Gov. Ron DeSantis has recognized Nathan “Nate” Bunting, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), with the Jim Stevenson Resource Manager of the Year award, one of Florida’s highest environmental honors. Bunting has served for over 15 years at the Apalachee Wildlife Management Area in the Florida Panhandle and has worked tirelessly to restore the WMA after it was devastated by Hurricane Michael in October 2018.
The award, presented to Bunting by FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton in a virtual ceremony on Feb. 22, recognizes outstanding resource management achievements by resource managers who protect state properties.
“We are so proud to have Nate as a member of the FWC family,” said Sutton. “His years of dedicated service to Apalachee WMA and his resilience in the face of Hurricane Michael demonstrate that he is an outstanding land manager, and an example to all of us in strength and leadership.
For well over a decade, Bunting has been thoughtfully and consistently improving the natural communities on the WMA, to the benefit of its native flora and fauna, and all Floridians. Under his management, native wildlife, such as the fox squirrel, Bachman’s sparrow, bobwhite quail and white-tailed deer, have thrived as have native plants, including two rare and endangered species, gentian pinkroot and the woodland poppymallow. He has also been a leader in the field of prescribed fire, working with land managers across the state to promote the use of this safe and highly effective land management tool.
“Nate represents the finest example of the spirit and ‘can-do’ attitude needed to manage the natural ecosystems of this state,” said Greg Seamon of the Prescribed Fire Training Center, who wrote a letter supporting Bunting’s nomination for the award.
Bunting’s dedication and work ethic have been made even more apparent in the aftermath of the hurricane. During the storm’s onslaught, Bunting, his wife Kelly and daughter Norah, took shelter in a bulldozer, watching through the fogged-up windows as everything around them seemed to be destroyed by the storm’s ferocious 150 mph winds. Since that day, Bunting has worked to restore the landscape on the WMA, where nearly 100% of the trees were broken or blown over, so that Apalachee WMA can continue to provide quality habitat for wildlife and be enjoyed by those seeking wildlife-centric outdoor recreation.
“In the most discouraging and seemingly impossible situation, Nate has shown, in his management and the results we all see, what natural resource management is meant to be,” said Angela Griffin of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who also wrote a letter of support for his nomination. “His tireless efforts, knowledge and dedication to the property, and the results he achieves prove he is an exemplary natural resource manager.”
The hurricane recovery effort led by Bunting has included salvage logging operations and tree debris removal on over 2,076 acres, resulting in 95,525 tons of hurricane debris removed. Nate and his staff also cleared 14 miles of public access roads, 6 miles of firebreaks and over a mile of canals. We congratulate Nate Bunting as FWC’s Resource Manager of the Year.
To learn more about Florida’s WMAs, visit MyFWC.com/WMAs.