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Alabama Power’s Baker selected Wildlife Biologist of the Year

Southern clubshell mussels and flattened musk turtles, trispot darters and rainbow trout fishes, tulotoma snails and wildfowl that sing: These are a few of Jeff Baker’s favorite things.

“I’m not sure that any day is typical and that’s one of the things that is most gratifying about the work I get to do,” said Baker, a biologist for Alabama Power Environmental Affairs. “Although some things sometimes become routine, you always seem to get to experience something new.”

Whether he’s working to improve the status of threatened gopher tortoises in longleaf pine forests or capturing and releasing endangered Black Warrior waterdogs in remote streams, Baker’s job entails a daily effort to fulfill the dreams he had when earning a bachelor’s degree in biology at UAB and a master’s in fisheries at Auburn University. The Alabama Chapter of The Wildlife Society (ACTWS) recently named him Wildlife Biologist of the Year.

Alabama Power biologist Jeff Baker snaps a photo of a native plant at Smith Lake. (Meg McKinney / Powergrams)

Baker, 49, was born in Pell City, where he lives with his wife, two children and a farm full of pets. He has worked full time with Alabama Power since 2006. Baker is the fourth recipient of the ACTWS award, but the first who was not employed by a government environmental agency.

“It is truly a great honor, of which I am extremely proud, particularly because the award is coming from my esteemed peers who are exceptional biologists,” Baker said of the award from the state branch of the international society founded in 1937, which has more than 11,000 members. “I’d like to point out that the award really is for the entire biology team. We have a small team of biologists here and Chad Fitch and Dylan Shaw are both working on similar, if not the same, projects and with some of the same people. It’s really an award for the work that we, as a team, are or have been doing.”

ACTWS President Allison Cochran said the chapter’s annual award is presented to a biologist who, in the opinion of the awards committee, has made outstanding contributions to wildlife conservation in Alabama. ACTWS is a professional organization that serves and represents professionals in all areas of wildlife conservation and resource management.

“It is dedicated to the scientific conservation of wildlife resources and to furthering the education of those involved with, or interested in, wildlife conservation,” said Cochran, a U.S. Forest Service biologist based at Bankhead National Forest. “ACTWS promotes rigorous professional ethics for wildlife scientists and managers, facilitates the exchange of technical information and works to influence legislation impacting wildlife resources.”

Cochran said in addition to Baker’s “stellar wildlife conservation work in the field,” he serves peers through an active role in ACTWS and several other conservation groups in the state.

Baker’s job involves wildlife statewide as he surveys rare, threatened and endangered species ahead of proposed projects to help avoid and minimize impacts to animals and their habitat. He performs fish surveys on Alabama Power reservoirs, while also identifying wetlands in other areas. Baker said the kind of animals they work with can change with the seasons.

“Ultimately, what I would like to accomplish in this role is to help the company continue its legacy of environmental stewardship in the state,” Baker said. “Being an electric utility, public perception can sometimes be negative when it comes to our role within the environmental space. I take great pride in being able to help change that perception and showcase our commitment to responsible environmental stewardship.”

Baker said he enjoys working with like-minded conservation partners across Alabama.

“It’s rewarding to see various groups, sometimes with different perspectives, share a common interest and conserving something that many people get to benefit from and enjoy,” he said.

Alabama Power biologist Chad Fitch, left, checks traps along Smith Lake while company biologist Jeff Baker takes notes. (Meg McKinney / Powergrams)

Baker frequently works alongside Jason Carlee, manager of Environmental Affairs Water Field Services, who said the ACTWS award is recognition of Baker’s efforts as well as Alabama Power’s commitment to conservation.

“Jeff’s selfless attitude and willingness to help others allow him to build strong relationships with other biologists and organizations around the state,” Carlee said. “This, combined with his commitment to practicing sound science and protecting Alabama’s fish and wildlife, makes him well-deserving of this award.”

Baker said he looks forward to mentoring the next generation of biologists, relishing the role of passing on what he has learned in the laboratory and field.

“My future aspirations are to become a better biologist and continue to grow in my role with the company and the other conservation partners that we work with collaboratively,” he said.