Gary Fellers Retires from USGS

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One of the founding biologists of the USGS National Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative (ARMI) and a renowned expert on California amphibians and bats, USGS Western Ecological Research Center scientist and principal investigator Gary Fellers has retired from the agency.

“Gary has been a leading natural historian for many of California’s scenic lands, in the Sierra Nevada and in particular the Point Reyes National Seashore, his longtime base,” says Steve Schwarzbach, WERC center director. “Gary has worked at Point Reyes for 30 years on a variety of wildlife issues. His tremendous natural history knowledge of the park has been an invaluable asset to the National Park Service and to USGS.” 

Collage of scientist Gary Fellers and his study species

Collage of scientist Gary Fellers and his study species. (Credit: Gary Fellers, J. Fellers, Steve Bobzien. Public domain.)

Fellers began his long career in ecology as an instructor at the Department of Zoology at University of Maryland, College Park, where he obtained his Ph.D. in zoology. He entered the federal service in 1979, serving as an Endangered Wildlife Specialist with the California office of the Bureau of Land Management, then as an Assistant Regional Chief Scientist with the Western Regional Office of the National Park Office. 

In 1983, Fellers began his long history with Point Reyes National Seashore, first as a National Park Service scientist and later joining the newly created USGS Biological Resources Division in the 1990’s — what is now the Ecosystems Mission Area.

“Gary Fellers has been one of the primary and preeminent researchers of the National Park Service in the Pacific West Region over the past 30 years,” says Sarah Allen, former Science Division Chief at Point Reyes National Seashore. “His research has been broad, innovative and complex. The publications are a window into the most pressing resource management issues of the past three decades, but do not capture his intangible contributions, including studies on restoration projects, wildfire damage assessment and species of interest such as mountain lions.”

Scientist Gary Fellers receiving a Meritorious Service Award from USGS.

Scientist Gary Fellers receiving a Meritorious Service Award from USGS. (Credit: Mike Diggles, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.)

“Also, Gary was one of a few researchers that conducted studies at Point Reyes in the 1980’s and early 1990s; many of which were seminal and form the foundation for subsequent work,” adds Allen.  “Personally, he has been a significant mentor for many a biologist who passed through Point Reyes, including myself.”

Fellers’ curriculum vitae would become best known for his research on the status and trends of amphibian species in California, such as the California red-legged frog (Rana draytonii) and the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog (Rana sierrae), as well as the decline of amphibian species overall.

His institutional knowledge on the monitoring needs to study amphibian decline was among the driving forces leading to the creation of the USGS National Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative (ARMI), which was eventually chartered in 2000 by a congressional mandate to study the troubling amphibian declines in the U.S. and around the world. Fellers is a coauthor on the recent ARMI study confirming the decline of amphibians throughout the United States.

Image: California Red-legged Frog

California red-legged frog (Rana draytonii) surfaces in a pond in Point Reyes National Seashore, CA. (Credit: Gary M. Fellers, USGS. Public domain.)

“Gary has just been a driving force in understanding frog declines in California for so many years,” says Robert Fisher, a fellow principal investigator and herpetologist with WERC. “His initial meetings of the Declining Amphibian Population Task Force of the IUCN started small, but have now grown in to an annual major regional conference still focused on amphibian declines.”

Beyond amphibians, Fellers also conducted a variety of status and trends studies on the bats of California, including acoustic detection studies tracking the biodiversity and behaviors of bat species in San Francisco Bay.  Fellers also is known for his long-time research on the ecology of the island night lizard (Xantusia riversiana), a threatened species endemic to the Channel Islands.

Fellers will continue his research efforts as a Researcher Emeritus with USGS. Patrick Kleeman will oversee continuing projects in Point Reyes and in the Sierras, while Brian Halstead now serves as the interim ARMI representative for Fellers’ former research program.

“I feel very fortunate to have worked for Gary for so many years,” says Kleeman. “I learned an immense amount from him, and I’m very pleased that he is continuing his association with USGS as a Researcher Emeritus so that we can benefit from his decades of experience and knowledge.”

-- Ben Young Landis