Northeast Regional Fish and Wildlife Health Coordinator Hired

Northeast Regional Fish and Wildlife Health Coordinator Hired

The Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (NEAFWA) is partnering with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Wildlife Management Institute (WMI) to hire a Northeast Regional Fish and Wildlife Health Coordinator. The Coordinator will encourage and support the network of fish and wildlife health practitioners in their work to address zoonotic and other wildlife diseases and other fish and wildlife health issues across the Northeast. After an extensive search and interview process, the cooperators are pleased to announce that Dr. Melanie Kunkel has accepted the position.

Dr. Melanie Kunkel

Dr. Kunkel graduated from the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine and School of Health Professions with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) and Master’s in Public Health (MPH) in 2017. She currently is finishing her graduate studies at the University of Georgia under Dr. Nicole Nemeth. She also serves as a wildlife veterinary diagnostician at the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study (SCWDS).

Dr. Kunkel’s PhD research focused on evaluating the impacts of West Nile Virus (WNV) on three upland game bird species: the wild turkey, ruffed grouse, and northern bobwhite quail. She collaborated extensively with 15+ state wildlife agencies and researchers throughout her 4+ years at SCWDS to coordinate multi-regional WNV serosurveys in ruffed grouse and wild turkeys.

These research projects are excellent examples of regional, multi-state wildlife health surveillance efforts driven by interest from state wildlife agency personnel, researchers, hunters, and other outdoor enthusiasts. The aim of these studies is to provide data-driven recommendations to state and federal wildlife agencies to assist with management of these valued game birds both within states and throughout regions.

Dr. Kunkel’s projected official start date is June 1, 2023, following completion of her PhD. Collaborators will be working over the next few months to determine where Dr. Kunkel will be located within the NEAFWA states. Her first course of action will be to meet wildlife health and other state agency personnel to assess capacity and needs.

“I am confident that Dr. Kunkel possesses the skill sets, experience, and knowledge required to assist NEAFWA in its efforts to address the many fish and wildlife health challenges facing our region,” noted Paul Johansen, chief of the wildlife resources section for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources and chair of the search committee. “We look forward to her active engagement on these issues as she works to pull together a coordinated and collaborative approach for managing fish and wildlife health concerns in the Northeast.”

Gordon Batcheller, executive secretary of NEAFWA, stated, “Fish and wildlife disease surveillance and response requires an interstate/regional approach, and Dr. Kunkel’s appointment will enable strong coordination amongst the member states within NEAFWA. She’ll work very closely with field personnel and managers throughout the Northeast region.”

“We are so excited to have Dr. Kunkel coming to the Northeast states as our Fish and Wildlife Health Coordinator. She has a tremendous skillset and comes in with a lot of experience gained through the Southeast Wildlife Disease Cooperative to be able to have an immediate impact,” said Krysten Schuler, Cornell Wildlife Health Lab.

Rob Hossler, wildlife administrator for the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife, stated that “having someone of the caliber of Dr. Kunkel in the role as the Regional Fish and Wildlife Health Coordinator will be a blessing for all the Northeast state fish and wildlife agencies, particularly those states like Delaware that currently have very limited wildlife health resources and expertise.”

“We feel very lucky to have had the tremendous response that we did from highly qualified candidates, but Melanie truly met all of our expectations as the right person to carry out this important work,” added Scot Williamson, WMI vice president and Northeast field representative.

We hope you will join us in welcoming Dr. Kunkel to NEAFWA and will say hello to her in person at the upcoming Northeast Fish and Wildlife Conference in Hershey, PA!

March 13, 2023