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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Awards Southeast Conservation Partners for Contributions during FY 2005


May 8, 2006

Elsie Davis, 404/679-7107

Jack Elrod, author/illustrator of the conservation-minded Mark Trail comic strip, was among 17 partners that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service honored today in Atlanta. They were awarded for their outstanding contributions to wildlife and natural resource conservation.

“The people, businesses, government agencies, and conservation organizations we are recognizing here today have each achieved lasting accomplishments that will benefit our natural resources for years to come,” said Sam D. Hamilton, the Service’s Southeast Regional Director, who presented the awards. “We celebrate their efforts and thank them for their continuing support.”

Southeast Regional Director’s Conservation and Humanitarian Awards for Fiscal Year 2005 by state:


Lieutenant Mike Bloxom of Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries in Montgomery participated in a joint federal and state undercover investigation, Operation Snapper, to penetrate the illegal trade in wild freshwater turtles. As part of his duties, he made undercover contacts with turtle fishermen in Alabama, Tennessee, and Florida. Bloxom made purchases of more than 50,000 turtles protected by both state and federal law and he established a rapport with the turtle dealers through the internet and at turtle farms in Louisiana and Florida. His efforts provided evidence against businesses located throughout the Southeast.

M.N. “Corky” Pugh, Director, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in Montgomery has been a leader in establishing the East Gulf Coastal Plain Joint Venture on landscape-level migratory bird conservation. He has supported National Wildlife Refuges in Alabama by way of a North Alabama Birding Trail through Wheeler Refuge; invasive species control at Choctaw Refuge; law enforcement assistance at Fern Cave, Sauta Cave, and Key Cave Refuges; biological assessments, comprehensive conservation planning, non-game wildlife surveys, and coordination of public hunting programs at Wheeler, Mountain Longleaf, Cahaba River, Sauta Cave, Key Cave, and other national wildlife refuges. Pugh has overseen the continuing restoration of bald eagles, black bears, and other species, and he has partnered with the Service in a Statewide “Safe Harbor” agreement for conservation and recovery of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.


Gary and Sherri Brandon of Conway donated lands to conserve the threatened Ozark cavefish and endangered gray bat. Through their fee title donation of more than 32 acres to the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, the Brandons are helping to protect the largest population of threatened Ozark cavefish, a maternity population of endangered gray bats, and several other cave-adapted species of concern. In addition, the Brandons agreed to implement the Community Growth Best management Practices for the Cave Springs Cave recharge zone on their subdivision.


The Arthur R. Marshall Foundation in Boynton Beach has supported the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Boynton Beach through education, scholarship programs, community awareness, and volunteer activities. The Foundation has helped restore cypress habitat on the refuge by organizing several volunteer days and planting more than 10,000 cypress tree seedlings on 10 acres on the refuge. They have also organized annual cypress seed harvests, using volunteers of all ages to collect cypress cones from refuge cypresses to ensure native stocks of cypress are restored. The Foundation also provided $10,000 to fund the Arthur R. Marshall Hiking Trail near the refuge’s Visitor Center. They planted native trees and plants along the Trail and constructed an interpretive kiosk and observation platform.

Dennis Duke, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville, is responsible for the South Florida environmental restoration program. He is the Program Manager for Ecosystem Restoration for the Corps. Duke has worked on restoration projects, such as the Kissimee River, Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park, and the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

Ding Darling Wildlife Society, Sanibel, received a Regional Director’s Humanitarian Award for its support of the Southeast Region by collecting donations from Fish and Wildlife Service employees around the country who wanted to help colleagues impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. More than 300 individuals donated a total of more than $30,000. To initiate the effort, the Ding Darling Wildlife Society donated the first $3,000. Forty Service employees and their families benefited from the generosity of so many individuals.

The Florida Wildlife Rehabilitators Association, Melbourne, worked throughout the Southeast to coordinate assistance to wildlife rehabilitators and wildlife resources impacted by the 2005 hurricanes. The Association established a crisis-response hurricane hotline to assist licensed Florida rehabilitators before and after each storm, and facilitated the distribution of donated rehabilitation supplies and caging materials to facilities in need. Association members drove thousands of miles and donated hundreds of volunteer hours to ensure the safe transfer of wildlife and to provide emergency care. For example, the Association’s hotline team mobilized to a pelican rookery south of Tallahassee, rescuing and transporting some 200 nestling pelicans for emergency care at various wildlife rehabilitation facilities. In addition, 17 fledgling Mississippi kites that were displaced and orphaned by hurricane winds were transferred to a facility specializing in birds of prey. These migratory birds were later released back to the wild through the teamwork of the wildlife rehabilitators and State wildlife agencies

Roy T. McBride, biologist and houndsman, Ochopee, Roy and his two sons have captured more than 142 panthers for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the National Park Service, allowing these agencies to gather more than 72,000 telemetry points. The invaluable data from these captured animals has been used to map the boundaries of the cats’ occupied range and to provide a clearer understanding of panther demographics, social structure, reproduction, and home range size. The data was also used in designing the placement of wildlife crossings on U.S. Interstate 75, eliminating panther road mortality where the crossings were placed. Information from the captured panthers was used to design a genetic management plan, the implementation of which has led to a tripling of panther numbers in the past 10 years.

Thomas Watts-Fitzgerald, Assistant United States Attorney’s Office -- Southern District of Florida, Miami As Chief of the Environmental Crimes Section, Watts-Fitzgerald has been supportive of Fish and Wildlife Service’s effort to combat wildlife crime, and actually increases its attorney staff periodically to meet the demand for natural resource protection. In 2005, he prosecuted and convicted a smuggler for the illegal importation of undeclared wildlife (39 birds) as well as violations of the Lacey Act and the False Statements statute. Watts-Fitzgerald also worked with the Department of Justice, Environmental Crimes Section, in the successful prosecution of the smuggling and sale of 2,568 kilograms of illegal caviar worth $7 million. The investigation was the culmination of years of his work supporting the Service’s efforts to combat the illegal trade in caviar. He also prosecuted the Service’s investigation “Operation Bunting,” involving the capture and sale of wild-caught indigo buntings, painted buntings, blue grosbeaks, and Northern cardinals as well as smuggling finches from Cuba. To date, there have been nine convictions, more than $18,300 in fines, $13,000 in restitution, and 114 months of probation, with more prosecutions to come.


Brookwood Baptist Church, Cumming: Brookwood Baptist Church received a Regional Director’s Humanitarian Award for their outstanding support in the Hurricane Katrina and Rita relief efforts launched through the Service’s Regional Office in Atlanta. Brookwood Baptist Church was one of the first to respond to the Service’s request for help and consistently continued to produce care packages, along with monetary donations of personal checks and gift cards. The care that was taken in preparing these packages made for a smooth operation when it came to shipping them directly to the areas of need in Southeast and Southwest Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.

The Folkston, Georgia City Council helped establish the Okefenokee Education and Research Center at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. The Center will showcase the entire Okefenokee ecosystem and provide a 25,300-square-foot education and research facility for visitors, students, and scientists conducting research in southeastern Georgia and northeastern Florida. The 1994 DuPont Corporation announcement to establish a titanium strip adjacent to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge prompted advocacy against the proposed mine. DuPont agreed to support a “No Mine” resolution for the entire 16,000-acre Trail Ridge tract. A part of this resolution was an agreement to work with the City of Folkston to establish an institution to further scientific knowledge of the fragile Okefenokee ecosystem. The Folkston City Council committed funds and staff to coordinate the operations of the Center and helped establish it as a non-profit organization managed by a volunteer board of directors.

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, opened in November 2005, with more than 100,000 specimens representing 500 species from around the globe. Some exhibits focus on the species and ecosystems native to Georgia and their stories. One exhibit presents the robust redhorse sucker and the partnership that formed to save a species once thought to be on the very brink of extinction. In the education wing, the Aquarium and the Fish and Wildlife Service have collaborated to develop two exhibits to tell the Service’s story. Students learn about the Service’s role in global conservation through law enforcement and the Conference on the International Trade in Endangered Species permit process. Another exhibit lets them explore the habitats of Georgia and the Service’s efforts to protect and conserve many rare and unusual animals found here, such as mussels, darters and shorebirds. Throughout the Aquarium are habitat-based exhibits that give visitors the chance to glimpse natural behaviors of their inhabitants, such as the territoriality of coral reef fish or the feeding habits of sea otters.

Jack Elrod has promoted environmental education through his weekly and Sunday Mark Trail comic strip. The Atlanta resident’s comic strip publishes weekly and on Sundays in newspapers across the country. He has also publicized Fish and Wildlife Service programs and field stations such as the “Take Pride in America” Program; the Federal Duck Stamp Contest, which he assisted with twice as a judge; the Junior Duck Stamp Contest; the National Wildlife Refuge System and its centennial; and the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Sebastian, Florida.

Sona Chambers, Assistant Director of Development for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Atlanta, led an effort to raise $700,000 toward construction of a new $4 million Puerto Rican parrot aviary which is critical to the recovery of the endangered Puerto Rican parrot. Without her work and the support of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, success would have been more difficult. Chambers continues to raise additional funds for this critical recovery action and other conservation projects for this species.

South Carolina:

Huntington Beach State Park, Murrells Inlet, is an oceanfront park along the north coast. The Park and its associated volunteer organization, “Friends of Huntington Beach State Park,” have made many contributions to natural resources management, conservation, and education, because of the extraordinary efforts by Park staff and volunteers. Here are just a few of the projects the Park has accomplished. With the South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts, beaches in Georgetown and Horry Counties are patrolled. With the Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Murrells Inlet dredging is maintained as a safe haven for numerous rare bird species. With the Service, the Park has successfully reintroduced the seabeach amaranth plants from seeds gathered from plants at the Park and cultivated in greenhouses for transplanting into their native sand dune habitat. With the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, through the South Carolina Oyster Restoration and Enhancement program, oyster reef habitat is being reestablished by replacing recycled oyster shells in the salt marsh to provide new attachment sites for oyster larvae.

Kenneth Williams, Ducks Unlimited, Incorporated, Charleston, is an expert in coastal wetland management and restoration in the Southeast. Williams works with Ducks Unlimited’s Conservation Programs as a regional biologist based in their South Atlantic Field Office. He has played a major role in the success of Ducks Unlimited’s Low-country Initiative, a conservation easement program protecting more than 67,000 acres of important coastal habitats in South Carolina. Prior to Ducks Unlimited, Williams Managed Kinloch Plantation, a historic rice plantation located in the heart of the Santee River Delta near Georgetown, South Carolina. At Kinloch Plantation, he was responsible for the management of almost 6,000 acres of coastal habitat that included more than 3,000 acres of the most productive and well-managed brackish tidal wetlands in the United States.


The Shell Oil Company’s Shell Marine Habitat Program, Houston, has obligated approximately $6 million to support 122 projects along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The Program has supported a variety of conservation efforts which benefit the Fish and Wildlife Service. It has helped recovery efforts for the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle on Padre Island, Texas, home to a majority of the nesting turtles in the United States. In 1996, only six nests were found; in 2005, a record 51 nests were found, bringing one of the most endangered species back from the brink of extinction. In addition, Marine Habitat Program projects have supported habitat restoration and acquisition; and have educated more than 99,000 people. More than 160,000 acres of habitat have been restored, and 45,000 acres have been acquired.

The 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. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which includes 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 81 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. Visit the Service’s website at htttp://

Jack Elrod (R) recieve award from Sam D. Hamilton (L) Southeast Regional Director May 8, 2006. Photo by Jim Rothschild, USFWS Crowd at Southeast Regional Director May 8, 2006. Photo by Jim Rothschild, USFWS Color Guard at Southeast Regional Director May 8, 2006. Photo by Jim Rothschild, USFWS

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