Newsroom Midwest Region

May 18, 2018

Tina Shaw,

Recognizing champions: Making a difference for threatened and endangered species

We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are pleased to announce the Midwest Region Recovery Champion Award winners for 2017. Each year we celebrate the contributions of people who have dedicated their lives to making a difference for threatened and endangered species. Help us recognize this year’s winners and learn about how they support our continued work to recover America’s most threatened and endangered animals and plants.

“We have the difficult task of helping states, tribes and many other partners work together to recover threatened and endangered species. It takes a dedicated and coordinated team of people to make this happen. I am proud to recognize the professionalism and dedication of this year’s recovery champions,” Regional Director Tom Melius.

Kim Mitchell and Georgia Parham: Getting people to care

Georgia Parham and Kim Kim Mitchell in the field. Photos by USFWS.
Georgia Parham and Kim Kim Mitchell in the field. Photos by USFWS.

Through their collaborative outreach and communications activities over the last 20 years, Kim Mitchell and Georgia Parham have added tremendous value to our species recovery efforts across the Midwest Region. As U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees, they have worked closely with biologists and managers, partners and the media to provide helpful information and tell compelling stories about the sensitive plants and animals we are charged to recover. Working as a team, Mitchell and Parham proactively anticipate information needs, facilitate key conversations and coordinate across organizational and geographical boundaries. They get people to care.

From piping plovers and Iowa Pleistocene snails to Karner blue butterflies and American burying beetles, each species has its own story to tell and unique set of challenges. Over the years, Mitchell and Parham have mapped out custom plans for how best to educate the public and engage our partners about these species. Their meticulous organization of information on websites, convening of experts to plan recovery communications and their use of social media, like Facebook and Twitter, have helped make these challenges real for people.

Sodalis Nature Preserve in Hannibal, Missouri - home to 200,000 federally endangered Indiana bats is a great example of how they helped people rally around an imperiled species. Prior to the preserve’s establishment, Mitchell and Parham coordinated closely with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists, as well as state and local partners and The Conservation Fund, to develop messaging within a strategy for engaging the public about the importance of cave and adjacent forested habitats for bat conservation. The preserve now protects the largest overwintering population of Indiana bats in the world and serves as a model for education, recreation and community engagement.

“Kim and Georgia find ways to explain our work and make it real for people. That involves developing and maintaining relationships within and outside of the agency and translating complex science and management decisions into tangible ideas that everyone can understand and support,” said Assistant Regional Director for External Affairs Chuck Traxler.

Tom Schneider: Collaborating at the Detroit Zoological Society and beyond

Tom Schneider and Great Lakes piping plover. Photos by USFWS.
Tom Schneider and a Great Lakes piping plover. Photos by USFWS.

Curator of Birds at Detroit Zoological Society Tom Schneider has been involved in recovery efforts for critically endangered Great Lakes piping plover, the threatened Karner blue butterfly and other species of conservation concern in the Midwest Region for decades. Schneider’s work has helped bring the resources of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to our recovery efforts for almost two decades and has been instrumental in leading and organizing the captive-rearing program for Great Lakes piping plovers. Each season Schneider has organized a large group of zoo keepers from across the country to come to Michigan and work on the captive-rearing effort. The team incubates eggs and raises chicks from abandoned piping plover nests or broods. The chicks are cared for until they fledge and are ready to be released back into the wild. In some seasons more than 20 chicks have fledged from the captive-rearing facility. This represents 10 to 15 percent of the total number of chicks fledged!

“We are fortunate to have such a strong partner coordinating species recovery efforts with academic professionals and major zoos across the country. The captive-rearing effort that Schneider leads has been a major influence on strengthening partner ties and has benefited the entire Great Lakes piping plover recovery effort,” said Assistant Regional Director for Ecological Services Lori Nordstrom.

When captive-rearing first began in the Great Lakes, fewer than 20 pairs of Great Lakes piping plovers survived and this isolated population was close to extinction. By increasing the overall number of fledged birds and protecting unique genetic lines that may have been lost from the population, captive-rearing has helped the Great Lakes piping plover population rise out of the dangerously low numbers of the 1980s and 1990s. Though the Great Lakes piping plover is still still listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, the salvage captive-rearing program has been part of an effort that has helped recover the population to 76 pairs in 2017, more than halfway to the recovery goal of 150 pairs.

The Recovery Champion Awards began in 2002 as a one-time recognition for agency employees for their achievements in conserving listed species. In 2007, the program was expanded to honor agency partners as well, recognizing their essential role in the recovery of threatened and endangered species.