Celebrating Governor’s Conservation Heroes at annual awards banquet

North Carolina Wildlife Federation presented its 53rd Annual Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards on Sept. 10 to 19 winners dedicated to conservation in North Carolina.

This year’s winners are a who’s who of conservation stalwarts who work for species ranging from elk, amphibians, fish and bear and from water quality experts, land stewardship advocates and those helping to preserve unique ecosystems. The award winners include agency professionals, elected officials, academia, non-profit leaders and organizations rising to the challenge.

The North Carolina Wildlife Federation first presented its conservation awards in 1958. “Each year we are amazed at the commitment and creativity of North Carolina citizens in protecting wildlife and wild places,” stated T. Edward Nickens, NCWF’s Master of Ceremonies. “Many of our award winners tell us their Governor’s Conservation Achievement Award represents the high point of their career – whether they are full-time scientists or full-time volunteer conservationists.”

Governor Pat McCrory in his congratulatory remarks to the winners stated, “We know that from the mountains to the coast, North Carolina is the best state in the country and a key philosophy of mine, and our administration, has always been to ‘leave North Carolina a better state than when we found it.’ You understand this philosophy better than anyone and you are one of the reasons why our state has a quality of life that is second to nobody and I want to thank you for your conservation efforts. You are the best of our state.”

View Photos from the Awards Banquet

Winners and categories:

Marine Fisheries Enforcement Officer of the Year

Gene Maready, Columbia
From patrolling heavily fished coastal waters to keeping an eye out for anglers in distress, Gene Maready made a huge impact on northeastern North Carolina’s sounds and rivers. He made a number of significant cases involving the illegal use of commercial gear, violations of size and creel limits for fish and crabs, recreational and commercial license violations, the illegal sale of seafood and larceny of gear. In addition, he participated in undercover operations and saved a capsized fisherman from dying of hypothermia in the winter cold.

Wildlife Enforcement Officer of the Year

Isaac R. Hannah, Casar
Isaac Hannah demonstrates a professional and personal demeanor dealing with the public he serves and engages with the local community to educate them on hunter safety, boating safety and assistance with wildlife related issues. He was instrumental in establishing the largest public shooting complex in the Southeast, and led poaching cases and search and rescue operations. All along, he leads efforts to increase boating safety and community engagement with youth, disabled individuals, and other law enforcement agencies.

Business Conservationist of the Year

ReVenture Park, Charlotte
This innovative “brownfield” restoration site is transforming more than 600 acres of Superfund-designated land into a hub for renewable energy, recycling and wildlife habitat restoration. The ReVenture Park includes vast wildlife meadows, riparian buffers, a conservation easement protecting land, prescribed burns for management, and public use of nature trails.

Conservation Organization of the Year

Save Blounts Creek, Chocowinity
Coastal Beaufort County is the site of a proposed 50-year open marine limestone pit mine that would send 12 million gallons of groundwater and stormwater pumped out of the mine and discharged each day into pristine, brackish marsh and waters that support river herring, flounder, and red drum. The community-based Save Blounts Creek group has been working diligently to protect this aquatic treasure.

Natural Resources Scientist of the Year

Christopher S. DePerno, Ph.D., Raleigh
A research scientist and educator in North Carolina State University’s program in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, DePerno is dedicated to sound science, student mentoring, and the conservation and management of North Carolina’s natural resources. DePerno has conducted research on numerous species including white-tailed deer, black bears, coyotes, Canada geese, river otters, raccoons, woodcock, feral hogs, wild horses, and elk while preparing many graduate and undergraduate students for careers in wildlife and conservation biology.

NCWF Affiliate of the Year

Cabarrus Soil and Water Conservation District
A leader in farmland preservation and a model for a natural resources conservation district, the Cabarrus Soil and Water Conservation District contributed a prairie tract to North Carolina’s nature preserve system, championed amphibian and reptile sustainability, and has served as a leader in youth conservation education.

NCWF Chapter of the Year

Pamlico Albemarle Wildlife Conservationists, Washington
Building community for conservation is the hallmark of this wildlife chapter. Over the last year the group has built a handicapped hunting blind, overseen pollinator plant sales, advocated for watershed protection, incorporated beekeeping and organic gardening into the curriculum of a local community college, fought industrialized pollution from degrading area waters and wildlife refuges, and raised awareness about the value of endangered species on the landscape.

Hunter Safety Educator of the Year

Link Grass, Denver
Link Grass has educated thousands of new hunters about hunting safety and conservation. Grass has instructed tirelessly through the years and introduced hunter education into the Lincoln County school system. He has evolved web-oriented teaching in an evolving technological landscape while incorporating elaborate visuals and displays for in-person trainings. And importantly, Grass is a highly sought mentor for newly certified hunter education instructors.

Wildlife Volunteer of the Year

Kayne Darrell, Wilmington
One of the year’s great conservation successes came when Titan Cement announced it was abandoning plans to construct the fourth-largest cement kiln in the country on the northeast Cape Fear River in New Hanover County.  This plant would have required a massive open pit mining operation in lowlands and wetlands in New Hanover and Pender counties. Darrell was a tireless, dedicated leader of Citizens Against Titan.

Municipal Conservationist of the Year

City of Rockingham
Rockingham is a city with a vision and a serious commitment to natural resources. Highlights over the last few years include the first Urban Wildlife Conservation Area in North Carolina, featuring walking trails, boating, fishing and wildlife viewing. The Hitchcock Creek Blue Trail is another city-planned gem of 14 miles of designated paddling trail along the Pee Dee River.

Forest Conservationist of the Year

Dan Ryan, Wilmington
Ryan is the longleaf pine program manager with The Nature Conservancy, and through his work, thousands of acres of longleaf pine habitat has been restored, preserved, and protected. Ryan has successfully collaborated with private timber managers to put acreage into conservation, to convert acreage into longleaf, and to manage lands in a sustainable fashion.

Legislator of the Year

Jay Adams, Hickory
Representative Adams is a leader for public trust resources, wildlife, and sporting issues. Adams is a staunch and valiant voice for proper deer management, ethical hunting, keeping wild deer wild and bringing to bear the serious issues of importation, exportation of wild animals and the diseases associated with these activities.

Conservation Communicator of the Year

Lisa Rider, Sneads Ferry
An expert in all forms of recycling, Rider created the Onslow County Earth and Surf Fest and the annual North Carolina Marine Debris Symposium. Whether leading presentations in elementary schools and national conferences, or training volunteers to create new programs in their communities, her articulate voice and her daily commitment have convinced thousands of North Carolinians to act with conservation in mind.

Environmental Educator of the Year

Whitney Greene, Laurel Springs
This County Extension Agent is transforming the 4-H Youth Development program in Wilkes County and beyond. From bee pollination and worm composting to the effects of beaver dams, Greene’s solid science background fuels her passion for inspiring kids to get involved with hands-on stewardship projects that make a difference.

Water Conservationist of the Year

Grady McCallie, Raleigh
An expert in policy evaluation and analysis, McCallie provides the data and interpretation of water quality and quantity issues to the conservation community, tracks state and federal legislation regarding water issues, educates decision makers on pending legislation and serves as the hub for all who advocate for water quality in North Carolina.

Land Conservationist of the Year

Tom Berry, Greensboro
A pioneer in conservation easements, Berry’s 400-acre farm in Caswell County is protected and managed for wildlife. Berry’s leadership as the Chair of the Land Use Committee for the Wildlife Resources Commission has bolstered elk habitat expansion and waterfowl impoundments in North Carolina. Under his tenure since appointment in 2013, more than 12,000 acres valued at over $60 million have been protected by fee purchase or landowner cooperative agreements.

Sportsman of the Year

Robin Hayes, Concord
A lifelong hunter and angler, Hayes is a champion for sportsmen and conservation. As a Congressman, he chaired the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus and was a leading advocate for federal wildlife funding programs. From working his own land for wildlife and sporting opportunities to leading efforts for marine resources and wild deer protection, Hayes is the epitome of a sportsman-conservationist.

Wildlife Conservationist of the Year

John D. Groves, Asheboro
The first curator of amphibians and reptiles for the NC Zoo, Groves is a leading researcher in many wildlife fields including alligator, eastern box turtle, and Cape Fear shiners. He established the eastern hellbender conservation program as well as the hellbender captive breeding program.

Conservationist of the Year

Tom Harrison, Plymouth
A life-long wildlife enthusiast and steward of the land, Harrison’s passion for black bears, educating the public, and giving back to his community led him to create the highly successful North Carolina Black Bear Festival. He chairs the board of the outdoor Christian ministry group Cross Trail Outfitters, and participates in implementing a Wetland Reserve Program in eastern North Carolina, a species recovery program, and many other conservation projects.