UL alum Kenneth L. Litzenberger, manager of the Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Complex, has won the 2011 Paul Kroegel Refuge Manager of the Year Award. 

One of the refuges Litzenberger manages is the Breton National Wildlife Refuge in the barrier chain of Chandeleur Islands. During the recent Deepwater Horizon oil spill, he served as national spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, addressing the army of journalists who descended to the coast.  At the same time, he demonstrated extraordinary vision and leadership in determining how best to deploy limited staff and critical resources at the most strategic places and times to accomplish critical mission work. Due to his early action, refuge lands were spared much of the impacts suffered by other areas.

Prior to that, he guided his refuges through one of the worst natural disasters in US History:  within months after his arrival at the Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Complex in 2005, Hurricane Katrina brought devastation to the area. Ken tirelessly addressed the recovery needs of the refuge and of his staff, while facilitating the overall effort to deploy federal and other relief efforts throughout the local community.

Through his profound dedication and his creative and innovative approach to solving problems, Ken excels in effectively managing diverse habitats and species to produce outstanding results for wildlife and habitat conservation in the face of challenges ranging from budget restrictions and limited resources to extensive hurricane damage and an unprecedented oil spill.

After a 4-year stint in the US Navy, Ken enrolled at UL and earned his BS in wildlife biology and then a master’s degree in wildlife biology from Tennessee Tech.  He began his career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1979 and has worked on 19 national wildlife refuges in 5 states. At the Southeast Louisiana Complex he oversees an enthusiastic group of approximately 890 volunteers, who contributed a total of more than 13,750 hours last year, and establishes numerous community partnerships for both one-time and ongoing projects. In 2010 Ken was awarded the Department of the Interior’s Meritorious Service Award.

About Paul Kroegel and America's First Wildlife Refuge

The Kroegel award is given in honor and memory of Paul Kroegel, the first manager of the first refuge established in 1903 on Pelican Island, Florida. His dedication and effectiveness set a high standard for those who followed.

In 1858, elegant bird feathers were literally worth their weight in gold. As a result of the expanding market for bird feathers for the fashion industry in the mid-1800s, plume hunters streamed down Florida's east coast in search of rookeries to supply their trade. On reaching Pelican Island, in the Indian River near Sebastian Inlet, market hunters found a proverbial gold mine of egrets, herons and spoonbills. Brown pelicans, the island's namesake, could also be found in great numbers and were on the edge of extinction as a result of vandals who perceived them to be a threat to fisheries.

Paul Kroegel became the birds' unlikely champion. A German immigrant who settled on the west bank of the Indian River Lagoon with his father in 1881, Kroegel had an excellent vantage point for observing the brown pelicans and other colonial nesting birds drawn to the Pelican Island mangroves. Kroegel took an interest in protecting the island's birds, sailing out daily with his double-barreled shotgun to stand guard against hunters and vandals.

After noted ornithologist Frank Chapman discovered that Pelican Island was the last rookery for brown pelicans on the east coast of Florida, the American Ornithologists' Union and Florida Audubon Society were galvanized to action. In 1901 these groups led a successful campaign to pass state legislation protecting non-game birds. The Florida Audubon Society hired four wardens to enforce the new law, but it was a dangerous job. Two of those wardens were murdered in the line of duty.

On March 14, 1903, President Teddy Roosevelt signed an executive order establishing Pelican Island as the first federal bird reservation — a forerunner to the National Wildlife Refuge System. This was the first time lands had ever been set aside on behalf of wildlife in the United States. Thereafter, Paul Kroegel was paid $1 a month by the Florida Audubon Society to serve as the first refuge manager.

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