Tennessee Wildlife Federation, one of the largest and oldest nonprofits dedicated to the conservation of Tennessee’s wildlife and natural resources, recently hosted its 53rd Annual Conservation Achievement Awards. The ceremony was held in Nashville and presented 16 awards to recipients from all corners of the state, including Chattanooga-based Tennessee Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation and journalist Mark Pace.
“Tennessee is the most biologically diverse inland state in the nation and we have a long and rich outdoor heritage in our state. No one organization or person can conserve it own their own,” said Michael Butler, CEO of Tennessee Wildlife Federation. “When our organization was just 20 years old, we started these awards to celebrate those making a meaningful difference to Tennessee’s natural resources. Even after fifty-plus years and more than 600 award winners, we are inspired by the work of this year’s honorees.”
Forest Conservationist of the Year
The Tennessee Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation has cultivated and transplanted more than 4,000 blight-resistant chestnut trees in hopes of restoring native forests to Tennessee. Further, the organization has developed assay testing for blight resistance and monitoring the health of chestnut tree specimens. These tests are being used regularly by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and as a learning tool for other conservation students and professionals.
Conservation Communicator of the Year – Mark Pace, Chattanooga
Mark Pace is a young but accomplished journalist who covers the outdoors and environment for Chattanooga Times Free Press. Eager to connect with his readers’ interests, Pace’s portfolio proves he is comfortable covering everything from outdoor recreation to conservation policy and wildlife management. His enthusiasm for the outdoors is sincerely conveyed through his writing and brings conservation issues to the forefront of the public consciousness.
On Target Award – Brian Weas, Dunlap
A shooting sports athlete himself, Brian Weas was inspired by his daughter to begin coaching Tennessee Scholastic Clay Target Program athletes. In turn, he has inspired many athletes and mentored them to higher levels of competition. Off the field, Weas is a strong advocate for the sport—finding and creating practice spaces to ensure everyone who is interested has the opportunity to participate.
J. Clark Akers, III Award – Andrea Waitt Carlton, Nashville
When she arrived in Nashville nine years ago, Andrea Waitt Carlton had already established herself as a champion of conservation by investing in projects in Iowa and the southwest United States. Since that time, the Andrea Waitt Carlton Family Foundation’s grants have provided the support Tennessee Wildlife Federation needed to propel the organization to where it is now, greatly expanding its program offerings, strategic capabilities, and staff capacity—and leveraging those enhanced offerings to ensure the Federation has strong footing moving forward.
Conservationist of the Year – Dr. Dwayne Estes, Clarksville
An accomplished professor, Dr. Dwayne Estes, also known as the “Prairie Preacher,” works hard to restore native grassland habitats and wildlife species to thriving levels. As such, Estes co-founded (along with Theo Witsell, Little Rock, AR) and serves as the executive director of the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative. In the past several years he has helped secure more than $1 million dollars in funding, including grants from the National Science Foundation. In addition to that role, Estes serves as a full professor of biology at Austin Peay State University, principal investigator for the Center of Excellence for Field Biology, and Curator of the Austin Peay herbarium, a plant museum with 120,000 specimens.
Chairman’s Award – Nicole Wood, Bonne Terre, Mo.
Nicole Wood’s conservation ethic runs deep. The daughter of an active Missouri conservationist, Wood grew up attending and eventually leading Conservation Federation of Missouri annual meetings before propelling herself to a national stage. For most of the past decade, Wood has served as a National Wildlife Federation board member and has liaised with Tennessee Wildlife Federation throughout her tenure. Wood has helped the Tennessee Wildlife Federation effectively package and share programs and initiatives with other affiliates, grow the organization, and impart the true meaning of conservation.
“Tennessee Wildlife Federation is proud to honor the tireless work of our award winners as examples for others to follow,” said Butler.
The ceremony was emceed by WSM and Grand Ole Opry personality, Bill Cody. Cody presented each award, which span from Youth Conservationist and Conservation Educator to Land Conservationist and the lifetime achievement Z. Cartter Patten Award.
The event was sponsored by Bridgestone, BDY Natural Sciences Consultants, and National Wildlife Federation. Other honorees of the 53rd Annual Conservation Achievement Awards are as follows.
Z. Cartter Patten Award for lifetime achievement in conservation – Don Barger of Knoxville, Tenn.
Conservation Legislator of the Year – Representative Charles Sargent of Franklin, Tenn.
Land Conservationist of the Year – Christie Peterson Henderson of Ashland City, Tenn.
Water Conservationists of the Year – Joyce Coombs of Corryton, Tenn.
Wildlife Conservationist of the Year – Charlie Chmielewski of Lenoir, Tenn.
Conservation Organization of the Year – Wolf River Conservancy based in Memphis, Tenn.
Conservation Educator of the Year – Ron Blair of Middleton, Tenn.
Youth Conservationist of the Year – Alexis Valentine of Gatlinburg, Tenn.
Hunter Education Instructor of the Year – Terry Gardner of Humboldt, Tenn.
Dan & Cherie Hammond Sharing the Harvest Award for outstanding support of Hunters for the Hungry – Representative Jimmy Eldridge, of Jackson, Tenn.
About Tennessee Wildlife Federation
Tennessee Wildlife Federation leads the conservation, sound management and wise use of Tennessee’s great outdoors. Since 1946, the Federation has led the development of the state’s wildlife policy, advanced landmark legislation on air and water quality and other conservation initiatives, helped restore numerous species, and introduced thousands of kids to the great outdoors. To learn more, visit tnwf.org.