Inside Region 3
Midwest Region
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Award winners Steve Gifford and Bill McCoy. Photo by Richard Vernier/USFWS.

Award winners Steve Gifford and Bill McCoy. Photo by Richard Vernier/USFWS.

Recognizing greatness

On October 8, staff, volunteers and the wider community in Oakland City, Indiana recognized two great conservation leaders as a part of the their annual refuge celebration. Deputy Regional Chief of Refuges Tom Worthington was on-hand to mark the occasion and help Refuge Manager Bill McCoy present a very special past-refuge volunteer and photographer Steve Gifford with the prestigious Silver Eagle Award. Little did McCoy know that he too would be honored during the day’s festivities.

Building an Army Through Photographs

The Silver Eagle Award recognizes individuals from outside Service who have made exceptional contributions to environmental and natural resource issues. It is our most prestigious external award, one that we only present to visionaries after many years of dedication. This special honor came through two different Service programs, that of External Affairs and National Wildlife Refuge System, respectfully, since there was no one award within each program that better captured Gifford’s conservation efforts.

We have been busy building an army here in the Midwest Region through our regional social media accounts. In the seven years that we have been using social media to engage people from around the world, we have grown a following of more than 245,000 followers and have established a strong following on several social platforms. We could not have done this so quickly without Gifford’s wildlife photography.

Gifford has been incredibly generous with his photography over the years, granting us an open invitation to use any and all of his photos. A quality image is not enough by itself though, our social media following is also built on credibility. Thanks to Gifford’s extensive knowledge, we never have to question the species identification he provides. Gifford goes the extra mile to fully annotate his images in Flickr, including interesting observations and assisting us in producing volumes of quality posts for our global fan base.

These amazing images tell a conservation success story for Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge. Gifford started exploring Patoka River on a regular basis in 2009. At the time, he was getting more serious about birding and photography, and would stop in to the refuge office to share photos and ask questions. Being relatively new to birding, he had never seen many of these birds before. After getting to know refuge staff, Gifford became a volunteer, helping with bird counts, trail maintenance and invasive species control. Most of his efforts focus on sharing his discoveries with others by photographing the beautiful species that call the refuge home.

Gifford has brought more positive notoriety to the refuge from a wildlife standpoint than anyone else through his generous sharing of photographs, public presentations and preparations of detailed maps posted on e-bird showing the best locations to spot migrating birds. For promoting the refuge, Gifford prepared a virtual reality refuge tour using Powerpoint to lead people through the refuge while showing them photos of where to go to improve their chances of seeing wildlife.

Leading with tenacity

As I mentioned earlier, there were two award winners at this year’s Refuge Appreciation Day. Deputy Regional Chief of Refuges Tom Worthington had the honor to recognize the efforts of Bill McCoy as well. Worthington surprised him with the Meritorious Service Award, which recognizes career employees who have made exceptional contributions to the Department of Interior mission.

McCoy’s 46 year-long career with the Service has been marked by his persistence and passion for conservation. Instrumental in the establishment, growth, and restoration of Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge, McCoy has been involved since even before the refuge was established in 1994.

In 1991, McCoy began working on the environmental impact statement which resulted in the establishment of the refuge. As the first and only refuge manager to date, McCoy oversaw the acquisition and protection of more than 9,000 acres of one of the last bottomland hardwood forests in Indiana.

McCoy would tell you that he didn’t do this alone. By building a network of conservation partners including Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, Duke Energy, Sycamore Land Trust, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Friends of Patoka, and the State of Indiana, McCoy was able to take advantage of acquisition opportunities as they arose, and has strategically and creatively grown the refuge. The lands and waters now protected by the refuge are nesting homes for the endangered interior least tern and Indiana bat.

McCoy’s conservation ethic reaches beyond the refuge boundaries. Through his tenacity and partnerships skills McCoy also played an instrumental role in helping state and local governments establish the 8,000-acre state-owned Goose Pond Wildlife Management Area and the 1,000-acre state-owned Tern Bar Slough Wildlife Management Area, restoring a mosaic of wetland, forest, and prairie.

McCoy also played a key role in a variety of private citizens groups, raising awareness about topics ranging from acid mine drainage to air quality. In recognition for his impact to fish and wildlife conservation in Indiana, McCoy was awarded the Indiana Wildlife Society’s “Hoosier Wildlife Award” in 2014.

Learn more about Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge:

By Tina Shaw
Regional Office - External Affairs


Tom Worthington
Regional Office - National Wildlife Refuge System

Last updated: November 10, 2016