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Fargo native to head National Wildlife Refuge System's Pacific region

Sarena Selbo, a graduate of Fargo South High School and the University of North Dakota, will soon be chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System in Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and the Pacific Islands, which include American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Sarena Selbo, picture provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.jpg
Sarena Selbo, picture provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Special to The Forum
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PORTLAND, Ore. — Sarena Selbo’s love of wildlife and the outdoors began as a girl growing up in North Dakota.

Some of her fondest memories are from Turtle River State Park in Grand Forks County.

“At the time, they had a ranger-led program where you could get your ranger badge, like a junior ranger program, and I remember to this day taking a lot of pride in learning and accomplishing these things, trying new things, being in the outdoors and exploring with my little sister,” Selbo said.

After graduating from Fargo South High School in 1995, achieving a bachelor of science in biology and chemistry from the University of North Dakota and attaining a master of science in ecology and evolution from The Ohio State University, Selbo went on to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Now, after more than 20 years of service, she will take up a new position as the chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System in Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and the Pacific Islands, which include American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

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“I’ve just always really enjoyed being outside and trying new things, and that progressed until today,” Selbo said. “The people, places and wildlife in the Pacific region are inspiring. Working with communities, we are protecting some of the last best habitats and places for wildlife and people to enjoy ... in the world."

Tasked with preserving native habitats, two of the biggest challenges she faces are invasive species and climate change.

“We’re really trying to keep protected lands protected, and when an invasive species comes in, they can destroy the native habitat that we need. We do spend a lot of time doing active habitat management in order to reduce the spread as well as remove and control invasive species,” Selbo said.

"After that, there is restoration and native plantings. We have to get in there and make sure we can restore the habitat for the benefit of wildlife," she said.

During her past two decades on the job, Selbo was chief for conservation planning and policy for the National Wildlife Refuge System, deputy chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System in Alaska, assistant regional director of science applications, and project leader for the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Wetland Management District Complex, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

While stationed in Alaska, Selbo had the opportunity to observe polar bears — from a distance.

“I witnessed polar bears, and they’re so incredibly awe-inspiring. It’s important we don’t disturb them," she said. "With climate change, we are seeing changes in species, distribution, what their tolerance levels are and, for a while, polar bears can survive on land, but they’ve adapted to live on ice floes. What we will likely find is that they will not be as healthy with climate change impacts. It will take time to discover how they will survive."

One of the responsibilities with her new post that she is looking forward to is the opportunity to connect with people in new communities.

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“Working for the National Wildlife Refuge System is such an honor. And it is so critical that there are folks now that are thinking that lands and water must be protected for the next generation,” Selbo said.

“Sarena’s proven leadership skills, expertise in natural resource management and dedication to inclusive partnerships and community involvement will ensure that the National Wildlife Refuge System continues to thrive,” said Hugh Morrison, acting regional director for the service’s Pacific region.

Selbo will oversee 67 national wildlife refuges, four marine national monuments and one national monument. She will begin the new position later this year.

C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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