Science Excellence

2015 Rachel Carson Award for Exemplary Scientific Accomplishment (Individual)

Gail Collins
Supervisory Wildlife Biologist, Sheldon-Hart National Wildlife Refuge Complex


Gail Collins Supervisory Wildlife Biologist, Sheldon-Hart National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Credit A. CollinsSheldon and Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuges encompass more than 700,000 acres of sage-steppe habitat within the Great Basin and represent the largest intact tracts of sagebrush-dominated habitat in the West. At one time, as many as 1,400 feral horses roamed Sheldon NWR and were causing severe ecological impacts to wildlife habitat.

Gail led multiple management-driven scientific studies to document the significant adverse impacts of feral horses and burros to the species and habitats at Sheldon NWR, which included habitat degradation through large-scale vegetation conversion, loss of watershed functions, and reduced biodiversity.

Conclusions from Gail’s investigations provided the strong biological support needed to scientifically justify the controversial and complex decision to remove the feral horse and burro population from Sheldon NWR in support of native wildlife and healthy, viable habitat. All feral horses have subsequently been removed from the refuge, ahead of the 2017 goal outlined in the refuge’s Comprehensive Conservation Plan.

Gail’s nationally recognized body of research has made her the foremost feral horse authority within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and her contributions have been recognized by other agencies. She has aided the development of modern wild horse and burro management plans, such as leading several statistically valid, large-scale wild horse inventories that covered over 4 million acres and four BLM districts. The analysis following these large-scale wild horse inventories helped achieve appropriate management levels in Horse Management Areas in portions of Nevada, California, and Oregon.

However, Gail’s research is not limited to groundbreaking feral horse work, but also includes landscape-scale Greater sage-grouse monitoring and inventory projects as well as long-term monitoring of pronghorn populations and reproduction on Sheldon and Hart Mountain as well as an unprecedented pronghorn distribution study. She also documented the first known population of American pika on Sheldon NWR and as a result is partnering with the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Oregon on two pika research projects. 

Ultimately, Gail’s efforts and dedication to producing sound science will help identify and deliver conservation measures across the Great Basin landscape in the face of a changing climate and land use pressures on natural resources.

Learn more about the Sheldon-Hart National Wildlife Refuge Complex


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Last updated: March 21, 2017

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