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ADCNR Staff Receive USFWS Regional Director’s Award

A select group of employees with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) and State Lands divisions was recently honored with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Regional Director’s Award. The award was given for the group’s work to conserve critical Red Hills salamander habitat in Monroe County, Alabama.

Recipients of this year’s Honor Awards for Conservation Partners in the South Atlantic-Gulf and Mississippi Basin Interior Regions include Chuck Sykes, WFF Director; Patti Powell McCurdy, State Lands Director; Keith Gauldin, Director of WFF’s Wildlife Section; Ericha Nix, Wildlife Biologist with WFF's Nongame Wildlife Program; Doug Deaton, Operation Support Specialist with WFF’s Wildlife Section; Jeremy Doss, Acting Chief Enforcement Officer for the State Lands Division; and Drew Nix, a former forester with WFF's Wildlife Section (recently retired).

“I am very proud to work with such a great team that partnered with other organizations and private industry to acquire this sensitive habitat,” said Chris Blankenship, ADCNR Commissioner. “They, along with our Forever Wild Land Trust Board, shared a vision to accomplish this important conservation project. The group also shares my desire for the property to be available for hunting and other outdoor recreational activities in areas that will not adversely impact the salamanders. This is truly a multifaceted project that combines outdoor recreation and ecological protection in the Black Belt region of our state.”

In addition to being a key player in the Red Hills salamander project, WFF Director Chuck Sykes was individually honored for his contributions to conservation efforts in Alabama and throughout the Southeast.

“Chuck is well deserving of this recognition,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “He is a tireless advocate of improving hunting and fishing opportunities and has a true passion for proper management of our vast fish and game resources. His innovative ideas are also helping to modernize conservation efforts in Alabama. From the development of our Special Opportunity Hunting Areas, to the creation of our Adult Mentored Hunting Program, as well as his focus on diversity, Chuck is constantly working to elevate outdoor opportunities for hunters from all backgrounds and experiences.”

The awards were announced by USFWS Southeast Regional Director Leopoldo Miranda during a virtual ceremony on Wednesday, June 16, 2021.

About the Red Hills Project

In 2020, ADCNR finalized the acquisition of two land tracts totaling 4,911 acres of critical Red Hills salamander habitat in Monroe County. The acquisitions were made possible by the USFWS through nearly $9 million in land conservation grants. The Forever Wild Land Trust provided the remainder of the funding for the acquisitions.

The long-term goal of this project is to delist the Red Hills salamander, which has been federally listed as a threatened species since 1977.

The tracts are located near the community of Franklin in Monroe County and join the 6,120-acre Forever Wild Red Hills Complex in the effort to increase the amount of protected Red Hills salamander habitat. In addition to habitat conservation, these newly acquired tracts will be accessible this fall, increasing the total acreage available to the public for outdoor recreation including hunting, wildlife watching and birding.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Parks, State Lands, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

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Photo: WFF Director Chuck Sykes speaks at an event celebrating the acquisition of additional critical Red Hills salamander habitat in 2020. Director Sykes, along with the ADCNR's Red Hills Salamander Habitat Purchase Team, were recently honored with a USFWS Regional Director’s Award for their work to conserve Red Hills salamander habitat in Monroe County, Alabama. Photo by Kenny Johnson, ADCNR

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