Virtual award ceremonies to name more than 200 employees of the Bureau of Land Management throughout the nation as “Unsung Heroes” of the U.S. Department of Interior’s 2020 COVID response were recently conducted, and a handful of those employees were from the BLM-Vale District, with three being stationed out of the Vale office.

Three ceremonies were held to acknowledge valuable behind-the-scenes contributions during the pandemic.

Despite the challenging times, these employees fought wildland fires, inspected oil and gas operations, kept recreation sites open and safe for visitors, performed field work, and provided critical administrative support, among other vital functions.

In opening remarks, Deputy Secretary of the Interior Kate MacGregor honored the award recipients for their unfailing commitment to their jobs and their dedication to the American people during the challenges brought on by the pandemic.

Mike Nedd, BLM Deputy Director for Operations, emceed the events and shared his sincere appreciation for the award winners. “You represent the best of BLM, and too often, you do not receive the recognition you deserve for your hard work and dedication,” Nedd said. “Each of you continues to go above and beyond what is needed to perform your job everyday throughout the pandemic. For that, we are extremely grateful.”

BLM State and Assistant Directors then acknowledged each awardee from their office and provided a few examples of what these Unsung Heroes have accomplished despite the complexities caused by the pandemic.

Vale employees who were recognized include Wade Frisby and Heather Hill of the Vale District Office, who led crews to repair and restore a number of remote recreation sites outside of Baker City.

Also receiving an award for her work out of the Vale office was Madeline Fischer, a fire prevention technician. She jumped in to help recreation staff put out signage and close recreation sites during the pandemic. With sites spread across five million acres, Fischer put in lots of miles to help get these signs put in place.

Others employed by the Vale District BLM, but stationed elsewhere, also earned awards.

This includes Annie Franks, forestry technician at the Baker Field Office, who continued implementing Phase 2 of the Windy-Cornet Fire Reforestation Planting Project that was planned for this past spring. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Baker Field Office had to cancel the planned tree planting contract. However, 30,000 western larch seedlings had already been delivered and were therefore destined for a compost pile. To avoid this, Franks scrounged up some planting tools and seedling bags and organized a volunteer planting team.

John-Luc Metz, maintenance lead at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, was also recognized. He led the effort to perform additional deep cleanings, procure and install additional hand sanitizer stations and address staff concerns, while the facility was still open at the beginning of the pandemic.

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