AFWA Honors its 2021 Annual Awards Recipients

September 13, 2021

The Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) recognized seven individuals, two state agencies, one federal agency, one committee and one private landowner for their dedication to advancing fish and wildlife conservation at the Association’s Annual Awards Ceremony held both in person and virtually on September 13, 2021 in Providence, Rhode Island.

Jim Douglas received AFWA’s top honor, the Seth Gordon Award for lifetime achievement in conserving North America’s natural resources in the public trust and contributing to the programs of the Association.

Jim Douglas is an ultimate achiever who has dedicated over 47 years to the conservation of fish and wildlife, their habitats, and public awareness and involvement in the outdoors.  

Known among his colleagues as “the Statesman from Nebraska”, always espousing wisdom and yet humility, challenges our thinking yet exudes civility, the consummate professional, the consummate gentleman, Jim Douglas represents the very best of our profession.

John Tomke received AFWA’s John L. Morris Award which recognizes a lifetime commitment to fish and wildlife stewardship by citizen conservationists who have exhibited exemplary leadership at the highest level and demonstrated a steadfast commitment to large scale natural resource challenges.

Tomke’s outstanding contributions to fish and wildlife stewardship as a citizen embodies the progressive conservation work this award represents. John’s nonpartisan dedication to conservation is remarkable. He understands the politics and is steadfastly dedicated to the advancement of sound, science-based management and conservation of fish and wildlife. Few people are more deserving of an award recognizing contributions to fish and wildlife conservation from a national and global perspective.

Jason Sumners with the Missouri Department of Conservation received AFWA’s Earnest Thompson Seton Award for leadership in scientific management. Sumner’s has consistently demonstrated leadership, innovation, dedication, and a “can-do” attitude. Jason willingly takes on difficult tasks and shows true leadership and professionalism in representing the Department and the resources he is dedicated to managing.

The Arizona Game & Fish Department's Fair Chase Committee is the recipient of this year’s Boone and Crockett Club Award, which honors an agency and team leader for outstanding achievement in promoting and encouraging outdoor ethics.

In 2015 the Arizona Game and Fish Commission adopted a policy related to fair chase where then Arizona Game and Fish Department convened an ad hoc fair chase committee. Out of the Committee’s deliberations sprang the idea for a social media campaign to “popularize” the concept of fair chase – called the #IamFairChase Campaign.  The campaign was deemed a success! While the Department primarily ran the campaign, it was the public members of the Committee who were its thought leaders.

Kelly Adams with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is the Mark Reeff Memorial Award recipient for the outstanding young wildlife management professional under age 35.

Ms. Adams has demonstrated extraordinary leadership skills and commitment beyond her job title to influence other state agencies, NGOs and others with a passion for conservation. Kelly Adams is known around the office for her go-to-spirit and dependability and has become a leader in her organization.

This year’s recipient of AFWA’s Private Lands Fish and Wildlife Stewardship Award is Ian Tomlinson and the Vera Earl Ranch for their proactive conservation and environmental practices and exhibiting outstanding stewardship of fish and wildlife resources.

Mr. Tomlinson applies a strong conservation ethic in concert with the ranch business model.  Mr. Tomlinson and the Vera Earl Ranch work to promote a healthy ecosystem for all species and is currently working on a climate plan that will make his ranches more resilient in the future. Mr. Tomlinson is highly involved with the local conservation districts and community. Mr. Tomlinson embodies good stewardship in all aspects!

This year’s recipient of the Stephen Kellert Award is the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Public Affairs and Marketing Teams.  They were recognized for their Conserve and Protect Campaign which introduced people other than current customers to the agency; shifting the agency culture to be more proactive than reactive; their spanish-language media outreach that strived to reach a diverse audience and engaging nontraditional customers with opportunities to connect with wildlife and enjoy the outdoors; and the work of the Diversity Communications Work Group in their work to create a meaningful, sustainable culture shift driven by ongoing internal conversations and actions.

This award goes to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement’s Southern Surge Task Force. This innovative team conducts investigative operations on the frontlines of southern states combatting fraud, illegal commercialization of wildlife, smuggling and wildlife trafficking to protect our nation’s fish and wildlife resources. The Southern Surge Task Force stands as a shining example of the best of conservation law enforcement, exemplifying innovative strategies, investigative perseverance, inter-agency and inter-disciplinary collaboration, and above all, results in the fight against the criminal exploitation of our nation’s natural resources.

The Association presented two special recognition awards for outstanding commitment to the work of AFWA to Frank Peterson with the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, and Paul Rauch with Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration (WSFR) Program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Frank Peterson has been at the helm of the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF) as President and CEO since 2007, his leadership has produced unprecedented performance. The many RBFF initiatives developed and managed under Peterson’s leadership have contributed to marked increases in fishing license sales, attracted millions of new anglers to fishing, and helped grow the percentage of adults who participate in recreational boating to record numbers.

Paul Rauch is the senior spokesperson and decision maker for the delivery and management of wildlife and sportfish restoration dollars, as well as State Wildlife Grants, to state fish and wildlife agencies. Paul has demonstrated a tireless and proactive commitment to a state-federal partnership, through the capable execution of the WSFR program in collaboration with state fish and wildlife agencies.

The Association would like to pay tribute to the wildlife professionals, Fallen Heroes, who have lost their lives while carrying out their duties to enforce conservation laws and regulations and manage fish and wildlife resources within the past year.  These deceased professionals are Officer Steven Reighard with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Markus Guido Dyck, polar bear biologist for the Government of Nunavut (Canada), and Dana Katz, a freshwater fisheries biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 

The Association also presented posthumously the President’s Award to Dr. Valerius Geist (1938-2021) for exceptional leadership on international conservation issues, including the seminal articulation of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.


The Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies represents North America’s fish and wildlife agencies to advance sound, science-based management and conservation of fish and wildlife and their habitats in the public interest. The Association represents its state agency members on Capitol Hill and before the Administration to advance favorable fish and wildlife conservation policy and funding and works to ensure that all entities work collaboratively on the most important issues. The Association also provides member agencies with coordination services on cross-cutting as well as species-based programs that range from birds, fish habitat and energy development to climate change, wildlife action plans, conservation education, leadership training and international relations. Working together, the Association’s member agencies are ensuring that North American fish and wildlife management has a clear and collective voice.