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Sacramento Wetland Scientists Honored with Top EPA Award

Release Date: 03/04/2014
Contact Information: David Yogi,, Ph: (415) 972-3350, Cell: (415) 760-5419

Dr. Robert Holland and Carol Witham recognized as “Environmental Champions”

SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Pacific Southwest Region today will present scientists Robert F. Holland, Ph.D. and Carol Witham with its prestigious Environmental Champion award at a ceremony in Mather, Calif. for their work protecting California vernal pools, a critical and highly vulnerable type of wetland.

“Vernal pools are unique ecosystems that have suffered a tragic decline—only about 10 percent of California’s historic vernal pools remain today,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “These seasonal wetlands are home to many rare species, and we appreciate the efforts of Dr. Holland and Ms. Witham to preserve them.”

The award ceremony today will be held at the non-profit Splash Education Center, which was founded, in part, through Ms. Witham’s efforts. The center seeks to help children better understand the natural world through classroom instruction and field exploration, and places an emphasis on the value of vernal pools in maintaining the health of California ecosystems.

Ms. Witham was instrumental in producing the school curriculum for the Splash Center, and has written several field guides on vernal pool plants and ecology. She also started, a frequently-cited, comprehensive online source of California vernal pool information.

Dr. Holland’s influential work with vernal pool ecosystems spans more than 35 years, with seminal mapping efforts in 1978 that provided the scientific community the first comprehensive baseline of vernal pool extent, distribution, and loss. More recently, both he and Ms. Witham re-mapped the state’s pools, revealing a troubling continued loss of vernal pool acreage.

Vernal pools can serve as sentinels of climate change in California. During summer and fall, many vernal pool plants and animals survive as seeds, eggs or cysts and then grow when the ponds are again filled with water. However, these fragile shallow wetlands depend on annual rains and species that can endure a normal dry season may not be able to survive a protracted drought.

Each year, EPA’s Pacific Southwest office encourages citizens in California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawai’i and the Pacific Territories to nominate individuals, non-profits, businesses, local governments and other groups for environmental awards. This program offers a great opportunity to recognize individuals and groups outside of the EPA who are working to protect public health and the environment. Awards are granted to scientists, teachers, journalists, citizen activists, young people, organizations, business representatives, tribal leaders, public officials, and others committed to protecting public health and preserving our natural surroundings.

For more information about EPA’s 2013 environmental award winners, visit: