Newsroom Midwest Region

Volunteerism powers conservation at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge

February 10, 2017

Charlie Wooley, Charlie Blair, and Steve Karel honor Sue Hix with Silver Eagle Award. Photo by Kris Spaeth/USFWS.
Charlie Wooley, Charlie Blair, and Steve Karel honor Sue Hix with Silver Eagle Award. Photo by Kris Spaeth/USFWS.

Every year, we come together to take a look back and honor the accomplishments of refuge volunteers at the annual Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge Volunteer Banquet. This year, two top midwest leaders of the Refuge System, Deputy Regional Director Charlie Wooley and Regional Chief of Refuges Charlie Blair, joined refuge staff in thanking the volunteers.

Sherburne’s volunteer program is incredibly strong! In 2016, nearly 600 volunteers contributed a total of 6,000 hours to our refuge program, which is the equivalent of nearly three full-time staff! As refuge manager, Steve Karel, highlighted, “At Sherburne, volunteers perform tasks in every operational area of our refuge from education and interpretation to biology to maintenance; they are the fuel that powers our refuge.”

Volunteer of the Year

Laurence Brinson was named the Volunteer of the Year. Brinson began his volunteer service in 2012 and in four short years has already logged 1,095 hours, donating 260 hours this year alone. Brinson serves the refuge as a maintenance volunteer, using his expertise in heavy equipment operations and nose to the grindstone personality to complete small and large maintenance-related tasks. Not only does Brinson conduct much needed, routine mowing and invasive species removal, he contributes significantly to major projects like large-scale oak savanna restorations, and the site preparation and trail construction for the newly opened Oak Savanna Learning Center.

Silver Eagle Award

Deputy Regional Director Charlie Wooley was honored to recognize the efforts a very special member of the Friends of Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge team. Wooley helped surprise past Friends president Sue Hix with the Silver Eagle Award at the end of the banquet. The Silver Eagle Award recognizes individuals from outside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 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

Hix is well-known locally and nationally as a champion of Sherburne Refuge, an exemplary Friends of Sherburne board member, and a committed refuge volunteer. Hix’s dedication has earned her a long list of impressive refuge-related accomplishments, but her most recent one, and the one that has most deeply impacted and inspired the Sherburne Refuge community is her success in leading a team of volunteers to raise $250,000 for furnishing and outfitting the Sherburne Refuge’s Oak Savanna Learning Center. Reaching the campaign goal would not have been possible without Sue’s leadership, vision, passion, and sincere diligence.

Charlie Wooley, noted in his presentation, “Sue is worthy of the Silver Eagle Award for her continued leadership and efficacy, for her tireless efforts to advance Friends partnerships nationwide and for making Friends of Sherburne one of the best groups in the nation.”

As we look towards the new year, the refuge plans to support its existing volunteer programs, while also offering a new menu of opportunities related to the Oak Savanna Learning Center! In the next year, volunteers will embark on a journey of not only empowering the refuge, but a new generation of naturalists through its upcoming nature education programming. For more information on the refuge volunteer program, or to receive a volunteer application form, contact the refuge at 763-389-3323 or email

Learn more about Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge:

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit

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