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Two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Regional Firefighters Earn National Fire Awards From Interior Secretary Norton


January 15, 2003

Tom MacKenzie, 404/679-729

Gale Norton, Secretary of the Department of the Interior, today presented Roger Boykin the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southeast Regional Fire Coordinator, Atlanta, and Sami Gray, Fire Control Officer at Southeast Louisiana Refuges Complex in Slidell, Louisiana, with National Fire Plan awards. Secretary Norton presented the awards at the National Fire Plan Conference luncheon at the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel in Louisiana.

“We are proud to recognize the superior accomplishments of both of these dedicated people,” said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director. “Their skills with prescribed fires, as well as putting out unwanted wildfires, have saved taxpayer dollars, private property, and helped save or restore natural resources nationwide.”

The National Fire Plan is a collaborative effort involving the Service, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management from the Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service under the Department of Agriculture. These agencies share resources, personnel, and funding and team with local communities to battle wildfires and address the underlying causes and impacts of severe fire seasons.

Boykin, a 25-year veteran with the Service, earned his award for excellence in hazardous fuel treatment. Under his leadership, the Southeast Region accomplished 184,337 acres of hazardous fuel reduction projects, almost half of the total acreage throughout the entire U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Roger has the dedication and ‘can do’ attitude that is required for success in wildland fire management,” said David Lucas, Southeast Regional Chief of the Division of Budget and Information Management for Refuges. “The National Fire Plan requires safe and effective fuels reduction, and much of our success in the Southeast is directly attributable to Roger Boykin.”

Boykin supervises the fire program management for more than 130 national wildlife refuges with about four million acres of federal land throughout the Southeast. One of his greatest accomplishments was managing and providing resources to control the 2002 Blackjack Complex fire at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Folkston, Georgia. That fire burned over 100,000 acres, and required in depth coordination with the States of Georgia and Florida and the Greater Okefenokee Alliance of Landowners (GOALS). During the 2002 fire season, Boykin also organized and dispatched firefighters (including himself) to battle other large fires throughout the country, especially out west.

Even with these additional demands, the Southeast Region still exceeded all hazardous fuel reduction targets for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of the Interior.

Gray received her award for excellence in implementing the National Fire Plan. Since 1999, Gray and the Southeast Louisiana Refuge fire crew have suppressed more than 60 wildfires totaling over 2,400 acres.

“Sami has been a leader with her contributions toward the growth and success of our fire program,” said Elizabeth Souheaver, project leader of the Southeast Louisiana Refuge Complex which operates seven federal wildlife refuges. “She is a dedicated Service employee with a passion and a natural ability to manage both wildfire suppression and prescribed fire in a safe manner.”

Since November 1999, Gray has served as Fire Control Officer at Southeast Louisiana Refuge Complex. She heads a staff of firefighters, supervises fire operations, coordinates with community volunteer departments and Louisiana state forestry commission firefighters to ensure effective fire management, and requests and accounts for fire expenditures.

Souheaver praised Gray’s accomplishments in managing prescribed burns. In 2002, over 4,000 acres of the refuge complex were successfully and safely treated (prescribed burned) - restoring the largest acreage ever. Prescribed burning is a management tool to help restore forests and endangered species habitat.

“The Southeast Louisiana Refuges Complex is located in an urban area, so we burn 100-acre parcels or 400-acre parcels at a time,” said Chris Le Rouge of the Southeast Louisiana Refuges fire crew. “It takes a safety-minded and strong leader to oversee our complex burns.”

Gray has also spearheaded firefighter training at the local Lacombe Volunteer Fire Department. During 2000, she helped seven community volunteer fire departments get grants through the National Fire Plan. Gray created the Wildland Firefighter Academy education program to teach kids with a hands-on program at major public outreach events at the refuges.

“Sami is a hard-working person,” said Le Rouge. “Our collateral and full time firefighters, as well as other staff, stepped up to the plate to give her 110 percent effort to reach our prescribed fire goals.”

In March 2003, America celebrates the centennial anniversary of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System -- the only system of federal land dedicated specifically to wildlife. When President Theodore Roosevelt made Florida’s tiny Pelican Island a refuge for birds in 1903, he launched the legacy of America’s greatest conservation success story.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. As the National Wildlife Refuge System enters its second century, it protects 95 million acres in 540 refuges and thousands of small prairie wetlands, providing unparalleled outdoor activities in wildlife observation, fishing, hunting, environmental education, and photography -- making refuges the premier opportunity to connect with nature.

The Service also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

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Phone: 404/679-7289 Fax: 404/679-7286

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