Habitat & Conservation  |  06/17/2024

Recognizing Achievements in Conservation at The North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference


Four habitat champions from across the country celebrated at 89th gathering

Earlier this year, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever presented four respected wildlife professionals with Conservation Service Awards during the 89th North American Wildlife & Natural Resources Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The award winners were selected for distinguished contributions to wildlife habitat conservation efforts nationwide, including landscape-level habitat improvements through cooperative partnerships and direct mission delivery of critical programs for upland birds, pollinators, and other wildlife.

The four award winners have made tremendous contributions to wildlife habitat, and their work is reflected in PF & QF’s own strategic objectives around habitat, access, education, and advocacy. Through their vision and initiative, we—along with our network of partners, volunteers, and supporters—have been able to continue making a profound impact for conservation across the nation. With these leaders at the helm, the future of upland habitat conservation is bright.

Embracing Conservation Education: Sergio Pierluissi - Regional Coordinator of the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program

Sergio Pierluissi was born near Chicago and went to school at the University of Illinois, obtaining a Bachelor’s in Natural Resources, followed by a master’s in wildlife from Louisiana State University. He then began his career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, working with private landowners in Michigan, Ohio, and Alabama. From there, he did a brief stint with the Service’s Ecological Services program in northern Idaho. He has been the Regional Coordinator of PFW for the Service’s Midwest Region since 2017. In this role, he oversees the work of 45 PFW biologists and state coordinators in the eight-state region. He enjoys the “people” part of private lands conservation, helping private landowners all over the region meet their habitat goals, and collaborating with the many partners that make this work possible. 

As the regional coordinator of the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in the Midwest Region, Pierluissi has been instrumental in developing and encouraging relationships between his team of PFW biologists and team members of The Habitat Organization. His leadership and spirit for the partnership annually delivers hundreds of landowner contacts, providing technical assistance impacting thousands of acres of private land habitat across the Midwest. 

Equally as important, Pierluissi’s appreciation and support for the organization’s community-based education and outreach programs has elevated Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s work in the space of conservation education. Pierluissi is responsible for connecting PF & QF’s team with other USFWS functions that support the organization’s pollinator and monarch efforts. He has also supported the development and launch of the Journey to Conservation Careers program, which is an online conservation curriculum initiative for high school and early college students launched at National Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic 2023. 

Accelerating Access: Bernadette Graham-Hudson – Wildlife Division Administrator, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Bernadette Graham-Hudson currently serves as the wildlife division administrator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, overseeing wildlife programs statewide. Prior, she served as ODFW’s west region manager, leading field operations in western Oregon. Previously, she coordinated watershed planning, salmon recovery efforts, and wildlife mitigation programs in Oregon and Washington, as well as conducted research on biological soil crust and vegetation in southeast Utah for the USGS. 

Graham-Hudson has been the driving force in creating and maintaining one of Pheasants Forever’s most unique and creative partnerships to secure and improve access for hunters — the Hunt by Reservation Program. Graham-Hudson has been supportive of the program from its early stages, helping PF hire a project coordinator to oversee and implement an access program designed to turn wildlife depredation challenges on private lands into opportunities to provide hunting access. The partnership recently extended the life of the program for another two years due to its success. For the 2023 spring and fall seasons combined, Hunt by Reservation enrolled 22 properties, which opened more than 12,000 acres of private land to hunters and provided nearly 1,150 hunter days afield. The landowners enrolled in this program have a satisfaction rate of 95 percent and over 70 percent of the hunters reported they had an opportunity to harvest their targeted species while on their hunt.  

Making Habitat Happen: Garrick Dugger - Chief of Private Lands Habitat Division, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission

Garrick Dugger is an Arkansas native who has worked for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission for nearly 25 years. Now, in his role as head of the Private Lands Habitat Division, Duggar is doubling down on a lifetime of effort to increase the use of prescribed fire as a management tool with landowners; strategic use of fire for vegetation management is arguably the best way to boost bobwhite quail populations.

Thanks in large part to Duggar’s efforts over the years, Arkansas has become Quail Forever’s measuring stick in the bobwhite range. The accomplishments of the state’s biologist and habitat teams have helped set the standard for habitat conservation efforts of “The Fire Bird.”  

Duggar has helped keep that tradition going by renewing existing agreements for current PF & QF staff positions, as well as executing new agreements for positions — including a new prescribed fire coordinator, Working Lands for Wildlife outreach coordinator, and two public lands biologist positions that are currently being finalized. Duggar is a true champion for habitat, and Quail Forever is greatly appreciative of his support for the organization’s mission.  

Bob’s Best Advocate: Bridgett Estel Costanzo - East/Central U.S. Working Lands for Wildlife Coordinator, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Bridgett Costanzo is the NRCS Working Lands for Wildlife coordinator for the east/central United States and a driving force behind bobwhite quail habitat restoration efforts in a 26-state region, including a strong partnership with Quail Forever to expand voluntary adoption of early successional habitat and prescribed fire programs for private landowners throughout the northern bobwhite range.

Her background in avian research, habitat restoration, at-risk species population recovery, and landscape conservation planning and implementation is complemented by 25 years of employment by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Partners for Fish and Wildlife habitat restoration program. She joined NRCS in 2015 and has helped expand recovery efforts for the northern bobwhite throughout its range. Costanzo will be featured in an upcoming Quail Forever film about the expansion of the Working Lands for Wildlife Northern Bobwhite, Grasslands, and Savannas Framework for Conservation Action. 

Her entire government career has been focused on supporting private landowners in managing their lands to achieve economic and wildlife goals. Originally from rural southern Illinois, Costanzo has degrees in wildlife science and natural resources management from Southern Illinois University and Cornell University.

PF & QF are proud to work with each of these outstanding conservationists andextend our sincere thanks for their ongoing service to the wildlife and wild places we hold dear.