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.

Mary Linders (second from left) and four butterfly technicians from the Sustainability in Prisons Project.

Pacific Region

Mary Linders – Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Sustainability in Prisons Project

Over the last thirteen years, Sustainability in Prisons Project partners have worked with incarcerated technicians to rear more than 48,000 Taylor’s checkerspot caterpillars, grown more than 2 million butterfly resource and prairie plant plugs, and produced seeds for prairie restoration projects. The combination of outstanding butterfly survival rates achieved in correctional facilities through the Project, captive rearing efforts, and successful plantings has likely prevented extirpation of Taylor’s checkerspot from the heart of its range in Washington’s South Puget Sound prairies and led to the establishment of several important reintroduced populations of the species. Not only have partners worked to save this endangered butterfly, but have also transformed human lives by helping individuals gain new skills and perspectives that will be carried into the future.

Top to Bottom/Left to Right: Zachary Beard, Ryan Gordon, Dan Dauwalter, Zachary Jackson, Tim Gatewood, Ryan Follmuth, Matthew Rustin, Stuart Leon, Stephanie Coleman, and Kristy Manuell.

Southwest Region

Zachary Jackson – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 

Stephanie Coleman – U.S. Forest Service 

Kristy Manuell – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 

Tim Gatewood – White Mountain Apache Tribe Game and Fish Department 

Stuart Leon – White Mountain Apache Tribe Game and Fish Department 

Matthew Rustin – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 

Zachary Beard – Arizona Game and Fish Department 

Ryan Follmuth – Arizona Game and Fish Department 

Daniel Dauwalter – Trout Unlimited 

Ryan Gordon – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Members of the Apache Trout Recovery Implementation Team are recognized as recovery champions for their collective efforts to manage the species, which have led to the significant achievement of meeting recovery goals for the threatened fish and the signing of the in-perpetuity Apache Trout Cooperative Management Plan. Recovery actions carried out by team members have included population reintroductions and augmentations, nonnative trout eradication and control, removal of fish passage fish passage
Fish passage is the ability of fish or other aquatic species to move freely throughout their life to find food, reproduce, and complete their natural migration cycles. Millions of barriers to fish passage across the country are fragmenting habitat and leading to species declines. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Fish Passage Program is working to reconnect watersheds to benefit both wildlife and people.

Learn more about fish passage
barriers where appropriate, construction of nonnative trout barriers to protect Apache trout populations, and meadow restoration projects. Together, these efforts have resulted in 30 genetically pure self-sustaining populations of Apache trout—up from just 17 relict populations. In August 2023, the Service published a proposed rule to delist the Apache Trout due to recovery. 

Midwest Region

Top to Bottom/Left to Right: Brandon Iddings, Karen Wilke, Grace Yi, Brad Woodson, Jenna Haag, Heidi Keuler, Darrick Weissenfluh, Louise Mauldin, Kristen and Lundh.

Brandon Iddings – Iowa Soybean Association 

Karen Wilke – The Nature Conservancy of Iowa

Grace Yi – Practical Farmers of Iowa 

Brad Woodson – Practical Farmers of Iowa 

Jenna Haag – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 

Heidi Keuler – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 

Darrick Weissenfluh – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 

Louise Mauldin – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 

Kristen Lundh – U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Iowa Topeka Shiner Recovery Partnership has significantly improved the status of the fish through oxbow habitat restoration projects.  Together, partners have completed more than 70 targeted oxbow restorations in Iowa since 2019, with more than 40 additional projects currently in various stages of completion. This partnership has connected people across sectors through work with willing farmers, private landowners, local, state, and federal agencies, and partner organizations. Through in-person field days, virtual events, webinars, and outreach materials, partners have shared lessons learned and reached thousands of people to foster widespread awareness and support for Topeka shiner recovery. As a result of these efforts, the Service recommended changing the status of the fish from endangered to threatened in the species’ most recent 5-year status review.

Southeast Region

Christy Hand – South Carolina Department of Natural Resources

For nearly a decade, Christy Hand has been at the forefront of conservation and recovery efforts for the federally threatened eastern black rail, conducting cutting-edge research, designing and implementing comprehensive monitoring programs, informing habitat restoration initiatives, and increasing public awareness among many other activities. Hand’s research on the breeding ecology and molt phenology of the rail in South Carolina has filled critical knowledge gaps for the subspecies and developed methodologies that are now the standard of research. As aptly noted by the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture, “addressing the many data gaps needed to conserve this rapidly declining species is no small task, and Hand has provided crucial information to guide the species’ recovery.”

Northeast Region

Top to Bottom/Left to Right: Noelle Raymon-Metcalf, Lori Erb, Kathy Gipe, Brian Zarate, Bill Pitts, Scott Smith, Beth Schlimm, Nate Nazdorwicz, Chris Urban, and Julie Thompson-Slacum.

Noelle Rayman-Metcalf – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 

Lori Erb – Mid-Atlantic Center for Herpetology and Conservation 

Kathy Gipe – Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission 

Brian Zarate – New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection 

Bill Pitts – New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection 

Scott Smith – Maryland Department of Natural Resources (Retired)

Beth Schlimm – Maryland Department of Natural Resources 

Nate Nazdrowicz – Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environment Control 

Chris Urban – Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission

Julie Thompson-Slacum – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Over the past 10 years, members of the Bog Turtle Recovery Team have made great strides in moving the species toward recovery.  The team’s focus on collaboration and partnerships has resulted in significant habitat restoration and land protection, most notably the permanent protection of 102 extant populations throughout the federally threatened turtle’s northern range.  A conservation plan developed by the team in 2019 will guide conservation initiatives over the next several years and help the Service and its partners prioritize additional sites for protection. Additionally, team members have supported the mission of the Collaborative to Combat the Illegal Trade in Turtles by working with law enforcement to solve cases, reducing risk to turtles from the global threat of illicit trade, and identifying source wetlands where poached bog turtles – if found – may be released.

Mountain Prairie Region

Tom Pitts – Engineering and Planning Consultants

Tom Pitts is recognized as a recovery champion for his leadership in the recovery of the four listed Colorado River fishes—the Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, razorback sucker, and bonytail.  Early in his career, Pitts was instrumental in the development of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and the San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program. His vision helped create some of the most enduring and productive recovery partnerships to date, bringing together federal and state agencies, Tribes, water and power users, and environmental groups. For more than 30 years, these programs have advanced recovery of these fishes while supporting water development in western states. Additionally, these programs have effectively managed wetlands to support wild recruitment of razorback sucker, reestablished Colorado pikeminnow in the San Juan River, and removed invasive nonnative species from more than 900 miles of river annually.

Alaska Region

Ryan Wilson – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Ryan Wilson is recognized as a recovery champion for his significant contributions to polar bear conservation in both national and international forums. Wilson’s collaborative work with a diverse group of partners has addressed significant knowledge gaps and informed priority conservation, regulatory, and co-management actions for polar bears in Alaska. With more than 35 peer-reviewed publications on polar bears, Wilson has helped advanced our understanding of these animals, their habitats, and the many influences upon them. This work has also led to the development of a novel and robust tool to estimate and mitigate the potential effects of human activities on denning polar bears, assess the risk of offshore spills to bears in the Chukchi Sea, and inform conservation planning efforts associated with the Polar Bear Conservation Management Plan.

Pacific Southwest Region

Top to Bottom/Left to Right: Clark Winchell, Frank Santana, Anny Peralta, Jorge Valdez-Villavicencio, Bradford Hollingsworth, Judy Wheatley, Charles Wheatley, Elizabeth Gallegos, Robert Fisher, Susan North, and Adam Backlin.

Clark Winchell – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 

Anny Peralta – Fauna del Noroeste A.C. 

Jorge Valdez-Villavicencio – Fauna del Noroeste A.C. 

Bradford Hollingsworth – San Diego Natural History Museum

Charles and Judy Wheatley – Wheatley Ranch 

Robert Fisher – U.S. Geological Survey 

Susan North – The Nature Conservancy of California 

Frank Santana – City of San Diego 

Adam Backlin – U.S. Geological Survey 

Elizabeth Gallegos – U.S. Geological Survey

California red-legged frog recovery partners have collectively moved the species closer to recovery, most notably through their efforts to reestablish the frog in the southern-most portion of its range where it had disappeared decades earlier. Over the years, these individuals have demonstrated extraordinary vision, leadership, and collaboration in developing a bi-national plan for reintroducing the species, which includes transporting egg masses from Baja California, Mexico, to sites in Riverside and San Diego counties, California. Efforts to work with landowners to identify suitable habitat for releases, along with management and monitoring of the species, exemplify the Service’s mission of working with others to conserve species and their habitats for the benefit of the American people.