It’s remarkable to find a great leader who possesses an outstanding scientific mind; in the Southwest Region, the Chief of Biological Sciences, Grant Harris, has the rare qualities of both. Harris took over the Chief role in 2010 when the Biological Services group consisted of two half-time staff. Now, nearly two years later, the group encompasses a scientific team of 12 and growing. Why such growth? When the vision of the Service and the National Wildlife Refuge System was outlined in Conserving the Future, the role of science in the Service was elevated and an Inventory and Monitoring (I&M) program initiated. Harris heard the calls and acted quickly. Under Harris’ leadership, the role of science has grown stronger than it’s ever been in the Southwest Region, which is leading the Service with reinforcing how science informs management decisions, habitat acquisition, and the I&M Initiative. Harris has built a strong foundation for science-based wildlife conservation to grow and flourish in the Southwest.
Harris has developed studies to assess the role of mountain lions in bighorn sheep mortality, led the way for novel techniques to save time and money for monitoring wildlife through camera trapping, assessed habitat fragmentation effects on threatened birds, and helped revamp the survey methodology of wintering whooping crane. His efforts have directed the pioneering of new techniques to estimate the abundance of animals without marks, techniques that can be applied to endangered animals world-wide. Harris’ leadership in addressing a plethora of wildlife management and conservation topics in the Southwest has provided impetus for new partnerships with State wildlife agencies, U.S. Geological Survey, the National Park Service (NPS), NatureServe, NOAA, universities, and NGOs. These include a new I&M collaboration with the NPS in the Chihuahuan and Sonoran desert networks and various applied research projects across the southwest region. In addition to his personal accomplishments, he strongly believes in the importance of increasing science capacity within the Service for the good of conservation. In support of that vision, he has built up a science team that is raising the bar for science on Refuges through the Southwest Region. His “lead by example” attitude motivates those around him to excel, while raising standards such that scientific rigor and defensibility are the norm.
In recognition of these outstanding contributions, Grant Harris is hereby awarded the 2012 Scientific Leadership Award.