By STEVEN NALLEY
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will hold a renaming ceremony for what will become the Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge 10 a.m. Friday at 2970 Bluff Lake Road on the refuge.
Hamilton was named director of the USFWS in September 2009, but his tenure was cut short when he died suddenly in February 2010. His 30-year career with USFWS included restoration work in the Everglades and in areas damaged by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita.
U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and U.S. Representative Gregg Harper, R-Miss., introduced legislation to rename the NWR in Hamilton’s honor in early 2011, and it passed in February 2012. In a press release following the legislation’s passage, Harper said the renaming was a fitting tribute to Hamilton’s commitment to wildlife conservation, USFWS and Noxubee NWR.
“Sam Hamilton had a long and personal history with the Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge,” Harper said, “where he caught his first fish at age 5 and began his conservation career at age 15.”
In the same press release, Cochran said the renaming honors Hamilton’s service to Mississippi and the nation as a whole. Cochran serves on the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission and is part of a subcommittee that funds USFWS.
“Mississippi’s natural beauty inspired Sam Hamilton’s appreciation for natural resources and wildlife habitat preservation,” Cochran said. “I appreciate my colleagues in the Senate and House for agreeing to this appropriate tribute.”
Steve Reagan, project leader for Noxubee NWR and the Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge, said guest speakers slated for the ceremony include USFWS Southeast Regional Director Cindy Dohner, USFWS Director Dan Ash, Sam Hamilton’s wife Becky Hamilton and many more. After the remarks, the sign bearing NWR’s new name will be unveiled.
“All signs will be replaced by the end of the day Friday displaying the new name,” Reagan said. “Many of the older signs needed to be replaced due to age and wear, but normally, replacement would occur over a one- to two-year process. The public may still see a few signs along outlying highways that reference Noxubee NWR; these signs are maintained by the state and county highway departments.”
Reagan said he first met Hamilton when Hamilton was the USFWS’s Southeast Regional Director. He said Hamilton went out of his way to say hello to every employee regardless of position, demonstrating concern for them.
“Sam had a great interest in ensuring the Fish and Wildlife Service provided the best resources possible for both the wildlife and that these resources were protected for the benefit of the American public,” Reagan said. “Sam was a leader that looked toward the future and challenged the Fish and Wildlife Service to ask, ‘What next we could do to make a difference?’”
Throughout his career, Hamilton maintained a special connection with Noxubee NWR, Reagan said, one that dates back to his first summer there as part of the Youth Conservation Corps.
“(It) seems to me working the one summer on the refuge started a spark within Sam that continued to build until his untimely passing,” Reagan said. “It is my hope that renaming the refuge after Sam is not just for Sam’s honor but can also be a light to other youth demonstrating what possibilities there are in this world and how national wildlife refuges can help them in finding their role.”