Governor’s Conservation Achievement Award Winners Announced

Governors Achievement Award logo

The North Carolina Wildlife Federation has announced the winners of the 55th Annual Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards.

This year’s winners are exceedingly notable conservation devotees who work for wildlife, habitat, and those who cherish natural resources. They are land stewardship champions, water advocates, and leaders in the preservation of unique ecosystems. The award winners include agency professionals, elected officials, researchers, 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 Awards Committee Chair. “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.”

These prestigious awards are the highest natural resource honors given in the state. By recognizing, publicizing, and honoring these conservation leaders–young and old, professional and volunteer-the North Carolina Wildlife Federation hopes to inspire all North Carolinians to take a more active role in protecting the natural resources of our state. Read more about this year’s winners below.

Award winners are nominated by the citizens of North Carolina and decided upon by a committee of scientists, environmental educators, and conservation activists. “This awards program brings together a remarkably diverse group of conservationists to highlight the good news about wildlife conservation in North Carolina,” said Nickens. “Our primary focus is to applaud and honor these people who work so hard for wildlife and the air, water, land, that they and all of us depend on.

In addition, there will be a special induction into the North Carolina Conservation Hall of Fame for long-time conservationist Bill Holman of Pittsboro, N.C. This is a special honor bestowed upon only a select few in history. Holman was a previous Governor’s Awards winner as 1999’s Conservationist of the Year.
Award winners will be honored at a banquet to be held September 8 in Cary, N.C.


Conservationist of the Year: John McMillan (Raleigh)

A passionate conservationist for over 30 years, McMillan has served on the boards of The Nature Conservancy and Museum of Natural Sciences, improving science education across the state while serving as a scoutmaster for young conservationists. McMillan played major roles in the creation of the Natural Heritage Trust Fund and the Clean Water Management Trust Fund.

Wildlife Conservationist of the Year: Mark Craig (Greensboro)

As chair of the Wildlife Resources Commission’s Habitat, Non-game and Endangered Species Committee, Craig uses sound science and leadership to advocate sustainable recommendations for wildlife management. Craig has ensured accurate documentation of nongame species through frequent, scientifically-supported updates to the state listed species list.

Sportsman of the Year: Eddie Smith (Greenville)

Smith has a strong passion for introducing others to the joys of hunting, fishing and water sports, leading his personal conservation efforts such as the restoration of the 3,000-acre Grimesland Plantation. Smith established the N.C. Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association and was a powerful voice for the passage of the Outdoor Heritage Act and the Outdoor Heritage Advisory Committee, demonstrating his dedication to conservation for future generations.

Land Conservationist of the Year: Margaret Newbold (Vilas)

With more than 20 years of exemplary service for land conservation through her work with the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, Newbold has forged partnerships across the state to support the growth and development of local land trusts. She focused on diversifying the land trust community and making conservation more inclusive through her internship program and support of AmeriCorps programs.

Water Conservationist of the Year: Joe Mickey (State Road)

As the Stream Restoration Coordinator for the Wildlife Resources Commission, Mickey has dedicated his career as a naturalist to stream restoration, working with streamside and riparian landowners through conservation easements. As a founding board member for grassroots conservation groups such as the Yadkin River Trail Association, Mickey is a proven conservation leader and ally who has mentored over two generations of aquatic resource professionals.

Environmental Educator of the Year: Jenna Hartley (Hillsborough)

Having taught as a public high school science teacher for seven years, Hartley’s goal is to bridge the gap between science researchers and the classroom. As an EPA fellow, Hartley created K-12 curricula through the EnviroAtlas Project, using EPA research and training tools to train teachers across the state in environmental education strategies, while using her bilingual skills to reach diverse populations in North Carolina.

Legislator of the Year: Richard Burr (Winston Salem)

Senator Burr is the leading legislative champion for the landmark Land and Water Conservation Fund, working tirelessly to ensure its security through reauthorization and full funding. Senator Burr also played a major role in the passage of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Reauthorization Act of 2017, a critical step in expanding protected areas in western North Carolina.

Municipal Conservationist of the Year: City of Concord

Achieving Certified Community Wildlife Habitat status, the City of Concord has supported conservation through its signing of the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge and its creation of a native plant project with a local juvenile detention facility. The City competed in the Global City Nature Challenge, partnering with local schools, community groups and libraries to organize four major community-wide citizen science events, educating children on native flora and fauna.

Wildlife Volunteer of the Year: Beth Heile (Valdese)

Known for her dedication to the Valdese community and conservation, Heile worked for years to improve natural resource protection and improve park land for Valdese citizens. As the founder and president of the Friends of Valdese Rec., Heile helped to procure private and public grants for the purchase of 302 acres of wooded lakefront property on Lake Rhodhiss for a new park.

Hunter Safety Education Instructor of the Year: Luther Jones (Warsaw)

Jones commitment to conservation began when he was a Hunter Education course instructor for Duplin County Schools where he was instrumental in getting Duplin County physical education teachers certified as Hunter Education instructors. Due to his tireless passion for conservation and hunter safety, all eighth graders in Duplin County are now offered Hunter Education.

NCWF Chapter of the Year: South Wake Conservationists (Holly Springs)

The South Wake Conservationists established a deer donation site south of Raleigh where hunters have donated venison meat to thousands of needy community members. Chapter leaders facilitated the signing of the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge in Holly Springs and offered engaging programming to the local community.

NCWF Affiliate of the Year: North Carolina Chapter of The Wildlife Society

The state chapter of The Wildlife Society brings together wildlife professionals and scholars across the state, dedicated to furthering science-based research and management. The organization established a mentorship program where wildlife professionals mentored students from four chapter universities and hosted the national annual Wildlife Society Conference with record numbers in attendance.

Natural Resources Scientist of the Year: Theodore Simons (Cary)

In his 34 years as a wildlife ecologist, Simons has strived to improve species conservation and monitoring by developing various methods including an experimental simulation system for bird songs and frog calls. His work on conserving endangered species through improving ecological survey methods has influenced programs of organizations such as the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Forest Conservationist of the Year: Fred Hain (Raleigh)

An accomplished forest entomologist at N.C. State University, Dr. Hain founded the Forest Restoration Alliance in 2007 with the goal of restoring healthy forests and landscapes by addressing invasive pest threats to native trees. Hain has dedicated his research to observing and breeding adelgid-resistant hemlock trees to promote forest regrowth.

Conservation Organization of the Year: Land For Tomorrow

This coalition of conservation advocates is dedicated to increasing land and water conservation in North Carolina. Funding for the states’ natural resource trust funds for parks, farmland, and gamelands is due in great part to the dogged efforts of the coalition.

Business Conservationist of the Year: IBM – Research Triangle Park

This certified Wildlife and Industry Together site has a robust conservation program, focusing on energy and water conservation, recycling, green buildings, and wildlife habitats. Recent Wildlife@Work projects include bluebird nest box installation, planting butterfly gardens, and the creation of habitats for aquatic wildlife on the site’s pond. The 225-member Green Team also participated in a red-tailed hawk nesting project.

Marine Patrol Officer of the Year: Jason Parker (Wilmington)

Officer Parker has been a member of the North Carolina Marine Patrol since 2010 where he has used his resources and knowledge to protect North Carolina waters and species from offenders. He has extensive experience working with and apprehending those involved in illegal flounder gigging, mechanical clamming operations, shrimping and shell fishing cases. Officer Parker has been quick to embrace technology such as thermal imaging cameras and GIS applications to track and witness violations.

Wildlife Enforcement Officer of the Year: D.J. Woods (Pilot Mountain)

Master Officer Woods has dedicated the past decade to the Wildlife Resources Commission’s Law Enforcement Division as a public safety officer, protecting wildlife in Stokes County. Woods has effectively used technology to document multiple illegal turkey baiting sites in his patrol area through trail cameras, interviews and social media search warrants. Woods is an innovative, persistent leader who leads others in protecting wildlife resources.

Conservation Hall of Fame Inductee: William (Bill) E. Holman (Pittsboro)

Holman exemplifies the passion and dedication of a lifelong conservationist. He served as director of the State Policy Program at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute, as executive director of the state’s Clean Water Management Trust Fund, and as Secretary of the Department of Environment & Natural Resources. He is the current state director of The Conservation Fund.

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