PARC Visionary Leader Award

In 2011, PARC initiated the Visionary Leader Award. This award recognizes an individual in North America who exemplifies extraordinary leadership, vision, and commitment, specifically to PARC, in a manner that has carried PARC to new heights and has significantly forwarded the PARC mission.

Nominees for the award are determined via the PARC Joint National Steering Committee members, in collaboration with their regional, federal, state, and other member partners.

Award Nominations

Nominations for the VLA will be made by the JNSC members, in collaboration with regional, federal, state, and other member partners. The award shall be presented no more than once per year (though not necessarily each year) based on the merit of candidates nominated. Please work with your Regional JNSC representatives (see Table 1 below) if you would like to be a part of a nomination. Nominees must meet at least one of the two following criteria:

  1. Has made distinguished, sustained contributions (i.e., multi-year, valuable, repeated contributions/efforts) that carried PARC to new heights. 
  2. Has demonstrated extraordinary leadership, vision and commitment to PARC in a manner that is inspiring to their peers while forwarding the PARC mission. This award targets individuals who go above and beyond.  

Additionally, all nominations must also include:

  • A required statement regarding the Nominee’s perspective, experience, or contributions to increase diversity and advance inclusion of under-represented groups of people in herpetofaunal conservation.

PARC is dedicated to promoting inclusivity and collaboration as core values, with a strategic focus on improving equity within the herpetofaunal conservation community. We strive to create diverse and inclusive environments and networks for those involved in herpetofaunal conservation. PARC’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Team (DEITT) actively works with our membership to integrate these principles throughout the organization. In addition to recognizing excellence in the field of herpetology, the Visionary Leader award highlights the nominee’s commitment to this core value.  

Nominations should be for individuals whose efforts at the REGIONAL or NATIONAL level broadly contributed to or benefited PARC in terms of accomplishment(s) and leadership provided and resulting impacts of the work, regardless of age or professional experience of the nominee.
Nominees must observe and uphold the highest standards of scientific integrity and professional behavior, and must uphold PARC’s Code of Ethics and Meeting Code of Conduct

Award Nomination Announcement and Submission

The award nomination period is now closed until Summer 2024. The announcement can be downloaded as a PDF below. If another file format is needed, please contact the PARC Coordinators.

Please submit all nominations to PARC has an open nomination period each autumn. The open-nomination period is announced via the PARC newsletter. You can sign up for the PARC newsletter here.

This award shall be presented no more than once per year, although it may not be presented annually. The award is accompanied by an engraved plaque and $1,000 to those that are eligible to receive monetary gifts.

Visionary Leader Award Winners

2024 | Chris Petersen

Chris sits in a military vehicle in a black shirt with knee boots and a snake hook.

We are thrilled to recognize Chris Petersen for the 2024 Visionary Leader Award!

For over a decade, Chris has continued to serve in multiple leadership roles, including leading DoD PARC, serving as the National Representative for DoD PARC on the Joint National Steering Committee and the Federal Agencies Steering Committee—where he not only served as active member over the years, but also as the co-chair of each. Chris has demonstrated an unwavering dedication to the organization’s mission and has been instrumental in shaping the trajectory of not only DoD PARC but also National PARC. 

One of Chris’s notable achievements is his pivotal role in the establishment of DoD PARC in 2009. His vision was not only to protect the amphibians and reptiles inhabiting military installations but also to integrate conservation efforts seamlessly with the military’s operational needs. This foresight set the foundation for developing a strategic plan that goes beyond environmental conservation, honoring the commitment to military training while also protecting herpetofauna on military lands.

Under Chris’s leadership, DoD PARC has achieved remarkable milestones. The comprehensive update of herpetofauna species lists for the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Army showcases the thoroughness and attention to detail that Chris brings to his role. Chris has also worked on development of online training modules, including a venomous snake and safety video. Moreover, Chris has helped facilitate herpetofaunal disease surveys across military installations within the United States. DoD PARC continues to serve as a model for other federal agencies and partners on creating and leveraging a network within a network that supports agency mission, agency managers, and herpetofaunal conservation.

Outside of DoD PARC, Chris has also shined with National PARC. In particular, he was one of the main editors for The Timber Rattlesnake: Life History, Distribution, Status, and Conservation Action Plan which was published in 2021. He has held positions as a co-chair of the National PARC Executive Committee and served multiple years as an active Ex-Officio lead.

Thank you, Chris, for your many years of service to PARC!

2021 | Neha Savant

2021 Visionary Leader Award Winner Neha Savant
2021 Visionary Leader Award Winner Neha Savant

We at PARC are pleased to announce Neha Savant as the 2021 recipient of the Visionary Leader Award.

In 2011, PARC initiated the Visionary Leader Award. This award recognizes an individual in North America who exemplifies extraordinary leadership, vision, and commitment, specifically to PARC, in a manner that has carried PARC to new heights and has significantly forwarded the PARC mission.

Neha’s contributions to PARC are exemplified in her commitment to PARC’s Core Value of Inclusivity and Collaboration, including the strategic goal of enhancing inclusion and equity within the herpetofaunal conservation community. PARC strives to provide inclusive spaces and a diverse network for participation. Neha has served as a leader in PARC at both regional and national levels over several years.  Most notably, she co-created the National Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Team (DEITT) to improve cultural competency, which increased PARC’s capacity for inclusion and ability to engage and attract diverse audiences and members. The DEITT serves a vital role in the vision and success of PARC by helping it reach its strategic network growth goal. Neha served as co-chair of this task team for three years, and her efforts led the DEITT to receive an award from The Pollination Project Grant program in 2018. Neha also oversaw the development and implementation of PIPA (PARC Increasing Participation Award), which aims to broaden participation at regional PARC meetings and expand the PARC network. In 2018 and 2019, Neha co-led the first two DEI break-out workshops at NEPARC’s annual meetings. Neha’s leadership was crucial to the launch and accomplishments of the DEITT. Her inspiring guidance and passion created a space primed for growth and learning, ensuring the success of all team members. Her communication skills have been vital in facilitating difficult and essential DEI discussions both within and outside of PARC.

Thank you, Neha, for your perspective, experience, and contributions to increase diversity and advance inclusion of underrepresented groups of people in herpetofaunal conservation.

2019 | Priya Nanjappa

2019 Visionary Leader Award Winner Priya Nanjappa

It is with great pleasure to announce that Priya Nanjappa has been selected as the recipient of the 2019 PARC Visionary Leader Award! Priya has been a driving force and foundation for our network for the last 13 years. During her time as a Program Manager for the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA), Priya served as both the PARC National Coordinator and State Agencies National Coordinator. Her leadership, vision, and enthusiasm have significantly advanced the PARC mission and carried our success to new heights. In 2018, Priya took on a new role as Director of Operations for Conservation Science Partners, where she continues to serve as a champion of conservation and to promote inclusion, equity, and diversity in her personal and professional activities.

During her time serving the PARC network, Priya has worked tirelessly advocating, building, guiding, and leading PARC as it has grown into the organization it is today. When PARC was a fledgling organization, Priya’s talents were immediately apparent. She initiated key processes and campaigns raising the visibility of PARC and kept the network afloat through times of instability, transition, and growth, all the while building partnerships, cultivating networks, and inspiring other relationships that continue to be the key to PARC’s success. Through her vision, insightful ideas, and interpersonal skills, PARC grew and meaningful contributions to the organization and amphibian and reptile conservation were accomplished. Priya’s strategic vision, and her drive to lead and engage with others to achieve it, epitomizes visionary leadership.

Furthermore, Priya has made significant contributions to every PARC product produced over the last 13 years including the Habitat Management Guidelines series, Inventory and Monitoring document, PARC and DoD PARC Strategic Plans, PARC annual reports, Bsal Rapid Response Plan template, and the Priority Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Areas criteria document. In addition, she has co-organized and/or led the event planning and logistics for an international Bd meeting (Translating Science into Urgent Action); the Understanding Agriculture’s Effects on Amphibians and Reptiles conference; the Herpetofaunal Regulatory Summit; the Roads and Small Animals symposium; and the 15 and Forward PARC symposium at The Wildlife Society annual meeting. Lastly, Priya has led the development, submission, and ultimately oversight of numerous grants (such as a Competitive State Wildlife Grant, a North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative grant, and a donation from a private philanthropic funder) in support of amphibian and reptile conservation and management projects.

Priya has been and will continue to be a major influence and force within the PARC network and her hard work and dedication to our group is unsurpassed. PARC congratulates Priya, our fourth recipient of the Visionary Leader Award!

2015 | Dr. Kurt A. Buhlmann

2015 Visionary Leader Award Winner Dr. Kurt A. Buhlmann

Our third winner of the Visionary Leader Award is Dr. Kurt A. Buhlmann, Senior Research Associate and Conservation Ecologist with the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. Kurt’s peers describe his energy, enthusiasm and vision as legendary. Once a professional or conservation goal is articulated, Kurt does not deviate from the goal until it is achieved. He does not get distracted by politics or personalities, rather he builds coalitions and focuses everyone on solutions. In the words of one student, Kurt is “powered by a small nuclear reactor.”

Kurt has been a devoted member of PARC since its inception in 1999 and remains a tireless leader on a variety of issues related to PARC. In particular, he was a leader in the development of the PARC Habitat Management Guidelines series, serving as a series co-editor, and also was a key editor of the PARC Inventory and Monitoring Guide. Kurt put the tools into action when he helped conceive and conduct a series of regional habitat management training workshops.
He has traveled throughout the PARC regions and has helped PARC spread its message around the globe. His primary emphasis is turtle conservation and very early in his career, Kurt set up a global turtle conservation effort for Conservation International. But his commitment to herpetofaunal conservation does not stop with turtles; Kurt has worked hard on behalf of other reptiles as well as amphibians. In countless ways he is the embodiment of the award criteria, “extraordinary leadership, vision, and commitment to PARC.”

Few rival Kurt in terms of his genuine mentoring of younger PARC members, and he is often seen chatting at conferences, taking an honest interest in the work of PARC’s youngest members. Kurt’s peers recognize his rare, unselfish charisma – which is part of the reason so many schools, colleges, universities, and organizations ask Kurt to speak.

In the field of herpetofaunal conservation, and in his roles for PARC, he leads by example, and is truly a Visionary Leader.

2012 | Ernesto (Ernie) Garcia

2012 Visionary Leader Award Winner Ernesto (Ernie) Garcia

In our second year of this award, PARC recognizes Ernesto (Ernie) Garcia, an integral member who led PARC during its early years, while also serving as an influential official with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). Ernie’s conservation career was preceded by a stint as a U.S. Navy corpsman in a pediatric ward in the mid-1960s. When war casualties began coming in from Asia, he volunteered for the Fleet Marine Force operating in Vietnam. After completing field medical school, he requested assignment and was selected to serve as a medic in a U.S. Marine rifle platoon. Ernie doesn’t talk very much about this part of his career, but it is no surprise that this man served honorably, and was so discharged after over 5 years of decorated service to our country.

After receiving his Baccalaureate and Master’s degrees, Ernie worked as a Wildlife Biologist on several National Forests in the West before moving to the Caribbean National Forest where he served as Forest Biologist for over a decade. He worked on a variety of species, from bighorn sheep and other large ungulates, grizzly bears, and spotted owls to Amazon parrots, tropical freshwater shrimp and fish, Africanized honey bees, and Eleutherodactylan frogs. His tenure with the USFS ended as Wildlife Program Leader for Southern Region, stationed in Atlanta, covering forestlands in 14 Southern states, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. There Ernie became interested in, and recognized the many conservation needs for, amphibians and reptiles and began working with PARC since its inception in 1999.

In this role, Ernie was able to assist in directing federal funding to a variety of PARC projects that were of mutual interest to the USFS as well as to herpetofaunal conservation. Among the successful projects that can be directly attributed to this person’s efforts are the development of the regionally-based Habitat Management Guidelines and the initiation of the Inventory and Monitoring manual. Then, at a time when his years of federal service could have afforded him retirement, he put his name in the ring for the PARC Federal PARC federal agencies’ coordinator, serving in this role for nearly 5 years. His enthusiasm and encouragement of PARC products and project, like the HMGs and I&M manual have been a key factor in their development, production, and continues today toward the final product completion. In particular, the HMGs have served as a useful tool for educating members of the public about herpetofaunal conservation at a practical level, and their preparation and expansion under this person’s leadership into on-the-ground trainings has strengthened collaboration among colleagues and helped developed new partnerships. The upshot has been a stronger herpetofaunal conservation community on a national scale while maintaining the identity and strength of the five PARC regions. His charismatic personality and push for accomplishment have been motivating factors in all regions and at all levels of PARC membership.

As an example of Ernie’s visionary nature, he was the first PARC Federal Coordinator to engage the Department of Defense and Federal Highways, making these two new signatory agencies on the PARC Federal Agencies MOU. His efforts with DoD have now developed the partnership into a new platform, DoD PARC, which has initiated a new era of herpetofaunal conservation on military installations throughout the world.

Ernie embodies the definition of a visionary for PARC, always thinking of new ways to partner with others toward the big-picture goal of herpetofaunal conservation. He has engaged unlikely partners, such as people from the forest products industry and pet industry. He is energetic, creative, and forward-thinking, and without his motivation and efforts towards herpetofaunal and habitat conservation, PARC would not be moving ahead at the pace it is today. He has consistently gone above and beyond his scope of work to invest in conservation with passion, and is truly a unique individual who has a profound impact on those whom have had the pleasure of working with him. Generous even in his retirement, he now serves as the unpaid Executive Director of the Amphibian and Reptile Conservancy (formerly the Friends of PARC), a non-profit that he co-founded, and where he continues to lead the charge to fund and facilitate various PARC and other herpetofaunal conservation projects.

2011 | J. Whitfield “Whit” Gibbons

2011 Visionary Leader Award Winner J. Whitfield “Whit” Gibbons

The first-ever recipient of the PARC Visionary Leader Award is J. Whitfield “Whit” Gibbons, an Emeritus Professor at the University of Georgia and Head of the Environmental Outreach and Education Program at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. Dr. Gibbons has devoted much of his life to herpetological research and conservation, and was a significant player in the founding and development of PARC and into its first decade.

J. Whitfield “Whit” Gibbons has been tremendously successful in developing students, >40 undergraduates and 45 graduates, and into driven professionals who go on to secure academic, state, and federal jobs, and many have become leaders in conservation science. He valued applied research before it was popular and while doing so, served as a powerful role model to undergraduates and Ph.D. students alike.
Whit has developed and fostered expansive environmental outreach programs centered on amphibian and reptile ecology and conservation. His outreach programs have included 100s of lectures and workshops, >1000 newspaper and magazine articles, educational videos and television productions, and 21 books focusing on herpetology and conservation.

Whit is a natural leader and has an innate ability to enthusiastically bring people together, to approach them within the context of their training and position, and to not belittle their perspective or absence of facts. He also has that far-reaching knowledge to put current issues into historical perspective through personal stories and often exciting field experiences with herps. It is not uncommon to find Whit with a cigar in one hand, and a snake in the other. PARC congratulates Whit Gibbons, our first PARC Visionary Leader.