Illinois Department of Natural Resources
November 2020
November 2, 2020

Meet the Staff: Megan Dassow, District Wildlife Biologist

By Kathy Andrews Wright

Photos courtesy of the IDNR.

Megan Dassow’s father believed quality time with his children was spent on weekend nature adventures that entailed wandering the woods, fishing and bird watching. And on occasion, that quality time meant some up-close-and-personal experiences, such as the time they were cruising down a road near her childhood hometown in the Virginia foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains and he leapt out of the car to catch and show his children an opossum. 

A biologist in a green sea foam shirt holds a mottled brown female wood duck. In the background is a grassland against a partly cloudy blue sky.

Nature hikes with her father directed Dassow down a natural resources career path, first working as a wildlife technician on a variety of projects and in late 2019 landing her a position as an Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) District Wildlife Biologist. Working from the Gibson City office, Dassow’s district covers Livingston, Ford, McLean, Macon, Piatt and Dewitt counties. 

While earning her Associate’s degree in Natural Resources Management in Virginia she had the unique opportunity to work with a professor who involved his natural resources students on weeks long projects each fall and spring banding migratory birds. She was so enraptured with the work that he advised her to seek internships in the field to build her knowledge and experience. Her first internship led her to a wildlife refuge in Medicine Lake Montana and resulted in continuing her college education there.

“I liked the gypsy lifestyle of a wildlife technician, bouncing around from project to project, changing work locations often and working on a variety of research projects,” Dassow commented, adding that love intervened in Canada when she worked as a crew leader for a Southern Illinois University-Carbondale (SIU-C) Master’s student studying waterfowl nesting success in the Prairie Parklands. She followed that man, now her husband, to SIU-C where she completed her bachelor’s degree in Zoology. Following graduation, she worked in North Dakota as a Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist for Pheasants Forever, and for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Illinois as a Soil Conservation Technician, or as she claimed, “the boots on the ground person working for the agricultural producers in the county.” Her entry to IDNR was as a Natural Resources Coordinator with the Habitat Team, leading to her promotion to a District Wildlife Biologist in November 2019.

Two biologists in white shirts are standing near group of white long beaked waterfowl. In the background is a bare patch of ground scattered with tree limbs and leaf litter.

Although only on the job a few months, Dassow’s past experiences drove her to quickly respond to the question of what aspect of her job she likes most—solving habitat problems and working to find solutions to improve conditions.

“I enjoy that in some regards wildlife management is fluid and we have the freedom to try new things,” she explained. “Recognizing that our decisions are based on science and research, we have the flexibility to monitor current research efforts, which often helps us develop new skills and provides a basis for implementing actions based on newly emerging research recommendations.”

Another aspect of her job Dassow values is interacting with the public.

“I enjoy the time I spend on the phone helping people with nuisance wildlife problems as this provides me with the opportunity to help them learn about wildlife and see their ‘problem’ from a different perspective,” she said.

“Unlike many of my counterparts in the Division of Wildlife Resources I did not grow up hunting but went on my first hunt at about age 23,” Dassow remarked. “Recognizing I was nervous, two female biologists I worked with in Montana organized a ladies waterfowl hunt and I fell in love with everything about the experience. My experience helps me relate to folks who are getting into hunting later in life and today I am paying it forward by taking other women out on their first hunts.”

A family comprised of a man, woman, and child all wearing red floatation vests are enjoying a canoe ride on a river.

Dassow and her husband are continuing family traditions by spending quality time on nature adventures with their son, who they call their little biologist in training, claiming there must be something genetic in the interest he shares with both parents. 

“My husband is a sixth generation farmer on property in southeast Livingston County, land that has supported a long line of conservation farmers,” Dassow explained. “We are able to share with our son the work that has taken place for generations to protect the land and enhance its value for wildlife. With a natural wetland in our backyard, and a father who builds wetlands for fun, it’s only natural that this message—and passion—will be instilled in him.”

Kathy Andrews Wright is retired from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources where she was editor of Outdoor Illinois magazine. She is currently the editor of Outdoor Illinois Wildlife Journal and Illinois Audubon magazine.