Passion, perseverance and dedication are crucial in the effort to prevent extinction of our most imperiled wildlife and plants. These are hallmarks of the three biologists named as 2022 Recovery Champion Award winners. We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are pleased to announce Dr. M. Chris Barnhart of Missouri, and Scott Pruitt and Lori Pruitt of Indiana, are Midwest Region winners among more than a dozen national Recovery Champions honored for their work.
“Every year we recognize individuals whose outstanding work has made survival possible for threatened and endangered species,” said Chuck Traxler, acting regional director for the Midwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, we applaud Chris, Lori and Scott, who have devoted their careers to preventing extinction of freshwater mussels and bats. Their work showcases how to overcome challenges, work with partners and think outside the box in the effort to prevent extinction.”
Recently retired from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Scott Pruitt and Lori Pruitt of Bloomington, Indiana, each played leading roles in the conservation and recovery work for the endangered Indiana bat. Working first as a wildlife biologist and then as the Indiana Ecological Services Field Office supervisor, Scott spent 34 years studying Indiana bats and other endangered bat species, monitoring bat populations, and seeking innovative ways to work with partners and landowners to conserve bats throughout the state and beyond. He was instrumental in establishing the former Jefferson Proving Ground in southern Indiana as Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge, a haven for Indiana bats, and developed new ways to counter the impact of wind turbines on Indiana bats and other species. Lori Pruitt served 28 years as a wildlife biologist at the Indiana Field Office, serving as national lead for Indiana bat recovery. Lori also advocated for bats, reaching out to educators and conservation partners and developing educational materials and curricula to spread the word about the importance of bats.
Both Scott and Lori worked with the Indianapolis Airport during its expansion to conserve nearby bat habitat and establish nearby Sodalis Nature Park, which provides habitat for bats and recreation and bat education for visitors.
“As insect eaters and pollinators, bats are incredibly important to our environment and our economy,” said Traxler. “Scott and Lori brought leadership, expertise and advocacy to bat conservation in the midwest and around the country, and we are grateful for their stewardship.”
We recognized Dr. M. Chris Barnhart of Springfield, Missouri, for his tireless efforts to conserve freshwater mussels, among the most endangered wildlife in North America. For more than 30 years, Barnhart studied mussels while collaborating with state and federal wildlife agencies, universities, research centers, Tribal Nations and other partners across the country. During his tenure at Missouri State University, Barnhart became world-renowned for advancements in mussel propagation, developing innovative systems that many others have used across the country to produce imperiled mussel species. Throughout his career, Barnhart worked to recover more than 10 federally listed mussel species, pioneered toxicity testing guidelines for mussels and mentored dozens of graduate and undergraduate and foreign exchange students who are now active in mollusk recovery across the world. Barnhart also raised awareness of freshwater mussels and their importance through outreach, including images of rarely seen mussel behavior.
“Freshwater mussels thrive in good water and healthy surroundings. When they’re in trouble, we need to pay attention to our environment,” said Traxler. “Dr. Barnhart’s work has shed light on conserving these silent sentinels and made their future more secure.”
The Endangered Species Act provides a critical safety net for fish, wildlife and plants and has prevented the extinction of hundreds of imperiled species, as well as promoted the recovery of many others, and conserved the habitats upon which they depend.