The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks has honored Dr. Michael Soukup with its George Hartzog Award to mark his contributions to drive natural resource stewardship at the National Park Service.
Dr. Soukup is a distinguished coastal ecologist, biologist and researcher. He served as one of the most effective senior leaders of the National Park Service. When he came to work for the NPS in 1975, he brought a clear vision for natural resource stewardship that would be embraced throughout the NPS and supported by visitors and local citizens. Following his work in national parks, he ultimately rose to become the Park Service Chief Scientist, as the Associate Director for Natural Resource Stewardship and Science, where his influence brought this vision to reality.
Working closely with Park Service Director Robert Stanton, Soukup was directly responsible for the creation, securing, and implementation of the Natural Resource Challenge, a $100 million funding initiative. This was a major effort that brought the protection of natural resources of the parks to the forefront, professionalized the natural resource workforce, and fundamentally changed how the public and employees address the natural wonders of the national parks, both internally and externally.
Soukup also conceived of the idea of establishing a network of Research Learning Centers in the parks to make scientific exploration a part of the park experience. He embraced the use of social science research as a tool to help the NPS understand complex social perceptions of natural resource protection among the public users of parks. He reinvigorated the Natural Resource Training for Managers, which trained numerous natural resource managers, many who went on to serve in senior NPS leadership positions.
One of Soukup’s brainchildren was the creation of the Cooperative Ecosystems Research Units. The CESU system is a national consortium of federal agencies, tribes, academic institutions, state and local governments, nongovernmental conservation organizations, and other partners working together to support informed public trust resource stewardship. This includes more than 490 nonfederal partners and 17 federal agencies across 17 CESUs representing biogeographic regions encompassing all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. insular areas. The CESU Network support research, technical assistance, education and capacity building that is responsive to long-standing and contemporary science and resource management priorities.
Among his many accomplishments, he supported the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s All Taxa Biotic Inventory (still going strong today) and planted the seeds for the organization and implementation of Bioblitz’s and importance of biodiversity conservation and restoration across the Service. He worked with National Geographic on a $10 million donation to conduct 10 major BioBlitz’s across the National Park System throughout all different biomes, from the Everglades, to Hawaii, to the National Mall.
Among his many accomplishments, Soukup has testified multiple times before Congress, successfully articulating the need for enhanced resource protection funding for new park units and for issues such as invasive species management, threatened and endangered species recovery efforts, as well as continued support for the restoration and conservation of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem, and for education, natural resource learning and development, including multiple international exchange programs of scientists and students.
Following retirement from his long and successful career in the NPS, he became president and CEO of the Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park, formerly the Schoodic Education and Research Center Institute. After three years he was once again ready to immerse himself in science and became director of Science of Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park. He oversaw programs for all ages that include bird ecology, forest ecology, watershed and ocean ecology, and an environmental history laboratory. In addition, he ensured the continuation and building of programs such as Citizen Science, life-long learning, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics programs as the foundation of the Center.
Soukup, although retired again from Park Service, continues to consult with park managers, and promotes advanced natural resource learning for NPS employees, as well as author and co-author works such as American Covenant: National Parks, Their Promise In Our Nation’s Future. Dr. Soukup and Gary Machlis, a social scientist whose lifetime of research and teaching focused on national parks, discuss their book in a Traveler podcast.
Soukup has always put his energy into moving science and conservation programs forward in both public and private service, and has always shared his tremendous experience and expertise into advancing science, research and education on behalf of the NPS.