NOAA staff win award for work with veterans

The Salmonid Restoration Federation has recognized two employees of NOAA’s Restoration Center with a coveted environmental award for developing a program that assists veterans transitioning from the military to careers in environmental resources restoration and enhancement.  

Leah Mahan and Bob Pagliuco of the NOAA Restoration Center received the Golden Pipe Award at this year’s Salmonid Restoration Conference in Fortuna, California, for helping develop the Veteran’s Corps Fishery Program. The program promotes salmon restoration while also assisting veterans.

Leah Mahan and Bob Pagliuco at the awards ceremony. Photo: Thomas Dunklin

“The Golden Pipe is an award for innovators in the salmon restoration field, whether their work be fish passage design, engineered log jams, or championing beavers as restoration partners,” said Dana Stolzman, Executive Director for the Salmonid Restoration Federation, a California-based non-profit organization dedicated to the restoration and recovery of wild salmon populations. “We started this award about 10 years ago for people who were doing very technical work or engineering work, but we have really expanded it to award people who are developing innovative projects or programs.”

Mahan called the award a great honor. “It’s awesome to be among the previous winners, especially for a worthy effort like the Veteran’s Corps Program,” she said.

The Veteran’s Corps Fishery Program is a partnership between NOAA Fisheries, the California Conservation Corps, the U.S. Forest Service, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and non-profit partners throughout the state.  It gives post-9/11 veterans opportunities to build new skills and work experience by restoring habitat for endangered salmon and steelhead and conducting fisheries research and monitoring. The program supports salmon and steelhead recovery in ways that NOAA Fisheries could not otherwise afford.

Vet Corps member Herzeng Thao water testing in San Simeon Lagoon. Photo: California Conservation Corps

Mahan and Pagliuco developed the Veteran’s Corps Program in 2012 after reading in a newspaper article that veterans between 18 and 24 years of age had a 44 percent unemployment rate.

“We thought this was simply unacceptable and we realized that we could hire veterans through the California Conservation Corps to do a lot of the things in our salmon recovery plans, such as restoration projects and monitoring,” Pagliuco said. “We started the program in Fortuna and expanded to Orleans and then San Luis Obispo, Ukiah and Camarillo. Now we’re looking forward to employing veterans in Sacramento and San Diego.”

Crystal Johns monitoring San Simeon Creek. Photo: NOAA

About 25 veterans so far have received training and experience with fisheries biologists and other experts through the program, positioning them to compete for permanent employment in environmental and natural resource fields.

“We give everyone significant safety and environmental training before sending them out with a mentor to do monitoring or restoration projects in the field,” said Mahan.  “They work in the program for a year, and many have found employment in the natural resources field.  It is just very rewarding for all of us.”

So far members of the Veteran’s Corps have surveyed nearly 1,900 miles of streams, completed 90 restoration projects and planted more than 400 plants to benefit salmon habitat. Some of the veterans also attend the annual Salmonid Restoration Conference to learn more about the field.

“We think the Veteran’s Corps Program is amazing,” said Stolzman. “It is a joy to have these veterans come to the conference the last few years and see what a huge difference the program has made in their lives.  I can definitely tell it is a life-changing experience for them.”


Video: Military Veterans Help Rebuild Fisheries

NOAA/CCC Veterans Corps Fishery Program

Multi-Area California Conservation Corps (CCC) recruitment flier - July 2016