- MassWildlife's Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program
- Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
Media Contact for Founding leader of MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program retires
Marion Larson, MassWildlife
After nearly 35 years of service, Dr. Tom French has retired from his positon as Assistant Director of MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP). Tom was hired in 1984 to lead the then newly-formed NHESP. With advanced degrees in zoology, ecology, and systematics, Tom was one of the first MassWildlife employees to not have a traditional game management background, and was the first employee hired to hold a PhD. Tom’s unique background and experience helped NHESP grow to what it is today, one of the strongest rare species programs in the country.
Beginning with just four staff, NHESP has since grown to twenty-nine as the Program’s responsibilities multiplied over time. Milestones along the way include the creation of the state’s first regulatory list of endangered, threatened, and special concern species (1985), passage of the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MESA) in 1990, promulgation of MESA regulations (1992), publication of the first BioMap (2001), partnering with Mass DOT to create the Linking Landscapes Program (2009), publishing the 14th edition of the Priority Habitat Maps to aid in regulatory review for rare species (2017), and more. During these 35 years, bald eagles and peregrine falcons have returned to Massachusetts to nest and have flourished, populations of red-bellied cooters have expanded and stabilized, and northern right whales have become the center of extensive conservation attention. By all measures, Tom leaves behind an incredible legacy and leaves NHESP well positioned to tackle conservation challenges into the future.
Although in a managerial position, Tom didn’t just sit at a desk. He remained active in field work, especially when it came to scaling buildings, bridges, and cliffs to band peregrine falcons. He gave numerous talks and published countless articles on the conservation work of NHESP. He dissected prey item remains and prepared whale skeletons for museum collections throughout the country. Tom is a naturalist who is passionate about conservation and his active role in it.
MassWildlife is losing a great resource, friend, and advocate for the rare animals and plants of Massachusetts. However, NHESP will continue on, like the well-oiled machine that it is, because of Tom’s leadership and dedication in making the Program what it is today.
Best wishes on your retirement, Tom!