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Dan accepting his award at the recent Intermountain West Joint Venture board meeting. Credit: USFWSDan accepting his award at the recent Intermountain West Joint Venture board meeting. Credit: USFWS
Dan Collins Receives 2016 Conservation Partner Award

May 2017
Congratulations to Dan Collins on receiving the prestigious Intermountain West Joint Venture’s (IWJV) 2016 Conservation Partner Award! As Migratory Bird Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest Region, Dan is being recognized for his work to protect migratory waterfowl of both the Central and Pacific Flyways, and for his outstanding contributions to advancing strategic, landscape-scale habitat conservation.

Dan’s involvement with the IWJV Greater Sandhill Crane Habitat Initiative project, as well as several other crane projects, which include both the Rocky Mountain and Lower Colorado River Valley populations, have been critical to raising awareness for improved crane management in the Pacific Flyway and the IWJV. These projects will contribute much needed information on sandhill crane resource selection, movements, and survival. Furthermore, the results of this work will help identify areas where resource professionals can work with private landowners to strategically implement conservation practices that will benefit cranes and a variety of other wetland-dependent species. Additionally, Dan has spent countless hours in the field trapping cranes from New Mexico to Idaho, in an effort to improve the sample size from which analyses can be completed.

According to his nomination, “In a field all too often judged by the newest tool, current initiative, or flashy catch phrase, it is comforting that there are professionals out there that still understand that conservation begins on the ground. These are the quiet leaders that spend hours behind a computer or on the phone making the connections, finding the funding, and putting in the time to make sure the questions we are asking and the research we are doing are sound and relevant. Dan is one of those rare individuals.”

The IWJV Conservation Partner Award is presented to an agency, organization, corporation or a collaborative effort that has made outstanding contributions to an IWJV-sponsored project or initiative, and has played an instrumental role in advancing strategic, landscape-scale habitat conservation. It recognizes exemplary achievements in building and strengthening conservation partnerships. Dan accepted the award at the IWJV board meeting.

Dan earned his B.S. in Biology at a small college in Greensboro, NC, his Master’s degree at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, TX, and his Ph.D. at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, TX. Dan joined the Migratory Bird Team in 2008 and has been with the Service for 9 years now. Dan lives in NE Albuquerque with his wife, Julia, son Daniel, daughter Evelyn, daughter Emily and yellow labs Abby and Pearl.

Please the Southwest Region in congratulating Dan on this achievement!


The Human Resources Team was recognized for their work at an All Employee Meeting. Credit: John Bradley, USFWS.

Division of Human Resources Shines! 

The Division of Human Resources (HR) in the Southwest Region, who also serves the Southeast Region, was recognized today by Regional Director Dr. Benjamin Tuggle for their outstanding work over the past several months.  The Division worked extremely hard to recruit and fill numerous positionsin both Regions.  They provided many hours of support and guidance to the field, completed an unprecedented number of Classifications and Recruitment Actions, and went the extra mile to ensure new hires experienced a smooth transition.  Hats off to HR Officer Anne Hammond, Budget and Administration ARD David Mendias, and the entire Human Resources staff for a job well done! 


Ben Lanford Ben, center, receives his award from Shelby Finney (l) and Joseph Mojica (r). Photo credit: USFWS.
Meet Ben Lanford Southwest Region Federal Wildlife Officer of the Year

Congratulations to Ben Lanford on being recognized as the Southwest Region Federal Wildlife Officer of the Year! Ben is stationed at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in Socorro, New Mexico, but he also provides law enforcement support to all national wildlife refuges in the state. After you meet Ben you will understand why he was chosen for this coveted award.

Learn more about Ben...
Learn more about Law Enforcement


Angela Palacios James Angela Palacios James. Photo credit: USFWS.
Women's History Month - Women Conserving Our Natural Resources

HERstory: Angela Palacios James
It’s been said we become what catches us unawares. Angela James, a Fish Biologist at the New Mexico Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office, was caught by the Missouri Department of Conservation in its endeavor to reach inner-city youth in Kansas City. At age 17, she landed a summer job as a Conservation Aide that afforded copious field experience. It was with the help of her father, says James, that through his diligence that she got to her summer job every day, 50 minutes from home.

Though it was toward a doctor of veterinary medicine degree she first steered in college, she eventually majored in Renewable Natural Resources at the University of Arizona. In college, she learned to track javelina with radio telemetry, handle live raptors, and care for amphibians and reptiles.

Presently, James maintains aquaculture facilities in her Albuquerque office and in the field she assists with population surveys of fishes in rivers throughout New Mexico, from Gila trout to Colorado pikeminnow.

“There are no bad days,” said James. “I can feed fish in the morning, maintain tank systems, and spend time in the rivers or in classrooms with young students.”

James is the lead biologist in her office for education activities, such as Native Fish in the Classroom. Children in area schools learn about native New Mexican fishes under James’ tutelage by raising them in aquaria where they watch them live and grow, daily. And who knows, maybe one of the youngsters will be caught unawares by James’ work and steer toward a career in conservation, too.

Learn more about the New Mexico Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office

Read more about Women's History Month


Getting to Know Carl Schwope

Learn more about this dedicated Fire Management Officer at Balcones Canyonlands NWR from the National Wildlife Association Newsletter article.


2015 graduates of the New Mexico Leadership Development Program
The 2015 Southwest Region graduates of the New Mexico Leadership Development program are: (left to right) Lisa Whittle, Regional Web Manager; Christina Nicole Martinez, Human Resources Specialist; Sarah Quamme, Branch Chief Classification; Jason Lujan, Human Resources Specialist. Photo credit: Joy Nicholopoulos, USFWS.

Southwest Region Class of 2015 Graduates of the New Mexico Leadership Development Program

The 2015 U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service Southwest Region graduates of the New Mexico Leadership Development Program are: (from left to right) Lisa Whittle, Regional Web Manager; Christina Nicole Martinez, Human Resources Specialist; Sarah Quamme, Branch Chief of Classification; Jason Lujan, Human Resources Specialist.The New Mexico Leadership Development Program was established by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in 2009. Since then 24 Southwest Region Fish and Wildlife Employees have graduated from the program. The Southwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and regional program supervisors continue to support employee participation in this program and the special focus it places on OPM’s Core Leadership Competencies.

Supervisors of the 2015 graduates of the New Mexico Leadership Development Program attended the ceremony also.
The supervisors of the graduates of the 2015 New Mexico Leadership Development Program also attended the ceremony. from left to right they are: Cheryl Irwin, Supervisory Human Resources Specialist; Joy Nicholopoulos, Deputy Regional Director; Beth Oms, Deputy Assistant Regional Director Ecological Services; and Susan Jacobsen, Chief Classification and Restoration Ecological Services. Photo credit: USFWS.

The mission of the Leadership Development Program is to provide exemplary, contemporary and professional leadership training to federal employees in Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. The program’s purpose is to develop professional and personal skill levels that build confident, visionary, and inspirational leaders.

Supervisors of the 2015 graduates attended the ceremony. From left to right they are: Cheryl Irwin, Supervisory HR Specialist; Joy Nicholopoulos, Deputy Regional Director; Beth Oms, Deputy Assistant Regional Director, Ecological Services; Susan Jacobsen, Chief of Classification and Restoration Ecological Services.

Our sincere congratulations to the graduates of the NMLDP Class of 2015!


black footed ferret
The black-footed ferret is considered to be the rarest mammal in North America.  Photo credit: UFWS.

Projects Using State Wildlife Grants

There are many projects using State Wildlife Grants taking place in the Southwest Region. Examples include projects benefiting the Black-footed ferret in Arizona, a post-fire monitoring effort for the narrow-headed garter snake in New Mexico, a distribution study of the Linda's Roadside Skipper (butterfly) in Oklahoma, and an effort to learn more about shark nursery habitat along the Texas Coast.

Read more about these projects​


black coral jewelry
Confiscated black coral jewelry. Black coral is typically found in deep waters and are slow-growing. In the last few decades, pressures from overharvesting, poaching and the introduction of invasive species have threatened this group of coral. Credit: USFWS.

R2 LE Agent Receives Honor Award for Role in Operation Black Gold

Resident Agent in Charge Ariel Vazquez was recently recognized for his outstanding contributions in the Service’s Interagency Operation Black Gold investigation. A culmination of a three-year joint investigation led by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Black Gold investigation led to three independent prosecuting phases (US vs Ivan Chu and US vs Gloria Chu, US vs Gem Manufacturing and US vs Ashu Bhandari). Each case was successfully
prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice. The entire Black Gold Operation resulted in over 5.5 million dollars in fines for violations of both the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act and forfeitures and 51 months of imprisonment. This was the largest case for the illegal trade in
coral, the largest non-seafood wildlife trafficking financial penalty and the fourth largest for any U.S. case involving the illegal trade of wildlife.

For his role in the successful Operation Black Gold investigation, Ariel Vazquez, Office of Law Enforcement, Southwest Region, was recognized with the Regional Director’s Honor Awards for Employees.

FWS Operation Black Gold Photo Gallery

Department of Justice News Releases on Operation Black Gold cases>2010/March/10-enrd-249.html

News coverage​


big horn sheep
Three Desert Bighorn Sheep seen on the rocky hillside at the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge's desert wilderness. Bighorns are a true sheep distantly related to domestic sheep. Photo credit: USFWS.

Nicole Jimenez was nominated for the Environmental Stewardship Excellence Award for support to Desert Bighorn Sheep Research Projects

The Arizona Game and Fish Department recognized Nicole Jimenez of R2's Division of Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program - by nominating her for the Environmental Stewardship and Excellence Award. This was for support and continued collaboration on the US 93, Hoover Dam to MP 17 Desert Bighorn Sheep Overpass Research Projects.  This project was one of the first projects in the nation to use GPS movement data for the identification of wildlife passage structure locations. Partners included staff from Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD), National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Federal Highway Administration. Research was funded through the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the ADOT Research Center. There were 36 sheep collared and distributed throughout the study area, resulting in 73,496 GPS locations. Larry Voyles, State Director for the AGFD, wrote in his nomination submission that the collaboration and support from Nicole was essential in making this research and its benefits available.

Learn more... 


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest Region Employees Receive Federal Executive Board Awards
FEB recognizes 11 Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildife Service Employees

USFWS Region 2 employees receive FEB awards
Southwest Region employees receive awards from the New Mexico Federal Executive Board. Photo credit: USFWS.

The Federal Executive Boards (FEBs) were established by Presidential Directive in 1961 as a forum for communication and collaboration among federal agencies outside the Washington, D.C. area. Approximately 85 percent of all federal employees work outside the National Capital Region and field representatives of departments and agencies serve as the principal contact between citizens and the federal government. The national network of 28 FEBs, located in areas with significant federal populations, serves as the cornerstone for strategic partnering in government.

The New Mexico Federal Executive Board (NMFEB), Federal Employee of the Year and Employer of the Year Awards Program,  is being held in conjunction with Public Service Recognition Week. This year’s theme is “Forward in Service to the Public” and is  an opportunity to recognize outstanding federal employees who have demonstrated exceptional performance and dedication in a given field during the last year. We also honor those who have given generously of their personal time as volunteers in service to the community.

Joy Nicholopoulos and Steve Stucker at the FEB Awards.
Joy Nicholopoulos, Deputy Regional Director for the Southwest Region, USFWS, and Steve Stucker, of Eyewitness News 4 Today, celebrate the awards for the Southwest Region employees. Photo credit: USFWS.

Steve Stucker of New Mexico’s top rated morning program, Eyewitness News 4 Today, provided the Keynote Address . He is well known throughout New Mexico for his community service, work with nonprofit groups, schools, churches, and life improvement programs.

Our Region received recognition in the following categories: Team Excellence, Federal Employee of the Year for Supervisor / Manager, Professional / Administrative / Technical, Diversity Champion of the Year, Clerical and Assistant,  Trades and Craft, Leader, Mentor and Coach of the Year.

The Team Excellence Recognition was awarded to the New Mexico Spatial Fire Management Planning Team. The USFWS employees recognized in this award are Kari Gromatzky, Jason Riggins, Jake Nuttall, Ryan Whiteaker. They completed the first spatial fire management plan (SFMP), of any of the federal fire management agencies. A SFMP incorporates and emphasizes spatial maps and diagrams over standard written planning documents, depicting goals and objectives using visual graphics in addition to text. This revolutionary planning approach provides a more efficient means to visually help convey complex and interrelated fields of information; making these plans more easy to use and applicable to land management. Six National Wildlife Refuges and two National Fish Hatcheries were covered by this plan, over a year including the Environmental Assessment. This effort provided significant savings due to the combining and streamlining of otherwise redundant single-unit planning endeavors.            

The Supervisor / Manager of the Year Award was given to Thomas Harvey. Thomas oversees National Wildlife Refuge operations in Arizona/New Mexico in the Southwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and  supervises 10 Refuge Managers at field units and the Assistant Refuge Supervisor in the Regional Office. Tom is an exceptional leader and supervisor and works diligently to support and develop his staff and provide them with the support they need to meet mission critical operations. He is active in the development of a mentoring program for refuge employees and in diversity recruitment efforts for the Southwest Region. He works externally with various partners and other outside interests. On the later, he excelled in leading efforts during FY 2012 on the establishment of two new Refuges--Valle de Oro NWR and Rio Mora NWR and Conservation Area.

The Professional, Administrative and Technical Employee of the Year Award was awarded to Paul Tashjian who has served as a Regional Hydrologist for the Service’s Southwest Region since the late 1980’s. During his career Paul has made enduring and outstanding professional contributions, often in the context of leading efforts to better understand the scientific linkage between hydrologic considerations and the advancement of the agency’s mission. He has played a key role as the Service has applied the general thesis that biologically-based objectives are much more likely to be achieved when physical processes are taken into full account. His many years of hard work pay significant dividends to the agency, as water issues have become more critical than ever. Paul’s skills and leadership have greatly supported the Service during the current drought on NM’s most important rivers, the Middle Rio Grande and the Pecos, providing powerful scientific insights as our leaders manage through these challenging times.

The Diversity Champion of the Year was awarded to Robert “Rob” Larranaga.  Rob reaches out consistently to the northern NM community to advocate diversity and promote career opportunities for students in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). As Refuge Manager for Northern NM National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) Complex, he built a close relationship with NM Highlands University (NMHU), employing a number of Hispanic students majoring in forestry and other sciences. Students now acquire hands-on experience with refuge management that will directly assist them in their career aspirations. Also, Rob has hosted Minority Youth Environmental Training Institute programs for students selected by the National Hispanic Environmental Council. Finally, Rob has built a cohesive sense of camaraderie among his staff, in collaboration with volunteers, while reaching out to the local community.

The Clerical and Assistant Employee of the Year was awarded to two Southwest Region employees this year.  Lori Casados and Alice Montoya Lori Casados, Administrative Technician for the Northern NM Refuges Complex in Las Vegas, NM recently completed a detail where she performed at a level of Excellence and went above and beyond her call of duty. Her experience and skill set is why she was selected to assist the Regional Office, Refuge Program. During her detail, her performance was noteworthy not only for doing the daily administrative and clerical functions that are required, but also for taking on extra duties such as professionally assisting all programs outside of her detail assignment within the Realty Division. Lori also went to the extra effort, without being tasked, to find and complete unfinished projects decreasing workloads for the entire staff. Not only did Lori perform flawlessly during her detail, but her confidence and uplifting attitude markedly improved office morale, giving staff a much needed boost.

Alice Montoya, in her two years as an Executive Assistant with the FWS, has consistently exhibited her professionalism and “Can Do” attitude for the Service's Refuge Program. In addition, Alice is the Admin. Team Leader. She leads a group of four Administrative Specialists on meeting the many challenges within the program. She has a remarkable ability to coach and mentor her team members. She is a skilled communicator, a quick learner and an employee who has an exemplary work ethic. This award represents an opportunity for the FWS Refuge Program to let Alice know that we appreciate her as a friend and colleague.

Calvin Reaves was recognized with the Trades and Crafts Award. He has been a WG-9 Engineering Equipment Operator at Bosque del Apache NWR since 1991.  Since then, he has been instrumental in the progress that the refuge has made in controlling salt cedar and making the refuge into one of the premier refuges in the country for waterfowl and visitors alike.  Calvin has been the one of the primary operators and has spent countless hours on refuge heavy equipment including large bulldozers, front end loaders, scrapers and other specialized equipment to clear invasive trees and recontour lands into moist-soil and riparian areas for wildlife; his effort has led to critical water savings, allowing the refuge to restore this habitat to preferable native vegetation.  His skill level is so impressive that he can operate a bulldozer with a root plow around cottonwood groves, removing the salt cedar without damaging the cottonwoods.  The results of his work can be seen throughout the refuge, as his work has helped showcase the refuge’s restoration successes, making it one of the top 10 wildlife photography destinations in the country.  This work has lead to water savings, more efficient use of refuge resources, a better public image of the refuge and the work that we do.

The Leader, Mentor and Coach of the Year Award was given to Kevin Cobble, Refuge Manager for San Andres National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Kevin reached out to NM State University and mentored a number of student employees; some of whom are now employees for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). He has coached interns in the Student Conservation Association who became term employees and students volunteering at the refuge.He has built cooperative partnerships with agencies including NM Department of Game and Fish, White Sands Missile Range, and National Park Service for desert bighorn sheep and oryx management, prescribed fire, and control of salt cedar. In addition, Kevin pursued habitat restoration on the Rio Grande through innovative partnerships with stakeholders such as International Boundary and Water Commission, NM State Parks, NM Audubon Society, National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, NM Interstate Stream Commission, and Bureau of Reclamation. Finally, Kevin assumed a leadership role with other Refuge Managers to develop a coordinated approach for sharing of heavy equipment and maintenance staff,
and project planning.

Congratulations to the exceptional employees in Region 2!


Grant harris receives the Science Leadership Award from Dr. Benjamin Tuggle  
Grant Harris, Division of Biological Sciences Chief, receives the Science Leadership Award from Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, Southwest Regional Director, USFWS. Photo credit: Whittle, USFWS.  

Grant Harris of the Southwest Region Wins the Science Leadership Award 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Scientific Leadership Award goes to Grant Harris, the Southwest Region’s Chief of Biological Sciences. Harris took over the Chief role in 2010 when the Biological Services group consisted of only two half-time staff members. Now the group encompasses a scientific team of 12 and growing.

The Science Awards were established to recognize that effective wildlife management and conservation is founded on innovative scientific inquiry and principles. As the Service faces increasingly complex challenges, the value of current scientific information is rapidly increasing. The awards are meant to recognize the outstanding efforts of the agency’s scientists and technical staff. The Science Leadership Award recognizes a Service employee’s exemplary practice

  The Science Leadership medallion
  The Science leadership medallion.

and support of scientific activities to improve the Service’s knowledge and management of fish and wildlife resources.

Under Harris’s leadership the region’s Biological Services group has added significant capacity. Harris has built a strong foundation for science-based wildlife conservation to grow and flourish in the Southwest, and is leading the Service with reinforcing how science informs management decisions, habitat acquisition, and the Inventory and Monitoring Initiative.

Harris has developed studies to assess the role of mountain lions in bighorn sheep mortality, led the way for novel techniques to save time and money for monitoring wildlife through camera trapping, assessed habitat fragmentation effects on threatened birds, and helped

Science Leadership Award plaque  
2012 Science Leadership Award plaque. Photo credit: Whittle, USFWS.  

revamp the survey methodology of wintering whooping crane. His efforts have directed the pioneering of new techniques to estimate the abundance of animals without marks, techniques that can be applied to endangered animals world-wide.

Harris’ leadership in addressing a plethora of wildlife management and conservation topics in the Southwest has provided the ground work for creating new partnerships with State wildlife agencies, U.S. Geological Survey, the National Park Service (NPS), NatureServe, NOAA, universities, and NGOs. These include a new Inventory and Monitoring Initiative collaboration with the NPS in the Chihuahuan and Sonoran desert networks and various applied research
projects across the southwest region.

  Grant Harris cuts cake
  Grant harris cuts cake in celebration of his award. Photo credit: Whittle, USFWS.

In addition to his personal accomplishments, Grant strongly believes in the importance of increasing science capacity within the Service for the good of conservation. In support of that vision, he has built a science team that is raising the bar for science on Refuges throughout the Southwest Region. His "lead by example" attitude motivates those around him to excel, while raising standards such that scientific rigor and defensibility are the norm.

As we all face increasingly complex challenges in wildlife management and conservation, innovation and excellence in science are crucial to improving the Service’s knowledge and management of fish and wildlife resources. The Southwest Region is proud to have Harris on our team!



Two New National Wildlife Refuges in New Mexico

Two new National Wildlife Refuges in New Mexico - an urban refuge in Albuquerque and the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge in Watrous were announced.

As an Urban Refuge, the Albuquerque project has an increased emphasis on recreation and education for urban youth, with convenient access.  This refuge will serve as a gateway to other outdoor venues in the area as well as other refuges in the state. 

The Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area is a watershed level partnership effort in conjunction with a 5,000-acre National Wildlife Refuge and Environmental Education Center. 

These projects represent two distinct approaches to conservation being taken by the Administration. Both approaches are partnership driven, with pooled resources for maximum public benefit.

Valle de Oro NWR  
The Service's Honor Guard opened the dedication ceremony for the first urban refuge in the Southwest. Credit: USFWS Nicole Haskett-Osborn.  

Learn More about Albuquerque's urban refuge, the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge:

Valle de Oro NWR Environmental Assessment and Land Protection Plan (referred to as the "Middle Rio Grande NWR" during planning)

Valle de Oro NWR Fact Sheet



Valle de Oro NWR  
View from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: USFWS Rick Jones.  

Learn More about Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge:

Rio Mora NWR Environmental Assessment

Rio Mora NWR Land Protection Plan

Rio Mora NWR Fact Sheet




The Urban refuge in Albuquerque
Valle de Oro NWR Fact Sheet
Last updated: May 25, 2017