Conservation pioneer, Randy Gray, received a prestigious award for his contributions to the conservation of wildlife habitat over the past 30 years. Gray was recognized with the John E. Nagel Award, which was established in 2000 and named in honor of the Intermountain West Joint Venture’s (IWJV) first Management Board Chairman. The IWJV furthers bird habitat conservation through science and partnerships across 11 states in the West.
The award is presented to an individual who exemplifies the spirit of the IWJV and demonstrates a vision for the conservation of birds and their habitats.
“I’m absolutely humbled to give this award to Randy Gray,” said Dave Smith, IWJV Coordinator, at the Spring 2013 IWJV Management Board meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah. “He is incredibly passionate about wildlife conservation and understands the key role that private lands play in conserving habitats that benefit numerous species.”
In several leadership positions with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Gray played an instrumental role in launching and refining the Wetlands Reserve Program. His lifetime achievements are manifested in 2.3 million acres of restored wetlands across the country, evident at the landscape scale in places such as the Central Valley of California and Lower Mississippi Valley of Arkansas.
Gray coined the term “random acts of environmental kindness” describing the former practice of spending limited conservation money on opportunistic projects, an approach that is being gradually replaced by the current paradigm of focusing efforts in core areas that will have the largest impact and the greatest return. He successfully championed this transition within NRCS. Today, the agency today operates numerous science-based and targeted Landscape Conservation Initiatives.
He helped shape the delivery of the Conservation Title of the Farm Bill in ways that have brought tremendous resources for habitat conservation, Smith said.
Gray recognized that the future of wildlife conservation in this country largely rests on the shoulders of private landowners. As a native of the West, he also fully understood that the best land – the valley bottoms with their wetlands and riparian habitat – was privately owned.
He was instrumental in development of a groundbreaking partnership called the Sage Grouse Initiative Strategic Watershed Action Team (SWAT). This is a creative solution developed to help the NRCS accelerate Farm Bill conservation program delivery to benefit the Greater Sage-grouse. Gray said this was one of the highlights of his career.
“I’m so glad I ended my time on such a beautiful program with its potential,” he said. Gray is now officially retired and spends his time working on his home northwest of Las Cruces, New Mexico, volunteering, and training his German shorthair and Labrador hunting dogs.