SAN FRANCISCO — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Pacific Southwest Region has presented scientists Robert F. Holland, Ph.D. and Carol Witham with its prestigious Environmental Champion award at a ceremony in Mather, Calif. this week for their work protecting California vernal pools, a critical and highly vulnerable type of wetland, according to a press release.

“Vernal pools are unique ecosystems that have suffered a tragic decline — only about 10 percent of California’s historic vernal pools remain today,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “These seasonal wetlands are home to many rare species, and we appreciate the efforts of Dr. Holland and Ms. Witham to preserve them.”

Read more on EPA here.

The award ceremony today was held at the non-profit Splash Education Center, which was founded, in part, through Ms. Witham’s efforts and seeks to help children better understand the natural world through classroom instruction and field exploration, noted the release.

According to the release, Ms. Witham was instrumental in producing the school curriculum for the Splash Center, has written several field guides on vernal pool plants and ecology and started, a frequently-cited, comprehensive online source of California vernal pool information.

Dr. Holland’s influential work with vernal pool ecosystems spans more than 35 years, continued the release, with seminal mapping efforts in 1978 that provided the scientific community the first comprehensive baseline of vernal pool extent, distribution and loss, and more recently, both he and Ms. Witham re-mapped the state’s pools, revealing a troubling continued loss of vernal pool acreage.

Read the full release here.