Las Vegas, N.M. –Shaun Sánchez, a leader in the United States National Wildlife Refuge system, was named a distinguished New Mexico Highlands University alumnus for the June 27 — 28 Summer Alumni Reunion.
Sánchez will be recognized at the alumni dinner June 27 at 6 p.m. in the ballroom of the Student Union Building at the northwest corner of National Avenue and 8th Street.
The 34-year-old is a Las Vegas native and Robertson High graduate. He earned his B.S. in biology in 2001 and rose quickly within the management ranks of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, managing National Wildlife Refuges in New Mexico, Alaska, Texas and Nevada.
Today, Sánchez is the deputy assistant director for refuges in the 10-state Southeast Regional Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which encompasses 129 national wildlife refuges and more than three million acres.
Sánchez oversees resource allocation for an $86-million budget, develops fish and wildlife policies, and promotes efficient operations at the refuges in the southeast region.
He also prioritizes work for more than 600 U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees in the region that includes Louisiana, Arkansas, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The region also includes refuges in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
“Since my early days at our family ranch in Buena Vista on the Mora River, I’ve had a lifelong connection to wildlife,” Sánchez said. “I have a passion for conserving wildlife for generations to come. I get paid to do what I love.
“It’s been fantastic working for U.S. Fish and Wildlife, which has opened so many doors for me. It’s been an adventure to serve at so many national wildlife refuges. Each one is a jewel,” Sánchez said.
He added that he never dreamed he’d have the chance to see the incredible wildlife diversity of the National Wildlife Refuge system — like moose, caribou, wolves and Chinook salmon runs in the Alaskan Yukon, desert bighorn sheep in the Mojave Desert of Nevada, sea turtles nesting in coastal waters of Florida and the Carolinas, and sandhill cranes in New Mexico.
Sánchez said the rewards are many in his work.
“The first look of awe when a refuge visitor sees thousands of snow geese lift into flight is so moving. It’s extremely rewarding that I have a part in making these connections to nature and wildlife possible,” Sanchez said.
He also takes satisfaction in working on species reintroduction – like red wolves in North Carolina — and habitat restoration — like bottomland hardwood forest restoration for the endangered Louisiana black bear.
Sanchez said Highlands helped lay the groundwork for his successful career with U.S. Fish and Wildlife.
“My educational experience at Highlands was very good. Biology professors Dr. Maureen Romine, Dr. Mary Shaw, and Dr. Ben Nelson were extremely knowledgeable and always available to help students learn and succeed. The small class sizes allowed for much more engagement than you’d get at a larger university,” Sánchez said.
The trio of biology professors still teach at Highlands.
It was Shaw who told Sanchez about internship opportunities at the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge, where he was a student trainee from 2000 — 2001.
“This internship at my hometown refuge was when I first started to understand wildlife management,” Sanchez said.
He said he’s both humbled and honored to be named a distinguished alumnus for Highlands.