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Shane Otto honored with 2017 Torch Award

The Torch Award is our region’s opportunity to recognize an individual who has demonstrated a commitment to his or her program and dedicated themselves in a way that inspires others during that season. This year, we recognized Shane Otto from Horicon - Leopold National Wildlife Refuge Complex for his outstanding work in the fire program at the annual fire management meeting in La Crosse, Wisconsin on February 13, 2018.

Shane Otto with Charlie Blair. Photo by USFWS.
2017 Torch Award winner Shane Otto with Charlie Blair, Regional Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Photo by USFWS.

Some candidates are easily recognized by the scope of the projects they take on, the number of operations they participated in or the impact that those projects had on the station, region or even national level. Sometimes overlooked, we fail to recognize the collateral firefighters who dedicate themselves to the success of the fire program. It is a group effort for sure and there is always that one “go to” person that fire managers, firefighters and refuge managers lean on more than anyone else. Those folks don’t ever say no, they don’t complain, they would never ask for recognition and they do everything with a smile on their face. Shane Otto is that person.

As a collateral firefighter, Otto has been a leader, operator, resource advisor, trainer, educator and collaborator. The ultimate “Team Player.” Otto is that go to person because he gets done. Otto has demonstrated in his accomplishments, both past and present, his dedication to the Horicon-Leopold Complex and the North Zone of the Midwest Region Fire Management Program.

Since 2007, the Torch Award annually recognizes personnel that exemplify the “best of the best” and is built on peer-nominated employees, with the winner selected by the Regional Fire Management Coordinator. As a part of the nomination process, Otto’s peers stepped up with extensive testimonials.

“Over his career, Shane has saved the complex an excess of $100,000 due to his leadership and dedication in managing the seed collection program. In fiscal year 2017, Shane collected $40,000 worth of prairie seed, which more than covered his salary. Shane’s contributions to the fire program truly are priceless,” said Leopold Wetland Management District Fire Management Specialist Derek Casbon.

Service firefighters from across the region nominate their peers based on the following criteria:

Dedication to the conservation of wildlife habitat utilizing safe hazard fuel / prescribed fire reduction techniques

Dedication to refuge / Wetland Management District cooperation and interagency collaboration in meeting habitat conservation burning goals

The Regional Fire Management Coordinator makes the final selection of the winner each year.

Past Torch Award Recipients:

2007 – Chris Mursu, Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge
2008 – Mike Belsky, Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
2009 – Eric Acker, Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge
2010 – Ben Halverson, Leopold Wetland Management District
2011 – Eric Nelson, Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge
2012 – David Jones, Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge
2013 – Phil Millette, Morris Wetland Management District
2014 – Blake Knisley, Iowa Wetland Management District
2015 – Jason Westholter, Detroit Lakes Wetland Management District
2016 – Darrin Franco, Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge

By Dan Labor
Necedah National Wildlife Refuge

Last updated: June 8, 2020