U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe has announced the recipients of the Service’s Science Leadership and Rachel Carson awards for 2011. The awards recognize Service employees for significant contributions expanding knowledge in the scientific, conservation and wildlife management fields.

“Our wildlife management decisions must be driven by the best and most current scientific knowledge. These award winners exemplify that commitment to innovative, science-driven wildlife management,” said Director Ashe. “They have all worked tremendously hard to develop and apply scientific information to ensure that our efforts are as effective as they can be.”

The awards were established to recognize that effective wildlife management and conservation is founded on innovative scientific inquiry and principles. As the Service faces even more complex challenges in the realms of habitat loss and climate change, 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 was created to recognize exceptional scientific accomplishments that have lasting influence on the management of fish and wildlife resources. This year’s winner is Jeff Williams, an extraordinary science leader for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge who leads a multi-disciplinary team studying the biological recovery of Kasatochi Island after a volcanic eruption.

Williams is also the chief scientist aboard the largest research vessel in the Fish and Wildlife Service fleet, M/V Tila, and has collaborated with an incredible array of scientists investigating the marine and terrestrial resources around the Aleutian Islands.

The Rachel Carson awards are bestowed on individuals and groups providing key scientific support for new and innovative conservation initiatives and efforts on behalf of Federal, State, and private conservation organizations. The awards are given in two categories – individual and group.

The individual award was presented to Dr. Jeffrey Olsen. Dr. Olsen has exemplified scientific excellence for his entire career as a Geneticist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Over the course of the 5-year award period, Olson has authored nine influential peer-reviewed articles in prestigious journals.

Olson’s research is varied and innovative, characterized by a high level of scientific quality and integrity. His work emphasizes genetic diversity and population structure, and includes species identification, estimation of effective population size, and the influence of behavioral and landscape factors on genetic diversity. His research applies state-of-the-art genetic methods to answer questions related to the ecology, conservation, and management, often at a landscape scale.

The group award was given to the Biology Program of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, which includes Ed Berg, Matt Bowser, Toby Burke, Rick Ernst, Todd Eskelin, Mark Laker, Dawn Magness, and John M.Morton.

These biologists have consistently “led from the field” in developing a scientific approach that will direct the Refuge’s strategic response to climate change. Concurrently, they have made significant contributions to Departmental and Service climate change initiatives at both regional and national levels.

Along with the honors bestowed on the winners, the awards carry a real benefit for their work. The individual winners will each take back $50,000 that will be used at their field stations to support additional scientific work.

The awards are part of an ongoing Service effort to strengthen the agency’s use of science-driven fish and wildlife conservation. As part of this effort, the Service has established a Service Science Committee and launched a number of initiatives, including:

  • creation of a new state-of-the-art electronic access system for scientific literature;
  • establishment of peer-review procedures and policy that are among the very best in government;
  • development of a new and expanding curricula in subjects like structured decision making, modeling, statistical analysis and conservation biology;
  • implementation of a Scientific Code of Professional Conduct that clearly articulates the roles and responsibilities of Service scientists and managers in the responsible development and use of scientific documents;
  • resurrection of the Service’s scientific publications, which are accepting articles and monographs for peer review and publication; and
  • support for and involvement with professional societies like The Wildlife Society, American Fisheries Society, and the Society for Conservation Biology.

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