Hartford, VT – Researcher, mentor, collaborator—these are just a few of the many hats that Chris Rimmer wears as the founding executive director of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE). On March 10, 2022, Rimmer received the David N. Pashley Lifetime Achievement award from Partners in Flight (PIF) to recognize his outstanding career, particularly his work in the Greater Antilles studying Bicknell’s Thrush (BITH). He is only the eighth person to have received this award.
Rimmer—who intends to retire in October 2022—is a prominent figure in Vermont’s conservation community and a well-deserving recipient of an award designed to acknowledge exceptional contributions to landbird conservation across the Americas. His research on BITH in northeastern U.S. mountaintop environments has yielded critical information that guides the conservation of this rare, elusive species. However, Vermont represents only a fraction of BITH’s breeding range, and of Rimmer’s conservation career.
Since 1994, his quest to better understand the wintering ecology of BITH has prompted yearly trips to the Dominican Republic (DR), as well as Haiti and Cuba. Although BITH initially drew him to those islands, he quickly learned that the montane forests where this globally vulnerable, olive-brown songbird overwinters support several critically endangered endemic bird, mammal, and amphibian species, underscoring the crucial need to conserve these habitats. During these expeditions, he also witnessed the devastation wrought from intensive land clearing and other human pressures.
“I knew that helping to build local partnerships and capacity would be essential to mitigating further habitat loss,” Rimmer explains. “After all, conservation is as much about people as it is ecology.”
In the decades since his first visit, Rimmer has worked closely with many organizations, local biologists, students, and amateur ornithologists, helping to build their capacity to become ecological stewards of Hispaniola’s unique biodiversity. Together, Rimmer and his collaborators have launched numerous programs to protect habitats on which BITH and other vulnerable local species rely. These programs include—but are not limited to—the “Two Countries—One Bird” initiative, International Bicknell’s Thrush Conservation Group (Rimmer served as founding chair), Reserva Privada Zorzal (the DR’s first-ever private reserve), and a payment for ecosystem services program. While deforestation remains a chronic issue, these initiatives have resulted in greater local awareness and conservation action, and ultimately a brighter future for BITH.
Rimmer is not the only “BITHnologist” who has received a PIF award. In 2019, close VCE partner Yolanda Leόn’s (Grupo Jaragua Board Chair) groundbreaking research and dedicated advocacy earned her PIF’s Individual Leadership Award. Other award winners recognized for BITH work in recent years include Randy Dettmers (2018) and David Mehlman (2019). Most notable among these three recipients is a shared commitment to collaboration, demonstrating that relationship building is essential for conservation success—particularly when protecting a vulnerable migratory species.
As he looks towards retirement later this year and reflects on his career, Rimmer fondly recalls the work that has landed him this outstanding honor. “I could not feel more fortunate to have been able to indulge my passion for birds in a career, to have immersed myself in studying Bicknell’s Thrush at both ends of its migratory range, and to have contributed in some small way to tangible conservation,” he says. “Field work in mountains of Vermont and the Caribbean has offered spectacular rewards, and we’ve gained fascinating ecological insights on this vulnerable songbird, but ultimately, the human connections and relationships I’ve forged are most meaningful and enduring for me.”
The David N. Pashley Lifetime Achievement award honors the legacy of conservationist David N. Pashley, whose inspiration and vision helped lead PIF through its first 30 years. Please visit PIF’s website for a complete list of all award winners.
To learn more about VCE’s projects and collaborators in the Caribbean, please visit our website.