DOINews: BLM-Idaho: Biologist Craig Johnson Receives Award for Outstanding Achievements in Wildlife Conservation

Last edited 09/05/2019

On March 12, 2014, Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze presented the Linda Siebert Career Achievement Award to biologist Craig Johnson of the BLM Idaho Cottonwood Field Office for his outstanding service to fish and wildlife conservation on public lands. The award was presented during the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Denver, Colo.

Throughout her 22-year career as one of the BLM's finest biologists, Linda Siebert worked tirelessly for habitat protection and restoration. She also dedicated her career towards building bridges between people and organizations interested in public lands management.

For more than 40 years, Johnson has worked for the BLM, applying his passion for natural resources to on-the-ground success stories.

BLM biologist Craig Johnson standing on a rocky hillside.
For more than 40 years, BLM biologist Craig Johnson has worked for the BLM, demonstrating his passion for natural resource issues on public lands through on-the-ground project work and successful collaboration with partners.

Johnson's career began in 1973 as a dual-role biologist for both fisheries and wildlife at the Cottonwood Field Office. The field office encompasses a portion of the Snake River Basin, which is the largest tributary to the Columbia River. The Columbia River and its tributaries are arguably the most significant environmental force in the Pacific Northwest region of the U.S. due to the anadromous fishery that includes federally listed Chinook and sockeye salmon and steelhead trout.

Johnson has dedicated his work and career to the recovery of these species with his focus on small tributaries that support spawning and rearing habitat. One such tributary is the American River near Elk City, Idaho, where Johnson has worked diligently to acquire funds and support from partners and other sources for special conservation projects. His commitment over time has brought about the rehabilitation of six miles of riparian habitat that were once dredge mined for gold. He has also been responsible for removal of culverts and replacing them with bridges and other passage-friendly mechanisms that improved access to many miles of fish habitat that was formerly restricted and increased the number of spawning adult wild salmon and steelhead. Johnson also focuses his work on other Endangered Species Act listed or special status fish, wildlife and plant species, including bull trout, Pacific lamprey, wolverine, Canada lynx, gray wolf, MacFarland's four o'clock, Spalding's catchfly and Columbia River tiger beetle.

From left: Acting Idaho BLM State Director Tim Murphy and Cottonwood biologist Craig Johnson pose for a camera shot at Manning Crevice along the Lower Salmon River.
From left: Acting Idaho BLM State Director Tim Murphy and Cottonwood biologist Craig Johnson pose for a camera shot at Manning Crevice along the Lower Salmon River. Manning Crevice is a known location for big horn sheep, and Johnson had just given Murphy a quick and dirty tutorial in the use of telemetry for tracking the sheep.

In addition to his successes with fisheries, he has achieved significant accomplishments that benefit wildlife. The Cottonwood Field Office has one of the last remaining indigenous bighorn sheep populations within the Salmon River watershed. Of late, there has been significant mortality in this population due to pneumonia being transferred by domestic sheep to wild bighorn sheep. Johnson has built strong relationships with the Nez Perce Tribe, Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the U.S Forest Service and worked closely and collaboratively with them to protect the species from extirpation. He has labored over many years to acquire funding that has been used by the Nez Perce Tribe to monitor bighorn sheep populations and their foray movements. This critical data is being incorporated into BLM and Forest Service land use plans to allow for long-term sustainability and viability of these bighorn sheep populations.

Johnson is highly recognized by his peers that include the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Nez Perce Tribe, U.S. Forest Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He has received numerous awards of merit from various organizations, including the BLM, recognizing him as a trailblazer in protecting ESA listed fish and for leadership and conservation of fish, wildlife and plants. One such award was given by the American Fisheries Society recognizing him for his effort in riparian management.

Craig Johnson standing in a field; mountains in background.
The majority of Craig Johnson's career has been spent on the Cottonwood Field Office traversing the canyons and ridges of the Lower Salmon River country working on wildlife or fishery restoration projects.

A large portion of Johnson's workload surrounds ESA consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for listed fish species. He is recognized by peers for his focus on detail and thorough understanding of each project requiring consultation. His knowledge and experience is unsurpassed when it comes to the understanding of the ecological impacts that various projects have upon the environment and endangered species. During the early 1990's, Johnson was able to complete the consultation processes more effectively than any other office in Idaho, and his work became a model for how consultation is being conducted by other BLM offices to date. He received an award for his work in streamlining ESA consultation from the National Marine Fisheries Service.

As a recent example of his work, in 2012 the field office experienced a large wildfire (Sheep Fire) that encompassed more than 50,000 acres, and it was decided that partial timber salvage would be beneficial to the environment and provide economic benefits to the local community. A large portion of the salvage operation occurred in a riparian area containing listed bull trout and exceptional habitat for spawning and rearing of salmon and steelhead. Establishment of additional monitoring studies and swift ESA consultation were required before the burned timber lost its value. Johnson worked countless hours and collaborated closely with other agencies and stakeholders, and in the end, the project was a success largely because of his can-do attitude. This is only one example of his dedication and passion toward his work. He works extended hours on regular workdays and weekends while rejecting any compensation whatsoever for his extra effort. He also has had very limited staff support for several years due to budget constraints, but he still manages to achieve high quality results with remarkable outcomes.

Craig Johnson displaying his award.
Craig Johnson, recipient of the Linda Siebert Career Achievement Award, proudly displays the bronzed award in the shape of bighorn sheep he received. Johnson has worked tirelessly over the years in cooperation with Nez Perce Tribe to monitor native bighorn sheep in central Idaho.

Johnson's life-long commitment toward conserving and sustaining natural resources makes him more than worthy to be recognized by this award.

By: Suzanne Endsley, Coeur d'Alene District, BLM Idaho

April 25, 2014

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