Conserving the Nature of America

News Release

Honor Awards Go To Four Fish and Wildlife Service Teams and 14 Individuals at 64th Department Convocation

May 10, 2007


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220

Four U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service teams and 14 individuals received honor awards at the Department of the Interiors 64th annual convocation ceremony held May 9th in Washington, DC. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne said the dedication and commitment of all honorees "serve as a guiding light to us all.


The Department each year recognizes acts of "courage, valor, selflessness and exceptional management" in men and women who are nominated by their respective agencies from across the United States.

"Im very proud of our entire Service family, and especially so of the men and women who were singled out for these very important awards," said Service Director H. Dale Hall. "They represent the best of the best."

Charles K. Baxter, of the Lower Mississippi Joint Venture Center in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Dennis J. Widner, who has worked to conserve wild lands and wildlife on National Wildlife Refuges throughout the southeastern United States, both received Distinguished Service Awards, the highest recognition an employee may receive within the Department. Distinguished Service Awards are granted for "an outstanding contribution to science, outstanding skill or ability in the performance of duty, outstanding contribution made during an eminent career, or any other exceptional contribution."

Mr. Baxter forged a conservation alliance in the Lower Mississippi Valley that was nationally acclaimed and served as a model of cooperative conservation. "The ultimate beneficiary," read his award citation, "will be the 80 million acres of historic Lower Mississippi Valley and beyond, whose recovery and restoration have been the focal point of Baxters career and commitment."

During his 35 years with the Service, Mr. Widner has a long list of accomplishments, including establishing numerous State and local partnerships, hosting numerous public meetings, and supporting the protection of the endangered ivory-billed woodpecker.

Mr. Widner worked on wildlife refuges in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and Louisiana to restore and enhance wild lands and help turn marginal land back into prime habitat.

The Meritorious Service Award, the second highest honor given to Interior employees, is presented "for an important contribution to science or management, a notable career, superior service in administration or in the execution of duties."

This year Meritorious Service Awards were presented to the following seven Service employees:

Gail Carmody, Ecological Services Field Office, Panama City, FL, for her "outstanding leadership" in the Services Fisheries Resources and Ecological Services Programs, and for her expertise in developing conservation partnerships at all government levels.

Robert Currie, Ecological Services Field Office, Asheville, NC, for distinguished work in the cause of bat conservation, and for contributing significantly to the protection of many other imperiled species of animals and plants.

Megan Durham, Deputy Assistant Director for External Affairs, Washington, DC, cited for "her exceptional creativity to shape innovative media strategies that garner remarkable news coverage for what are often controversial natural resource issues."

Steve Hillebrand, Chief, Production Division, National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, WV, for being "an innovative and driving force" in the field of media production for the Service, and among other things, leading in the development and implementation of the $24 million training materials production facility at NCTC.

Larry Mallard, "for his ability to manage internal and external changes while contributing his common sense leadership on issues of regional, national and international importance" as Project Leader at the White River National Wildlife Refuge, near St. Charles, AR.

Laura Rogers, Ecological Services Field Office, Asheville, NC, for "her professionalism, her consistently collaborative and generous outlook and her genuine concern for the Services mission and people."

Phillip Street , for his service in the National Wildlife Refuge System and "his exceptional skills and professionalism" that consistently promoted safe and effective fire operations for the Service, often under difficult and hazardous conditions.

Four Service teams received the Cooperative Conservation Award, which recognizes achievements that involve "collaborative activity among a diverse range of entities that may include Federal, State, local and tribal governments, non-government organizations or individuals." This years recipients included the Florida Keys Invasive Exotics Task Force, composed of the Service and 26 partners that worked to eradicate invasives on both public and private landNicole Kamins, who leads a team of Federal, State, industry and non-governmental organizations in the protection and restoration of Hegewisch Marsh, a coastal wetland; Terry and Mary Kohler and the Windway Capital Corporation Flight team, dedicated to reintroducing wild flocks of endangered migratory birds to Wisconsin and the eastern United States and to international crane conservation; and Ronald L. Refsnider, who represented the Service in the Eastern Timber Wolf Recovery Plan, which allowed wolf populations in the Western Great Lakes area to increase from 750 in Minnesota to 4,000 in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Michael Rucinski, of Ocean Springs, MS, was awarded the Departments Citizens Award for Bravery, given to "private citizens for heroic acts of unusual bravery in the face of danger." Mr. Rucinski was fishing with his family in March 2006 when he spotted two young children playing in the spillway of Bluff Lake on Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge, near Brooksville, MS. Both children suddenly slipped and were carried by a strong current to a spot where the water was about 26 feet deep, and were followed by their mother, who was attempting to save them. Mr. Rucinski dove in the water and pulled both boys and the mother back to safety.

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