In our second year (2012) of this award, PARC recognizes Ernesto (Ernie) Garcia, an integral member who led PARC during its early years, while also serving as an influential official with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). Ernie's conservation career was preceded by a stint as a U.S. Navy corpsman in a pediatric ward in the mid-1960s. When war casualties began coming in from Asia, he volunteered for the Fleet Marine Force operating in Vietnam. After completing field medical school, he requested assignment and was selected to serve as a medic in a U.S. Marine rifle platoon. Ernie doesn't talk very much about this part of his career, but it is no surprise that this man served honorably, and was so discharged after over 5 years of decorated service to our country.
After receiving his Baccalaureate and Master's degrees, Ernie worked as a Wildlife Biologist on several National Forests in the West before moving to the Caribbean National Forest where he served as Forest Biologist for over a decade. He worked on a variety of species, from bighorn sheep and other large ungulates, grizzly bears, and spotted owls to Amazon parrots, tropical freshwater shrimp and fish, Africanized honey bees, and Eleutherodactylan frogs. His tenure with the USFS ended as Wildlife Program Leader for Southern Region, stationed in Atlanta, covering forestlands in 14 Southern states, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. There Ernie became interested in, and recognized the many conservation needs for, amphibians and reptiles and began working with PARC since its inception in 1999.
In this role, Ernie was able to assist in directing federal funding to a variety of PARC projects that were of mutual interest to the USFS as well as to herpetofaunal conservation. Among the successful projects that can be directly attributed to this person's efforts are the development of the regionally-based Habitat Management Guidelines and the initiation of the Inventory and Monitoring manual. Then, at a time when his years of federal service could have afforded him retirement, he put his name in the ring for the PARC Federal PARC federal agencies' coordinator, serving in this role for nearly 5 years. His enthusiasm and encouragement of PARC products and project, like the HMGs and I&M manual have been a key factor in their development, production, and continues today toward the final product completion. In particular, the HMGs have served as a useful tool for educating members of the public about herpetofaunal conservation at a practical level, and their preparation and expansion under this person's leadership into on-the-ground trainings has strengthened collaboration among colleagues and helped developed new partnerships. The upshot has been a stronger herpetofaunal conservation community on a national scale while maintaining the identity and strength of the five PARC regions. His charismatic personality and push for accomplishment have been motivating factors in all regions and at all levels of PARC membership.
As an example of Ernie's visionary nature, he was the first PARC Federal Coordinator to engage the Department of Defense and Federal Highways, making these two new signatory agencies on the PARC Federal Agencies MOU. His efforts with DoD have now developed the partnership into a new platform, DoD PARC, which has initiated a new era of herpetofaunal conservation on military installations throughout the world.
Ernie embodies the definition of a visionary for PARC, always thinking of new ways to partner with others toward the big-picture goal of herpetofaunal conservation. He has engaged unlikely partners, such as people from the forest products industry and pet industry. He is energetic, creative, and forward-thinking, and without his motivation and efforts towards herpetofaunal and habitat conservation, PARC would not be moving ahead at the pace it is today. He has consistently gone above and beyond his scope of work to invest in conservation with passion, and is truly a unique individual who has a profound impact on those whom have had the pleasure of working with him. Generous even in his retirement, he now serves as the unpaid Executive Director of the Amphibian and Reptile Conservancy (formerly the Friends of PARC), a non-profit that he co-founded, and where he continues to lead the charge to fund and facilitate various PARC and other herpetofaunal conservation projects.
In 2011, ARC proclaimed its support for PARC's Visionary Leader Award, established to acknowledge the outstanding contributions of luminaries of herpetofaunal conservation. This award recognizes extraordinary leadership, vision, and career-long contributions that have significantly forwarded PARC's conservation mission.
The 2011 recipient of the PARC Visionary Leader Award is Dr. Whitfield Gibbons, an Emeritus Professor at the University of Georgia and Head of the Environmental Outreach and Education Program at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. Dr. Gibbons has devoted much of his life to herpetological research and conservation, and was one of the most significant players in the founding and development of PARC. Today he tirelessly continues his conservation efforts, and in his retirement, he serves on ARC's Board of Directors.
Whit Gibbons, inaugural recipient of the 2011 PARC Visionary Leader Award
Congratulations to our Executive Director, Ernie Garcia, the 2012 recipient of the PARC Visionary Leader Award!
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