Texas A&M Forest Service held the agency’s annual personnel meeting this week. Spanning statewide, agency employees gathered virtually to recognize the past year’s agency accomplishments, employee achievements and to set the tone for the coming year. 

    “I am continuously impressed with the people working for this agency that I meet across the great State of Texas,” said Texas A&M Forest Service Interim Director Al Davis. “Impressed, but not surprised. Before coming here to Texas A&M Forest Service, I heard about the great work that the agency does and now I am witnessing it first-hand.”

    A few of the agency 2021 highlights from the program were: 

    Texas A&M Forest Service contributed 330 personnel to the state’s COVID response effort. Personnel also engaged in Contact Tracing supporting the Texas Health and Human Services Department and provided personnel to the Texas Division of Emergency Management/Department of State Health Services warehouse to help receive, track and disburse millions of COVID-19 supplies and equipment. 

    Texas A&M Forest Service personnel responded to Winter Storm Uri by mobilizing a total of 196 personnel, using maintainers to clear 3,359 miles of roads and 4x4 vehicles to patrol 10,640 miles of highway and provide welfare checks and Meals-Ready-to-Eat (MREs).

    Following the winter storm, trees across the state showed significant branch and stem mortality, resulting in a very delayed leaf out. Texas A&M Forest Service teamed up with Neil Sperry, a Texas gardening and horticulture expert known across the state, along with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, to unify messaging of “wait and watch.” The May press release and subsequent Facebook post went viral, reaching over 600,000 views and spawned numerous media interviews and panel discussions. 

    Texas A&M Forest Service collaborated with The University of Texas at Austin to reduce the probability and impact of wildfires around the McDonald Observatory. In an effort to help protect world-renowned telescopes and cherished mountain landscapes they thinned thickets, raised the canopies of trees and eliminated brush that has built up over the past several decades of fire suppression. 

    Texas A&M Forest Service mobilized 259 responders, 18 engines and two dozers to 12 states for wildfire response this year: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington. 

    During the meeting, agency leadership recognized 72 employees for five years or more of service, including: Amy Burnett, Business Associate in New Boston for 25 years of service; Stephanie Elledge, Dispatcher in Hudson for 25 years of service; Donna Work, Biologist in Hudson for 30 years of service; and Brad Smith, Predictive Services Department Head in Austin for 40 years of service.

    Employees who consistently deliver excellent service above-and-beyond regular job duties were presented with Director’s Awards. 

    Director’s Award for Support Staff Field: Crystal Tice, Business Assistant, Merkel 

    Tice is recognized for her administrative support of the Northwest Branch of the Incident Response Department that includes 37 personnel and three task forces. 

    Director’s Award for Support Staff Office: Melissa Menn, Financial Specialist, College Station

    Menn is recognized for her knowledge of the many vendor payment and employee travel regulations and requirements that our with which our agency must comply, and performing her duties with professionalism and courtesy.

    Director’s Award for Support Staff Professional: Alicia Michalak, Administrative Coordinator, College Station

    Michalak is recognized for her leadership on the Employee Services Team, helping influence its efficiency and its reputation for service internally to our employees. 

    D.A. “Andy” Anderson Information and Education Award: Erin O’Connor, Program Specialist, College Station

    O’Connor is recognized for her information and outreach commitment to helping Texans become more aware of and be better informed about the importance of conserving Texas natural resources.

    Director’s Award for Technical Forestry: Courtney Blevins, Staff Forester, Fort Worth

    Blevins is recognized for his leadership in Urban and Community Forestry, assistance to landowners, homeowners, municipalities and other stakeholders and his management of Emerald Ash Borer in Fort Worth. 

    Charles Krenek Award for Resource Specialist: Grant Thedford, Resource Specialist, Jacksonville

    The Texas A&M Forest Service Resource Specialist supports the delivery of all agency programs. This could include working with landowners and fire departments, wildland firefighting and disaster response. Thedford is recognized for his leadership roles in wildland firefighting, state forest management operations, conservation education and mechanics. 

    Director’s Award for Team Effort: Sisters in Fire 

    Texas A&M Forest Service hosted the inaugural Sisters in Fire event in cooperation with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the USDA Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Austin Fire Department. This was a hands-on, learning experience for young women, ages 12-17, to explore wildland firefighting and emergency response led by an all-female cadre of instructors and support staff. 

    The Sisters in Fire cadre consisted of:
    Nicole Lang, Regional Fire Coordinator, Houston; Paige Purvis, Task Force Leader, Wolfforth; Ashley Johnson, Regional Fire Coordinator, Amarillo; Monica Harris, Regional Fire Coordinator, San Angelo; Chloe Lake, Resource Specialist, Amarillo; Britney Kelly, Resource Specialist, McGregor; Katy Raynes, Resource Specialist, Greenville; Tara Wilkins, Resource Specialist, Smithville; Heather Gonzales, Wildland Urban Interface Coordinator, Victoria; Erin O’Connor, Program Specialist, College Station; Harley Hudson, Resource Specialist Kirbyville; Michelle Honeycutt, Resource Specialist, Palestine; Kari Hines, Program Coordinator, La Grange; Linda Salzar, Fire Training Specialist, College Station; Mary Leathers, Capacity Building Specialist, McGregor; Emily Mitchell, Geospatial Analyst, Mineral Wells; Leighton Chachere, Communications Specialist, College Station; Kelly Reeves, Business Coordinator, Hudson; and Jacey Tosh, Program Coordinator, College Station.
    Texas A&M Forest Service is proud to recognize agency accomplishments and employee achievements while looking forward to the future and the coming year of service.


    Texas A&M Forest Service Communications Office, 979-458-6600,