The Paul Moler Herpetological Conservation Award

Nomination statement for Dr. Perran Ross, Ms. Joan Berish, and Mr. Greg Holder , recipients of the Florida Chapter of The Wildlife Society's 2008 Paul Moler Herpetological Conservation Award:

Dr. Perran Ross, Ms. Joan Berish, and Mr. Greg Holder have dedicated the last several years of their professional lives to developing a gopher tortoise management plan for the State of Florida. Not only have they made a truly significant contribution to gopher tortoise conservation range-wide, they have also demonstrated the finest points of teamwork, cooperation, and stamina under pressure.

Due to a long history of harvest, habitat destruction and degradation, and disease, gopher tortoise populations in Florida are declining. Previous methods of addressing gopher tortoise conflicts and conservation were ineffective, and they have become unacceptable to the scientific community and general public. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) was faced with repairing a dilemma that took many years to create, was fraught with controversy and politics, and had to be resolved as quickly as possible. The FWC was maligned as an agency and many of its employees (including the nominees) were publicly ridiculed and verbally abused throughout the management plan formulation process. However, even in the midst of the chaos, Dr. Ross, Ms. Berish, and Mr. Holder kept their focus on the prize: the successful recovery and conservation of gopher tortoises in Florida.

In order to do this, they realized that many entities would have to be involved in the decision-making process. The approach was three-fold: 1) a small, but diverse team of FWC employees was formed to develop and write the management plan; 2) a group of researchers was asked to contribute expert scientific input; and 3) a large team of stakeholders was organized to provide opinions and recommendations from the general public. It would have been much easier for the FWC to write their new plan without outside involvement, but they had the foresight and wisdom to make the hard choice and proceed as they did. Although the resulting product is not the perfect, final answer (there is no perfect solution to gopher tortoise issues in Florida), the new management plan has the built-in flexibility that will allow for change as knowledge and experience are gained. This attribute is the hallmark of true adaptive management that will help ensure the conservation of gopher tortoises in perpetuity.

Each individual that participated at every level of this plan's formulation deserves credit and thanks. However, Dr. Ross, Ms. Berish, and Mr. Holder provided the leadership that brought the plan to fruition. Without them, even the most sincere, well intentioned efforts would likely have failed. These three individuals went well beyond the call of professional duty to a level that can only be described as coming from their hearts. I can think of no better tribute to Paul Moler, a man who exemplifies this degree of commitment, than to confer his award to them.