2016 National and Regional Recovery Champions

On Endangered Species Day, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region celebrates the contributions and achievements of our nationally recognized Recovery Champions and regionally recognized Recovery Champions. These dedicated individuals have devoted themselves to recovering endangered and threatened animals and plants, and the Service is grateful for their hard work.

2016 National Recovery Champions

Chris Lucash, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A biologist holding an antenna in the field to locate red wolves.

Chris Lucash in the field monitoring for red wolves. Photo by Becky Harrison, USFWS.

A respected member of our Service family, Lucash dedicated his 29-year career toward the recovery of the endangered red wolf and the implementation of strong science. In 1987, he played an integral role on the team that first reintroduced red wolves —a species that was nearing extinction in the wild - into eastern North Carolina. Under his direction and leadership, a population was also released at a second site in the southern Appalachian Mountains.

His keen field observations, passion, and commitment to recovery greatly contributed to the comprehensive knowledge of red wolf population dynamics. He was critical in the development and refinement of adaptive management techniques that helped meet recovery goals, and his testing of field methods paved the way for other species reintroduction efforts across the country.

Lucash fostered diverse partnerships, advised many students, and worked with collaborators across many agencies and organizations. The Service especially recognizes his efforts in cultivating trust and building relationships with private landowners in rural communities of the recovery areas and his unsurpassed dedication to species conservation during his career with the Service’s Red Wolf Recovery Program.

Rachael Hoch, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partner

A biologist standing on a dock with a handful of mussels with small identifying tags.

Rachael hoch holding endangered mussels. Photo by Jason Mays, USFWS.

The Service recognizes Hoch for her leadership in advancing the recovery of endangered mussel species in North Carolina, including the federally-listed Appalachian elktoe and the Carolina heelsplitter.

Over the last five years, Hoch has worked tirelessly to establish a viable mussel propagation facility, first as a graduate student, then as a technician, and most recently as the state mussel coordinator for mussel propagation activities stationed at the Conservation Aquaculture Center in Marion, North Carolina. Her work has been instrumental in expanding the recovery opportunities for several species of endangered mussels.

The task of developing a statewide program required great effort by a team of individuals working among multiple agencies. Hoch’s dedicated work and vision developed the capabilities of North Carolina’s freshwater mussel hatchery program. Her leadership, professionalism, and commitment to the implementation of sound science helped foster successful partnerships with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and the Service. Her determination and innovation nurtured what was once an afterthought into a robust recovery tool of immeasurable value to species recovery.

The Service applauds Rachael for all that she has accomplished on behalf of endangered mussels in North Carolina.

2016 Regional Recovery Champions

Peggy Shute, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A biologist in a wet suit on the bank of a stream.

Peggy Shute snorkling. Photo by Stephanie Chance, USFWS.

The Service recognizes Peggy Shute for her consultation with the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE). As the lead Section 7 biologist of this consultation, she developed a strong partnership with OSMRE in order to meet the requirements for litigation on coal mining in Tennessee.

As the result of her leadership, the two agencies worked closely together to evaluate impacts on two fish listed under the Endangered Species Act, the blackside dace and the Cumberland darter, and implement habitat restoration and management actions to benefit these species. She worked diligently with a team of federal, state, and private researchers to develop comprehensive and cost-effective adaptive management actions.

Tom Augspurger, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A biologist standing on a boat with an instrument.

Tom Augspurger in the field. Photo by USFWS.

The Service commends Tom Augspurger for his leadership in fostering new approaches to determine the pollutant sensitivity of imperiled freshwater mussels, and applying that science to address major limitations preventing adequate water quality protection nationwide. His efforts to help standardize toxicity tests and expand pollutant testing led to better water quality criteria for mussels.

Those actions compelled the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set considerably lower and more protective new national recommended ambient water quality criteria for ammonia in 2013. In doing so, they specifically cited the improved mussel toxicity testing methods and additional data on the effects of ammonia on sensitive freshwater mussels. The implications of Augspurger’s work are far reaching in terms of the number of imperiled species and the extent of aquatic habitat that benefits.

His leadership, professionalism, and commitment to science helped foster successful partnerships with the EPA, U.S. Geological Survey, and other research partners, and now serves as a model that is being expanded to other priority pollutants in our nation’s waters.

Carolina Heelsplitter Conservation Team, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Two male biologists flank a female biologist all three of whom are posing in a stream.

Carolina heelsplitter team, L to R, Tony Brady, Morgan Wolf, Jonathan Wardell. Photo by USFWS.

Over the past few years, this team has worked tirelessly across two Service program (Ecological Services and Fisheries) to improve the status of the federally endangered freshwater mussel, the Carolina heelsplitter .

The team created the first mussel propagation facility in South Carolina, the Orangeburg Mussel Conservation Center. They have worked on propagation in the Catawba River and Pee Dee River watersheds, and are currently working on a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Forest Service to augment the Carolina heelsplitter in the Savannah River watershed. In addition, they are working on propagating the Savannah River watershed strain. There are plans to work on creating outreach material for the freshwater mussels in South Carolina such as workbooks, field guides, pamphlets, and posters.

They have provided a shared vision among their partners and the Service programs to achieve recovery of this imperiled freshwater mussel. Without the leadership and passion that this team has shown for this endangered mussel species, it would be faced with extinction in a few years due to urban sprawl.

David Welch, North Carolina Plant Conservation Program, USFWS partner

A biologist wearing a blue polo shirt in front of a forrested backdrop.

David Welch. Photo by NCPCP, used with permission.

David Welch is a Recovery Champion due to his leadership in protecting rare plant populations throughout North Carolina. Under his leadership at the North Carolina Plant Conservation Program (NCPCP), Welch made important contributions to the protection of many of North Carolina’s rarest plant species through the management of the program’s 24 preserves totaling over 13,600 acres.

Welch was instrumental in NCPCP receiving Recovery Lands Acquisition grants, which led to the creation of two important nature preserves. Bat Fork Bog is home to the federally listed plants the bunched arrowhead, swamp pink and other rare species. MacIntosh Bays will protect the endangered Canby’s dropwort. Welch’s efforts also led to the expansion of Tater Hill Preserve, protecting Gray’s lily and other at-risk species. He also collaborated with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to protect the Venus flytrap, a species threatened by poaching. He was a strong advocate for the protection of rare plant populations in North Carolina, including all state and federally listed plants.

Joel Sartore, Internationally recognized photographer, USFWS partner

A photographer in a prone position with a blue bird standing on his head.

Joel Sartore in the field. Photo by USFWS.

Joel Sartore’s many initiatives to promote public awareness for endangered species make him a 2016 Recovery Champion. As a photographer for National Geographic magazine for over 25 years, his project to document the world’s biodiversity, the Photo Ark, is the only national attention many species on the brink of extinction will ever get and brings awareness to wildlife crises around the world and in our backyards. This momentous project, currently telling the stories of over 6,500 imperiled species from around the world, now includes four books, TEDtalks, and a social media following of nearly 1 million people.

His passion for conservation is contagious, as he speaks to audiences around the world, and shares his views with CBS Sunday Morning, NPR’s Weekend Edition and Fresh Air, NBC Nightly News, the Today show, and National Geographic’s Explorer. His efforts bring an unprecedented level of public awareness to imperiled species and habitats around the world.

Texas A&M Key Deer Team, USFWS Partner

Several biologists pose for a photo in front of a deer.

Dr. Lopez with FWS personnel and a curious deer. Photo by USFWS.

Led by Nova J. Silvy, Ph.D., Regents Professor Texas A&M, Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, Roel R. Lopez, Ph.D., Director, Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources

The Texas A&M Key Deer Team is recognized both for its extraordinary efforts towards recovery of the endangered Key deer, and also its participation in the protective management of the Key deer during the New World screwworm incident. The team contributed to recovery of the Key deer population by providing a greater understanding of the species abundance, population dynamics, and viability. It was also largely responsible for translocation effort that re-established populations on Cudjoe and Sugarloaf Keys. This led to an expansion of the overall population that now includes most of the historical range of the Key deer, adding redundancy and increasing representation throughout the population.

Most recently the Texas A&M team proved invaluable to the Service during the screwworm incident. The team made it their top priority to provide the Service with the necessary information and guidance needed to respond to the NWS incident. Their dedication and almost 70 years of combined experience have helped bring the Key deer population to its current improved status.

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. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit fws.gov. Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.