The National Wildlife Refuge Association and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation named the Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society, NC, supporting Alligator River and Pea Island National Wildlife Refuges, as the 2012 Friends Group of the Year.

CWRS sponsors kayak, canoe and tram tours, red wolf howlings and kindergarten wildlife clubs. Funds raised from the annual Wings Over Water festival provide transportation grants to bring students from nine North Carolina counties to the refuges.

“No matter what the need, the Society steps up to the plate, whether it is building a walking, providing materials or funding critical unmet needs of the refuges,” says Bonnie Strawser, refuge visitor services manager.

Kate O’Brien, wildlife biologist at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, ME, “is committed nearly to the point of distraction in conserving our natural resources,” says refuge manager Ward Feurt of the 2012 Employee of the Year. Feurt adds that “her innovative management ideas, especially with respect to the state endangered New England cottontail rabbit, have made the refuge restoration leaders.” O’Brien is also the most published wildlife biologist in the Northeast Region this year and is acclaimed for her work with outside organizations and the public.

The 2012 Volunteer of the Year is David Govatski, from Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge, MA. Govatski developed a new way of building wetland trails that is now used by other trail organizations. “Dave is accessible, available, enthusiastic and energetic,” says refuge manager Andrew French, “often using his personal truck, chain saw, brush cutter and numerous other tools to perform his many generous volunteer contributions.” Govatski has volunteered on the refuge since 1997, when he helped form the Friends of Pondicherry, a unit of Silvio O. Conte Refuge.

Charlie Pelizza, Refuge Manager of the Year
Charlie Pelizza,
Refuge Manager of the Year
Credit: USFWS
David Govatski, Volunteer of the Year
David Govatski, Volunteer of the Year

Charles Pelizza, manager of Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, FL, is the 2012 Paul Kroegel Refuge Manager of the Year. A 32–year veteran of the Refuge System, Pelizza manages a three–refuge complex with 250 volunteers and more than 200,000 visitors every year. Pelizza has been a key player in planning the new Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge. He has a close working relationship with local residents and such partners as the University of Central Florida, which is now creating a coastal research center on Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge.

The Friends of Maga Ta–Hohpi Waterfowl Production Area, SD, received The Wilderness Society’s 2011 Group Achievement Award, recognizing outstanding efforts to build name recognition for the Huron Wildlife Management District.

“Whatever it takes, the Friends rise to the occasion!” were the closing remarks when the St. Petersburg Audubon Society presented the Friends of Tampa Bay Refuges, FL, with its Conservationist of the Year award for 2011.