Honored in 2020
Mike Davis, a career conservationist with the Minnesota Department of National Resources, was selected as the 2020 Achievement Award recipient for his outstanding efforts in river conservation. Beginning his career in conservation in 1986 as a creel clerk with the Minnesota DNR Fisheries in Lake City, Minn., Davis has spent more than 30 years in positions within the Minnesota DNR working on river-related issues.
He was the first team leader for the Lake City Long Term Resource Monitoring Program field station, served as the Habitat Rehabilitation and Enhancement Project (HREP) Coordinator helping plan many of Minnesota’s early HREPs, and has excelled as a mussel ecologist.
Over the course of his career, Davis has represented Minnesota DNR on a host of Upper Mississippi River state partnership activities. His early tenure with Minnesota DNR helped steer the department’s Mississippi River Team (MRT) towards a vision of a sustainable Mississippi River. Over the next three decades, that vision has directed the actions of the MRT, resulting in significant progress on floodplain restoration, water level management, and flow restoration across the Upper Mississippi River.
Among Davis’ most significant contributions are his leadership and commitment to freshwater mussel conservation. During the 1990s when invasive zebra mussels came to the Upper Mississippi River (UMR) system, Davis began collecting data and providing guidance to support the long-term health of mussel populations.
In 1999, a group of UMR system biologists, including Davis, took collective action to save the federally endangered Higgins Eye Mussel from extinction. Their efforts resulted in successfully stocking of over 50,000 sub-adult Higgins Eye Mussels and several million more young juveniles. Davis personally installed propagation cages in Pool 4 of the UMR, which produced juvenile Higgins Eye Mussels in a river setting. This technique later proved a valuable tool for production of sub-adult Higgins Eye Mussels for stocking.
Davis and his team were instrumental in establishing a state-of-the-art mussel propagation facility in Lake City, where they are currently doing research on Federal and State-listed species. In 2017, they achieved notoriety in the field of mussel conservation by becoming the first researchers to positively identify the host fish for the larvae of the Federally Endangered Spectaclecase Mussel, a discovery that is the envy of mussel propagation biologists nationwide.
Davis currently leads the Minnesota DNR Mussel Team stationed in Lake City. While his accomplishments are too numerous to include here, Davis and his staff continue to assist in the collection and propagation of mussels, which has expanded to include other Federal and State-listed species on the UMR and elsewhere. Davis is an active member of the Freshwater Mussel Conservation Society and as worked on fisheries and freshwater mussel issues on the Mississippi River from above the Twin Cities downstream to the Quad Cities—a distance of over 400 river miles.