The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission (TPW) recognized a Texas Parks and Wildlife commissioner, a game warden and a wildlife biologist during a meeting on Thursday, May 27, for their contributions and efforts supporting the agency mission.
Jeanne Latimer Received Special Recognition as Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioner
Former Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioner Jeanne W. Latimer received special recognition for her contributions throughout her six-year term.
Latimer was appointed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott on November 17, 2015 and participated in numerous commission actions to advance the conservation of the natural resources of Texas and associated outdoor recreation. These actions included numerous modifications to hunting and fishing regulations to enhance natural resources while also expanding outdoor recreational opportunities.
Latimer was also actively engaged in the approval of strategic additions to existing State Parks and Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) state-wide, including two significant new additions, Palo Pinto Mountains State Park in north Texas and the Powderhorn WMA and State Park along the coast.
In addition to advancing outdoor recreation activities, Latimer served as a member of the Commission’s Audit Subcommittee. She assisted in the selection of a new Internal Audit Director and provided invaluable input and guidance on internal audit functions within the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). She was also supportive of agency personnel and routinely demonstrated her appreciation by participating in TPWD’s Employee Recognition Awards Program.
Latimer was actively engaged in a wide array of conservation topics during her six-year term. She was particularly involved in matters related to emerging diseases such as white-nose syndrome in bats and chronic wasting disease in deer. Her continued interest in these significant conservation challenges is exemplified by her recent appointment to the Chronic Wasting Disease Task Force by the directors of TPWD and Texas Animal Health Commission.
Raj Ataya Named 2021 NASBLA Texas Boating Law Enforcement Officer of the Year
Game Warden Officer Raj Ataya was named the 2021 National Association of State Boating Law Administration (NASBLA) Texas Boating Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. This award recognizes an officer who has made outstanding contributions to the field of boating law enforcement.
Ataya is stationed in Orange County, where he regularly patrols all of its major waterbodies for recreational water safety enforcement. As a coastal game warden, he has the added responsibility of patrolling coastal marshes, bays, and the Gulf of Mexico for recreational and commercial fishing, shrimping and crabbing activity throughout the year.
During Tropical Storm Imelda in September 2019, Ataya ferried multiple people to safety along IH-10 in Vidor in a flat-bottom boat and later went through flooded neighborhoods in an airboat and offered stranded residents a ride to higher ground. He was instrumental in relaying missions from the Orange County Emergency Operations Center to one of five airboat teams to check on citizens who had called in for assistance or had family members that were unable to reach them. Ataya responded again in similar fashion when two major hurricanes – Laura and Delta – struck Southeast Texas in the fall of 2020.
During recreational boating season, Ataya was dispatched by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office to three different search and rescue missions after dark for disabled vessels since there is no towing service on the water in his area. On at least two occasions, he worked with his counterparts from the Lousiana Department of Wildlife and Fishieries Game Wardens to locate missing vessels on the Sabine River.
Ataya also engages in many education efforts. Despite COVID-19, he was able to provide a water safety program to Vidor High School and Vidor Middle School shortly before the lockdowns began. Additionally, Ataya presented a yearly program at a Bridge City City Council meeting to discuss new water safety laws and provide reminders about water safety.
Chris Gregory Named Inaugural James “Randy” Fugate Memorial Wildlife Division Professional of the Year Award
TPWD Wildlife Biologist Chris Gregory was the inaugural recipient of the James “Randy” Fugate Memorial Wildlife Division Professional of the Year award.
This award was established in 2020 to honor the memory of former Wildlife Division employee, Randy Fugate, and to recognize Wildlife Division staff who, like Randy, possess a true appreciation for all aspects of his or her daily activities. This award seeks to recognize a staff member who demonstrates a positive attitude toward all aspects of his or her position, has an ability to provide high quality customer service and has the capacity to build trusting relationships.
Gregory is a Texas native and received a degree in Wildlife Management from Texas Tech University in 1984 and then a degree in Range Management in 1985. While in college, Gregory served as a TPWD intern on the Chaparral WMA. In 1989, Gregory was hired as the TPWD biologist for Polk and the surrounding counties, where he has remained for the entirety of his more than 30-year career with TPWD.
Gregory is known, appreciated, and spoken fondly of by fellow TPWD staff across the state and across divisions as an individual with true passion for his job, genuine interest in others, and an infectious positive attitude. He is adept at providing information in both technical and informal contexts and has an amazing ability to communicate with a wide-ranging audience, whether a landowner, hunter, school group, or another biologist.
Gregory gracefully takes on all aspects of his job while maintaining a smile as big as Texas, and often asks the question to his fellow TPWD colleagues, “Can you believe they pay us to do this?” Chris is admired and respected by his colleagues, local landowners, hunters, community groups, and local businesses and is considered a person “people are better off knowing.”