HOT SPRINGS — Several Ouachita National Forest employees were recognized with awards for exemplary work, dedication and commitment in the Southern Region at the 2019 Regional Forester’s Honor Awards in Atlanta, Ga., Dec. 12.
The theme for this year’s awards was “Shared Stewardship, Shared Excellence – Our Commitment to the Land and People”.
Mena-Oden Ranger District personnel, Mitzi Cole, wildlife biologist and fisheries biologist received the individual award for “Natural Resource Leader”; Joe Liles, a law enforcement officer was recognized for the individual award, “Delivering Benefits to the Public”; and the members of the Ouachita and Ozark-St. Francis National Forests’ Law Enforcement and Investigations received the group award, “Cultural Resources Theft”.
The group award recognized law enforcement personnel for their actions in solving incidents of cultural resources theft.
The recipients include Ouachita National Forest, Daniel Boone National Forest, National Forests in North Carolina, National Forests and Grasslands in Texas, Ozark-St. Francis National Forest, Arkansas Game and Fish, Arkansas State Police, Arkansas Highway Police, Scott County Sheriff’s Office, Sebastian County Sheriff’s Office, Waldron Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Brian Skaggs, Mia Prince, Joe Liles, Paul Jolivet, Greg Burden, Chris Johnson, Josh Collins, David Cadle, Jack Raines, and Alissa Land were recognized for the LEI group award for the Ouachita National Forest. For the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests LEIs, Lynn Prince, Morgan Amos, Duane Crims, Al Waldo, and Johnny Tallon received the award.
The Natural Resource Leadership award recognizes a Forest Service employee or group of employees for major achievements in the stewardship of the forest’s diverse ecosystems including soil, air, water vegetation, and wildlife resources.
Cole received the award for her achievements in heading projects in fisheries, terrestrial wildlife improvements and non-native invasive species treatments. She was also recognized for her emphasis on connecting children to the outdoors which included taking and educating them on creeks, wildlife, and trees. In addition, Cole organized and authored the Ouachita National Forest’s Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Project for the Shortleaf-Bluestem Community with input from 27 partners. The project brings in $2.4 million annually to the forest, which funds the pine-bluestem restoration treatments including commercial and non-commercial thinning and prescribed burning.
“This award is an honor of getting work done on the ground through working with an amazing group of folks on the Mena Oden District as well as with exceptional partners,” Cole said. “We do a wide range of projects for fisheries of stream and lake restoration, improving roads and stream crossings to removing dams to those of terrestrial improvements of helping to restore shortleaf pine ecosystems to eradicating non-native invasive plant species on private lands.”
One of Cole’s goals is to help children and adults become environmentally responsible and active citizens through hands-on education.
“Providing environmental education to the publics to connect them to the outside world is one of the most important aspects of the job,” she said. “We all work as a team, the entire District is so incredibly good at getting the work done on the ground.”
Personnel from Law Enforcement and Investigation received a group and individual awards.
The Law Enforcement and Investigations award recognizes a law enforcement employee, work unit or group within the Southern Region which has demonstrated excellence and dedication to the LEI mission above and beyond their normal duties.
On June 1, 2019 a hiker, Joshua McClatchy, become lost in Caney Creek Wilderness and was not found until June 8 after an extensive Search and Rescue mission. A National Guard helicopter equipped with Forward-looking infrared camera located him on June 7. He was extracted the next morning.
“I am honored and humbled to receive this award,” Liles said. “It is also to be known that there were many men and women who worked very hard during this time.”
During the incident, Liles served as the Forest Service point of contact for the multi-agency SAR. When McClatchy was found, Liles immediately assembled a team, hiked into the forest and made contact. He also carried out the backpack, along with own, of a SAR team member who began experiencing heat exhaustion.
“There is also a person that I want to also have recognition and that is Arkansas Game and Fish Officer Ray Hines,” he said. “Ray and I worked together almost every day, and he went above and beyond during this SAR. There is a long list of people that worked tireless hours during this SAR, and I can’t even attempt to list each one of them. This award wouldn’t be possible without each one of their help, and I want to personally say thank you to each one them.”
When the incident ended, Liles had hiked more than 50 miles during the course of the entire operation.
“To go above and beyond was never thought about,” Liles said. “There was a mission to complete, and a life and families were relying on myself, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office for support.”