National Wildlife Refuge System

Science Excellence

Award-winning biology team at Kenai Refuge, AK
Award-winning biology team at Kenai Refuge, AK
Credit: USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has bestowed its highest science leadership awards on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Biology Program, Jeff Williams of Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and Service geneticist Jeffrey Olsen.

“These award winners exemplify the Fish and Wildlife Service’s commitment to innovative, science-based wildlife management,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “The leadership they have shown and the lasting contributions they have made to conservation are an inspiration to us all.”

Kenai Refuge Biologists

The eight biologists on the Kenai Refuge team received the Rachel Carson group award for consistently leading from the field in developing a scientific approach to climate change.  As part of its plan to inventory and monitor biodiversity, the team has documented 1,069 species on the refuge, including one insect family and five insect species new to Alaska, two new sedges for the refuge, and a range expansion for Hammond's flycatcher.

Kenai Refuge biologists have authored or co-authored 30 scientific articles on such issues as treeline rise, drying wetlands and woody shrub encroachment into peatlands.  The team has also developed strategies to manage invasive species and collaborate with such partners as the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, academic institutions and conservation organizations.  The team continues to make significant contributions to national and regional climate change initiatives.

Jeffrey Olsen

Jeffrey Olsen received the Rachel Carson individual award for his varied and innovative work emphasizing genetic diversity, species identification and estimation of effective population size. Over the course of the five-year award period, Olsen has written nine influential peer-reviewed articles in prestigious journals. His research is varied and innovative, characterized by a high level of scientific quality and integrity. 

Olsen’s research applies state-of-the-art genetic methods to answer questions related to ecology, conservation and resource management, often at a landscape scale beyond the boundaries of a single refuge.

The Rachel Carson awards are given to groups and individuals who provide key scientific support for innovative conservation initiatives.

Jeff Williams

Jeff Williams received the Science Leadership award for exceptional scientific accomplishments that have lasting influence on the management of fish and wildlife resources.  Williams is responsible for inventory, monitoring and research on the 3.3 million acre Aleutian Islands Unit of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. He is also the chief scientist aboard the largest research vessel in the Service, the M/V Tila, and has collaborated with an incredible array of scientists investigating the marine and terrestrial resources around the Aleutian Islands.

In 2008, the long-dormant volcano on Kasatochi Island in the Aleutian chain erupted violently, completely covering the island in a thick layer of ash and other volcanic material. Fortuitously, Kasatochi had been a biological monitoring site for the refuge for many years. Williams had extensive pre-eruption data on birds, plants, marine mammals, and arthropods and he immediately recognized the astonishingly rare opportunity afforded by the Kasatochi eruption to study the potential recovery of a seemingly sterile island for which extensive pre-eruption biological data existed. 

Along with the honors bestowed on the winners, they will each take back $50,000 that will be used at their field stations to support additional scientific work.

The awards are part of an ongoing Service effort to strengthen the agency’s use of science-driven fish and wildlife conservation. As part of this effort, the Service has established a Service Science Committee and launched a number of initiatives, including:

  • creation of a new state-of-the-art electronic access system for scientific literature;
  • establishment of peer-review procedures and policy that are among the very best in government;
  • development of a new and expanding curricula in subjects like structured decision making, modeling, statistical analysis and conservation biology;
  • implementation of a Scientific Code of Professional Conduct that clearly articulates the roles and responsibilities of Service scientists and managers in the responsible development and use of scientific documents;
  • resurrection of the Service’s scientific publications, which are accepting articles and monographs for peer review and publication; and
  • support for and involvement with professional societies like The Wildlife Society, American Fisheries Society, and the Society for Conservation Biology.
Last updated: March 13, 2012