California DFG Employees Receive Awards

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Several past and present California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) employees recently received top awards from the Wild Sheep Foundation and the Desert Bighorn Council. Steve Torres, retiree Bill Clark and Dr. Ben Gonzales of the Wildlife Investigations Lab (WIL), Dr. Dave Jessup of the Oil Spill Prevention and Response team (OSPR), and retiree Dr. Vern Bleich of the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep Recovery Program were recognized for their work in the field of conservation of wild sheep in North America.

"We are very proud of the recognition our employees received from these distinguished organizations," said DFG Director Donald Koch. "As a department, we encourage our team of scientists to focus on pressing and emerging issues in the field of wildlife management."

Torres accepted the 2007 Desert Ram Award from the Desert Bighorn Council on behalf of the WIL for contributions to desert sheep conservation in addition to improvements in capture training. Clark received an award for his career contributions to the safe handling and capture of desert sheep.

California Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation recognized Bleich for career contributions to the conservation of desert sheep in 2008. In addition, he accepted the 2007 Desert Bighorn Council's Honor Plaque on behalf of DFG's Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep Recovery Program.

Jessup received the 2008 Outstanding Achievement Award from the Wild Sheep Foundation for addressing the 30-year controversy about the negative health effects of domestic sheep on bighorn sheep. The two-year project was a collaborative effort with Dr. Ben Gonzales as well as many other scientists, veterinarians, range and wildlife managers, biologists, woolgrowers and agriculture representatives through a series of workshops, research and Web-based information sharing.

Jessup's work was made possible by the support of various organizations such as the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, DFG Resource Assessment Program, Wild Sheep Foundation (formerly Foundation for North American Wild Sheep – FNAWS), California Chapter of FNAWS, Wyoming Chapter of FNAWS, Nevada Bighorn Unlimited and the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center.

The Desert Bighorn Council was established to promote the continuing advancement of knowledge of desert bighorn sheep and the long-range welfare of these animals. The Wild Sheep Foundation was established to enhance wild sheep populations, promote professional wildlife management, educate the public about wild sheep and the conservation benefits of hunting, encourage fair chase hunting and protect sportsmen's rights.

Torres received a master's degree from University of Arizona, Tucson, for research on desert bighorn in 1983 and has been active in desert bighorn sheep management and conservation for 25 years. He has been with DFG for 20 years and is currently the supervisor of the WIL.

Clark received a bachelor's degree from California State University, Sacramento in 1972 and was a DFG employee for 29 years, all of it at the WIL where he retired as Supervisor in 1993.

Gonzales received a doctorate from University of California, Davis in 1982 and is currently the WIL's lead veterinarian for bighorn sheep research. He has been with DFG for 11 years.

Jessup received a doctorate from Washington State University in 1976. He has been a DFG employee for 31 years and was its first full-time veterinarian. He has received various awards for his work including the Wildlife Disease Association's Distinguished Service Award in 2000 and the Desert Bighorn Council honor plaque in 1991.

Bleich received a doctorate from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks in 1993 and retired from DFG in 2007 after 34 years of service.