Jim Haskins bids farewell after rewarding career | SteamboatToday.com

Jim Haskins bids farewell after rewarding career

Firefighters and Division of Parks and Wildlife officers hold a tarp to catch the falling bear.
Matt Stensland

— After 37 years, Jim Haskins has earned the reputation of being a loyal state employee who is eager to do the right thing with a fire in his belly.

On Friday, as he enters retirement, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife area wildlife manager, who is known for telling great stories, will no longer have to worry about bears falling from trees or destroying the insides of cars.

“It’s a great job,” Haskins said. “There are so many people who wished they were doing what I was doing.”

Haskins has supervised field operations in Routt and Jackson counties since 2008.

“He’s a heck of an employee,” Regional Manager Ron Velarde said. “The public is going to miss him. The customers will miss him.”

Haskins grew up in upstate New York, and his interest in hunting and fishing grew while spending time at the family farm in Massachusetts. After receiving degrees in wildlife and range ecology from Colorado State University, Haskins landed his first job helping with the first black bear study in the state.

“All I did was trap bears,” Haskins said.

In 1979, he was hired as a district wildlife manager and moved to Hayden the next year. He and his wife, Dana, have lived in the same house ever since and raised three children there.

Haskins is among the state’s wildlife officers who work long days and nights with unpredictable schedules. After all, you never know when a tranquilized bear is going to get stuck in a tree in a downtown Steamboat Springs neighborhood.

That was the case in May 2012, when firefighters had to come and help rescue the bear. A rope was tied around the bear’s ankle, but the bear slipped through and came crashing toward a tarp that Haskins and others were holding.

Haskins gained some unintentional fame when a photo from the incident was published in Time Magazine.

“I think everyone who sees that picture assumes we caught the bear,” Haskins said. “We missed the bear.”

It survived the fall though.

“There are so many times that people think we know exactly what we’re doing,” said Mike Middleton, who worked with Haskins since 1981. “Sure, we have familiarity with the situation, but sometimes we have to figure out how to deal with the moose or the bear.”

Haskins and other wildlife officers never know what they will face next.

“I wish I had written things down,” Haskins said. “I’ve seen and lived so many bizarre things with wildlife.”

Haskins’ responsibilities went well beyond keeping local bears and moose at bay.

At times, the job was challenging when he had to deal with uncooperative landowners. At times, it was dangerous when he had to confront armed, drunk hunters. But for the most part, Haskins said the work was very rewarding.

“I really do love the interaction with customers,” Haskins said. “I love talking to hunters and fishermen on the phone and helping them solve problems.”

Haskins is an avid angler, and Middleton said Haskins’ ability to tell a story far suprasses his horse-riding skills.

“He didn’t always stay on the saddle,” Middleton said. “It’s probably because he always had a fishing pole in his hand.”

But Haskins knows how to entertain.

“He’s usually the center of attention where there is a gathering,” Middleton said. “He’s always got a story. Some of his stories you’ve heard for the umpteenth time, but it’s always good.”

Velarde said Haskins has developed excellent working relationship with landowners across the years. Velarde credited Haskins with helping secure thousands of acres of conservation easements to protect wildlife and habitat.

“Jim’s always been good to work with,” Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said. “He has a good head on his shoulders and works for the better things. Jim was real patient too.”

Velarde said Haskins was one of the main people responsible for keeping the sharptail grouse from reaching a threatened status.

“He’s taken it on as a challenge,” Velarde said.

With his free time, Haskins said he looks forward to visiting the family farm back east.

“Dana has never been back there during the fall,” Haskins said.

The couple plans to continue living in Hayden, and in November, Haskins plans to run for re-election to be Hayden’s mayor again.

It is going to be hard to keep Haskins away from the Parks and Wildlife office in Steamboat.

“I still want to help with the moose and bear stuff when I can,” Haskins said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland

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