USDA Forest Service Wildlife Biologist Dan Tollini is a dedicated Forest Service team member with over 20 years of experience managing public lands. He is an avid hunter and outdoorsman who has a deep respect for nature, wildlife, and the land that he manages and recreates on.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania but I grew up in DuBois, Pennsylvania.
Who or what inspired you growing up?
My father and grandfather introduced me to hunting and the outdoors when I was a young boy. They taught me that a simple walk in the woods can be relaxing and you will almost always see some kind of wildlife. It is also the best way to become more familiar with certain places where you hunt. So as a result I am always in the woods, whether at work or on my personal time. In the seventh grade, when I was 13 years old, I took a career quiz and the job best suited to me came back as a wildlife biologist. As fate would have it the test was right.
What do you like to do for fun on your free time?
That really depends on the season of the year. In the spring I am an avid turkey hunter so spring gobbler becomes my passion. In the summer I coach my daughter’s little league softball team, play backyard sports with both my son and my daughter, and work in the garden. In the fall I am turkey hunting and deer hunting with my son and my dad. Once the snow and winter sets in I usually have some woodworking projects to work on to get through my winter cabin fever. Every year my wife and I take the kids on a family vacation to a beach on the east coast. Of course the summer wouldn’t be complete without grilling on the weekends for the family.
What do you do in the Forest Service and when did you start working here?
I am currently a Wildlife Biologist on the Allegheny National Forest’s Marienville Ranger District. I started my career in the Forest Service as a seasonal biological technician in fisheries in 1999 but I also have time as a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) writer/editor.
What is your favorite part of your job?
This is a hard one because I love all parts of my job, so I’ll have to call it a tie. The first is being in the woods every day. This allows me to become familiar with so many different areas and I get to see a lot of different wildlife species throughout the year. The second is having the ability to actively enhance wildlife habitat. I do this by making good use of my sawyer certification, operating a chainsaw an average of 50 days a year. My co-workers and I regenerate aspen stands, release mast-producing trees and shrubs, and daylight basking and gestation sites for timber rattlesnakes.
Describe a recent, current, or upcoming project that you're currently working on.
We are continuing to pursue shared stewardship agreements and opportunities, referred to as the Good Neighbor Authority, with the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) in order to develop a strategy and prioritize the multitude of wildlife habitat enhancement activities that they can accomplish on the Allegheny National Forest. Having worked closely with several of these PGC employees, I am familiar with the great work they do and the areas where they do it. I have been asked to be the point of contact for compiling a list of potential habitat-improvement activities in which the PGC may be able to complete on the Marienville District this year. As a Forest, we are very fortunate to be able to partner with the PGC for all the work they do on federally-owned land, and I feel honored that I am involved with the continued partnership of both agencies.
Describe a professional or personal achievement that you are particularly proud of.
Since I’ve been here for 20 years, I can tell you that it is very uncommon for an employee to be involved entirely with a project from beginning to end. We have obtained authorization, through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), to implement much needed habitat enhancement activities across the Marienville District and the Forest. Much of the habitat work my coworkers and I implement in the dormant season, fall and winter, starts out as field reconnaissance in the spring before our visibility becomes limited when the trees and vegetation greens up. Locating and mapping previous tree and shrub planting sites, apple orchards, and aspen inclusions results in an efficient method of actively managing these habitat features the following winter. As a wildlife biologist, I have worked on the NEPA and effects analyses, the planning and layout, and the implementation of these activities.
What are some of the greatest challenges confronting your career field?
Over the past two decades that I’ve worked on the Allegheny National Forest wildlife diseases, non-native invasive species, habitat loss, and degradation are some of the most influential challenges to wildlife and their respective habitats.
What are some of the most promising strategies being used by the Forest Service to address these challenges?
The NEPA authorization to perform specific habitat enhancements across the Forest, in my opinion, has been very important in both maintaining and enhancing existing wildlife habitat. In addition, having the support of management to allow my coworkers and me to actively implement habitat management activities, in addition to working with partnering agencies and contractors through various means, has resulted in an extraordinary amount of successful work, which has no doubt benefitted numerous wildlife species.
We have numerous non-native invasive plants and insects on the Allegheny National Forest which are being controlled through various means. Glossy buckthorn is a non-native invasive shrub which has become the most prevalent woody species in the southeastern portion of the Marienville Ranger District and numerous Forest Service personnel have been involved with implementing active management measures to limit its spread.
The prevalence of mature forest habitat and generally minimal amounts of early-successional habitat, which is utilized by numerous wildlife species, is being addressed by placing an emphasis on timber harvesting and reforestation activities while maintaining and protecting sensitive habitat features important to wildlife.
White-nose syndrome (bats), West Nile virus (ruffed grouse), Chronic Wasting disease (white-tailed deer), mange (black bears), and snake fungal disease (timber rattlesnakes) are just a few of the diseases which are currently having an adverse impact on wildlife in or around the Allegheny National Forest. My fellow biologists and I work collaboratively with our partnering agencies to monitor wildlife species in order to manage populations and habitat and to assess and mitigate the impacts of these diseases.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to serve their country as a Forest Service employee?
As I’ve stated above, there are multiple resources which we are entrusted to manage. I think the overall best advice I can give to a prospective Forest Service employee is to not only serve their resource but to be open-minded and willing to work with other resource departments in finding compromises to issues which may arise.