Scientist Spotlight: Douglas Beard & Global Inland Fisheries

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Learn about the work, research, and career path of Douglas Beard, Chief of the National Climate Adaptation Science Center. 

A glassy river lined by trees, reflecting clouds in a blue sky.

The Namekagon River, a part of the National Scenic Riverway in Wisconsin and Minnesota, where Beard spent much of his childhood fishing.

(Public domain.)

This news announcement was written by Gina Fiorile, National CASC Science Communication Specialist.

To those that know him, it's no surprise that Doug Beard used to spend every day of his childhood summers fishing. Growing up near the Namekagon River in northern Wisconsin, the nation’s first Wild and Scenic River Way, it was difficult to not to feel a connection with nature, something that has stayed with Beard throughout his career. 

“You know, when I was a kid growing up, bald eagles were on their way out. One of the last strongholds of bald eagles in the United States was where I grew up in northern Wisconsin, because there wasn't much DDT [pesticide]. And so when I was growing up, I saw eagles probably every day of the summer, and I didn't even realize their plight in other parts of the country.” Beard explains that he felt lucky to have this experience with America’s national bird, and it informed his understanding that hard work as a public servant can be a means of preserving the environment for future generations to enjoy.  

Turning a Passion for Fish into a Career 

Beard grew up as the son of a fisheries biologist, which enabled him to see a path forward to pursuing his passion for fish as a career. “I knew you could actually do fisheries as a profession. A lot of times, you don't realize what's possible in terms of career choices, so you look at your peers or your parents or other folks. And so I knew, I just knew, that that [fisheries biology] was the direction I wanted to go in.”  

However, Beard’s father believed there were too few jobs in the field, and attempted to dissuade him from pursuing fisheries as a career. Yet Beard felt early in his college career that, despite having fallen in love with computer technology in high school, a career like electrical engineering simply wouldn’t be a good fit. He persisted, and later graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with a bachelor's degree in biology. 

Beard then went on to receive a doctorate in zoology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and began working for the state of Wisconsin as a staff biologist/biometrician. Beard has since made a name for himself in fisheries science, having authored or co-authored dozens of peer-reviewed publications, edited multiple books and written numerous book chapters, organized and led over 12 scientific symposiums, given over 100 invited and contributed talks, and participated on planning committees for international conferences. In particular, he is a world leader in inland fisheries research and management, having served in editing roles for two fisheries journals, and as former President of the World Council of Fisheries Societies

Doug Beard standing at a podium in front of a large powerpoint screen

Beard presenting at the IUCN international event on the sea level rise work of the CASCs.

(Public domain.)

Working with the Global Fisheries Community 

“The thing in the fisheries profession I'm most proud of is working broadly with the global community to advance the discussion around inland fisheries as an important resource that shouldn't be overlooked in discussions of food security, economic security, and other big topics.”  

Among his many activities, a few experiences truly stand out to Beard. For example, he helped build a network which went on to establish the Inland Fisheries Symposium at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO). The network has brought attention to inland fisheries at a global level, which has always been a goal of Beard’s. Inland fish and fisheries are often overlooked in important water resource decisions, despite being an important resource within the world’s rivers, lakes, and other land-locked water bodies. Beard and his network of collaborators have also been working with the UN FAO to enhance reporting of inland fisheries and to monitor the improvement of the state of global fisheries. Furthermore, he is currently working with USGS Research Fish Biologist Abby Lynch and National Science Foundation Fellow Gretchen Stokes on a project that highlights and monitors threats to inland fisheries. 

Supporting Early Career Scientists 

While his list of accomplishments is impressive, Beard has not forgotten the sometimes difficult path of an early career scientist, and how important professional networks can be to achieving both career and personal milestones. The important collaborations Beard is actively involved in today grew out of early networking within professional societies. “My [graduate] advisor, Bob Carlin, was very active in the American Fisheries Society [AFS] and really encouraged students to become active and go to meetings. So I just started that process. I started to meet people and develop a network within the AFS. To this day, some of my closest friends are people I've met through AFS, including my wife and best man at my wedding.”  

“The advice I always give to early career professionals is, pick your professional society, get involved and be a part of moving it forward. These societies offer everything from personal support and friendship to scientific opportunities.” 

Focusing on Climate Impacts 

Beard now serves as Chief of the National Climate Adaptation Science Center (CASC). Though the jump from studying biology and fisheries to running a climate program may seem daunting, it for the link to Beard was clear.  

He now sees the tension between Wisconsinites’ love of winter activities, such as skating, ice fishing, or snowshoeing, and the warming winters that are a result of climate change. Reconciling shorter winters with his own love of cold weather activities, in particular ice fishing, is what motivates Beard, in part, to continue his work with the CASCs. 

"Fisheries started with my passion for fishing, but grew into a broader sort of understanding of its keen role in human well-being. I think, as I've gotten older, realizing this Earth we have -- we best take care of it.” 

Beard was asked to set up and run the CASC program in 2009 as Acting Director, and expected to be in that role for only a few months. More than a decade later, Beard has grown the national program from the ground up, a rare opportunity in government. Like any successful leader, Beard saw this as a chance to put his vision into the program, to grow and make mistakes, and to learn from those mistakes. 

Scientist Doug Beard holding a fish with both hands on a boat on the water.

NCASC Chief Doug Beard holding a tuna.

(Public domain.)

Building a Climate Network 

Beard sees the CASCs as leaders on the climate issues that concern fish and wildlife management agencies. He acknowledges that although the CASCs certainly aren’t the only ones working on the topics of climate impacts and adaptation for natural resource managers, the CASC network has found its niche. “I think we have a good track record of being productive in this arena. And it's something we will hang our hats on. This is how we made a name for ourselves.”  

Although Beard anticipated he’d one day become a professor, he has realized how important working on behalf of the American people is. He considers it an honor to be working in a profession that is helping to ensure that future generations can participate in the types of outdoor activities he himself loved as a kid.  

“I’m biased, but [the USGS], I think, is the nation's premier science agency. There is something to be said about our science, diplomacy or the ability for the US to be a part of a global solution, and our efforts to work collaboratively as we can with everybody.” 

“The USGS has given me all sorts of opportunities I could never have envisioned. When I take the floor as the alternative head of the US delegation to IPBES [Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services], I think back to this kid from a river in northern Wisconsin, who is sitting in Bonn, Germany, making statements on behalf of the United States government. Yeah, that's pretty cool.”   

 

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