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News & Releases
Mountain-Prairie Region

News Release

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Announces 2013 Endangered Species Recovery Champions: Resident of Colorado and Former Resident of Wyoming Honored

For Immediate Release

May 16, 2014

Black-footed ferret. Credit: Michael Lockhart/USFWS.
Black-footed ferret. Credit: USFWS.

DENVER, Colo. - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) today recognized individuals and teams for their exceptional efforts to conserve and protect the nation’s rarest fish, wildlife and plants by designating them as the 2013 Recovery Champions. Among the award winners honored for their work this year were Dean Biggins of Colorado and John Shields, a Wyoming native.

“We all owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to these dedicated conservationists who are on the front lines fighting the battle against extinction,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “Their spirit and determination is the application of Aldo Leopold’s counsel to ‘keep every cog and wheel,’ and they provide hope for all of us that our children and the generations that follow will be able to enjoy the same tremendous diversity of plants and animals that we do today.”

Mr. Biggins, a career biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, dedicated his career to recovery of the endangered black-footed ferret (ferret) and significantly contributed to the ferret’s ongoing recovery. Biggins began his career shortly after the once-thought extinct species was rediscovered in northwestern Wyoming. He led early ecological studies of the remnant population that later provided critical information for reintroduction efforts. He also broke new ground with fundamental behavioral studies that continue to guide the preconditioning of ferrets for release into the wild today. Biggins captured the last wild ferret in 1987. Named Scarface, the ferret ended up being the most productive of the seven original animals in the captive population. Scarface was crucial to the captive-breeding program, which has been instrumental in returning the “Prairie Bandit” to 12 western states, Mexico, and Canada.

Later in his career, Biggins focused on sylvatic plague as the primary factor limiting ferret recovery in the wild, and conducted studies of both ferrets and their obligate prairie dog prey that assist with potential remedies to the disease.

Mr. Shields, an engineer by training, worked for more than 25 years as an active member of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program (CRRP) while an employee in the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office. During his time with the CRRP, Shields led the conservation of “Big River” fish in the West—the Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, razorback sucker, and bonytail as Chair of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program’s Management Committee.

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As a consummate collaborator, Shields was indispensable to the delivery of more than a million acre-feet of water to meet the flow needs of these native species, in the construction of fish passage structures at four diversion dams on the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers, in screening three major irrigation canals, and in retrofitting a 100-year-old irrigation system to conserve water. Known for his outreach and advocacy, he led key partners in informing Congress about how the Endangered Species Act is working in the Upper Colorado River system. Further, his testimony was a key factor in maintaining critical base funding.

“Recovery champions like Dean Biggins and John Shields are vital to the recoveries of imperiled fish, wildlife, and plants,” said Noreen Walsh, Mountain-Prairie Regional Director. “We appreciate the tireless efforts of our many partners and this award signifies how important partners are to achieving recovery for native wildlife.”

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

For information about the 2013 Recovery Champions, please visit: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/what-we-do/recovery-champions/index.html

– FWS –

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Office of External Affairs

Mountain-Prairie Region

134 Union Blvd

Lakewood, CO 80228


303-236-3815 FAX



Leith Edgar
Public Affairs Specialist
External Affairs, Region 6

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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.
Last modified: May 28, 2014
All Images Credit to and Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Unless Specified Otherwise.
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