2018 Awards

Friend of the Gila: Jackie Blurton

Jackie Blurton is an avid hiker and bicyclist. She received a Commercial Art degree from Wichita State University and worked as a graphic artist in Phoenix, AZ until she and her husband moved to Silver City in 1993 and purchased the Silver City KOA in Arenas Valley. She put her experience to work creating easy-to-print back-roads, bicycling, birding, and hiking guides for their visitors. The guides are available at the Chamber of Commerce and Murray Ryan Visitor Center.  She was on the Silver City/Grant County Chamber of Commerce Tourism Committee and the Grant County Lodgers Tax Committee where she contributed articles, photos, and maps for tourism publications. For nine years she drew pen and ink illustrations of local flora and fauna for the weekly Silver City Daily Press article, “From Our Place to Yours” in collaborated with Roland Shook and WNMU.

The Blurtons sold their business in 2013 and Jackie now participates on the Southwest New Mexico Audubon Society Board where she creates conservation activity booklets to give to children on Earth Day. “I try encouraging people to get out and enjoy nature and find their place in it. I would like them to feel at home and free to explore up a trail or stream, listen to the wind in the pines or desert brush and realize that their connection with nature is a necessary part of their life. I want people to care what happens to our natural world and its communities of life.”

Conservationists: A.T. and Lucinda Cole

The Cole’s were married in 1972 and lived in Casa Grande, Arizona for 32 years before moving to the Pitchfork Ranch in 2004. Lucinda taught elementary school and operated her own health food store; A.T. practiced law, served on the Casa Grande City Council and Chaired the Arizona Humanities Council, Casa Grande Town Hall Board of Governors, Casa Grande Friends of the Arts, and Pinal County Bar Association.

The Cole’s conservation work at the Pitchfork ranch south of Silver City has benefited from 14 public financed restoration grants that have allowed them to install more than a thousand grade-control structures, reverse the destructive incision process that has severely incised and dewatered the ciénaga, generally shallow the landscape and introduce several at risk species, the Gila topminnow, Chirichahua leopard frog, and candidate species Wright’s Marsh Thistle. The Gila Native Plant Society discovered the Euphorbia rayturneri on the ranch, currently the only place in the world where it is known to exist. They are “rewilding” the north portion of the ranch and restoring one of only 70 remaining ciénagas in the Southwest. Specific goals are to refurbish the headquarters while retaining its historic character, photo point monitoring, collecting piezometer data, soil and rain data collection and mapping, raise the ciénaga bottom, restore transitional and uplands, improve infiltration rates, repair roads, maintain a small grass fed and finished cattle herd, facilitate science, research & education, protect the archeology, improve habitat for wildlife and imperiled plants and animals, restore low-intensity fire and prevent rangeland fragmentation.

 Citizen Scientist – Russell Kleinman

Russ Kleinman practiced General Surgery for nearly 30 years driven by the sincere desire to help people in need. He endeavored to further the art of medicine by teaching surgical residents and medical students. After retiring from his surgical practice in Silver City, Russ became interested in botany. Since 2010, he has taught Plant Taxonomy at WNMU, hoping again to pass along his enthusiasm for science to his students. Russ developed the gilaflora.com website as a teaching aid for his students and a resource for the community.
Russ is grateful to his wife Karen, and to his family, friends and teachers who have enabled him to achieve a degree of success. He continues to pursue his botanical studies with passion and hopes to excite many more students to careers in the natural sciences.

Lifetime Achievement – Jim Brooks

James “Jim” Brooks was born and raised in Morenci Arizona, and attended college at the University of Arizona. Jim began his professional career with the Arizona Game and Fish Department as a wildlife manager in the Blue River area, his childhood stomping grounds. Jim became the first urban fish program manager for AZGF as well as the only native fish biologist. Jim moved on to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in New Mexico where he became the Supervisor at Dexter New Mexico. He transitioned to Project Leader of the NM Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office leader (which has had several acronyms FWCO, FRO, FAO and a short lived stint as Fisheries Assistance Group), where he settled in and lead recovery efforts for Threatened and Endangered fish throughout the state of NM for over 25 years, eventually retiring in that position.

Jim’s 30+ years of conservation work and influence has helped to protect and restore rare, threatened and endangered fishes that inhabit the arid and often unforgiving southwest landscape. Conserving fishes in the southwest presents many challenges and obstacles, both natural and manmade, which Jim always tackled with passion and enthusiasm. Throughout his career he has been an integral part of the native fish programs on the Pecos, San Juan, Middle Rio Grande, and especially the Gila and the Gila Trout and Chihuahua Chub Recovery Team. Each of these programs has been highly contentious at onetime or another, but Jim has always maintained his strong advocacy for doing the right thing for the species. Jim has had a stake in broader efforts as well including the development of the National Fish Habitat Action Plan, the Western Native Trout Initiative, exploring native trout habitats in Mexico, and the development and instruction of the standard operating procedures required for the application of fish removal piscicides.

He has worked positively and productively with folks from all corners of the conservation world, including academics (individuals such as Minckley, Deacon, Hubbs, Mayden, and Turner), NGOs (such as The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited), state agencies (such as AZ Game and Fish Department, New Mexico Game and Fish Department, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources), other federal agencies (like the Bureau of Reclamation, Forest Service, Corps of Engineers, and the National Park Service), and private industry (such as Marsh and Associates, American Southwest Ichthyological Researchers, and Biowest). Jim has also co-authored many publications on southwest fishes and their conservation.

Jim has devoted a huge part of his career towards improving the status of native fish and has logged many hours on the trails of the Gila Wilderness taking Gila trout from the brink of extinction to a more stable status. When the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s history ravaged the Gila Wilderness in 2012, Jim was on the ground with evacuation crews packing in on mules beyond active fire lines, collecting irreplaceable Gila trout populations and flying them out to safety. Many people think it is ludicrous to risk your life for a fish, but when you ask Jim what he is doing, he always responds the same way, “Living the dream!” Even in retirement Jim continues to “Live the Dream,” working tirelessly and devoting his time to the conservation and recovery of Gila trout and other southwestern species, working intimately with Trout Unlimited and State and Federal agencies.

Lifetime Achievement – Randy Jennings

Randy D. Jennings was born 22 November 1954 to Anne M. and Clarence F. (Hickory) Jennings in San Antonio, Texas.  There is some debate whether it was Randy who convinced his parents to leave Texas or the Air Force that was responsible for the move to Virginia, three weeks later.  During the next 17 years the family continued to move throughout the southeastern United States with additional tours of duty in England and Germany.  From the first through the twelfth grades Randy attended eight different schools.  Throughout this time camping and fishing were favorite past-times.

Randy obtained a Bachelor’s of Science in Zoology in 1977.  Undergraduate mentors were Roy McDairmid, herpetologist, and Glenn Wolfenden , ornithologist.  Shortly after graduation he worked at the American Museum of Natural History affiliated Archbold Biological Station outside Lake Placid, Florida where he worked on herpetologically oriented projects.  In 1978 Randy took a position with the Florida Park Service at Hillsborough River State Park where he conducted among other things guided natural history walks and was a living-history interpreter of the Second Seminole War.  In 1980 Randy moved to New Orleans and began working for the US Fish and Wildlife Service (through Tulane University) conducting aerial surveys for marine birds, turtles, and mammals in near- and off-shore waters of the Gulf of Mexico and adjacent Atlantic Ocean.

In 1982 Randy moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico to pursue a Master’s of Science degree at the University of New Mexico.  Randy worked on biochemical and morphological variation in the Desert Tortoise, Gopherus agassizii, through out its range in the Southwest United States and Mexico with advisors Tom Fritts and Jim Findley.  In 1986 Randy continued at University of New Mexico pursuing a PhD on adaptive morphological plasticity of tadpoles of the Chiricahua Leopard Frog, Rana chiricahuensis, with advisors Howard Snell and Norman Scott, Jr.  Randy’s first trip to the Gila, where he eventually conducted studies for his dissertation, was in 1984 with a Herpetology Class from UNM.  From 1987 through 1989 he traveled to five sites in the Gila Country on a bimonthly basis for his dissertation research.  He completed that degree in 1991 and became the Curator of Herpetology at the Barrick Museum of Natural History at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas that same year.

In 1993 Randy moved to Silver City and replaced the retiring Bruce Hayward at Western New Mexico University as an Assistant Professor of Zoology.  Since arriving at WNMU Randy has worked on long-term projects focused on Chiricahua Leopard Frogs, Gila Monsters, and Narrow-headed Gartersnakes.  In 2005 Randy received the George Miksch Sutton Award in Conservation Research from the Southwestern Association of Naturalists.  In 2016 Randy received the First Annual Charlie Painter Memorial Award for Excellence in Herpetological Mentorship from Southwest Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.  During 25 years Randy has had the pleasure to work with the talented faculty of WNMU, many dedicated biologists and resource manages of the US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, New Mexico State Parks, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, and Arizona Department of Game and Fish.  Randy is indebted to all these wonderful colleagues, far too many to list all of them, for enriching the time he has spent at WNMU and southwestern New Mexico.