The Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) recognized 15 individuals 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 20, 2022 in Fort Worth, Texas.
Seth Gordon Award
The Seth Gordon Award is the highest award conferred upon a conservation professional by the Association. Pennsylvania native Seth Gordon was Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and he provided a “half century of inspired leadership and distinguished service in natural resources management” including serving as the Association’s President from 1940-1941.
The Seth Gordon Award recipient for 2022 is Carter Smith, Director, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, someone known and loved by all at the Association for his impactful career, stellar leadership, and dedication to the public trust doctrine both within his home state and on the national stage. There is no greater praise than that from one’s peers, and about this individual Past-President and Missouri Director Sara Parker Pauley wrote that this director “…epitomizes the best of this nation’s conservation leaders. As one of the most tenured state fish and wildlife directors in the United States, he continues to exhibit a passion for the resources, as well as for the public he serves. His charismatic yet calming style, mixed with a critical-thinking skillset and professionalism like none other, have made him a model and mentor to me and many other professionals that have crossed his path.”
Oklahoma Director J.D. Strong noted that “very early in my career I latched onto this person as someone I could trust to provide sound advice and well-reasoned direction when it comes to the tough decisions we often have to make in our positions. His contributions to fish and wildlife conservation in this country are vast, and the rewards from his contributions will be reaped by Americans for generations to come."
Carter’s career is rooted in The Nature Conservancy, including service as the Texas State Director for TNC. In 2008 he was appointed the Executive Director for Texas Parks and Wildlife where he has stewarded his team and the resources of the Lone Star State with distinction. Carter has been a selfless leader within the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, serving on the Executive Committee, Chairing the Nominating Committee, and Chairing the Teaming with Wildlife Committee, to name a few of his contributions. He has been tireless in his support for Recovering America’s Wildlife Act and we trust we will celebrate with him, before he retires in January 2023, the passage of that legacy legislation.
John L. Morris Award
The John L. Morris Award recognizes a lifetime of leadership by a citizen conservationist to large-scale natural resource challenges in keeping with the conservation vision of John L. Morris, Founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops.
This year’s recipient is George Dunklin, Jr. of Humphrey, Arkansas. George has been an unwavering advocate for natural resources conservation and a leader in North American waterfowl and wetland conservation action for many years. As a commissioner of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, from 2005 to 2012, George’s volunteer leadership was critical in conceptualizing, funding, and implementing major wetland protection, restoration, and enhancement projects to benefit the agency and the state. His foresight helped lay the groundwork for today’s ongoing bottomland hardwood forest restoration efforts in Arkansas.
George’s conservation actions extend far beyond the borders of his native Arkansas. He has served as a Ducks Unlimited volunteer for more than three decades, culminating in a term as DU president. He has worked behind the scenes, “working with the world of politics, without being political,” to advance national conservation priorities, including funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and support for the Duck Stamp. Waterfowl and their habitats have had no greater citizen champion than George Dunklin.
Ernest Thompson Seton Award
The Ernest Thompson Seton Award honors an individual and agency for leadership in scientific management.
This year’s award goes to Director Austin Booth and Deputy Director Brad Carner with the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, for their thought leadership campaign to conserve flooded timber in Arkansas.
Their leadership among and alongside the Arkansas Game and Fish family is driven by the due recognition that the changing landscape of waterfowl management has the potential to affect Arkansas’ outdoor legacy on a national scale. They are driving a research investment in wetland, moist soils, and flooded forest ecology, coupled with an outreach campaign to hunters, landowners, and land managers – the so-called “fresh approach with friends” – to secure a future of heathy ecosystems for waterfowl, other wildlife, and the citizens of the state for generations to come.
Mark J. Reeff Memorial Award
The Mark J. Reeff Memorial Award recognizes a distinguished, young wildlife professional under the age of 35. This year’s recipient is Dr. Nicole Angeli, Director, Division of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
Dr. Angeli was nominated by her peers and colleagues in the fish and wildlife division for her incredible achievements in championing and safeguarding the natural resources of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Nicole grew up in Hershey, Pennsylvania where she quickly developed a love for science and the outdoors. She went on to secure degrees at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, and Texas A and M. Along this path of lifelong learning, she developed “a love for all things cold-blooded” under the tutelage of renowned reptile academics and practitioners. She has published more than 30 scientific papers and written chapters for three textbooks. Nicole’s work has been instrumental for advancing high quality and meaningful research in the Caribbean, setting the stage for science-based management decisions. The Association family is excited about, and grateful for, her ardent professional interest in its policy work.
Private Lands Fish & Wildlife Stewardship Award
This award honors an individual or family-run farm, ranch, or forest property that has incorporated proactive conservation practices of importance to fish and wildlife.
This year, the Association recognizes Albert Sommers, owner of Sommers Ranch, a third-generation, 1,876-acre ranch in western Wyoming. This working ranch, focused on hay and livestock production, is part of the largest conservation and public access easement in the state -- in collaboration with a neighboring landowner, it exceeds 19,000 acres total.
This easement commitment by the Sommers family was driven by a fundamental appreciation that an economically viable ranch and intact wildlife habitats are not mutually exclusive. They are always supportive of fish and wildlife management efforts on the ranch. One regional Wyoming Game and Fish biologist noted: “Albert has spent a lifetime living and working around wildlife in western Wyoming. He understands and appreciates the role and importance of all wildlife on the landscape, and strongly supports common-sense conservation measures to ensure thriving wildlife populations into the future.
Stephen Kellert Award
This award recognizes a distinguished individual or group effort for outstanding service in advancing connections between humans and the natural world to all peoples in a diverse and inclusive manner.
This year’s award goes to Dr. Elsa Haubold, Deputy Assistant Director, Science Applications, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Elsa is a shining example of all that this award embodies. She is passionate about connecting all people to nature and creating a welcoming and diverse professional workforce. She believes that diversity within our organizations helps foster diversity among people in the outdoors and their enjoyment of nature. Everyone benefits.
Elsa works tirelessly to adapt our conservation institutions to new realities that are emerging in the social, technological, environmental, economic, and political contexts of contemporary conservation delivery. Her passion is fueled by adaptive learning, systematic thinking, and organizational design principles, all rooted in exceptional relationship skills, across the spectrum of conservation institutions.
Elsa was instrumental in developing the Association’s Relevancy Roadmap, and she is playing a large role in its implementation in several different areas.
Conservation Law Enforcement Award
The Conservation Law Enforcement Award recognizes exceptional achievement in fish and wildlife resource enforcement. This year the award goes to Marine Warden Patrick (Mike) Neal with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Mike was hired in 1994 and now works on northern Lake Michigan and in 2021 he was named the Wisconsin Warden of the Year. The award nomination highlights a record of patrol, investigation, and innovation excellence that has earned him the respect of his peers, colleagues, and supervisors. His instructional, public relations, and personal relationship skills, all rooted in a sincere dedication to public service, are second to none.
In sum, from the nomination letter, “Mike is wholly invested in doing great daily in all areas of the job and is a standout in our agency. Mike has made a significant effort to ensure the public is safe while recreating in Wisconsin and he’s committed to protecting our natural resources and making a difference in his community.”
Special Recognition Awards
Paul Johansen is the Director of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Section. Paul has an exceptional record of service to the Association, as well as to the northeast and southeast regional associations, on many fronts. Tonight’s recognition is for his leadership on behalf of the National Bobwhite and Grasslands Conservation Initiative. He has proven to be a steady and trusted leader, against a backdrop of uncertainty for the Initiative’s future, by providing wisdom, leveraging relationships, and offering an unwavering commitment to the importance of the bobwhite quail, its habitat, and those who value this iconic species.
Jenifer Wisniewski is the Director of Marketing and Special Projects for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Jenifer has worked tirelessly to elevate marketing precepts and constructs to the forefront of state agency priorities, especially with regards to R3. Jenifer is the Chair of the Association’s Outreach and Marketing Working Group where she has created space for critical conversations and key community projects. She was a driver in developing and piloting the Association’s Making It Last marketing campaign and toolkit, resulting in greater awareness of, and appreciation for, the work member agencies do on behalf of all citizens.
Gary Whelan is a Fisheries Program Manager with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. In this role, he is responsible for fisheries research and fish health programs. Among Gary’s many regional and national contributions to conservation was his supporting role in the establishment of the National Fish Habitat Program. He has chaired the science and data committee, for this Program, from the outset and he was instrumental in leading the first-ever national fish habitat assessment that was published under the title, Through a Fish’s Eye. Gary is a highly engaged, respected, and trusted fisheries professional and we are grateful for his contributions to the Association.
Becky Humphries is the President and CEO of the National Wild Turkey Federation. Many of us have been fortunate to work with Becky during her 40+ year career in conservation. Beginning as a property specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in 1978, Becky advanced through the leadership ranks of that agency and broke through a number of glass ceilings along the way – including the first female chief of the wildlife division and its first female director in 2004. After her successful tenure in state government, Becky began work on the NGO side of conservation by serving in leadership positions with Duck Unlimited and the National Wild Turkey Federation. Becky served on the Association’s Executive Committee for a number of years, was a member of the Blue Ribbon Panel, and has been a strong advocate for comprehensive, science-based responses to wildlife disease; chronic wasting disease, in particular. We wish her the very best when she retires in March 2023.
Howard Vincent is the President and CEO of Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever, a position he has held for over 20 years. During his tenure, Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever has grown into one of the most respected wildlife conservation organizations in the country with 400,000 members, supporters, and partners. The Habitat Organization has delivered more than 22 million acres of conservation through intentional collaborative partnerships benefitting monarchs, sage grouse, and grassland species at landscape scales. Howard has been a strong advocate for the work of state fish and wildlife agencies, especially Farm Bill and agriculture policy, and broader conservation funding. We have all benefitted from his sincere engagement with statements or questions like -- “We’re in,” “What do you need?” and “How can we help?” Howard, we wish Wendy and you the very best in retirement in the coming years.
Gary Taylor Award
The Gary Taylor Award recognizes a fish and wildlife professional that has embraced and practiced the art of monitoring, developing, and implementing policy in the interest of state, provincial, and territorial fish and wildlife agencies. Jen Mock Schaeffer, past Government Affairs Director for the Association, who learned the craft of effective governmental policy from Gary Taylor, is the recipient of this year’s award.
As Government Affairs Director, Jen devoted herself to defending the authority of state fish and wildlife agencies to manage public trust resources within their borders for the benefit of citizens and future generations. She supported the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, advocated for broader, sustainable funding of fish and wildlife agencies, and made the case for science-based sustainable use of fish and wildlife resources before Congress, the federal Administration, and non-governmental organizations. Among the highlights of her work was drafting the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act and being elected by her peers to serve as Chair of the American Wildlife Conservation Partners. Jen voluntarily left the Association to spend more time with her aging parents and family, in Texas, from where she continues to serve the conservation community. As one person noted, in his letter of support for her nomination, “she earned the deepest respect of her state partners for her professionalism, dignity, and dedication.”
Fallen Heroes, who have lost their lives while carrying out their duties to enforce conservation laws and regulations and to manage fish and wildlife resources within the past year - Officer Mike Trujillo, Colorado Parks & Wildlife; Kyle Patterson, Senior Investigator, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission