Remembering a Colleague

image of pilot, Ray Bentley, standing in front of an orange planeI had the pleasure of meeting Ray Bentley, a pilot-biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, last summer during a visit to EPA’s Western Ecology Division in Corvallis, Oregon, when he took me, photographer Eric Vance, and scientists Steven Klein and Scott Leibowitz on two flights to photograph and document ongoing EPA research from the air (I blogged about one of the flights for the August, 26 “Science Wednesday”)

Thanks to the skill, professionalism, and patience of our pilot, we landed with a portfolio of several hundred stunning aerial photographs to support science and outreach efforts, a far better understanding of EPA ecosystem services research, and a deeper appreciation for the spirit of collaboration between EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Thanks to Ray’s quick smile and generous spirit, the trip was both fruitful and fun.

Last week, I learned the tragic news that Ray, along with his passenger biologist David Pitkin, died on January 17 when their plane went down in a wooded area west of Philomath, OR. The two were returning from a day spent flying over estuaries along the Oregon coast, counting ducks, geese, and swans for an annual mid-winter waterfowl survey.

Even though I only spent the better part of an afternoon with Ray, he made a big impression. His love of flying and wildlife were evident. As a wildlife aficionado and former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee myself, I loved hearing his tales of survey flights over wilderness areas and National Wildlife Refuges from Chesapeake Bay to Alaska. He even extended our first flight a few minutes to see if he could find a grey whale to show us off the coast of Newport. (No such luck.)

One of the best parts of my job is getting to work with people—scientists, photographers, and pilot-biologists included—who clearly love what they do. Ray’s passion for flying and wildlife conservation were obvious, and infectious. The flights he took us on were the highlight of a great week, and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with him.

I offer my heartfelt condolences to the families, and many friends and colleagues of Ray Bentley and David Pitkin.

About the Author: Aaron Ferster is the lead science writer-editor for EPA’s Office of Research and Development.