After Vic Coggins retired five years ago as district biologist after a 47 years career in Enterprise with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, he made a commitment that he has sometimes regretted.
In his retirement story in the Chieftain, the headline proclaimed, “Coggins should write a book –– as a matter of fact, he will.”
Titled “Memoirs of a Backcountry Bio: 50 Years Managing Wallowa County Wildlife,” the 233-page book is finished and already selling briskly, so far through word-of-mouth advertising though it will soon be available in local outlets.
Vic and his wife, Vicki, established their own business, Coggins Wildlife Publishing,to produce the paperback, and give credit to La Grande’s Jerry Gildemeister of Gildemeister Photography and Design for photo work and page layout.
“We couldn’t have done it without him,” Vicki said.
Since Vic terms himself computer illiterate, he wrote the entire book longhand, in pencil “because it has an eraser,” and Vicki not only edited but typed it all into a digital format. She also did considerable rewriting, translating her husband’s more technical lingo.
The book includes about 360 photos –– including one of Vic holding a fawn at age six –– mostly gleaned from carefully labeled color slides taken in the field.
“If I’d known how much work it would be, I don’t know if I would have had the will,” Vic, now 74, admitted. He got to work on it in his home office on Alder Slope soon after retiring, spurred on by his published intention and frequent queries from friends and acquaintances about how his book was progressing.
The book draws heavily on the biologist’s daily work journal, which formed the basis of weekly reports to the state ODFW office throughout his career. It began in 1965 working with the state game department at the old fish hatchery in Enterprise.
After graduating with a masters degree in fish and wildlife management from Oregon State University in 1967, Coggins went to work full-time in Enterprise, first as fisheries biologist and then as assistant to the district biologist. He became a biologist in 1978, and spent the rest of his career in Wallowa County.
He and Vicki raised three children here, Michael, Jodi and Kreg, with Kreg Coggins –– who has a degree in fish and wildlife –– returning to Enterprise to work as a state police game officer. Vic dedicated his book to their six grandchildren.
“They wanted to move me more than once,” Vic said about his agency’s policy of regular transfer of personnel, which he said has changed somewhat. “They’ve come to realize maybe it’s better that their people stay in one place and become part of the community, especially in Eastern Oregon.”
There have only been a few district biologists in Enterprise because of their propensity to stay put. Vic’s successor, Pat Matthews, worked with him for many years here before being promoted.
Vic considers that his relationship with locals a high point of his career. “I learned a lot from them.”
“That’s all in the book,” said Vic when asked questions about events centered around local wildlife issues through the years –– from the changes in hunting regulations and culture, successful reintroduction of bighorn sheep to, more recently, the return of wolves to the county.
Vic’s interest in wildlife history, as well as his personal experiences, is reflected in his writing. He recalls he used to have the late historian Grace Bartlett watch out for tidbits of wildlife lore for him.
Separate chapters are devoted to ungulates, such as mule and white-tail deer, Rocky Mountain elk, big horn sheep, mountain goats, bison and moose, and to carnivores, including cougars, bear and wolves. There are also chapters titled “Horse Wrecks” and “Flying Machines.” Humorous anecdotes and stories featuring local people are interspersed and combined with more serious content.
Vic was named ODFW Biologist of the Year in 1987 and has earned many other awards, including one presented this year from the National Wild Sheep Foundation, inclusion on the organization’s “Wild Sheep Biologist’s Hall of Fame.” Since retirement, he also has done private wildlife consulting work on local ranches.
Will he write another book? Bic admitted that he does have enough material for another one –– about upland birds and furbearers in Wallowa County –– but now knowing the work involved, has his doubts that it will ever be written.
“Memoirs of a Backcountry Bio” can be ordered online for a pre-publication price of $39.50 plus $5.50 mailing. Customers can also pick it up at the Coggins home on Alder Slope. Call 541-426-3809 first. The book will be available at The Bookloft, Josephy Center and other outlets in the near future.