Monday, October 1, 2018

AFWA Honors its 2018 Annual Awards Recipients

September 19, 2018
The Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) recognized nine individuals, two state agencies, one cooperative agency, and one private landowner for their dedication to advancing fish and wildlife conservation at the Association’s Annual Awards Ceremony held on September 11, 2018 in Tampa, Florida.
Keith Sexson received AFWA’s top honor, the Seth Gordon Award for lifetime achievement in conserving North America’s natural resources in the public trust and contributing to the programs of the Association. 
Keith Sexson has dedicated 50 years to the advancement of professional wildlife management in Kansas and beyond. First and foremost, within his career, there has been a dedication to Kansas and the heritage and traditions of natural resource management in the state. He found ways to advance wildlife conservation under varying administrations, ever-changing social and political pressures, and technological and industrial progress.  
As Mr. Sexson saw opportunities to impact larger areas and ever increasing complex issues of regional and national importance, he expanded his horizons and became a leader on the regional and national stage. He has been active within the Midwest, Western and Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, and continuously works to find acceptable compromises which advance natural resource conservation.
Bruce Culpepper, CEO, Shell, United States, of Houston, Texas, received AFWA’s John L. Morris Award which recognizes a lifetime commitment to fish and wildlife stewardship by citizen conservationists who have exhibited exemplary leadership at the highest level and demonstrated a steadfast commitment to large scale natural resource challenges.
An avid outdoorsman, Bruce Culpepper, grew up on his grandparents’ farm in Alabama and was a typical country kid. His keen interest in land and water conservation laid the foundation for the conservation ethic he’s brought to his professional career.   Mr. Culpepper was a founding member of the Coastal Conservation Association’s Building Conservation Trust marine habitat program, which has put millions of dollars into restoring coastal marshes and building critically important oyster reefs. He was a member of the national Blue Ribbon Panel  on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources.  He has also been a Board leader with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, the nonprofit funding partner of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Through his time on the Board, the Foundation acquired the iconic 17,351-acre Powderhorn Ranch for establishment of a state park and wildlife management area, as well as secured vital funding for the Texas Game Warden Training Center.
Mr. Culpepper has created a lasting legacy in the conservation arena though his unique ability to organize and galvanize corporate and private partners for the cause of natural resource conservation.
The Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study received AFWA’s Earnest Thompson Seton Award for leadership in scientific management. The Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study (SCWDS) has afforded state fish and wildlife agencies with far greater capabilities for wildlife health monitoring and investigation than could be attained singularly.
The research accomplishments of SCWDS have been recognized nationally and internationally. The parasites and diseases affecting every major game mammal and upland game bird, as well as numerous nongame species, in the Southeast have been studied by researchers at SCWDS. These studies have practical application in wildlife management, domestic livestock and poultry production and public health policy.
The achievements of SCWDS are most impressive, and they provide great value to wildlife professionals, agricultural interests and public health officials throughout the country. Dr. John Fischer, Director for SCWDS, accepted this prestigious award on behalf of SCWDS.  
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) for their ‘Protect The Lakes You Love’ Aquatic Invasive Species Public Awareness Campaign, is the recipient of this year’s Boone and Crockett Award, which honors an agency and team leader for outstanding achievement in promoting and encouraging outdoor ethics.
The ‘Protect The Lakes You Love’ Aquatic Invasive Species Public Awareness Campaign whose goal is to prevent the spread of invasive species, specifically Zebra Mussels and Giant Salvinia, to un-infested water bodies by motivating boaters to always properly clean, drain, and dry their watercrafts after they leave the lake and before traveling to another lake.
The campaign has been very well-received and has increased awareness amongst boaters of the importance of doing the right thing and always practicing “Clean, Drain and Dry” every time they leave a waterbody. In two instances boaters have also reported zebra mussels to TPWD and attributed their awareness of the invasive species to TPWD’s boater awareness campaign. TPWD Executive Director Carter Smith and Nature Tourism Manager Shelly Plante accepted the award on behalf of team leader Carly Montez.
Devin DeMario with the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies is the Mark Reeff Memorial Award recipient for the outstanding young wildlife management professional under age 35. Ms. DeMario has done tremendous job of establishing relationships with key individuals and becoming familiar with important (and complex) issues. Importantly, this person also acts as a catalyst for communication and relationship building amongst fishery chiefs and other agency staff, while demonstrating remarkable courage when engaging challenging issues. Devin’s leadership and dedication is a true asset to AFWA and the state’s fisheries program’s throughout the United States.
This award goes to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Division of Law Enforcement, specifically the hard work of South Region Bravo, “Operation Thimblerig”, Lieutenant Jose Escabi, Lieutenant Jeremy Munkelt, Investigator Danielle Munkelt, and Officer Adam Garrison.
Numerous Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers played key roles in the two-year undercover operation dubbed "Operation Thimblerig," which exposed a large-scale fraud, theft and forgery operation responsible for a complex web of criminal activity centered around the South Florida commercial fishing industry.
This year’s recipient of AFWA’s Private Lands Fish and Wildlife Stewardship Award is Dr. Kent Forney and the Forney Ranch for their proactive conservation and environmental practices and exhibiting outstanding stewardship of fish and wildlife resources.

The Forney ranch was homesteaded in 1906 by Hubert Forney and eventually passed on to son Don Forney. The ranch was incorporated in the 1960s with the stockholders being Don and Oliva Forney's children: Kent (Veterinarian), Glen (Surgeon, ret.), Bruce (Doctor), Dean (Attorney) and Joann (Rancher). Today it encompasses approximately 34,000 acres. The land use today includes agriculture, ranching, wildlife and fisheries. The management effects to the overall productivity and aesthetics are impressive.  Abundant wildlife inhabits the properties including Mule deer, Whitetail deer, elk, Mountain lion, turkey, bobcat, pronghorn, pheasant, waterfowl, coyote as well as many other furbearers, game/non-game species. Sandage prairie is a Tier 1species in the Nebraska Natural Legacy Plan and the largest known population of these species in the state is on the Forney property.   
Past and current property uses have involved the public through youth turkey, deer and pheasant hunts. Limited hunting and fishing is also allowed on much of the property. The Forney family has been committed to the conservation of wildlife over many years both on their ranches and in their willingness to serve on local, state, and national conservation boards. They have worked hard to find the balance of a working ranch with the benefits to wildlife and have consistently provided advocacy of conservation minded stewardship both on their own land and sharing their passion with others.
The Association presented three special recognition awards for outstanding commitment to the work of AFWA to Dr. Stephen Torbit, the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program, and Congressman Jeff Fortenberry and Congresswoman Debbie Dingell.
Over the past several years, Dr. Torbit has strived to collaborate with state resource management partners to identify and support shared wildlife management priorities and facilitating the ability for the USFWS and the States to obtain key scientific information across the 8-state Mountain-Prairie Region, as well as the broader 11-state sagebrush ecoregion- one of the most significant ecosystems in the west. Specific examples of Dr. Torbit's conservation leadership include multiple collaborative efforts working with the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) to coordinate science within and across agencies, fill key data gaps, and provide decision support capability for both the Service and State agencies. His exemplary efforts and dedication to science-based cross-agency collaboration, Dr. Stephen Torbit's work is especially relevant to AFWA's mission to advance sound, science­ based management and conservation of fish and wildlife and their habitats in the public interest.
The Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program demonstrated outstanding commitment to the recovery of the endangered Puerto Rican Parrot through the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.  After each event, without hesitation, even after personally suffering the impacts from the hurricanes on their families and property, these Service employees stepped up working tirelessly under harsh conditions and with limited resources to safe guard the captive parrot population at the lguaca Aviary, restored the damaged facilities and conducted surveys to locate wild parrots.  They also provided assistance to the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, struggling to repair its own aviary after the storm.
In December 2017 Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (NE) and Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (MI) introduced the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (HR4647). This legislation is a top priority of the Association and would implement the first recommendation of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish and Wildlife. If the Act becomes law, it would provide states with $1.3 billion in annual funding to implement State Wildlife Action Plans. Congressman Fortenberry and Congresswoman Dingell have worked diligently to secure more than 90 co-sponsors on the bill. They worked with House Natural Resources Committee leadership to hold a hearing on the bill in February 2018. The Association and many of its partners have been working on securing dedicated funding to conserve the full array of fish and wildlife for more than four decades. Passage of this legislation would fulfill that long sought goal and be a game changer for state-based fish and wildlife conservation aimed at preventing endangered species.
Introduction of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is only the latest example of Congressman Fortenberry’s and Congresswoman Dingell’s leadership on conservation.