The Herbert W. Kale, II Award

Nomination statement by Dale Gawlik for John C. Ogden, recipient of the Florida Chapter of The Wildlife Society's 2012 Herbert W. Kale, II Award:


John's distinguished 35-year career started in Florida in 1965 when he was hired as one of the early biologists at Everglades National Park under the late Dr. Bill Robertson, who is a past recipient of the Herb Kale Award. John came to the Everglades to conduct research for his MA degree at Florida State University but instead became so enthralled with the unique ecosystem and its unusual biota that he never returned to the university setting. John spent the intervening 35 years working fiercely to conserve Florida's wildlife species, first as a biologist and later as the primary architect of the Everglades Restoration Plan. John held his obligation to the natural system and its inhabitants above that of any particular employer. He knew that agency policies and priorities shift over 35 years so he adeptly moved among employers, like National Audubon Society, the National Park Service and the South Florida Water Management District, to preserve his ability to be an effective advocate for wildlife species and to use science as his primary tool.

John gained an appreciation for birds as a young boy in Tennessee, where he joined a local birding group associated with the Methodist church in Nashville. At a young age he published his first scientific paper in the Migrant, a journal of the Tennessee Ornithological Society. His formal education consisted of a bachelors degree from Vanderbilt University and a brief period in graduate school at Florida State University. It was during his first position at Everglades National Park that John became known as an expert in wading bird ecology and wetland ecosystems. Much of that expertise was self taught, facilitated by his strong curiosity about nature, his considerable skills as a broad naturalist, and extensive time in the field.

Being a naturalist with a healthy curiosity must have been helpful during John's early years at Everglades National Park, when he was responsible for establishing long term ecological studies on the osprey, American alligator, American crocodile and a variety of wading bird species. John relished the field work and used a hands on approach to wildlife biology that sometimes blurred the line between the field and his home life, as his daughter Laura found out when she discovered baby crocodiles residing temporarily in their bath tub. This naturalist approach to wildlife biology often led to remarkably accurate assessments of ecological workings that were later confirmed with more quantitative studies. One of John's early ,and more influential, studies on the feeding ecology of the Wood Stork is still widely cited by wading bird ecologists and is required reading for all of my graduate students.

One theme that runs through John's career is that he never shied away from contentious wildlife conservation issues. He was heavily involved in the intensely political California condor program and then the Everglades restoration program, with its effects on imperiled species like the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow, Snail Kite, and Wood Stork. John was willing to take on the tough issues with his firm belief that science can help resolve conflicts. I watched him repeatedly and publically defend the science-based policies of his agency, sometimes against more well known adversaries with less knowledge of the ecosystem. His integrity and adherence to his core beliefs were models for young scientists.

Highlights of his career include:
• Over 85 scientific publications
• Several popular articles in Audubon magazine and "A dictionary of birds".
• Co-editorship of the 1994 authoritative book on Everglades ecology
• President of Colonial Waterbird Society
• Director of the Ornithological Research Unit for National Audubon Society
• Federal Recovery Team member for California Condor and Wood Stork
• Fellow of American Ornithological Union
• Invited speaker at several international ornithological conferences
• Member of the Science-Research Advisory Committee, Governor's Commission for a Sustainable South Florida.
• Member, Board of Directors, Florida Ornithological Society
• Recipient, Charles Brookfield Award for exceptional contribution to South Florida conservation, Tropical Audubon Society.
• Recipient, Distinguished Service Award, Colonial Waterbird Society.
• Recipient, Annual Conservation Award, The Everglades Coalition

Although he was well established as an expert in wading bird ecology, in recent years John was recognized more for advances in the process of applying science to ecosystem management. He wrote a number of papers on the subject and accepted invitations to speak about it at national conferences. This phase of John's career blossomed when he was hired as a Lead Environmental Scientist, in the Office of the Executive Director at the South Florida Water Management District. The Executive Director at the time tried a new model for integrating science into policy decisions. He made John one of two experienced field biologists that were based in the executive office, where they were able to infuse the latest science into every executive meeting they attended. It relieved his agency of the long wait for scientific knowledge to percolate up through the primary literature, read by planning staff, and finally written into agency policies years later.

Much of the success of the science advisor model could be attributed to John effectiveness. He was able to give his agency's policies and management actions a scientific basis as well as to convey to scientists the agency's most urgent research questions. John was defining this new role for scientists even before it was recognized in the conservation literature. The model was so effective it was adapted at a national level by the National Forest Service and the National Park Service.

John's passion for the Everglades and his objective application of science brought him wide spread respect in the restoration community from both scientists and managers. Subsequently he was promoted to Chief Scientist and made Co-Program Manager of RECOVER, the multiagency group that provides scientific and technical guidance to the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan or CERP. He became recognized unofficially as the scientific leader and architect of CERP.

John was not afraid to leverage his rising stature to provide scientists with a voice to policy makers, again demonstrating his willingness to face contentious but important conservation issues. In 2007, while Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon of Florida, John saw signs that the Everglades restoration plan would fall short of meeting its restoration goals in all areas of the ecosystem. Knowing the power of a united scientific response, he convinced a wide representation of senior Everglades scientists to attend an adhoc meeting, not as a representative of their employer but as Everglades scientist. There was nervousness among some members and employers, but in the end the group came together and produced a unified statement that captured the attention of the Everglades oversight committee.

Emboldened by the success of the first meeting John called the group, now referred to in a politically incorrect term as the "Silverbacks", together again in 2008. He saw the statements that arose from the meetings as a means of providing quick, direct, integrated scientific opinion to managers on important restoration topics. His main concern was that the ecosystem continued to degrade as implementation of the restoration plan stalled. His concern for the ecosystem was foremost when he urged the scientists to characterize the risks associated with further, substantial delays in the restoration programs. He wrote "We need to provide these views to senior managers so that they'll better realize that a "roast marshmallows while Rome burns" strategy is not good." Unfortunately, the Silverback meetings never became a regular forum for addressing the difficult restoration questions that need to be resolved, partly because it could not escape the bureaucratic shackles that govern agency employees. However, the unconventional character of this group and the boldness it took to initiate it are testaments to John's lifelong creativity, commitment, and effectiveness in conserving one of Florida's most unique ecosystems.