Texas Parks and Wildlife Employees Earn Three Prestigious Awards

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AUSTIN — A Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wildlife biologist, the department’s Inland Fisheries Division and a game warden have been recognized for outstanding contributions to wildlife conservation in the Lone Star State.

The awards were presented at Thursday’s meeting of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.

TPWD biologist Randy Fugate of Falfurrias, a department employee for 38 years, received this year’s National Wild Turkey Federation’s Joe Kurz Excellence in Wildlife Management Award.

Named in honor of a former Georgia Department of Natural Resources wildlife chief for the vital role he played in improving wildlife management, this award annually recognizes a wildlife manager for exceptional stewardship of wild turkey populations and habitat.

“Few biologists or technicians can compete with Randy’s innate ability to cultivate strong relationships with landowners, researchers, and the community as a whole,” said TPWD Executive Director Carter Smith. “His work with the trap and transfer of the Rio Grande wild turkey and research projects has helped them flourish and made South Texas a popular destination for many out-of-state hunters.”

The second award came from the Fisheries Administration Section of the American Fisheries Society, which each year recognizes outstanding projects or programs by state fisheries resource agencies supported by the Sport Fish Restoration Program.  This year’s award in the outstanding Research and Survey project category went to TPWD’s Inland Fisheries Division for a project evaluating various barotrauma treatment methods, commonly called “fizzing,” on the survival of bass released after they are caught. (Barotrauma is similar to what can endanger divers when they surface from deep water too rapidly.)

As a result of this study, the Bass Anglers Sportsman’s Society (BASS) and the BASS Federation Nation adopted the fizzing method as their official standard for dealing with barotrauma in tournaments nationwide. TPWD Inland Fisheries used the study to formalize its official position on fizzing and now promotes the method in department literature, including its Outdoor Annual. TPWD also produced a video showcasing the results of the study. So far, this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEeQrsHcwf8 has been viewed more than 21,000 times. A news release on the study can be viewed at http://tpwd.texas.gov/newsmedia/releases/?req=20110202d&nrtype=all&nrspan=2011&nrsearch

A partnership among anglers, boaters, the fishing and boating industry, state agencies, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Sport Fish Restoration program is supported by taxes on fishing equipment, electric motors, sonar, and motorboat fuel.  In 2011, Texas received the maximum allowable apportionment of $18.2 million, which is 5 percent of the approximately $364.7 million available to the states.

The final award to TPWD came from the National Wild Turkey Federation, which since 2000 has annually recognized game wardens from North America for enforcement activities related to wild turkeys. The 2012 “Texas Wildlife Officer of the Year” is Game Warden Matt Thompson.

A January 2000 graduate of the 46th Game Warden Training Academy, Thompson has been assigned to Foard and Hardeman counties since then.

“When he is not presenting public programs and involving himself with area young people, Thompson is apprehending game and fish violators and making our public waterways a safer place to take our families,” Smith said. “Warden Thompson patrolled over 21,000 miles last year and documented 67 violations.”

In addition, Smith said, Thompson has established valuable relationships with the landowners in his area whose property has wild turkey populations. These landowners assist Thompson in his efforts to protect the resource, and potential violators soon learn to avoid those areas.

“He is often requested to give programs from towns outside his assigned area because of his friendly manner, positive attitude, and high level of professionalism,” Smith continued. “During the past year, Warden Thompson involved himself with six different activities to introduce and familiarize young people with outdoor activities, specifically hunting and fishing.”

Using their residence as the base camp, Thompson and his wife Christy sponsor a youth deer hunt every year with 60 to 70 kids usually participating.

“The key to Warden Thompson’s continued success as a TPWD game warden is that he looks at his profession as a way of life, not a job,” Smith said.  “He enjoys every aspect of his career and he takes pride in every endeavor.”