Harrigal reflects on a life spent outdoors | The Press and Standard

by | December 29, 2017 5:01 pm

Last Updated: December 27, 2017 at 11:50 am


Dean Harrigal grew up with a fishing rod in one hand and a shotgun in the other with parents who were both interested in the outdoors. So becoming a wildlife biologist was a natural progression for his life to follow.
“In my earlier years, I wanted to be a veterinarian because I idolized our vet,” he said. Then he went off to college and discovered getting into vet school was a lot harder than he thought. By chance, he took a wildlife biology course and a light bulb went on. After two summers working at the Webb Wildlife Center in Hampton County, he was hooked. “I realized there was a niche for people who like the outdoors, and in the science of what we do as wildlife biologists,” he said. And for the last 35 years, that’s what he’s done.
Harrigal’s first job after graduate school was at Poco Sabo Plantation in Green Pond. He spent seven years there, “getting my Ph.D. in practical application.”
Then in 1990, he was offered the chance to head the S.C. Dept. of Natural Resources’ statewide wood duck project, then spent two years as a small game biologist in Columbia. But in 1992, his career took the turn he’d been waiting for. His boss called him into his office and asked, “How fast can you get to Green Pond?” “ In two hours and 10 minutes,” Harrigal replied. And his 25-year career in the Lowcountry began.
“There’s just something about the Lowcountry — you can’t describe it,” he said. “I think a lot of people don’t realize what we have here in Colleton County, the heart of the Lowcountry. And helping to preserve that through the ACE Basin Project is one of the highlights of my career. By protecting the land, we’ve protected good places to live, our air quality, our water quality. We have great places to enjoy the out of doors. Go to Donnelley or Bear Island, or put your boat in at Bennetts Point or the Ashepoo and take a ride. Then try to do the same thing to the north or south of us. Go to Greenville or Hilton Head or Charleston.”
He spent the next 25 years managing land and wildlife at Donnelley, Bear Island and around the ACE Basin — a job his wife Jean described as the best job in the world. His last three years, however, were different. “Basically when I moved up a notch, I became more of an administrator and less of a wildlife biologist,” he said. But one of his former student interns, Emily Cummings Cope of Lodge, who is now a deputy director with SCDNR in Columbia, had talked him into helping out — just in time for the great flood and two hurricanes.
He still loved his job, but missed the field work.
There’re a lot of great things about being a wildlife biologist, in addition to conservation of natural resources. “A lot of people think wildlife biologists hunt and fish for a living. Well, we don’t. It’s kind of hard to describe, but as a wildlife biologist I work with animals, the habitats they live in and the people they interact with.”
No one day in the life of a wildlife biologist is the same. “It depends on the time of year. It might be banding ducks or working a duck hunt. It might be working a deer hunt or aging deer jawbones. And likely talking to people about what you do and why you do it. Working with the habitat, working with forest prescriptions. A lot of little things,” he said.
And then there’s the business side — less fun but equally important. “I stressed to my staff that the business part is important because if you do the business right, that allows you to do the biology,” he said. “Like eating your vegetables first before you can move on to the really fun stuff.”
Harrigal’s favorite part of his job has always been managing habitats for wildlife, particularly birds. “The habitat is a canvas and you can paint it appropriately. And if you paint it appropriately, a lot of times you’ll get the results you were hoping for.” Providing the correct living conditions determines the health and success of wildlife populations.
Now that he’s officially retired from SCDNR, Harrigal plans to continue that habitat work with long-time friend and mentor Robert Folk and sons Travis and Clay at Folk Land Management. The new job will provide him with an opportunity to get back to more of the in-the-field biology that his last three years in SCDNR administration didn’t allow. “I’m not through being a wildlife biologist, not by a long shot. I’ll be doing many things at Folk Land Management that I’m looking forward too. That completes my circle.”
He smiled as he paraphrased a quote from Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney: “I’m looking through the windshield at the future. Dabo said just glance in the rearview mirror to remind yourself where you’ve been, but always look at the windshield so you know where you’re going.
“That’s the way I choose to look at it.”

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