South Florida State Park Manager Receives Prestigious Environmental Honor

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South Florida State Park Manager Receives Prestigious Environmental Honor

Paul Rice

Resource Manager of the Year Paul Rice at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Noah Valenstein virtually presented the Jim Stevenson Resource Manager of the Year award to Paul Rice, manager of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park.

The Jim Stevenson Resource Manager of the Year award is bestowed annually to a representative from the Florida Park Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Florida Forest Service for excellence in the field of natural resource management. The award is named for James A. Stevenson, a Florida leader of ecosystem management, prescribed burning, non-native plant control and springs protection during his long career with DEP’s Florida Park Service and Division of State Lands. Recipients are selected by a committee of environmental professionals representing the Sierra Club, Florida Audubon Society and The Nature Conservancy. 

“It is a privilege to present this award and express my appreciation for the lasting impact Paul has made on our state,” said Secretary Valenstein. “Our environment is what defines our identity and our way of life as Floridians, and it is because of passionate environmental stewards like him, and the two other recipients recognized today, that we can continue to protect Florida’s natural legacy for future generations.”

Paul Rice has devoted his 39-year career to Florida’s state parks and currently manages more than 65,000 acres of upland and submerged resources. At John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Rice leads a team that proactively manages the park’s underwater resources, working to protect and preserve Florida’s precious coral reefs and seagrass beds. He also oversees multiple volunteer teams that grow and restore native plants. Since Hurricane Irma, these teams have cultivated more than 1,800 plants to restore habitats at various parks in the Florida Keys, contributing to the health of several protected native species.

“Paul Rice represents the best of the Florida Park Service,” said Florida Park Service Director Eric Draper. “He has brought to completion the long-awaited restoration of a unique and rare part of the Florida Keys ecosystem. Paul understands that good resource management requires partnerships and motivating staff, volunteers and community stakeholders to work together by staying focused on vision and results.”

Among his accomplishments, Rice has been instrumental in completing the restoration efforts of Port Bougainville and Carysfort marinas, and under his leadership, a new citizen support organization was created to support both parks he manages. He has led staff and volunteers in efforts to create trails to highlight the restoration work while also working to encourage visitors to savor Florida’s beauty and inspire further support for natural resource management.  

The two other award recipients are Vince Morris with the Florida Forest Service and Nathan Bunting with the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.