Friday, March 20, 2015

George B. Hartzog Jr. Award Nominee: Russ Gibbs

Mount Rainier National Park would also like to congratulate Russ Gibbs on his nomination for the Hartzog Award. We would like to acknowledge Russ' excellent qualifications and enduring service at this time.

NPS photo
Brief Summary of Exceptional Accomplishments: Russ Gibbs has been a devoted volunteer working at Mount Rainier National Park since December, 2001.  To date, he has contributed and documented over 8,200 hours of his time assisting multiple programs within the Division of Natural and Cultural Resources at Mount Rainier National Park, and providing valuable information to the park regarding status of park infrastructure during winter closures, and reporting unusual activities year round.  His contribution to Mount Rainier National Park includes winter patrols; spotted owl, pika, harlequin duck, amphibian, and snow tracking surveys; removal of telephone wire on the east side of the park; and providing information on unusual activities such as the location of deployed cameras and poached elk within park boundaries.

Magnitude of Work: What was the extent of the work accomplished? What made the work, project, contribution, or program exceptional? Was the program well-managed and efficient? In what ways did the nominee demonstrate creativity or originality?

He began his volunteer time in 2001 conducting harlequin duck surveys in the Ohanapecosh area including the Muddy Fork and associated tributaries providing valuable information on the abundance of these rare ducks in Mount Rainier National Park.  Surveys continue to date.  In 2002, he began providing winter patrols to Ohanapecosh, located in the southeast corner of Mount Rainier National Park, when the park started closing Ohanapecosh facilities and road access during the winter months.  Patrols were, and still are, performed via ski or snowshoe and provide valuable information about the status of buildings and unusual activity in the Ohanapecosh area.  Over the years, he has reported flooded buildings, broken gate locks, and heavy snow loading.  All information that likely wouldn’t have been discovered by park staff until spring opening, potentially leading to increased damage.

In 2005, Russ’s volunteer time expanded when he joined the owl crew conducting spotted owl surveys.  Many years due to funding, Russ has filled the 4th positions in a crew of four, allowing for completion of required compliance surveys and increased demographic surveys. In 2007, Russ began conducting amphibian surveys under the direction of the aquatics staff.  He follows established protocols, and visits sites multiple times a year, adding to the park’s knowledge about the distribution and abundance of all amphibian’s, focusing on the rare western toad, with only 13 known breeding spots in the park.  In addition, Russ has been a valuable resource and trainer for the Amphibian Citizen Science program at Mount Rainier.  He has reliably led new, inexperienced staff and youth to sites that are challenging to access to survey for amphibians.  Finally in 2009, Russ began conducting pika survey’s when the park identified the need to track pika populations in response to climate change.  He works independently and as needed with the wildlife crew, following established protocols.  He has also accompanied staff to assist with field work associated with lake surveys, and weather station maintenance, which would not have occurred due to a lack of field partner.

These days, you will find Russ hiking in the park conducting a wide variety of wildlife surveys, varying based on the time of year.  When describing Russ’s skills to new staff, we like to mention if you looked at a map of Mount Rainier National Park and recorded all of Russ’s hikes, the entire east side of the park would be covered.  He has been the “eyes in the field” for east side of Mount Rainier National Park for over a decade.  In addition to his survey efforts, his discovery of a fresh elk kill site within the park boundaries eventually led to the successful conviction of the responsible party.

Meeting the Mission: How has the volunteer, group, or program improved conditions for the park facilities or operations, resources and/or visitors? How did the nominee support the NPS mission?

Russ’s contribution to wildlife surveys during all times of year contribute the park’s knowledge of the distribution and abundance of spotted owls, all amphibians, harlequin ducks, and any notable wildlife (via snow tracking surveys).  We don’t have the year round staff to accomplish many of the surveys Russ completes.  His support of the Amphibian Citizen Science program allows relatively new SCA staff to gain access to challenging survey locations, which would otherwise be crossed off the list due access.

As mentioned above, he has been the “eyes in the field” for the east side of Mount Rainier National Park for over a decade.  He has helped identify flooded building, broken gate locks, and unusual heavy snow loading in the Ohanapecosh area during winter closures.  His constant presence in the backcountry has provided information on elk poaching and placed cameras in the field

Challenges: Describe any challenges the nominee may have faced.

Russ hikes in all weather conditions and in challenging terrain, mostly off trail.  He is a solid addition to any field team.

Partnerships: How did the project or program build partnerships or boost public interest? Please explain.

Russ’s true passion for the outdoors, wildlife, and Mount Rainier Nation Park is obvious by his enthusiasm to always help and his constant engagement.  Just last week, Russ gave a presentation at the Packwood museum describing the various surveys occurring within the park and rationale behind them. 

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