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Michael Rucinski

Local Hero Gets Award for Rescuing Drowning Boys

A Starkville resident has been honored by the Department of the Interior for his heroism as a private citizen when he rescued two drowning boys from Bluff Lake in the Noxubee Refuge in March of 2006.

Michael Rucinski, 36, was awarded the Agency's Citizen's Award for Bravery, given to “private citizens for heroic acts of unusual bravery in the face of danger.”

Rucinski was fishing with his family when he spotted two young children, Garret Hoffman and his brother, Landon Hoffman, who were 12 and 10 years old at the time, playing in the spillway of Bluff Lake on Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge. Both children suddenly slipped and were carried by a strong current to a spot where the water was about 26 feet deep, and were followed by their mother, who was attempting to save them. Rucinski dove in the water and pulled both boys and the mother back to safety.

Rucinski received the award at the Department of the Interior's 64th annual convocation ceremony held May 9 in Washington, D. C. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne said the dedication and commitment of all honorees “serve as a guiding light to us all.”

The Rucinskis moved to Starkville after Hurricane Katrina. They had been living just north of Hattiesburg.

Governor Haley Barbour

Barbour Commends Forestry Commission

Governor Haley Barbour recently commended the Mississippi Forestry Commission (MFC) and its employees for their ongoing agency reorganization and efficiency improvements.

“Forestry has an annual economic impact of more than $13 billion in our state, and I'm pleased the Forestry Commission has improved its operations to better serve this important industry,” Governor Barbour said. “The chief job of the Mississippi Forestry Commission is protecting Mississippi's valuable forest lands against fire, and during a very dry season the agency and its dedicated employees have done an exceptional job.”

Under the leadership of the nine member Forestry Commission and State Forester Charlie Morgan, the MFC began to reorganize during Fiscal Year 2006. As a result, the commission has taken a business management approach to agency operations, including utilizing a cost-accounting system, enacting new organizational and operational changes, utilizing technology to streamline operations and establishing a Leadership Team to meet monthly on budget reviews, agency operations and other business considerations. Additionally, the MFC has a new centralized “State Dispatch” which allows radio communication to span across all government communications networks.

During the 2007 Legislative Session, the importance of the forestry industry was recognized and two positive bills were passed and signed into law by Governor Barbour. House Bill 1077 strengthens the practice of registered foresters in Mississippi, and House Bill 1628 increases the lifetime reforestation tax credit, which encourages proper reforestation through practices prescribed by registered foresters.

“The MFC is dedicated to providing quality service to the landowners and citizens of Mississippi in a cost effective manner,” said State Forester Charlie Morgan. “Hurricane Katrina created incredible wildfire protection and forest recovery challenges. Our agency has worked extremely hard in overcoming these challenges. I'm proud of the MFC’s employees and their dedication to caring for the state's valuable timber resource.”

After Hurricane Katrina, millions of blown down trees resulted in a record amount of fire fuel across the Gulf Coast and South Mississippi; as a result, wildfire activity increased five times in this region of the state. Under a new, more efficient structure, the MFC was able to successfully respond and extinguish the record number of fires, thus protecting thousands of acres of precious forest lands.

The MFC has also effectively utilized $11.8 million in federal funds for Hurricane Katrina Forest Recovery through facilitating re-inventory of public forest lands damaged by Katrina, having an increased capacity to provide wildfire protection through firefighting equipment and providing $1.32 million of funding to 34 cities and communities for urban forest recovery.

The MFC provides wildfire protection on nearly 19 million acres of Mississippi's forest land, which is nearly two-thirds of the state's total land areas. James L. Cummins, the executive director of Wildlife Mississippi, is a member of the Commission. For more information on this agency, please visit

Mark Rey

USDA Takes Leadership Role in Establishing Conservation-Based Credit Standards

In a far reaching move, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has proposed to facilitate and elevate the development of credit markets for conservation. In his recent presentation of the 2007 Farm Bill, USDA Secretary Mike Johanns announced an increase in incentive-based conservation funding over the next 10 years as well as a commitment to the expansion of the environmental markets, specifically the regulatory infrastructure. This initiative could result in exponential growth for the environmental restoration industry with a particular emphasis on performance-based and uniform standards.

The Farm Bill proposal, currently under review by Congress, includes a $50 million investment to invigorate environmental credit markets and recommends establishing a board to set standards for the ecosystem credit market. Its purview will include both existing and emerging markets such as wetlands and streams, habitat, water quality and carbon.

This initiative could result in exponential growth for the environmental restoration industry with a particular emphasis on performance-based and uniform standards.

As stated by Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment Mark E. Rey, “I look forward to the day when clean water, lower levels of greenhouse gases and protected wetlands can be traded as freely as corn or soybeans are today.”

Simpson Named To Natural Resources Post

Agriculture Under Secretary for Natural Resources Environment Mark Rey recently announced the appointment of Melissa M. Simpson as Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment. As deputy under secretary, Simpson will be responsible for policy relating to the programs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Forest Service.

“Melissa brings to this position extensive experience in public lands policy including forest management, wildfire, energy, wildlife, water, grazing and recreation issues,” Rey said. “Her understanding and appreciation of these issues will serve the USDA well as we proceed with the development and implementation of a new farm bill.”

Simpson most recently served as counselor to Rey. Prior to her appointment, she was counselor to the assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management at the Department of the Interior. From 2003 to 2005 she served as deputy director for External and Intergovernmental Affairs to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, where she worked with senior policy officials and stakeholders on a wide variety of natural resources issues involving conservation and management of public lands.

From 2001 to 2003 Simpson served as the senior legislative assistant for natural resources to Congressman Scott McInnis (Colorado, Retired), where she played a key role in the passage of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 and other natural resources legislation.

Simpson is from Colorado, a graduate of Colorado State University and Creighton University School of Law.

“I have known Melissa since 2002. Her extensive knowledge of natural resource policy will benefit the USDA and the Forest Service greatly. Our Nation is fortunate to have her fine service,” stated James L. Cummins, executive director of Wildlife Mississippi.