Meet the Army guy who fights for the sage grouse

As the Air Force’s deputy director of logistics, Eugene Collins looked after pilots, making sure they had what they needed to soar.

Now the Army’s deputy assistant secretary for environment, safety and occupational health, Collins is looking out for a feathery squadron.

“My new pilots are endangered species,” the retired colonel said. “I’ve gone from worrying about pilots and missiles and bombs to being concerned about tortoises, northern long-eared bats and greater sage grouse, making sure that we can respect and live in harmony with the environment.”

After serving 26 years in the Air Force, Collins retired and then returned to the Defense Department as a civilian. He was appointed last June as second in command of Army environmental programs, working under Katherine Hammack, the assistant secretary for installations, energy and environment.

Collins started the job as military efforts to shield endangered species — especially the greater sage grouse — were being closely scrutinized by Congress. He quickly found himself “in a learning mode” on managing resources and charged politics around them.

“I didn’t even know what a greater sage grouse was until I got here,” said the Greenville, Miss., native. “I grew up in the Deep South, and there are no sage grouse in Mississippi. I mean, we have a lot of chickens and roosters, but no sage grouse.”

The boisterous Collins likes to say his current job is a “far cry” from what he thought he’d do when he joined the Air Force 35 years ago.

“I went from being an airplane maintenance officer to taking care of these sage grouse, and I guess the only similarity there is that they both fly,” he said.

Continue reading