The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced the recipients of the 2011 Recovery Champion award, which honors service employees and partners for outstanding efforts to conserve and protect endangered and threatened species of fish, wildlife and plants. A total of 56 teams and nine individuals were honored as Recovery Champions for work to conserve species ranging from the polar bear in Alaska to the Appalachian elktoe mussel and spotfin chub in North Carolina.

“Recovery Champions are helping listed species get to the point at which they are secure in the wild and no longer need Endangered Species Act protection,” Service Director Dan Ashe said. “These groups and individuals have done amazing work in helping to bring dozens of species back from the brink of extinction, while improving habitat that benefits many other species and local communities.”

From the bull trout in Washington, Oregon, and Montana to the red-cockaded woodpecker in Florida, Alabama and Texas, Recovery Champions are taking action to benefit these species. Service employees and partners, including federal and state conservation agencies, tribes, universities, conservation organizations, private landowners and zoos and botanical gardens, are making a difference through activities such as removing dams so that anadromous fish can reach their spawning grounds, restoring longleaf pine forests in the Southeast and reintroducing an endangered bird species into its historical range.

Among them is the Piping Plover Team, which includes National Wildlife Refuges along the Atlantic Coast from Maine to Virginia. They were recognized as champions for their efforts along the ocean coast to protect more than 16 percent of the U.S. Atlantic breeding population of piping plovers. This includes thousands of hours to monitoring birds, posting and signing nesting and foraging habitat, building predator “exclosures” and conducting outreach on private, state and municipal properties.

Restoring streams, releasing listed species into their historical ranges and conducting field surveys and monitoring programs are among the diversity of initiatives by this year’s Recovery Champions. What began in fiscal year 2002 as a one-time award for Service staff members for achievements in conserving listed species was reactivated in 2007 and expanded to honor Service partners as well, recognizing their essential role in the recovery of threatened and endangered species.