Michael Perry (center) after receiving the county’s Theodore Roosevelt Hillsborough Forever Conservation Award at the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners’ meeting on April 20. (Photo courtesy of Hillsborough County.)

By Linda Chion

The sixth annual Theodore Roosevelt Hillsborough Forever Conservation Award has been presented to a decorated Vietnam veteran who started his Florida Forest Service career as a towerman in a Valrico tower on the front lines of prescribed burns.

Michael Perry received the award from the Hillsborough County commissioners at their April 20 meeting. The conservation award is given annually to an individual or group for “attributes of true conservation stewardship,” including “integrity in performance toward conservation goals” and “persistence and dedication” to the long-term conservation of natural resources.

Keep America Beautiful received the award last, the first time a group was honored. According to Commissioner Stacy White, Perry received the award for his integral role in developing Hillsborough’s prescribed fire program.

Proponents of prescribed fires as a land management program said they promote healthy ecosystems by clearing out competing vegetation. Moreover, White said, the fires cycle nutrients into the soil, provide food for wildlife and stimulate growth and seed protection of fire-dependent plants.

According to county officials, Perry led an estimated 200 prescribed burns and helped contain 200 to 300 wildfires in the region, which White said made Perry “as equally comfortable fighting wildfires as he was leading prescribed burns.” White also said Perry served as “a passionate educator about these crucial and often misunderstood conservation efforts” and routinely met with residents both to promote and explain the benefits of prescribed burns and to lead wildlife fire training for volunteer firefighters.

“The firefighters, land managers and other experts who conduct prescribed burns, also called controlled fires, are unsung heroes,” White said. “Mr. Perry is synonymous with this essential practice in Hillsborough County.”

In return, Perry said it was “humbling to be up here today receiving this award,” and he thanked his family for their support and friends through the county’s Jan K. Platt Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program (ELAPP), which to date has protected more than 60,000 acres of rare and important habitat. Launched in 1987, the program was renamed in 2014 in honor of Platt, a former commissioner and lifelong advocate for environmental protection.

For more information on the April 20 board meeting, visit www.hcflgov.net.

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