The longtime director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Wildlife Forensics and Fish Health Laboratory, Dee Dee Hawk, has taken a new position as chief of the department’s Services Division.
Hawk was the director of the laboratory, located on the University of Wyoming campus, for 14 years and is a 23-year veteran of the department. She started her new position in Cheyenne at the end of November.
“I’ve really, really loved my job here, but there are new and different challenges in that position, so I thought it was time to step up and see if I could make a difference at a different level,” Hawk said.
The Services Division does a variety of jobs within Game and Fish in support of personnel working in other divisions.
The Services Division oversees efforts such as engineering, information technology, geographic information systems, maintaining public access areas and the fish health and forensics lab.
Game and Fish Director Scott Talbott said Hawk was ready for the new responsibilities.
“Dee Dee brings a great skill set and unique talents to this leadership position,” he said.
Hawk said she’s planning to expand several programs within the division, such as GIS, IT and engineering, all of which should help the wildlife and habitat managers in the field.
“A lot of the stuff we do, the public doesn’t see much of,” she said. “We’re the behind-the-scenes folks of the department.”
Hawk grew up in Newcastle before moving to Laramie to attend the University of Wyoming. She had always loved working with animals and was planning a career in veterinary medicine.
“I was pre-vet for a long, long time, until I determined I was pretty much allergic to most animals,” she said. “I decided that wasn’t a very good career choice, but I still wanted to do something with animals.”
She graduated with degrees in microbiology and medical technology, and later a master’s degree in pathobiology. She applied for a Game and Fish job in fish health and didn’t get it, but then she was asked to apply for a job in the department’s brand-new wildlife forensics program.
“Wildlife forensics will always be one of my passions just because I was so heavily involved in it,” she said.
Scientists in the wildlife forensics lab can identify 18 different species, as well as their gender, using DNA from samples such as gut piles, carcasses, antlers and blood. Their work gives law enforcement another tool with which to investigate wildlife crimes.
Hawk said the Wyoming lab is the most advanced state lab in the country, and it does work for 10 other states.
During her time in the lab, Hawk was part of an effort to form the Society for Wildlife Forensic Science, which has an international influence in promoting the best practices in the field.
The lab is preparing to move into a new facility this spring in West Laramie. The 45,000-square-foot building will house both the lab and Laramie Region Office, with 19,000 square feet devoted to laboratory space.
Hawk said the new facility would allow the lab to obtain accreditation, which is currently not a requirement for wildlife labs but could become one in the future. Additional space will allow scientists to do more fee-based work such as tooth aging for hunters and fish health inspections at private hatcheries.
The wildlife forensics lab has been located on the UW campus for more than 60 years in the Biological Sciences Building, initially testing water quality. Throughout the years, it has added fish health, tooth aging and wildlife forensics to its duties.
Kim Frazier, formerly the forensic program manager, is the new director of the Wildlife Forensics and Fish Health Laboratory.