Airborne Over AK

Pilot Dan Shelden Finds His Place in America’s Wildest Refuge

Dan Shelden, pilot for Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Alexis Bonogofsky for USFWS)
Dan in flight (Alexis Bonogofsky for USFWS)
Dan Shelden in the Sheenjek River Valley of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with Steve Berendzen, Refuge Manager (Alexis Bonogofsky for USFWS)
sinuous rivers in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
sinuous rivers in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Flying into the Sheenjek River Valley, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Alexis Bonogofsky for USFWS)

When did you join the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service?

In 2016 I began working full time. I started flying charters for the Service in 2005.

What do you think people would find most surprising about your job?

If I can do it, anyone can.

What inspires you most about Alaska?

The presence of God — that He made this amazing and beautiful place for us to enjoy.

What is your foremost concern about Alaska’s wildlife resources?

Basically, selfishness. People tend to see the small picture, they tend to just focus on their desires. They don’t consider the big picture — what we need to do to save what we have.

When I’m not at work, I’m…

Enjoying time with special people, places and God.

What’s the greatest misconception people have about Alaska?

That it’s so vast that we can’t possibly hurt it. But I see evidence of our profound impact every time I fly.

What’s a particularly treasured memory of Alaska or your job?

Being alone in the wilderness. The silence and the solitude — the consciousness that it’s all up to you. This place is so much bigger and more powerful than you are. There’s simply nothing like being alone in Alaska’s wildest places.

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service?

It can be a good fit for some people, but it’s not for everyone. If you do find it a good fit, it can be a rewarding and enjoyable opportunity to combine personal interests and professional pursuits.

What animal most inspires you?

For a very long time I was drawn to wolves. They’re very impressive animals. They’re personable, with a lot of character. But after spending quite a bit of time with nearly every animal species in Alaska, I’d have to say wolverines. People constantly talk about how ferocious they are, but they’re not under most circumstances. They’re extremely clever, very intelligent, they’re social and playful and fantastically capable in their ability to survive.

Stories from Alaska by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

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