Olson to join ranks of retired after 34 years

30_garyfwp1330RETIRING  — Biologist Gary Olson of Fish, Wildlife and Parks will be retiring after 34 years of service. A celebration of his work and community service will be held on Dec. 3, 6 p.m. at the Pondera Shooting Sports Complex. Tickets will not be sold at the door. See story for information.  I-O Photo by Buck Traxler

By Buck Traxler, I-O Editor

After 34 years of being in and out of the fields, Fish, Wildlife and Parks Biologist Gary Olson is going to retire.

He grew up on a family ranch near Choteau and graduated from Choteau High School and moved on, going to UofM-Missoula where he received a BS degree in Wildlife Management and a Masters’ in Range Management.

With two degrees in hand, his first job was with the Great Falls Credit Bank. That didn’t last long and he moved back to manage the family ranch for four years before moving to Conrad in 1978.

Once posted here he and his wife Kathy, a nurse at the Pondera Medical Center Clinic, have never left and let their roots run deep.

Olson noted that being here allowed him to use both degrees working on vegetation and grazing projects as well as habitat management. “It was the best of two worlds.”

However, his interests were wide and varied and he had an untapped expertise in several areas. He might best be described as a Renaissance Man.

In the late 1980s he ran for and was elected to the District 10 school board where he served two terms.

“We had kids in school and I was interested in their activities, I had no ax to grind,” he said.

He feels that a community is run by people who give their time. “I really enjoyed being involved with the kids’ interests in school, it just seemed natural to be on the board,” he said.

From the school board on the late 1980s Olson moved around the corner to Main St. and served two terms as a city councilman. “It was an eye opener,” he said, “Public service of any kind forces you to look at another person’s points of view, even if you don’t agree with it.” That time on the council was very educational for him.

He recalled that one of the big issues while he was on the council was Blue Sky Villa. While seated, he was part of the decision making to have asphalt laid down on the east side of town which cut down immensely in dust. Before, the streets were just dirt roads.

Another accomplishment he was part of was the trenchless sewer pipes that were put in, which at the time was a somewhat new technology and Conrad was one of the first cities in Montana to have them laid down in their alley ways.

A really fun project for him was helping with the Pondera Shooting Sports complex. “It was a  tremendous  opportunity for people to come together and just a great asset to our community,” he said.

Olson couldn’t say enough good things about the people and the complex, “It was a phenomenal project for which people donated material and money, and it just restored your faith in humanity.”

Possibly the project he may become best remembered for are the Then and Now senior/baby pictures shown at graduation which are set to music.

Originally there were duplicate slides to be made for projectors, enough wiring that it would frazzle Frankenstein and the crossing of fingers that it would all come together for “show time!”

And, it did. Through the years it has evolved to be a looked forward to segment of graduation and computerized equipment has replaced “old timey” slide projectors for which Olson still has in his office.

As his career rapidly winds down, he said he was happy to be a part of two projects and work with opponents over land management, one being the Blackleaf which has opened a little bit and the other the Charley Lincoln Ranch, which opened up a lot.

Readers may recall a story in the October of 1990 about Earl the Elk.

In the later 1980s, Olson was involved in a radio collar project in the Sweetgrass Hills which included archery hunters.

To make a long story short he recalled, one of the collared Elk showed up and was captured in and around Independence, Mo.

It was the longest recorded movement of a Montana Elk, 1,800 miles. “That was kind of a fun thing,” he said, adding, “makes you wonder how Earl ever got from here to Missouri.”

Speaking of his retirement, he  would be doing some management at the ranch in Choteau and some independent consulting, “We’ll see how that works.”

He also noted that his house needs some work too, and jokingly says, “Kathy has a list.”

He will miss working with landowners, farmers and ranchers.

There is a retirement dinner at the Shooting Sports Complex for Olson on Dec. 3 starting at 6 p.m. Seating is limited and tickets will not be sold at the door and must be purchased before Nov. 23.

For more information or to purchase a ticket, contact Roger Keith at 278-3476, Diane Boyd at 271-7033 or Willy Marsh at 278 3158.