(USFWS) James H. Gray, manager of Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery (NFH) in Jamestown, Kentucky, is the 2011 Federal Land Manager of the Year for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He is being honored today at a national awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.
The Federal Land Manager of the Year award is given annually as part of the U.S. Department of the Interior's Take Pride in America program, a nationwide partnership authorized by Congress to promote the appreciation and stewardship of our nation's public lands. Gray is being honored for his contribution to our public lands and for his effort in utilizing volunteers in creative and innovative ways.
"Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery is a major hub for the Service's efforts to connect people with America's Great Outdoors—through innovative conservation education programs, and by creating opportunities for citizens to share their talents through rewarding volunteer experiences," said Cindy Dohner, the Service's Southeast Regional Director. "We are proud of James and the positive impact he has made in fisheries conservation. We are also proud of the people who have played a role in the good work he made possible through his vision and leadership."
Gray and his staff are the driving force behind one of the largest and most successful volunteer programs in the National Fish Hatchery System. Besides maintaining a demanding fish production program producing one million trout yearly, Gray leads a robust conservation education program with innovative projects. In 2006, Wolf Creek NFH became home to the first Visitor/Environmental Education Center of its kind located on a working fish hatchery. This facility, which receives 100,000 visitors each year, is staffed year round almost entirely with volunteers. The visitor center is open every day of the year except Christmas, and a faithful volunteer is always there to greet visitors. The hatchery logged more than 13,000 volunteer hours in 2010.
"I feel honored to be selected for this award, as I know there are many other deserving individuals across the country," Gray said. " I look at this as not just an individual award, but one that highlights all the great things we do at the hatchery and the great staff I have who work hard every day to provide a service to the American people."
In addition to helping develop the visitor center, Gray spearheaded the formation of the Friends of Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery, Inc., which, besides supporting the hatchery's environmental education and recreational fishing activities, annually sponsors one of the largest youth fishing events in the Southeast. This event harnesses the support of dozens of local sponsors and annually draws more than 1,300 young anglers and their families.
Gray has maximized community connections to be able to share the importance of the Service's mission. Wolf Creek NFH's education programs and publications communicate the economic impact of healthy fisheries, the health benefits of connecting children with nature, and the importance of family time outdoors to foster a greater sense of stewardship. Local schools have made Wolf Creek NFH a part of their established field trip schedules where they receive tours and instruction from trained volunteers, and they use an environmental education curriculum in their classrooms that was developed at the hatchery with the help of talented volunteers.
Besides trout production, conservation education and volunteer coordination, Gray and his eight-person staff also provide assistance to tribal governments and a refuge for threatened or endangered aquatic species.