Coggins should write a book – as a matter of fact, he will

<p>Longtime ODFW?district biologist Vic Coggins, out in the field with the bighorn sheep he helped reintroduce to the Wallowas and Hells Canyon NRA, retired at the end of 2012 and now plans to write a book based on his experience and a journal he’s kept for 50 years. In the background is Francis Cassier of the University of Idaho.</p>

For 47 years Vic Coggins worked closely with both the wildlife and the people of Wallowa County, and knows enough about them to write a book – and that’s what he plans to do.

Coggins, 69, retired as district biologist of the Enterprise office of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife at the end of last year, wrapping up his long career Dec. 31. His longtime ODFW partner, assistant biologist Pat Matthews, has stepped up as acting district biologist.

Coggins started working for the state game commission in Enterprise “at the old hatchery” for two summers while a college student, starting in June of 1965, doing everything from planting fish to hazing elk.

After graduating from Oregon State with a degree in wildlife management in March of 1967.

He then went to work full-time in Enterprise – first as fisheries biologist and within a few months as the district’s assistant biologist – and has never left. He became ODFW district biologist in 1978.

“I just liked the county and I liked the people, and we never left,” he said about spending a whole career in one place.

A native of the Rogue River valley in southern Oregon, Coggins remembered first coming to Wallowa County to hunt in the Minam area in 1962.

One of Coggins’ major accomplishments is playing a major part in the successful re-introduction of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in the Wallowas.

Starting from zero bighorns when the program started, there are now up to about 450 in Wallowa County and 250 in Baker County. Bighorn are highly susceptible to disease, and dealing with outbreaks of pneumonia has been a big challenge for Coggins and his team.

Among many other successful stories are the reintroduction and growing number of mountain goats and wild turkeys. He also played a part in land purchases to the public.

During his many years Coggins has faced many conflicts involving wildlife ranging from bighorns catching disease from domestic sheep to huge elk herds competing for forage on private Zumwalt range.

One of these recently is dealing with the arrival and growing number of wolves in Wallowa County. “The wolves, that’s a whole other story,” Coggins said, predicting that Wallowa County is “on the verge of having a whole lot of wolves.”

Coggins and his wife Vicki raised two children in Wallowa County, son Kreg and daughter Jodi Hepton, who lives in Nampa, Idaho, and have four grandchildren. Kreg Coggins is an Oregon State Police game officer, and has worked down the hall from his father since 2005.

Though Coggins started his retirement with a long trip to Arizona, to visit relatives and to hunt wild boar and desert quail, he has no plans to become a snowbird.

Coggins said that he’s kept a daily journal for the last 50 year. “I want to go through my journals and try to write a book,” he said, adding that a number of friends are urging him on. He notes that his journal entries includes many observations and quotes from old-timers who have since died, and his book will involve history and wildlife. Coggins said he also has thousands of slides he wants to go through and organize.

A retirement party in Coggins’ honor, “after 47 years of making wildlife history” is planned for 4 p.m. Feb. 16 in Cloverleaf Hall.

Pat Matthew, who has been ODFW’s local assistant biologist for 25 years, is currently acting district biologist for Wallowa County.

“He was able to work with a lot of types of people,” Matthews said about Coggins. “If it had to do with anything beneficial with wildlife, he did it.”

One of Coggins’ biggest attributes over the years was his enthusiasm for his job, Matthews said. “I think during his last week on the job he enjoyed what he did as much as his first.”

Coggins, who is now looking forward to writing the book of his professional life, doesn’t disagree. “I’ve had a lot of satisfaction in my job. I don’t know if I’d change anything … except maybe slow the wolves down.”

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