Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
Service biologist Matt Whitbeck honored for leadership in climate adaptation

September 9, 2020

Contact(s):

David Eisenhauer, david_eisenhauer@fws.gov, 413-313-3554 


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Matt Whitbeck. Credit: Steve Droter

Matthew Whitbeck, supervisory wildlife biologist for the Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, is the recipient of a 2020 Climate Adaptation Leadership Award for Natural Resources, given by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. He was honored at the organization’s annual meeting, held virtually on September 9. 

As a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee, Whitbeck was nominated in the “Federal Government” category for showing exemplary leadership in both reducing threats to and promoting adaptation of the nation’s natural resources to climate-related changes. 

“Matt has been at the forefront of the Service’s efforts to develop innovative measures to help wildlife and human communities adapt to sea-level rise and other impacts of a changing climate,” said Wendi Weber, North Atlantic-Appalachian Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “He is an ambassador for creative conservation and science-based solutions for a changing world.” 

Whitbeck was recognized for his work on Blackwater 2100, a comprehensive strategy to reduce marsh loss at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, Maryland. Along with staff from The Conservation Fund and Audubon Maryland-DC, he developed a plan to help the marsh, which has lost more than 5,000 acres since the refuge's establishment in 1933, adapt to a changing climate. 

The strategy includes protecting upland habitat to allow marsh to move inland, converting upland into high-quality marsh, slowing the rate of marsh loss, and making tidal marsh more resilient to sea level rise. Sea level within the Chesapeake Bay is predicted to increase by about two-and-a-half feet by 2050 and five-to-six feet by century’s end.   

Whitbeck led the centerpiece of Blackwater 2100: the first-ever thin-layer marsh restoration in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. He oversaw implementation and monitoring of the project and leveraged more than $2 million in federal Hurricane Sandy recovery and resilience money to complete the work.  

Whitbeck led Hurricane Sandy-funded efforts to build living shoreline structures at Eastern Neck and Martin national wildlife refuges, protecting the coast from destructive storms. A skilled communicator and educator, he also has been featured in films and media as an expert in climate adaptation. 

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge was established as a waterfowl sanctuary for birds migrating along the Atlantic Flyway. The refuge contains one-third of Maryland's tidal wetlands, which makes it an ecologically important area within the state. These wetlands also provide storm protection to lower Dorchester County, including the town of Cambridge. Blackwater Refuge is recognized as a "Wetland of International Importance" by the Ramsar Convention and has been designated as an Internationally Important Bird Area. 

The Climate Adaptation Leadership Award for Natural Resources was established to recognize exemplary leadership by federal, state, tribal, local, and non-governmental entities to reduce climate-related threats and enhance the resilience of the nation’s living natural resources (fish, wildlife, and plants) and the communities that depend on them. The Award recognizes outstanding leadership by organizations and/or individuals to advance the resilience of living natural resources in a changing climate by helping address the goals of the National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy. 

For more information, visit: https://www.fishwildlife.org/afwa-inspires/climate-adaptation-network  

To view a video presentation of the award by Marcia Pradines, project leader for the Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, visit https://youtu.be/rCUpLVcYIuY


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