News Release
Southeast Region


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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Announces Endangered Species Recovery Champion Awards


March 20, 2009


Tom MacKenzie, 404-679-7291,
Lee Andrews, Kentucky Ecological Services Field Office, 502-695-0468, ext. 108,
Chuck Underwood, Jacksonville, Florida, Ecological Services Field Office, 904-731-3332,
Jennifer Koches, Charleston, South Carolina, Ecological Services Field Office, 843-727-4707,

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Pat Rakes and J. R. Shutel with award. Credit: Mark Cantrell, USFWS

Pat Rakes and J. R. Shutel with award. Credit: Mark Cantrell, USFWS

Leroy Koch and Tom Murphy are national recovery champions. Koch’s pioneering mussel propagation and life history research has increased mussel populations throughout Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley. Murphy’s recovery efforts have increased South Carolina populations of many rare species including American alligators, bald eagles, sea turtles, wood storks, and brown pelicans.

Koch of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Kentucky Field Office in Frankfort, and Murphy, retired non-game wildlife biologist from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, both are recipients of 2008 Recovery Champion Awards, Acting Service Director Rowan Gould announced today.

In addition, Pat Rakes and J.R. Shute of Conservation Fisheries, Inc. (CFI), a long-time partner helping to recover listed fishes, are being honored as the first ever national cross regional Recovery Champions. CFI, based in Knoxville, Tennessee, is being recognized by the Service for extensive efforts to recover listed fishes in numerous rivers and creeks that occur in several areas of the Southeastern and Northeastern United States.

Recovery Champion awards recognize Service employees and their partners for contributions to the recovery of threatened and endangered species in the United States. Koch, Murphy, Rakes, and Shute are among the 18 recipients of these awards for 2008.

“The Recovery Champion awards recognize the exceptional conservation accomplishments of its honorees and highlight the importance of strong and diverse partnerships in species conservation,” Gould said. “Recovery Champions are helping listed species regain their place in the natural resources fabric of our country while focusing attention on the importance of conserving our nation’s biological heritage for future generations.”

The 2008 Recovery Champion honorees are working to benefit a range of endangered and threatened plants and animals. From whooping cranes to mussels, Service employees and partners such as universities, conservation agencies, and private organizations are devoting their resources to a shared mission. Applied research, technology implementation, partnership development, species and habitat survey and restoration work, public awareness efforts, and species’ monitoring programs are just a few examples of this year’s Recovery Champion honorees’ efforts.

As the senior recovery biologist in the Kentucky Field Office since 2001, Leroy Koch has spearheaded innovative studies involving mussel life history. His work improved mussel propagation in the Ohio River Valley and Kentucky, and led to the discovery of host fishes for many freshwater mussels, including several listed and declining species. His efforts also involved an emerging technique that allows juvenile mussels to be grown in vitro by an artificial method instead of using a host fish. This technique has been perfected on several common species already, but it will be a critical step in listed mussel recovery when the process is perfected and applied to listed species. In fact, the in vitro propagation work has the chance to revolutionize freshwater mussel recovery efforts, because only pregnant females would be necessary for propagation efforts.

In addition, Koch helped the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources secure funding for its nationally known mussel propagation and research center, the Center for Mollusk Conservation.

“One of the best measures of a person’s leadership is to notice how often others seek his advice,” says Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director. “Leroy has been a committee member of the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society for several years, and scientists throughout the Service and other agencies benefit from his expertise. For example, Leroy helped get funding for mussel projects in the Service’s Northeast and Great Lakes Regions, even though some of the species like the white cat’s paw do not occur in Kentucky or the Southeast Region.”

A Sheldon resident, Tom Murphy retired from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources in January 2009. In 1976, he was the first non-game biologist hired by that Department. He established an office in Green Pond, South Carolina and worked on imperiled coastal species. Due to his efforts, many of those species’ populations have improved in South Carolina. For example, bald eagle nesting pairs increased there from 13 in 1976 to more than 250 today. Wood stork nesting pairs have increased from 11 in 1981 to currently more than 2,000 nesting pairs.

“Tom had a distinguished career of firsts,” Hamilton says. “He was the first person to successfully track loggerhead sea turtles using sonic and radio telemetry and the first person to document wood stork nesting in South Carolina. He also led the first Bald Eagle Recovery Team for the Southeastern Region.”

Murphy also invented techniques to capture or survey animals, such as the “trip snare” for alligators and float shoes to use in swamps while surveying bird rookeries. He also was instrumental in convincing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to spend $8 million to build a five-acre seabird nesting island in Calibogue Sound. In just three years, the island has attracted more than 5,000 nesting pairs of terns, gulls, and pelicans.

Dedicated to preserving aquatic diversity, J. R. Shute and Pat Rakes have worked with more than 50 of the rarest fishes in Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Virginia, and North Carolina since the 1980’s. Their organization, CFI, has developed propagation protocols and technologies for fish-rearing and restored populations in their native streams. It also has expanded the knowledge of spawning behavior, habitat preferences, larval development, and early life-stage environmental sensitivity. Along with producing host fishes for freshwater mussels and maintaining “ark” captive populations, CFI has saved the smoky madtom from extinction, enhanced the status of species such as the yellowfin madtom, and moved several closer to delisting.

For additional information, please visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Recovery Champion website at: or

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. Please visit or


Downloadable photos:

Pat Rakes and J.R. Shute of Conservation Fisheries, Inc. Credit: USFWS
Pat Rakes and J.R. Shute of Conservation Fisheries, Inc. Credit: USFWS
Tom Murphy. Credit: Barbara Bergwerf, Bergwerf Graphics
Tom Murphy. Credit: Barbara Bergwerf, Bergwerf Graphics
Leroy Koch. Credit: USFWS
Leroy Koch. Credit: USFWS


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2009 News Releases.

Last updated: July 8, 2009