2022 Recovery Champions

Recovery Champions are U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) staff and their partners whose work is advancing the recovery of endangered and threatened species of plants and animals.

During this 50th anniversary year of the Endangered Species Act, the Service expresses its sincerest gratitude to these individuals for their hard work and commitment to conserving our nation's imperiled species.

Pacific Region

Greg Koob

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (In memoriam)

Dr. Greg Koob’s commitment to conserving imperiled species using innovative approaches has positively impacted species across the Pacific.  At the beginning of his career, Dr. Koob observed that many native Hawaiian plants were difficult to propagate and set out to fill this important gap in our conservation knowledge. Knowing that tissue culture could successfully propagate orchids, Dr. Koob went on to refine this technique for native Hawaiian plants. This work has helped lift multiple endangered plants from the brink of extinction, including Cyanea pinnatifida (hāhā), which had only a single known individual remaining. Making use of Dr. Koob’s tissue culturing techniques – which are now standard practice across the region – conservation partners have planted hundreds of C. pinnatifida plants throughout its historical range. Additionally, the lab at Lyon Arboretum has saved more than two dozen endangered plants from extinction with these methods and has given them a road to recovery through reintroductions by partner organizations.

Dr. Koob most recently served as the Assistant Field Supervisor for the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office until November 2022. Following his passing, an ʻōhiʻa  tree was planted at Lyon Arboretum to honor his passion and dedication to the conservation of natural resources and cultural resources across the Pacific. Dr. Koob was a prolific and gifted photographer and the striking images he captured of species and conservationist at work are a part of his legacy that continues to engage the public and advance the Service's mission. 

Wenatchee Mountains Checker-mallow Working Group

Wenatchee Mountains Checker-mallow Working Group. From left to right, starting top left: Wendy Gibble, Walter Fertig, David Wilderman, Kenya Bugner, Joe Arnett, Brigitte Ranne, Brad and Kathy Schmidt, Susan Waters, and Susan Ballinger.

Wendy Gibble

University of Washington

Walter Fertig

Washington State University

David Wilderman

Washington Department of Natural Resources

Keyna Bugner

Washington Department of Natural Resources

Joe Arnett

Washington Department of Natural Resources

Brigitte Ranne

U.S. Forest Service

Brad Schmidt

Mountain Home Lodge

Kathy Schmidt

Mountain Home Lodge

Susan Waters

Quamash EcoResearch

Susan Ballinger

Chelan-Douglas Land Trust

Service partners working with the Wenatchee Mountains checker-mallow, a plant found only in central Washington, are recognized as 2022 Recovery Champions for their efforts in the recovery of this endangered flowering plant. When the checker-mallow was first listed in 1999, only an estimated 3,300 plants remained in the wild. Since then, the extraordinary efforts of this informal group of scientists, volunteers, and private landowners have made significant conservation gains for the species. As a result of these partners’ surveys, reproductive studies, outplanting and direct seeding, and research into management best practices, over 40,000 Wenatchee Mountains checker-mallow individuals are now estimated in the wild.

Southwest Region

J. David Bamberger

Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve

Since 1994, David Bamberger and the staff and volunteers of Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve have overcome many challenges in their efforts to conserve and recover Texas snowbells. This rare, slow-growing endemic tree of the Edwards Plateau occurs almost entirely on private lands, most of which are inaccessible to state and federal conservation agencies. By gaining the trust of neighboring landowners over the years, Bamberger has been granted access to conduct surveys on more than 120,000 acres of remote, rugged habitats. This resulted in the discovery of new populations of snowbells, which Bamberger has worked patiently with landowners to protect. Additionally, in 2003 Bamberger began working with the Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Landowner Incentive Program, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to reintroduce captively propagated snowbells. Through this collaborative work, 694 Texas snowbells seedlings have been successfully established on 19 ranches.

Midwest Region

Scott Pruitt

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Retired)

Lori Pruitt 

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Retired)

Over the course of their careers, Scott and Lori Pruitt worked collaboratively with private and public partners to advance the conservation and recovery of the endangered Indiana bat. Of particular note are their actions to conserve bats on former military lands, including those that became Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge. Likewise, their efforts with the Indianapolis International Airport allowed for its expansion while protecting a vulnerable Indiana bat maternity colony, supporting key bat research, and providing green space that became the Sodalis Nature Park. In working with private landowners, the Nature Conservancy, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and federal agencies, the Pruitts also helped protect high-priority bat hibernacula in the Wyandotte, Jug Hole, and Endless caves. Collectively, these areas have grown to shelter nearly one-third of the species’ range-wide population. Their joint efforts have also contributed to the first observed increase in the range-wide Indiana bat population since the onset of white-nose syndrome—more than 10 percent between 2019 and 2022.

Southeast Region

Chris Lasher

North Carolina Zoo

Chris Lasher is recognized as one of the foremost experts in red wolf husbandry and welfare, and his stewardship of the species has been pivotal to the Service’s red wolf recovery program. In 2002, Lasher coordinated the first captive-born red wolf litter to be fostered by a wild breeding pair, personally bringing the pups to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge for their foster placement. Lasher’s diligence and commitment ensured the success of this innovative management technique, which is now used for other listed species such as the Mexican wolf. Further, the leadership he has provided the red wolf Species Survival Plan (SSP) program has increased coordination with the Service, promoting wolf releases, research, and crucial outreach and educational work. Lasher’s national recruitment efforts have added eight new partners and at least 20 new enclosures across the SSP program, helping to maintain the genetic diversity of the captive population and supporting future reintroductions. Under his guidance, the 2022-2023 Breeding and Transfer Plan established 40 captive breeding pairs of red wolves—the largest number in the history of the program.

Northeast Region

Candy Darter Conservation Team 

Members of the Candy Darter Conservation Team. From left to right, starting top left: Isaac Gibson, Brin Kessinger, Stuart Welsh, Nathan Owens, Amy Welsh, Jason Morgan, Chad Landress, Andrew Phipps, John Moore, and Craig Bockholt.

Isaac Gibson

West Virginia Department of Natural Resources (In memoriam)

Brin Kessinger

West Virginia University (In memoriam)

Stuart Welsh

U.S. Geological Survey Cooperative Research Program

Nathan Owens

West Virginia Department of Natural Resources

Amy Welsh

West Virginia University

Jason Morgan

West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection

Chad Landress

U.S. Forest Service, Monongahela National Forest

Andrew Phipps

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

John Moore

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Craig Bockholt

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Members of the Candy Darter Conservation Team are recognized as recovery champions for their leadership in recovery of the endangered candy darter. In the short time since its inception in 2017, the team has developed a wealth of understanding and practical conservation techniques for the endangered fish. They established genetic monitoring protocols, translocated more than 500 individual darters, propagated fish for release into the wild, and protected more than 4,000 acres of habitat for the species. The team has also focused on bolstering populations impacted by variegate darter hybridization, the major threat to candy darters, through translocation and propagation of nonhybrid individuals. In the last two years, these efforts have resulted in exciting conservation breakthroughs, including the first observation of natural recruitment in a translocated population in 2021, and the first successful captive propagation and stocking in 2022.

Mountain Prairie Region

Manuel Ulibarri

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Manuel Ulibarri’s leadership and scientific expertise demonstrated through his three decades with the Service have contributed directly to the conservation of over a dozen threatened and endangered fish species across the western United States. Ulibarri’s exemplary work has been essential to field research and monitoring for listed fish species. Thanks to his expertise in fish life histories and culture operations, we have seen advancements in the science of spawning techniques for threatened and endangered fish and our captive spawning efforts have flourished. Ulibarri’s fish diet studies helped us optimize fish growth and density, while his behavioral studies improved stocking success. Additionally, his descriptions of larval and early juvenile life stages facilitated accurate identification of fish captured in the wild. Over the years, Ulibarri has spent countless hours meticulously rearing, maintaining, and stocking threatened and endangered fish to facilitate their recovery.

Alaska Region

Robert Suryan

NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center

For more than 20 years, Robert Suryan has collaborated with the Service and our Canadian and Japanese partners to recover the endangered short-tailed albatross. Suryan’s conservation efforts on behalf of this species include working with Japanese researchers to reintroduce this species on the island of Mukojima, using transmitters to better understand dispersal from breeding colonies, and studying seasonal distributions to discover possible risks from commercial fisheries. His research has resulted in numerous published works, advancing our understanding of this species. Due in no small part to these efforts, we now know more about the behavior, range, and distribution of the short-tailed albatross, populations have increased, new colonies have been established, and we continue to reduce injury and mortality threats. Suryan has also continued to mentor and support new albatross researchers and biologists, thereby fostering the next generation of conservation professionals.

Pacific Southwest Region

San Clemente Island Recovery Champions. From left to right, starting top left: Kim O'Conner, Bryan Munson, Melissa Booker, Sandy Vissman, Clark Winchell, and Susan Meiman.

Kimberly O'Conner

U.S. Department of Navy

Bryan Munson

U.S. Department of Navy

Melissa Booker

U.S. Department of Navy

Sandy Vissman

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Clark Winchell

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Susan Meiman

Institute for Wildlife Studies

This team of public and private partners has demonstrated tremendous leadership in the conservation and recovery of San Clemente Island plants and wildlife. Seven endemic San Clemente Island plant and wildlife species were originally listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1977, including the San Clemente Island paintbrush, San Clemente Island larkspur, San Clemente Island lotus, San Clemente Island bush-mallow, and San Clemente Bell’s sparrow. These listings were primarily due to historical grazing by nonnative herbivores, which severely altered the distribution and extent of vegetation on the island. After the successful removal of these herbivores in 1992, the U.S. Navy has worked tirelessly with the Service and contractors to manage for rare island species and has continued to aid the recovery of the island’s ecosystem. These efforts have facilitated ongoing conservation that is consistent with military training needs and is an exemplary demonstration of federal agencies working together to protect endemic species. The leadership and collaborative spirit of these individuals has contributed directly to the persistence of many listed species on the island, and we just recently celebrated their success with the recovery and delisting of the San Clemente Island paintbrush, larkspur, lotus, bush-mallow, and Bell’s sparrow.