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Regional Director’s Honor Awards

The Regional Director’s Honor Award is given to our volunteers, partners, and employees who have contributed to the accomplishments of the Service’s mission and vision in the South Atlantic-Gulf and Mississippi Basin Interior Regions:

“Together we will connect lands and waters to sustain fish, wildlife and plants by being visionary leaders, bold innovators and trusted partners, working with and for people.”

Through this lens, extraordinary performance in a job, team, or volunteer assignment is demonstrated through exceptional innovation or ability.

We value the contributions of Service employees, volunteers, and partners and celebrate you!


The fiscal year 2019-2020 recipients are…

Honor Award for Volunteer Service - Individual

Joseph Anderson, Wheeler NWR

  • A man helping to raise a U.S. flag on a flag pole
  • A man standing in front of a wooden wall with holes cut for visitors and cameras to observe wildlife
  • A man on a large green tractor with a family standing in front of him
  • A man cutting boards on a foot bridge to make a repair

Wildlife refuges depend on the selfless work of volunteers who pick up trash, educate the public and eradicate invasive plants. But run a backhoe?

Joseph Anderson does. He’s the jack-of-all-trades volunteer at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama, the man called upon to fix roads, upgrade lighting, and build photo blinds. It helps that Joseph is a certified electrician whose background includes owning a machine shop. His dedication to Wheeler, though, is his most valuable attribute.

Joseph is certified on all of the refuge’s heavy equipment, a talent he puts to work maintaining impoundments, replacing water control structures and fixing roads and pumps. He also retrofitted all of the interior lighting at the Visitor Center and refuge headquarters with LED lights. An electrical contractor would’ve charged upwards of $10,000 for the work.

In all, Joseph willingly contributed 2,800 hours of volunteer work to the refuge – time Wheeler staffers could spend on other, critical projects. That’s about $100,000 in staffing costs alone the last two years.

The impact of Joseph’s work is felt refuge-wide: better quality habitat for wintering waterfowl, Sandhill cranes, and endangered Whooping cranes; easier access for hunters and fishers; and improving photo opportunities for nature lovers.

Oh, Joseph also boosted the refuge’s wildlife photography program by presenting two, free photo workshops. More than 150 amateur photographers attended.

Joseph epitomizes the Service’s dedication to the conservation and enjoyment of our natural resources. We couldn’t do it without him.

Honor Award for Volunteer Service - Team

Janice and Roger Brooks Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee NWR

  • A man dipping a ruler in a fuel tank to check it's level
  • Husband and wife posing for a photo overlooking a marsh
  • A man riding a green lawn mower
  • A woman standing in front of a water tank with testing equipment

Every refuge needs a Brooks. The Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, fortunately, has two.

Roger and Janice Brooks have been volunteering every winter at the South Florida refuge since 2014. They do it all: leading tram tours for visitors; mowing grass; conducting invasive reptile surveys; and maintaining boardwalks and pavilions. You name it, they do it.

In all, the Brookses have spent more than 10,000 hours as resident volunteers. That’s the equivalent of roughly five full-time positions which ends up saving the Service tens of thousands of dollars in salaries and expenses.

Their background in the plant nursery business in South Florida positions them nicely for refuge work. They know their native plants, what belongs and what doesn’t. They know which are weeds or invasives and how to get rid of them. And their dedication to maintaining the refuge’s beauty, and interpreting its specialness, greatly improves the overall visitor experience.

Roger and Janice take pride in their work and willingly impart that professionalism to other volunteers. But it’s their gentle nature and can-do attitude that sets them apart and makes them a pleasure to work with. They are true refuge ambassadors.

Friends Groups of the Year

Friends of Mammoth Spring National Fish Hatchery

  • A group of kids and chaperones posing for a photo after a fishing event
  • A man and woman fill up a huge container with ice
  • A man in a uniform posing for a photo with his wife
  • A man in a group of kids on dry land showing them how to cast a line with a fishing rod

Everybody needs a friend. Even fish.

The lake sturgeon, striped bass, alligator gar, walleye, channel catfish, rainbow trout, and federally listed mussels raised at Mammoth Spring National Fish Hatchery in Arkansas are well treated by the hatchery’s Friends Group. So too are the hatchery’s managers, biologists and maintenance crew who wouldn’t be able to educate the public about all their good work without the extraordinary outreach efforts by the Friends Group.

Each year the hatchery and their Friends organize an Earth Day Festival, a Kids Fish Camp, a Fall Fishing Derby and a Holiday Open House. The 2019 fishing derby, for example, turned into a community-wide event held at multiple facilities with the help of Mammoth Spring State Park and the Jim Hinkle Spring River State Fish Hatchery. That degree of partnership would’ve extended even further in 2020 – to campgrounds and canoe outfitters – if not for Covid-19.

Two of the events were targeted at boosting fishing opportunities for kids. The events also promoted stewardship of the environment and the importance of conservation.

None of it would be possible without the hard work of our Friends who recruit volunteers, plan activities, seek donations and sponsors, and provide supplies via their fundraising at the gift shop and from fish food sales.

RD Honor Award Recipients: Tim Shannon, Ben Wheeler, Alexis Davis, and Jim Mills.

Ding Darling Wildlife Society

  • Aerial photograph of a marsh from a plane
  • A happy group of people on the front steps of a public building holding signs that say 'we did it!'
  • A happy group of people standing in front of a sign identifying the Lee Ann Tauck Conservation Tract

The “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society has been the driving force behind the acquisition of the largest undeveloped tract on Sanibel Island. Working with federal and local officials, the Society and Lee County, Florida purchased the 68-acre Wulfert Bayous property. The Service manages it as part of the refuge.

The Society raised more than $3 million in private donations by using Lee County’s commitment to spend $6 million to acquire the property as part of the refuge.

Property acquired, the Society then played a leading role in working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to obtain $5 million more. This came from the Gulf Benefits Restoration fund managed by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The funds will be used to restore and enhance the property for colonial wading birds.

The Society recognized up-front that it could not do this deal alone, so it trained fund-raising volunteers to make this acquisition a reality.

It worked. Wulfert Bayous – later renamed the Lee Anne Tauck Conservation Tract – is the last, large undeveloped property on Sanibel Island. It has some of the island’s highest elevations, home to the best gopher tortoise habitats. An isolated wetland needs to be restored and enhanced for the benefit of colonial nesting wading birds. The $5 million-plus Gulf Benefit Restoration funds will help accomplish that.

The refuge plans to open up public access to the tract so visitors can hike and view wildlife, too.

RD Honor Award Recipients: Mike Baldwin, Sarah Ashton, Bill Valerian, Wendy Kindig, Birgie Miller, and John McCabe.

Honor Awards for Conservation Partners

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) Red Hills Salamander Habitat Purchase Team

  • A slimy salamander walks over a moss covered stone
  • A man in a green vest standing at a podium behind a sign about the Red Hills salamander
  • A group of people socially distanced in a wooded area
  • A group of people greeting each other in the woods

The State of Alabama recently purchased two tracts totaling 4,911 acres of Red Hills salamander habitat in Monroe County, Alabama. The acquisition was made possible by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which awarded the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources nearly $9 million in land conservation grants. This was authorized by Section 6 of the Endangered Species Act.

Other partners include the Forever Wild Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy in Alabama, Conservation Resources, and the Brown-Schutt Trust.

The acquisitions are part of a longterm conservation goal of delisting the salamander. The tracts join the 6,120-acre Forever Wild Red Hills Complex. Together, they increase the amount of protected salamander habitat.

But the salamander isn’t the only beneficiary. The tracts eventually will be accessible to the public for hunting, birding and other activities. Other rare animals are likely on the land too, or may relocate there. Those species include the Bachman’s sparrow, worm-eating warbler, red-cockaded woodpecker, gopher tortoise, and southern hognose snake.

RD Honor Award Recipients: Chuck Sykes, Patti Powell-McCurdy, Keith Gauldin, Ericha Nix, Doug Deaton, Jeremy Doss, and Drew Nix.

Chuck Sykes, Director, Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

  • A man with a red tie and suit smiling for a photo
  • A man in a green polo shirt holding a black snake
  • Four men in formal attire showing off an award they just won
  • Two men showing off the wild turkeys they hunted

As Director of Alabama’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, Chuck is a proven leader in both the non-game and game fields.

He fully supports the Alabama Aquatic Biodiversity Center, the world-renowned research and reintroduction center for more than 86,000 freshwater mussels and 100,000 snails.

Chuck was a key player on the team that acquired the Red Hills salamander tract – the largest land deal put together under the Endangered Species Act’s Section 6 program. Chuck also supports programs that eradicate numerous noxious species – invasive carp, zebra mussels, Chinese tallow tree and cogon grass, to name a few.

The list of Chuck’s accomplishments goes on: promoting riverine connectivity; developing species status assessments; and establishing longleaf pine habitats.

In today’s world of fewer outdoorsmen and women, and dwindling license sales, Chuck has worked hard to identify areas that have the potential to pay multiple dividends. He helped establish, for example, a position that oversees adult mentoring and education programs. Additionally, Chuck has advocated on behalf of African Americans, Latinos, women, and people with disabilities to undertake conservation careers.

Other important work championed by Chuck: a program to collect harvest data to boost wildlife management decisions; a new hunting season for sandhill cranes; the fight against contagious wildlife diseases; and the promotion of shooting sports.

In short, Chuck Sykes is a tireless promoter of wildlife, and wild places, in Alabama.

Community Greening

  • Kids wearing masks and socially distancing during halloween
  • A woman and a man wearing green t-shirts planting a tree
  • A group of young adults in green shirts improving a small park
  • Two young adults lug a tree over to a hole for planting
  • Community greening and the local police force working together
  • A group of young adults planting a dozen trees

Most wildlife refuges are sprawling, rural swaths of conserved land miles from urban areas. The Service realizes, though, that 21st century relevancy means that introducing wildlife conservation and green spaces to city dwellers is critical.

Community Greening, a non-governmental partner in Palm Beach County, Florida, brings the Service into the city. A close working relationship with the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge helps the urban forestry nonprofit spread the tree canopy across the county, particularly in low-income neighborhoods.

The refuge partnered with Community Greening to establish two “Pocket Refuges” in the county, green spaces planted with native vegetation that provide food, shelter and habitat for birds, pollinators and other native wildlife. In another project, 75 native pine trees were planted in a popular city park.

In all, the nonprofit has planted over 4,000 trees and helped transform vacant lots into urban food forests, fruit orchards and local parks. More than 3,500 volunteers have been enlisted to make urban neighborhoods greener.

A “Youth Tree Team” employs local teens to maintain the green spaces. The kids also learn about possible careers in conservation. Service staff have also taken the teens on tours of the Loxahatchee refuge to show first-hand how preserving and maintaining trees and plants can lead to a rewarding future.

Community Greening is making a difference. It was recently named “Tree Advocacy Group of the Year” by the Florida Urban Forestry Council, and the “Non-Profit of the Year” by the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce.

RD Honor Award Recipients: Mark Cassini, Indira Brooch, Dondre McCrary, and Stephen Seto.

DeLuca Preserve Team (The University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Ducks Unlimited)

  • A biologist smiles as she holds a small brown bird in her hand with a net in the background
  • A female Florida grasshopper sparrow standing on a fence
  • Biologists span out across a grassy field looking for birds
  • A hand holding a small brown and black bird
  • A patch of green pitcher plants in a field
  • A small brown and black bird with its head tilted back to sing

Everybody involved in the magnificent DeLuca Preserve project deserves credit.

The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is now managing the 27,000-acre preserve in the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area. And the Wetlands America Trust, the land trust for Ducks Unlimited, holds a perpetual conservation easement on DeLuca Preserve.

But the deal – one of the largest donations of private land to an American university – was boosted by the long-term working relationship between refuge staff, Partners for Fish and Wildlife, and the DeLuca family. It’s a blueprint for conservation success that can be replicated with other private landowners in the future.

All parties realize how vital it is to preserve the prairies, wetlands and ranchlands that support Florida grasshopper sparrows, red-cockaded woodpeckers, gopher tortoises and other trust species. For the university, the property will serve as a biological research station for students and faculty to learn about the major environmental challenges facing Florida – climate change, biodiversity, emerging pathogens and invasive species, and the need for clean water.

For Ducks Unlimited, the conservation easement provides protection for this critical watershed; showcases the compatibility of conservation and agriculture; and ensures that the grasshopper sparrow, and other T&E species, never go extinct.

The DeLuca Preserve never would have happened without the tireless engagement of the Service’s partners. The university, the nonprofit, and the Service will protect and sustain the lands for generations to come.

RD Honor Award Recipients: Brent Sellers, Margaret Atherton, Jerry Holden, Josh Green, Carol Ann Walker, Maggie Hines, Darin Blunck, Karen Waldrop, Anna Rollosson, Diana Iriate, and Dale James.

Dr. Darren Miller

  • A website screenshot from NCASI
  • A longleaf pine forest with grassy under story

An endangered gray bat doesn’t distinguish between a cave on private property or a cave on public property. And, increasingly neither do we.

The protection of threatened and endangered species requires the Service to work closely with the private sector, forest landowners in particular. And that’s where the invaluable work done by Dr. Darren Miller and the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement Inc., or NCASI, comes in.

Darren helps the National Alliance of Forest Owners ensure that trees are grown in an environmentally sustainable way that benefits the at-risk species the Service is tasked with protecting. With our help, they’ve targeted a large swath of land straddling the Alabama-Florida border that’s rich in T&E species. Gopher tortoises. Red Hills salamanders. Atlantic sturgeon. Fuzzy pigtoe mussels.

Over the next decade, NCASI will monitor the impact of working forests on these and other species. The research gleaned from the study will inform the Service’s listings, status reviews and recovery plans for two dozen species.

With sixty percent of the region’s forests in private hands, the Service needs all the help it can get protecting rare species. Darren’s help is invaluable.

Three Legs of a Stool: Florida FWCC, South Florida Water Management District, and Fish and Wildlife Service

  • A group of African American kids and young adults preparing for a canoe trip
  • A group of visitors canoing a marsh
  • A young African American girl smiling as she looks over the steering wheel of a boat
  • A diverse classroom of students smiles for a photo with two FWS employees

Sometimes, the devil – and the delights – are in the details. Take the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge’s relationship with the State of Florida, for example.

Last year the refuge, the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission partnered to improve water quality, eradicate invasive plants and boost recreation. The “cooperative agreement” bolsters the Service’s overall mission and Regional Vision – greater conservation of fish and wildlife.

The partnership facilitated the exchange of lands between the Service and the District. It has, in particular, generated nearly $12 million in state and federal money to treat invasive plants that strangle much of the refuge. More than 38,000 acres of exotics have been eradicated so far.

The deal also calls for an expansion of public access and recreational opportunities at the refuge near Boynton Beach. An additional 111,000 acres were opened up for hunting, and 109,000 acres to fishing. The waterfowl hunting area expanded. Hunting alligators by airboat is allowed. So too is bow fishing, fish and frog gigging. You can also ride your horse and walk your dog on the refuge. Deer hunting, and camping, are up next.

Three years of tough, tireless and, at-times, contentious negotiations culminated in the partnership agreement which sets the refuge’s management vision for the next 20 years. In the end, though, the partners, and other stakeholders, have improved communication, collaboration and trust which can only benefit the restoration of the Everglades.

RD Honor Award Recipients: Rory Feeney, Thomas R. Reinert, Michael Stevens, Steven Seibert, Kathleen Burchett, Ernest Clarke, Rolf Olson, Steven Henry, Rebekah Gibble, Laura Housh, Veronica Kelly, Melissa Juntunen, Andrew Eastwick, Bill Calvert, and Patrick James.

Gulf of Mexico Avian Monitoring Network (GoMAMN)

  • A group of scientists posing for a photo at a meeting
  • Hundreds of white gulls and pelicans flying along the coast
  • A biologist holding a black bird with orange feathers around it's wings
  • A woman holding two ducks in the woods
  • A huge nest in a tall tree with a bald eagle
  • A woman holding a large white bird

The beauty of the Network is in communication. The many-splendored team, composed of a dozen state and federal agencies, a half-dozen universities and a slew of nonprofits, tracks avian conservation efforts across the northern Gulf. Their monitoring work is critical to understanding changes to habitats, diseases, and climate that cross jurisdictional boundaries.

The partnership provides key information and real-time results to efforts to restore the Gulf and conserve and protect at-risk species.

The team created, and maintains, a website to facilitate conservation among the growing network of scientists, land managers and administrators. It also publishes a quarterly newsletter and hosts monthly coordinating calls. Members even published a book – Strategic Bird Monitoring Guidelines for the Northern Gulf of Mexico – tying all of the conservation work together in an easy-touse compendium.

This team provides invaluable assistance for the Service’s at-risk and conservation efforts.

RD Honor Award Recipients: Randy Wilson, Jeff Gleason, Bill Vermillion, John Tirpak, Steve DeMaso, Pete Tuttle, TJ Zenal, Mark Woodrey, Bob Cooper, Peter Frederick, Pat Jodice, Evan Adams, Janell Brush, Melanie Driscoll, Michael Seymour, Jacquelyn Grace, Terri Maness, Mary Ann Ottinger, Eric Soehren, Rob Dobbs, Trey Barron, Melody Chimahusky, Jim Lyons, Jessica Schulz, Auriel Fournier, Stephanie Sharuga, David Reeves, Ben Wilson, and Rachel Kirpes.

Kevin Porteck

  • A man posing for a photo in front of trees previously snapped in half from high winds
  • A man posing for a photo behind rare pitcher plants
  • A man walking through a young longleaf pine forest stand with wiregrass
  • A man standing next to a 10 foot tall longleaf pine tree
  • A man holding a small snake talking to children

For 30 years, Kevin has protected lands and conserved wildlife for the U.S. Department of Defense. As a program manager and natural resources expert for the U.S. Air Force, he provides the money and resources to manage 9 million acres of military lands.

Through a cooperative agreement between the Service and the Air Force, Kevin dispenses $37 million per year for conservation work on and around Air Force installations – with as much as $20 million going directly to the Region.

The partnership serves dual purposes: the Air Force can test and train for future conflicts while the habitats for threatened and endangered species – on and off base – are improved. Targeted species include the Florida grasshopper sparrow, Florida scrub-jay, Southeastern beach mouse, eastern indigo snake, and reticulated flatwoods salamander.

Kevin sought emergency funding for Tyndall Air Force Base to salvage 12,000 acres of trees damaged by hurricane Michael, and to replant the landscape with longleaf pine. He helped the space industry manage the coastal scrub ecosystem on the slew of public lands surrounding Cape Canaveral.

He has championed the designation of northwest Florida as a Sentinel Landscape which will ensure compatible land uses for both the military and conservation efforts. And, through it all, Kevin has been a proponent of the benefits of prescribed fire.

Kevin continues to be an advocate for a strong partnership between DoD and the Service as we both strive to protect America’s natural resources while defending the nation.

Olice Williams

  • A person on a fan boat with a helicopter flying in the background. Smoke eminates from the marsh during a prescribed fire.
  • A raptor coming in for a landing on a tree
  • A forest overgrown with invasive plants
  • A person with invasive controlling chemicals in a spray backpack walking through a forest overgrown with invasive plants
  • An alligator with only it's head poking out of the water in a marsh
  • A marsh under a blue sky

Water – just the right amount – is life in the Everglades. Too much, and the Service’s trust species can’t nest. Too little, and their food supply disappears.

Olice Williams, a hydraulic engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Jacksonville, gets the balance just right. That’s no easy task given the competing demands for water at the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, as well as with downstream neighbors. Especially when flood control and water supply, by law, take priority over the refuge’s bounty of wildlife needs.

Olice, though, handles it all with aplomb. And smarts. He balances the competing needs of federal, state and tribal water managers with those of 70 federally listed species, including Florida manatees, Florida panthers, Everglade snail kites, Cape Sable seaside sparrows, and eastern indigo snakes.

Olice did this repeatedly in 2020, a challenging year with three times the average amount of rain and the potential for harmful algal blooms along the state’s Atlantic and Gulf coasts. He had to be creative, and a risk-taker, to manage the system differently. All the while, Olice maintained the upmost concern for Loxahatchee’s trust species.

It’s a complex, and controversial, job. Olice, though, makes it work.

Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy (SECAS) Interim Steering Committee

Three men gather around a map on a table

Large-scale conservation requires bold and innovative leadership. Five state wildlife agency directors fill that role – and then some – when it comes to the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy.

SECAS’ goal is ambitious, yet straightforward: to connect lands and waters across the region that will support healthy ecosystems, fish and wildlife populations, and quality of life for people. A steering committee was established in 2019 to provide oversight and direction. Members include the wildlife agency directors of Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Missouri and Florida, along with the Service’s Regional Director.

They, comprehensively, evaluated SECAS effectiveness and adaptability in an everchanging world. In particular, the directors wanted to discern what value SECAS delivers to its partners, as well as what changes might be needed. They weighed whether SECAS needed a better governance structure.

The committee wrapped up its work last year with recommendations to boost long-standing relationships between SECAS leaders, staff and partners. Members also underscored SECAS’ value as a collaborative endeavor. Its work bolsters the Southeast Region’s vision of emboldened leadership striving to connect lands and waters for the betterment of all. For that, the committee deserves the conservation partnership award.

RD Honor Award Recipients are the State Directors of 2019-2020: Mallory Martin, Paul Johansen, Ed Carter, Gordon Myers, Rusty Garrison, Sara Parker, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

State of Florida Trustees in the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill NRDA

  • A fluffy white bird with tiny legs standing on the beach
  • Playground equipment in the shape of a large crayfish
  • A man and a woman walk down a wooden boardwalk between a slash pine stand
  • Two women riding down a beach on an ATV with signs tied to the front
  • Red hued lights surrounding a pool at a resort at night
  • An aerial photograph showing a new culvert under a road over a lake
  • A new, blue pickleball court with benches

Two words – trust, collaboration – undergird the fine work done by the – quote – “Florida Team” – unquote.

The Team is made up of the State’s Department of Environmental Protection and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission working within the Florida Trustee Implementation Group. It’s tasked with spending hundreds of millions of dollars to remedy the environmental harm done to Florida by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The Team, of course, doesn’t work in a void. The Service is a key partner. Representatives of both groups trust each other implicitly. Never was that more apparent than in the implementation of two 2020 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation projects totaling $9.3 million. One, the Wulfert Bayous Bird Nesting Habitat Restoration project, aims to restore 68 acres of mangrove rookery adjacent to the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The other, restoring dune habitats across the panhandle, targets 21 miles of plant diversity to benefit beach mice, shorebirds and sea turtles.

Recreation, another Service priority, is also bolstered by the Team’s work. They restored more than 1,500 acres of bird habitat, improved fishing and boating sites in Escambia and Franklin Counties, and built a public park with a climbing structure that resembles a giant Panama City crayfish.

Next up: A proposed land-acquisition project to mitigate the ravages of climate change via carbon sequestration, corridor set-asides and coastal improvements all intended to help at risk, threatened and endangered species.

Check out the Public Meeting on Deepwater Horizon Spill Restoration plan. Note, this link will take you away from FWS.gov.

RD Honor Award Recipients: Leslie Ames, Phil Coram, Lisa Robertson, Jim Reynolds, Gareth Leonard, and Amy Raker.

Honor Award for Private Landowner of the Year

Elisabeth DeLuca

  • A portrait of a woman with short reddish blond hair and a dark grey dress Video Courtesy of University of Florida
  • A black and grey bird with a bright green cricket in it's beak
  • Fire specialists supervise a small prescribed burn along the edge of a grass road
  • A landscape panoramic photo of a grassy/shrubby field

And now the sparrows will have more room to roam thanks to the generosity of Elisabeth DeLuca.

Elisabeth and her family donated 27,000 acres near the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge to the University of Florida for a living classroom and laboratory. It was one of the largest real estate gifts ever to any U.S. university.

The conservation possibilities, especially for the Service’s trust species, are endless. Cattle ranchlands, dry prairies, wetlands and forests abound. It was one of the last, privately owned refuges for the Florida grasshopper sparrow. Gopher tortoises, red-cockaded woodpeckers and other listed species also call the DeLuca Preserve home. Even Florida panthers travel the Central Florida tract.

The Service was, and will remain, a key partner with the university and Ducks Unlimited which holds a perpetual conservation easement on the property. Partners for Fish and Wildlife worked for years with the landowner to monitor the sparrows and improve their habitat via prescribed fire.

The DeLuca Preserve checks virtually every management box for the Service: working lands conservation; a climate and T&E species corridor; clean water protection; wild hog eradication; invasive species research; a training ground for future wildlife biologists.

Elisabeth DeLuca said it best. “Few things in this world are as precious – and threatened – as our untamed lands and the wild animals that live there. We need to preserve what we can for the benefit of all of us.”

Honor Award for Employees

Jorge Buening

  • A man holding a large black snake
  • A man steering a boat down a river
  • A small black and grey bird in a box covered with vegetation
  • Two men in a boat at the dock showing off their catch

It’s true that Jorge Buening is the lead fisheries biologist at Welaka National Fish Hatchery. It’s just as true that Amazon sells books. But Amazon, as we all know, does a lot more than that. So does Jorge.

In addition to looking after fish at the Florida hatchery, Jorge works with the Florida grasshopper sparrow. It is one of the rarest birds in North America – certainly one of the most endangered.

Jorge’s work with the sparrow began in 2019, when he joined others at the hatchery to get a State of the Birds grant. It totaled $26,000 – enough to build a second aviary at the station. That aviary can house 30 additional sparrows.

He also joined with other biologists to get money to buy and assemble a 100-gallon steam sprayer. The sprayer is used on invasive fire ants, which are predators to hatchling sparrows. That sprayer is getting used at the Avon Park Bombing Range, a sparrow recovery area.

Jorge also cooperated with Ecological Services partners to acquire $10,000 from the Regional Office to build a new, 14-by-14-foot endangered species room at one of the hatchery’s buildings.

In addition, he’s worked with the St. Johns County, Florida, Audubon Society and the Florida Bluebird Society. The result: Welaka now has bluebird nesting boxes along a trail at the hatchery. Last year, those boxes produced over 50 fledged bluebirds.

Don’t forget that other nontraditional hatchery resident, the Eastern indigo snake. Jorge has overseen programs to ensure that the snake thrives. Jorge has overseen the rearing of 62 Eastern indigos, 30 of them released last year in Alabama or Florida.

Jorge has not lost sight of his core job as a fish biologist. During the COVID pandemic, he’s helped the hatchery meet its projected program goals. He’s worked with state partners in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama to help them maintain their fish production programs. He’s also worked closely with Florida and Georgia to meet restoration-production targets.

In short: Give Jorge a job and don’t worry about it getting done.

Corey Jackson, Officer of the Year

  • A law enforcement officer posing for a photo in uniform
  • A law enforcement officer kneeling in a room full of confiscated wildlife trophies
  • A law enforcement officer posing for a photo next to a confiscated buck trophy

He’s the image of a can-do guy who makes sure bad guys can’t do bad things. Federal Wildlife Officer Corey Jackson works at the West Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge, but his duties sometimes take him to other places. That was the case last year when Corey worked with Tennessee authorities and other federal officers to catch hunters taking deer illegally from Fort Campbell. Officer Jackson planned, organized and participated in several decoy operations at the Army base straddling the TennesseeKentucky border.

Corey also worked multiple complex investigations alongside state wildlife agencies over the past year. Using search warrants, law enforcement officials seized evidence, and charged and convicted multiple suspects. They had to forfeit illegal wildlife, as well as give up firearms and archery equipment.

Corey keeps a close watch on his refuge, too. Looking through harvest records and reviewing social media, he collected enough evidence to question and charge two people suspected of hunting deer in an area closed to hunting. Faced with the evidence against them, the two immediately confessed. It’s worth mentioning that the hunters bagged a couple of bucks – one, an 11-pointer. Jackson found them at a taxidermist shop.

A few words from his nominator says it all: “He (Corey) embraces the high ideals of a Federal Wildlife Officer and is unequivocally committed to excellence in law enforcement, resource protection, visitor services, and public/community relations. He is a stellar ambassador for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in all respects.”

Amy Keister

  • A woman took a selfie in front of a river from an overlook
  • A group of socially-distanced people giving the thumbs up to the camera on a river bank
  • Water pouring over rocks in a stream
  • A white and tan bird spreading out it's wings
  • A plant in a deciduous forest with a white flower

Amy Keister is a coordinator, communicator, and driving force behind developing a plan to connect lands and waters across the Southeast. Her work as a spatial data scientist and providing Geographic Information Systems (GIS) coordination for the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy (SECAS) has helped to push the needle for conservation in our region.

SECAS brings together public and private organizations around a bold vision for the future – connecting the lands and waters of the Southeast and Caribbean to support healthy ecosystems, thriving fish and wildlife populations, and vibrant communities. With a data-driven spatial plan and an ambitious regional goal, SECAS helps accelerate conservation action in the places where it will make the biggest impact. Amy works with other data scientists and GIS experts across the Southeast to provide that plan: the Southeast Conservation Blueprint.

Much of SECAS’ success can be traced to Amy’s experience and expertise. The Blueprint relies on input from partners and the best available science to identify places of conservation value and is updated every year to ensure that it is continually improving. Amy collaborates with a broad team to ensure that the science, feedback, and improvements in communicating that science are reflected in future blueprints.

To put this in perspective, Amy oversees the integration of 10 prominent conservation plans and has worked to help include contributions from at least 1,700 people from 500 different organizations across the Southeast into one seamless regional plan.

Amy has also helped develop high-quality and novel communication methods to ensure this plan is used and trusted. She is both imaginative and creative in presenting information in ways that help make science more accessible. Her attention to detail, ability to communicate how complex and technical data translate to on the ground conditions, and working to help Blueprint users explore that information is invaluable. To date, the Southeast Blueprint has helped bring in over $31 million in conservation funding to help protect and restore almost 70,000 acres.

Although the Blueprint reflects the work of many, Amy’s leadership, laughter, and expertise has helped to make the our mission – to work with others, to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people – a reality.

Honor Award for a Team

Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee NWR Urban Program Team

  • A young adult in a wheel chair posing for a photo with two employees and an alligator mascott
  • A woman standing at a booth with environmental education information smiling at two children
  • A diverse class wades up to their chest through a marsh
  • A troup of boy scouts poses for a photo in front of kayaks after a day of cleaning up the refuge
  • A Service biologists explains a booth at a public event

The Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee NWR Urban Program Team spent much of 2020 reaching out to people who may not be traditional refuge visitors – people who aren’t traditional wildlife fans or refuge supporters.

RD Honor Award Recipients

  • David Vela, Urban Refuge Program Coordinator at Lox
  • Veronica Kelly, a Lox Park Ranger
  • Ana Castillo-Ruiz, who was a Park Ranger at Lox
  • Serena Rinker, a Lox Park Ranger

The outreach included printing brochures written in Spanish. The team urged religious groups to visit. They hosted gatherings with nationally recognized African American sororities and fraternities. The team built connections with predominantly African American schools, as well as Boys and Girls clubs in the Glades communities.

Team members engaged with more than 30 urban partners who hosted or participated in almost 90 events. They created four pocket refuges. Along the way, they taught thousands about the Service and our national wildlife refuges.

The result: Many religious groups have visited the refuge. Others have become repeat volunteers. School children have a better understanding of nature and our role in protecting it.

All because someone reached out.

Genetically Engineered Crops Environmental Assessment Team

  • Two mallard ducks swimming between corn stalks in a flooded field
  • Dozens of male and female mallards in a flooded corn field
  • Four men in a corn field looking at the crop
  • A large tractor mowing 10 foot tall grass

This is a formal recognition of a group that faced the daunting task of making the Service’s case for the use of genetically engineered crops (GECs) on some refuges.

RD Honor Award Recipients

  • Barron Crawford, Project Leader at the Tennessee Refuge Complex
  • Randy Cook, Project Leader at the West Tennessee Refuge Complex
  • Pam Wingrove, Chief of the Service’s Branch of Planning
  • Tina Menges Blancett (formerly Chouinard), the Service’s Natural Resources Planner
  • Heath Hagy, Regional Waterfowl Ecologist
  • Chuck Hunter, Chief of the Division of Strategic Resource Management

In August 2018, the GEC Team started developing a programmatic environmental assessment to evaluate the use of genetically engineered crops on some refuges. They knew that providing GECs would help high-priority wintering wildfowl across the Southeast. Last May, the team worked to develop the appropriate documents for refuges to use to evaluate the important of GECs for wildfowl.

The findings: Using GECs would create better yields and reduce the use of chemicals and fuel used in farming. The team anticipates that using GECs will focus attention on other species, meaning enhancing recovery efforts for an array of birds.

This team’s efforts were an integral part of our regional waterfowl responsibilities and addressed many of the issues that led to the creation of the regional Waterfowl Working Group - proof that the Service is an undisputed leader in waterfowl conservation.

The team’s work dovetails nicely with our Regional Vision to connect lands and waters to sustain fish, wildlife and plants, too

Green River NWR Team

  • Dozens of people surround a sign that reads Green River National Wildlife Refuge
  • A man addresses a crowd from behind a podium on a stage
  • Service employee posing for a photograph with a Senator from Kentucky
  • A snowy farm field
  • Two Service employees posing for a photo

In late 2019, the Service celebrated a major event in the green reaches of Kentucky, where two rivers meet. Thus we celebrated the establishment of the Green River National Wildlife Refuge.

This refuge is the nation’s 568th. Its creation took place only after countless hours of work from an array of people. That team: From Kentucky: The team at Clarks River NWR, along with Lee Andrews.

RD Honor Award Recipients

Working from our regional office: Steve Seibert, Megan Reed, Daffny Pitchford, Kristen Peters, Linda Kubiscko and Holly Gaboriault. (Holly has since moved to Hadley, MA) From Tennessee: Tina Menges Blancett (formerly Chouinard).

And Mississippi: Ken Clough.

The refuge’s establishment marked a project years in the making. It is the second refuge located fully in Kentucky. Green River NWR will comprise high-quality wildlife and fish habitats near the confluence of the Green and Ohio Rivers. It will support fish, wildlife, and habitat conservation; provide high-quality hunting and fishing opportunities; and ensure healthy wildlife populations for the benefit of Kentuckians and all Americans. It is a forever gift.

The team approached its task with any eye for efficiency. Members established the refuge ahead of schedule.

A public hearing showed wide-ranging support for the refuge, proof that communications and outreach are as necessary in conservation work as environment impact statements. The refuge dedication ceremony, in Kentucky, was flawless.

A corollary to that: Earlier this year the refuge added 437 more acres. A good thing is growing in the green reaches of Kentucky.

Harris Neck NWR Partnership Team

  • Four Service employees posing for a photo
  • Two African American women sitting in a pew at a church
  • Three people at a table signing a document
  • Two Service employees wearing masks during a pandemic

On the Friday before Halloween last year, a handful of Service employees met with the descendants of people with whom they share a bond: the land comprising Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge outside Savanna. There, standing under a brilliant sun, they signed a memorandum of understanding. The MOU cements that bond.

RD Honor Award Recipients

  • The staff of the Savannah Coastal NWR complex
  • Holly Gaboriault, Regional Refuge Supervisor but has since moved to Hadley, MA
  • Rick Kanaski, our Regional Archaeologist

Harris Neck NWR’s significance is more than just biological. It is rooted in the Gullah Geechee culture and community. By signing the MOU with the descendants of those long-ago Harris Neck residents, the Service signaled its commitment to showcase the area’s rich culture and history. It is tangible proof that the Service has a growing relationship with the people who know the land most intimately.

The MOU, like the refuge, will serve as a reminder that the Service works to conserve history as well as nature’s bounty

Interior Least Tern Team

  • A bright white bird diving towards the ground
  • A fluffy tan bird next two two more eggs in a small depression in the ground serving as a nest
  • A white bird sitting in a sandy nest on the ground
  • Birders wearing personal flotation devices look for interior least terns through binoculars

Last year, a collection of biologists, engineers and others successfully delisted the Interior least tern. This had major implications across Service regions.

RD Honor Award Recipients

From the Mississippi offices: Paul Hartfield, Endangered Species Biologist; Cary Norquist, Deputy Field Supervisor/Listing Coordinator/and Public Affairs Officer; and Stephen Ricks, Field Supervisor Mississippi Field Office

Also: Dr. Richard A. Fischer, a research biologist with the U.S. Army Engineering and Research Development Center; Casey Lott, of the Conservation Science Institute of Boise, Idaho; and Joseph R. Wilson, an aquatics biologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The team worked with stakeholders across 18 states, four Service regions and five Corps of Engineers divisions. They created a monitoring plan to watch the tern after its delisting. They devised conservation plans for three rivers. They also created a model to address stakeholder concerns.

This is the first species recognized where Section 7(a)(1) conservation played a significant role in the delisting decision. This work led to a remarkable shift in conservation work: River channels, once considered a threat to the tern, were transformed into the bird’s primary conservation tool. The changes meant good things for other species, too. Creating habitat benefits more than just terns.

The conservation plans also address habitat fragmentation by creating secondary channels. In addition, delisting reduces regulatory burdens across the species’ range. That has financial bonuses. Conserving the Interior least tern was a top expense for the Corps – and U.S. taxpayers.

Mountain Bogs NWR Expansion Team

  • A bright white flower with golden stamen
  • A small black turtle with orange markings on its neck
  • A small mountain range covered in trees
  • Two Service employees look at a map while visiting donated land
  • Two hikers along a snow covered trail

Last August, Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge in the North Carolina’s Appalachians grew by 7,000 acres. This was due to the work of a team of professionals committed to conserving the exquisite ecosystems found in the hills.

RD Honor Award Recipients

  • Andrew Hammond
  • Carolyn Johnson
  • Gary Peeples
  • Janet Mizzi
  • Steve Seibert
  • Alice Lawrence
  • Pam Wingrove
  • Laura Housh
  • Megan Reed
  • Holly Gaboriault

The 7,000 acres were donated. But to make that donation work, the team expanded the refuge’s acquisition boundary, more than doubling it to almost 93,000 acres. That land will help protect threatened and endangered species in the region. The refuge’s growth also helps connect conservation lands. You cannot say enough about the diversity of the southern Appalachians. It abounds with nearly 400 species of rare plants. It’s a stopping point for some migrating birds. Its rivers, lakes, streams and – yes – bogs teem with a stunning array of creatures.

This acquisition was a good thing.

Regional Fire and All-Hazard Management Team

  • A helicopter taking off from an airport with another helicopter in the background
  • A screenshot showing the eye of a storm passing over a refuge
  • A team of fire fighters at a briefing
  • A fire fighter starts a controlled burn with a drip torch

When hurricanes blow and wildfires burn, who ya gonna call? That’s right: The Regional Fire and All-Hazard Management Team. This group last year managed to do what it does best, in spite of a global pandemic.

RD Honor Award Recipients

  • Vince Carver, Regional Fire and All-Hazard Management Coordinator
  • Jon Wallace, Deputy Regional Fire and All-Hazard Management Coordinator
  • Jennifer Hinckley, Regional Hazardous Fuels Specialist
  • Chris Wright, Regional Aviation Manager
  • Rick Struhar, Regional Fire Business
  • Rachel Pearson, Regional Fire/All-Risk/Law Enforcement Budget Analyst
  • Brian Hardison, Geographic Emergency Management Program and Regional All-Hazard Operations Officer Duty Officer

In the past year or so, this team re-envisioned and put into effect changes in hurricane preparedness and response management. These changes included using a new platform for communications and planning before and after hurricanes. The team continued leading the Service and all of DOI in managing hazardous fuels, too.

Also, while working to streamline operations, the team collaborated with other agencies in handling fires. It was timely: In 2020, our regional refuges were the sites of 39 wildfires. They burned more than 16,000 acres. The team helped out elsewhere, too. Last year, it contributed to fighting wildfires that roared across public lands in the West.

That’s not counting prescribed fires – more than 122,000 acres burned during the past year alone.

Finally, the team recognizes the impact of climate change on its work. Changing weather patterns stemming from warmer oceans mean shifting atmospheric conditions and ocean currents. That calls for a nimble group that can work quickly with the US Forest Service, NGOs, the Department of Defense and others.

All the while, the team continues stressing the importance of training.

SLOPES to IPaC On-Line Conservation Tool Team

  • A man in a navy suit with a brick wall in the background
  • A man in a navy suit and red tie with an American flag in the background
  • A woman with curly black hair, smiling
  • A man in a blue sweater posing in front of pine trees
  • A Service biologist in uniform on a boat with a net
  • A blonde woman smiling for the camera
  • A woman with brown hair smiling for the camera
  • A woman with brown hair smiling in front of the beach

“SLOPES” stands for Standard Local Operating Procedures for Endangered Species. “IPaC” is short for Information, Planning, and Consultation. This is an online tool that streamlines Section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act Section’s consultation process. It also reduced costs, increased agency effectiveness and enhanced customer service.

RD Honor Award Recipients

From the Lafayette Field Office: Joseph Ranson, former Field Supervisor; biologists Karen Soileau, Brigette Firmin, Amy Trahan and Monica Sikes; and cartographer Robert Greco

From the South Florida Field Office: Victoria Foster, National IPaC Coordinator

From the State College, Pennsylvania, field office: Brian Scofield of the IPaC Program

This was truly a collaborative effort. The Lafayette office led in the tool’s development. Service headquarters gave them a big boost.

The offices created this tool by using funding, employee capabilities, technical prowess and online computer programs. It took more than a year to develop.

The result: reduced regulatory burden; better workflow; continued protection for species; and better timeliness for permit decisions. To give you an idea of just how timely, consider this: Our Lafayette people report an 86 percent reduction in requests for informal consultations. That means faster permitting decisions.

That means staff saves time. And that means they can focus on other conservation actions.

This online tool has been so successful that other ES field offices have taken notice. Headquarters is working to expand and make SLOPES available at ES offices across the nation.

South Atlantic Coastal Study, Planning Aid Report Team

  • Dozens of birds flying along the beach at dusk
  • A dead tree on the beach with the soil eroding away between it's roots
  • A sunrise along the beach from behind the dunes
  • A woman waiting in the back of a transport truck with a rescued manatee
  • A Service biologist holding a small dark frog in his two hands
  • A Service biologist kneeling in a forest next two endangered plants
  • A Service biologist taking water level measurements
  • A live oak covered in moss

In April 2019, a collection of Ecological Science and Refuge biologists began work on a report for the Army Corps that covered seven states and two US territories. The team worked on the report for 18 months.

RD Honor Award Recipients

  • From Florida: Study Coordinator Todd Hopkins, Lori Miller, Miles Meyer, and former interns Alyssa Cavanaugh and Ellie Noll
  • From Tennessee: Daniel Adams, the GIS lead
  • From North Carolina: John Ellis and Kathryn Matthews
  • From South Carolina: Mark Caldwell and Tom McCoy
  • From Georgia: Bill Wikoff
  • From Alabama: Patric Harper Mississippi: Paul Necaise
  • And Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands: Angel Colon-Santiago

The study, overseen by Science Applications, was the first-ever comprehensive planning aid report looking at sea-level rise. It assessed what rising sea levels and storm activity over the next 50 to 100 years might have. There are 194 federally listed species in the study area, as well as 63 National Wildlife Refuges.

It was a serious undertaking, on a serious topic.

TRACS Regional Working Group

  • An animal keeper pushes some vegetation over a fence to a young giraffe
  • A bald man with an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission shirt on
  • A woman with brown hair posing for a photo
  • Two men in a research boat, one holding a small shark

In the world of acronyms, this one is apt. TRACS stands for Tracking and Reporting Actions for the Conservation of Species – it says what it means, and it means what it says.

RD Honor Award Recipients

  • Jim Duffy, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Matthew Warriner, Assistant Chief of Wildlife Management of Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
  • Lorene Reid, Federal Assistance Coordinator, Georgia Department of Natural Resources
  • Stasey Whichel, Deputy Director Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
  • Robyn McDole, State Wildlife Grants

Assistant Coordinator, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission The TRACS grants reporting program has been in development for more than five years. The individuals from legacy Region 4 played a major role in the national development committee, with each serving several-year terms assisting with development. The end product was initiated at the beginning of 2021. It’s already showing promise!

It will provide an unprecedented level of reporting on state conservation accomplishments – for example, the number of fish stocked across the Southeast, or the number of wildlife management area land purchased. This program gives us a sharp overview of landscape conservation initiatives across our region.

The program didn’t just evolve. Its creation required a strong relationship between state partners and Service employees, all of whom committed to a years’-long effort. Now, with this program in place, we have a thorough catalog of Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration initiatives across our region.

Just as important: We can share those accomplishments with industry, partners, legislators and others. For example, if we get a request from a member of Congress on controlled burns during the last decade, our program allows us to call up the appropriate numbers, and quickly.

Also worth noting: Everyone who gave time and expertise to the working group volunteered. The Service didn’t have to track – yes, pun intended – down participants.

Waterfowl Objectives Team

  • Dozens of geese in a pen
  • A man holding a goose with an orange band on it's neck
  • A man standing in front of a small propeller plane with the USFWS logo
  • A man wearing a camo Ducks Unlimited visor and sunglasses

This group’s work (forgive the obvious pun) last year took wing.

RD Honor Award Recipients

  • Heath Hagy, Regional Refuge Waterfowl Ecologist
  • Randy Wilson, Supervisory Wildlife Biologist
  • John Stanton, Supervisory Wildlife Biologist
  • Zachary Cravens, Data Manager, in the National Wildlife Refuge System

System’s Inventory and Monitoring Program Last year, the Waterfowl Objectives Team achieved something remarkable: It developed a process to create waterfowl objectives to individual refuges – a process called “stepping down.” This has profound implications for population objectives for ducks, geese, swans and cranes across Interior Regions 2 and 4.

And this: The step-down process is the first available for individual refuges and joint ventures in North America. This was not a simple task. It called for collaboration between refuges and Joint Venture staff and partners. The Division of Migratory Birds, National Science Support Team, and other partners pitched in, too.

The work paid off. We now have a robust process that can be easily updated according to climate or landscape changes. It also can address other challenges that can affect waterfowl distribution. We no longer have to rely on objectives based on just historical data or other conventions. Now, populations can be updated as populations and the landscape change.

This is important. The program embraces strategic habitat conservation and increases science-based management. It can now link habitat conservation efforts to hunter-density data. This effort offers a better framework for refuges to put into management, land acquisition and conservation partnerships. Hunters benefit, too.

A shout-out here to some of our participants and partners: Ducks Unlimited, Division of Migratory Bird Management-Branch of Monitoring and Data Management, our refuges, Joint Venture partners, and more.

Wildlife Inspector Webinar Series Team

  • Two Service wildlife inspectors look at turtles from a white box
  • Service wildlife inspectors line up in a hanger behind a podium with flags in the background
  • A male Service wildlife inspector in uniform in front of an American flag
  • A female wildlife inspector in uniform in front of the American flag
  • A female wildlife inspector in uniform in front of the American flag

What do you do when a global pandemic has forced you to come up with new ways to do your job and share that knowledge with others? If you are three Service law enforcement professionals working at the Port of Miami, you create a webinar focusing on wildlife inspections. Then you share it.

RD Honor Award Recipients

  • Alberto Gonzalez, Supervisor of Wildlife Inspection
  • Sylvia Gaudio, Supervisor of Wildlife Inspection
  • Cyrene Schweitzer, Assistant Wildlife Inspector

The three knew that COVID placed a severe strain on travel. They came up with a regional webinar series that focused on interdiction efforts and training. They designed it for inspectors, evidence custodians and administrators – in all, more than 40 people. The webinar was a great way to share knowledge, with an added bonus: It gave people a chance to reconnect, if only remotely. Has camaraderie ever been more important than now?

Word about the webinar got around. In time, more than 180 people logged in weekly to learn the latest. The team also recorded the sessions, meaning the knowledge was available to even more people.

Based on what they learned at the webinar, participants feel they are ready for future operations and investigations. That dovetails nicely with the Service’s goal of promoting legal trade while combatting illegal trade.

The team produced this webinar while taking care of day-to-day duties. And a final thing: participants want this series to continue. That’s an endorsement.

Honor Awards for Special Categories

Jennifer Mitchell, Administrative Professional of the Year

  • A woman gleaming as she stands next to a professional football player
  • A woman enjoying herself with friends on a pontoon boat at a dock
  • Two women smiling at the end of a race
  • A woman posing with the Falcons mascot
  • Three women and a man enjoying lunch outside
  • A woman showing off her beautiful flowers
  • A woman and three men having triumphantly cleaned the office refrigerator

Google “GS-0303-08,” you’ll find the job that Jennifer Mitchell has. But it hardly describes the job she does.

Jennifer works as an administrative assistant in Ecological Services in the Regional Office in Atlanta. When another administrative assistant retired, Jennifer willingly took on the retirees’ duties. When an administrative officer took a lateral move to become a budget analyst, Jennifer took on those duties as well.

In the middle of handling all those duties, Jennifer sought out the training and expertise needed to perform her new tasks. Without that can-do attitude, the administrative functions in ES would have floundered.

In addition to everything else she has taken on, Jennifer has also been personally providing additional support to Catherine Phillips and John Tirpak, ES’s ARD and Deputy ARD – all this, while teleworking during a pandemic.

How crucial is her role in operations? She catches errors or omissions in timesheets and other documents. For that alone, her coworkers should give her a special thanks every other week.

With the lockdown and so many of her colleagues working from home, Jennifer revamped many of ES administrative procedures. She also trained folks internally on DTS, which made a significant positive impact to productivity.

Finally: She’s that friendly voice on the line. Jennifer often asks: How are you doing? How is your family? That sort of commitment is needed and appreciated – especially now.

Jennifer, thanks.

Jason Phillips, Biologist of the Year

  • A man pointing at a small box on a wooden piling emerging from the water
  • A slimy salamander being held in a boat
  • Three men with several coolers full of mollusks
  • A man wearing a personal flotation device in a boat showing off two mollusks
  • A man holding a large fish with a long narrow bill-like nose

Jason Phillips is a busy fish and wildlife biologist. Working at the Arkansas ES Field Office/Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, Jason in the past year has worked closely with federal and state agencies, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop the Three Rivers Feasibility Study. The study is an important component of one of the last remaining large blocks of contiguous bottomland hardwoods in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley.

He’s collaborated with the Corps to develop a plan promoting a long-term, sustainable navigation system. It reduces the risk of a cutoff forming near the entrance channel of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System between the Arkansas and the White Rivers.

Still collaborating with the Corps, Jason helped develop a plan to promote a long-term navigation system by reducing the risk of a cutoff forming near the entrance channel the Arkansas and the White Rivers.

This work has ramifications for an array of wildlife. The lower White River basin is the most important wintering area for mallards in North America as well as providing habitat for more than 235 species of birds. The White and Arkansas Rivers and associated floodplain aquatic habitats provide habitat for at least 132 species of fish, 37 species of freshwater mussels, and several federally listed species.

Jason’s work promotes the Service’s mission. He’s a big proponent of conserving our land and water. He’s connected with partners at all levels to engage in wildlife and habitat conservation. His work has embraced it all – our public, lands and water, fish, wildlife, and plants.

Jason embodies the Service’s embrace of sound science. He’s a perpetual goodwill ambassador – truly, a “One Service” colleague.

Communicator of the Year Invasive Carp Communications Team

  • Hundreds of white fish jumping out of the water next to a dam
  • A man being interviewed
  • A man in a yellow tie speaks from a lectern
  • KY Senator in a boat, laughing with several other men
  • Thousands of fish in a net

Here’s something you probably didn’t know: In some cultures, invasive carp are considered symbols of prosperity and longevity. Not in ours.

We consider the carp a nuisance, a threat to our native fish – and the reason why the Service has an Invasive Carp Communications Team:

RD Honor Award Recipients

  • Angie Rodgers, Fish and Aquatic Conservation Project Leader in Tupelo, Mississippi
  • Kristen Peters, Congressional Affairs Liaison who works in External Affairs in Atlanta
  • Dan Chapman, Public Affairs in Atlanta

Invasive carp are spreading at an incredible pace throughout river basins in the Southeast. They are causing significant damage to natural resources and ecosystems and native species. They have a negative impact on threatened and endangered species, plus threaten state and local tourism economies. The Fish and Aquatic Conservation Program has a congressional mandate to lead a federal response against these unwanted fish.

A large part of that response is communicating the threat invasive carp present. The communications team has worked with a diverse set of partners to develop strategies to control carp. It has excelled in sharing information with our partners. The team has also refined our message in how the Service is taking the fight to the carp.

This is no small deal. Carp are an issue up and down the Mississippi River and Tennessee River basins – that’s 20-plus states and four Service regions. This team developed and led high-profile events for senior members of Congress – among them, Kentucky lawmakers U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell and Congressman James Comer. Those events also raised the profile of our FAC program, as well as its mission.

The Service’s carp-control efforts are enjoying increased funding, and that’s thanks in part to the team and its partners. One day, perhaps, the invasive carp will be a footnote in our conservation work. If that happens, we can credit the communications team for helping us get these unwanted fish netted, boated and banished.

David Madison, Maintenance Professional of the Year

  • A man walking on gravel in front of a large dump truck
  • A man operating a trackhoe
  • A man operating a tractor

Anyone who was anywhere near Florida remembers Hurricane Michael. It came ashore on the panhandle and beat it mercilessly. But nowhere did the storm hit harder than Panama City.

Enter David Madison. You could liken him to a modern-day knight – but the steed of his choice is not a horse. On any given day, it may have been a John Deere, Caterpillar or Kubota. It may have been a tractor, loader, or excavator.

At Tyndall Air Force Base he led the repair of 60 miles of forest roads, helped replace 45 culverts, and cleared 120 miles of roadside ditches. His work was a critical step in repairing the base’s longleaf pine restoration efforts. At St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge, David helped rebuild the Indian Pass Check Station and a boardwalk.

Some people may have seen all the destroyed trees, battered forests and washed-out roads, and despaired. Not David. He was as reliable as his tractor. The John Deere may have grumbled, but he did not.

Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration Program Staff, People Exhibiting Excellence in Regional Service

  • A man in a blue shirt releasing a black snake in the woods
  • A woman holding three black bears cubs
  • A team photograph during lunch
  • A man in uniform driving a boat
  • A woman smiling for the camera
  • A man in a plaid shirt
  • A man on a boat
  • A man standing in front of a wildlife restoration sign
  • A woman smiling with the surf in the background
  • A man, smiling, holding a fish from a boat
  • A man on a boat with a woman on a foggy day
  • A woman wearing waders in a stream holding a snake

This is a group that last year didn’t let a pandemic get in their way.

RD Honor Award Recipients Jim Duffy, Howard (Scott) Meister, Scott White, Marilyn Lawal, Jerri (LeAnne) Bonner, Marcus (Randy) Spencer, Matthew Thomas, Alex Coley, Mary M. Powell, Tiffany Rollins, Bruce Kennedy, and Cherry Dorcus.

This group maintained outstanding grant customer service to states and partners. Thanks to them, vital conservation funding was not delayed – even during a period when office staffing was about 65 percent of what would be normal. At the same time, the team lost the program manager and two of three supervisory staff. Despite that, the team picked up those duties. Team members also trained state partners on the rollout of two new grant programs.

This is the sort of work that is the bedrock of much of what we do. The results of their work may not be immediately apparent, but it hardly lessens its importance.

The team maintained partnerships. They got grants out the door – a crucial accomplishment, considering many of our partners were experiencing financial hardship during the coronavirus. The grant system the team helped put in place will help us better track and record the conservation successes that our partnerships experience.

It took a concerted effort, and it worked

Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Working Group - Recovery Partners, At Risk Species Conservation Award

  • A small brown and black bird chirping from a long blade of grass
  • A woman looking through binoculars in a dry grassy field
  • A golden grassy field under a blue sky
  • Feeding Florida grasshopper sparrow chicks
  • A biologists measures the weight of chicks
  • Excited biologists cheer for the camera the weight of chicks
  • A biologist kneeling in the grassy shrubs

Saving the Florida grasshopper sparrow is conservation done right. But it sure isn’t easy. You have the most endangered bird in North America. Disappearing habitat. And no dedicated budget.

But you also have a wonderful partnership of Service, State, nonprofit, military, zoological and private partners. Add in some innovative thinking and risktaking and – voila! – extinction avoided.

In 2018, maybe 80 sparrows remained in the dry, and dwindling, prairies of Central Florida. Thankfully, a captive breeding program was already well underway. But it faced big hurdles, including disease, stress and what to eat while in captivity. A diseaserisk analysis convinced members of the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Working Group that releasing the captive birds would not compromise wild birds.

Finding enough space to raise up enough birds proved another hurdle. Enter the Welaka National Fish Hatchery where the sparrows lived until release into the state-owned prairie. Talk about your off-the-wall, money-saving thinking. The folks at Welaka even built a mobile aviary to release the birds directly into the best possible habitat.

Ranchers, who understand that prescribed fire and roller chopping benefit sparrows and cows, have proven strong allies. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have spent countless hours monitoring and protecting the birds. Our DoD partners also support the recovery of the tenacious little sparrow.

Roughly 250 sparrows have been raised and released and many are breeding. It’s quite a success story!

RD Honor Award Recipients Mary Peterson,Ashleigh Blackford, Rob Aldredge, Erin Myers, Aline Morrow, Ken Warren, Ken Blick, Tony Brady,Allan Brown, Jorge Buening, Bryson Harvey, Stephen Jackson, Cheryl Samek, Robin Boughton, Andrew Cox, Craig Faulhaber, Adrienne Fitzwilliam, Steve Glass, Michelle Kerr, Karl Miller, Juan Oteyza, Erin Ragheb, Rebecca Schneider, Carlie Segelson, Lisa Shender, Catherine Welch, Reed Bowman, Greg Thompson, Rebecca Windsor, Brent Bonner, Troy Hershberger, Scott Citino, Jessica Emerson, Andrew Schumann, Brandon Speeg, Michelle Smurl, Jonathan Miot, Caroline Efstathion, Rob Horsburgh, Paul Gray, Andrew Walker, Jim Austin, Jim Wellehan, Jim Cox, Brian Beasley, David “Lefty” Durando.

Nicole Adimey, Regional Vision Champion Award

  • Tall, sparse pine trees, some with white bands around their trunk
  • Three biologists looking for specimens in a stream
  • A white sand beach
  • A crew of construction workers standing in front of a restored stream

Until her retirement late last year, Nicole M. Adimey was the Regional Coordinator for the Partners for Fish and Wildlife (PFW) and Coastal Programs (CP). A simpler title: leader.

She showed exceptional leadership to the field staff after taking the coordinator’s job. Nicole is an adept communicator. She always tries hard to provide ideas and opportunities to regional and national programs.

In the past year, she initiated a re-structuring of the state programs, helped start new partnerships, and created a document that helps field staff Grant Solutions.

She also was a key player in establishing a successful partnership with the American Forest Foundation to use matching funds. That extra money is helping restoration efforts within longleaf pine habitats as well as helping address at-risk species like the gopher tortoise. The funding has grown to include additional habitats – like freshwater rivers and streams that are targeted habitats in the PFW Program, for example.

She was an advocate. Nicole constantly supported the PFW and CP Programs with tenacity and dedication. Over the past year-and-a-half, she pushed the programs to higher standards. Now, both programs are developing monitoring strategies that address the programs when they begin and conclude. Her efforts have encouraged PFW and Coastal staff to continue coordinating with other federal and state partners.

Also last year, Nicole took the initiative to develop and provide a guidance plan to help staff navigate the new online version of Grant Solutions. It helped many PFW and Coastal Program staffers to get new funding agreements and amendments entered in a timely manner.

Nicole also tackled the task of restructuring the PFW and Coastal program within each state. That also ensured that the right people were in the right spots to address regional and local conservation goals.

Bottom line: Nicole Adimey is the full package.

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