A fter three years as a Peace Corps volunteer in one of South Americas most beautiful rainforest ecosystems, Cyrus Brame sought employment back home.
I knew at that point that the only places in the United States as beautiful and pristine as the MacheChindul Mountains in Ecuador are at national wildlife refuges, he says. Refuges should not only be picturesque, they should shine, says Brame, a wildlife refuge specialist at Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
Maintaining that vision, Brame created the James River Excess to Asset program, cleaning up refuge lands by recycling scrap metal, equipment and construction debris. So far, more than 23,000 pounds of scrap metal have been recycled. In 2010 alone, the program generated $1,300 for the refuge complex through recycling and more than $30,000 for the federal governments general fund through auctioning of old equipment for reuse.
For his ingenuity and initiative, Brame was named a 2011 Sustainability Hero through the Department of the Interiors Environmental Achievement Awards program. He was one of three individuals and several teams within Interior to receive awards for exceptional stewardship of the environment.
Cyrus passion for natural resource conservation has converted a former equipment bone yard into habitat, says Andy Hofmann, manager of the refuge complex. Hofmann, who nominated Brame for the award, describes his employees program as a model for any refuge looking to rid itself of heavy equipment and related debris.
A native of rural North Carolina, Brame graduated from North Carolina State Universitys College of Natural Resources and went on to Ecuador through the Peace Corps to teach local farmers to manage rainforests without clearcutting. His station was remote, and few people passed through. Once a group of teachers from New Jersey visited as part of an Earthwatch International expedition, and that is how Brame met his future wife, Victoria Winterhalter.
After his Peace Corps tour ended in 1997, Brame interned at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia before moving to Philadelphia in 1999 as volunteer coordinator at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum. He and Winterhalter married that year and now have two daughters.
One of his larger projects at John Heinz Refuge was an annual cleanup of Darby Creek, which runs along the refuge. Every year Brame and his cadre of volunteers pulled out hundreds of pounds of trash, recycling mostly aluminums and metals.
As satisfying as the cleanup was, Brame says, it was disheartening to know youve done a good job in April, and in August you start seeing debris again.
After five years in Philadelphia, Brame moved to Eastern Virginia Rivers Refuge Complex in 2003, initially as an outdoor recreation planner.
With help from Luther Vick, a longtime refuge maintenance worker, Brame set about identifying old trucks, bulldozers and other equipment that could be reused elsewhere. Most of the equipment was at Presquile National Wildlife Refuge, an island in the James River accessible only by boat or cable ferry.
Despite logistical hurdles and lots of paperwork, Brame identified the assets and then loaded them onto trailers to cross a narrow expanse of the river. Approximately 32 items have been removed and sold at General Services Administration (GSA) auctions.
In addition to regular cleanups, Brame also coordinated a major restoration initiative on Earth Day 2009, enlisting the help of more than 100 volunteers. Nearly 30,000 pounds of debris, including old tires, were removed. Sapling bald cypress and green ash were planted on the previously trashed property.
Most satisfying for Brame is the permanence of the restoration. Unlike at Darby Creek, where new debris washes up, most of the trash at the James River refuges was left over from an old farming operation. He estimates it all will be gone in three to five years.
Jennifer Anderson is a frequent contributor to Refuge Update.