Each year since 1965, Tennessee Wildlife Federation has honored a select group of leaders in the conservation and stewardship of wildlife and its habitat in Tennessee through the statewide Conservation Achievement Awards. This year’s award winners include:
Conservation Educator of the Year: Deborah Beazley, Warner Park Nature Center
For nearly 40 years, Beazley has been a naturalist, educator and constant friendly presence at the Warner Park Nature Center in Nashville. Park visitors of all ages have been introduced to wildlife observation, bird banding, stream ecology and more. She directs the Junior Naturalist and Summer Work Education and Trails programs, and has created maps and literature used by thousands of hikers each year. Beazley manages more than 12 miles of trails running through Edwin and Percy Warner parks.
Ged Petit Memorial Award: Officer Charles “Chuck” Borum, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
Upon his retirement in 2014, TWRA Wildlife Officer Chuck Borum had logged more than 40 years with the state’s wildlife and fisheries agency. Borum is credited with directing the restoration of the wild turkey in Tennessee, personally trapping and moving more than 2,500 birds. As populations began to rebound in the 1980s,he organized seminars and taught hundreds of sportsmen and women about the new sport of turkey hunting. Borum also contributed greatly to ethical trapping practices for nuisance wildlife, taught Hunter Education classes to thousands of students, and had an exemplary career as a TWRA law enforcement officer in the field.
Conservation Organization of the Year: Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary
In the late 1980s, Huldah Sharp’s vision for creating a nature sanctuary on her 160-acre Williamson County farm began to take shape, and a full-time naturalist was hired to manage what would become known as Owl’s Hill. Thirty years later, the property is known as a premier destination for school groups, bird watchers, aspiring naturalists and thousands of others. Summer camps and Boy Scout projects are among the many ways the non-profit educates, inspires and enthralls its many visitors through ecologically sound and entertaining programming.
Conservation by Business Award: Toyota Motor Company, Bodine Plant
Toyota’s North American production process starts at the Bodine Aluminum Plant, outside of Jackson, which makes blocks and cases for every Toyota and Lexus model manufactured on the continent. In response to a company challenge, the Bodine staff identified facility improvements that resulted in the recycling of nearly 6,000 gallons of water per week, which is reused in plant operations and ultimately supports wildlife habitat installed on the property. Other initiatives have created substantial energy savings and has been recognized as a Zero Landfill facility each year for the last decade.
Conservation Legislators of the Year: Sen. Jim Tracy and Rep. Pat Marsh of Shelbyville
In the wake of several high-profile wildlife poaching cases, Sen. Tracy and Rep. Marsh sponsored and passed into law the most significant wildlife law enforcement tool of the past decade with the Wildlife Restitution Act. The Act requires poachers and illegal hunters who steal wildlife from the public trust to pay restitution to TWRA, creating the strongest legal deterrent yet for the illegal killing or possession of big game wildlife in Tennessee. The Act has already been applied in at least two poaching cases over the last year.
Conservation Communicator of the Year: Carol Reese, University of Tennessee Extension Office
As a horticultural specialist with the UT Extension Office in Jackson, Carol Reese writes primarily about native plants. Yet her work has cleverly and consistently incorporated other aspects of nature, educating and inspiring people on a host of subjects related to wildlife and habitat. In addition to her work with the Extension Office, Carol has penned a weekly column for the Jackson Sun and contributes to several other publications and online resources while also teaching Master Gardener courses and speaking to groups across the state and nation.
Youth Conservationist of the Year: Ryan Greer of Jefferson County
Ryan Greer started the Jefferson County High School Hunger Challenge in 2014, one of the first clubs in the state to participate in a program that brings Hunters for the Hungry into a high school setting. Over the 2015-2016 whitetail deer season, Ryan and his Hunger Challenge club captured the top awards in both the individual and team categories, creating a GoFundMe page that raised more than $1,500 for deer processing in Jefferson County, and combined with deer donations made in his name, Ryan was personally responsible for almost 13,000 meals provided to hungry people in his community. Altogether, his Challenge team provided over 26,000 meals for Jefferson County residents, and through it all Ryan maintained a 4.4 grade point average.
Hunter Educator of the Year: Jorene Zidnak of Memphis
Jorene Zidnak was certified as a Hunter Education instructor 36 years ago, and has since taught more than 480 classes and certified nearly 15,000 new hunters. Now at age 84, Zidnak hasn’t slowed down a bit. In 2015, she taught or assisted with 28 different certification courses. Her almost 40 years of volunteer service is driven by her passion for wildlife and education.
Forest Conservationist of the Year: Rob Klein, National Park Service
Very few people know more about the role of fire in the forest ecology of the Southern Appalachians than Rob Klein of the National Park Service in Sevier County. As fire ecologist for the Appalachian/Piedmont zone for the NPS, Klein has contributed substantially to the conservation community through both his day-to-day work and through his involvement with the Southern Blue Ridge Fire Learning Network. He has also been a frequent contributor to various scientific publications on the subject, and how it relates to Southern Appalachian plant species such as the yellow pine and oak and what that means for wildlife. He also volunteered recently to lead a Landscape Conservation Forecasting process to help educate the forest conservation community on the role of fire in forest management.
Water Conservationist of the Year: Dr. Phillip Bettoli, Tennessee Technological University
Look back the most important issues of conservation through time, and water quality is at the top of the list. For the last four decades, Dr. Phillip Bettoli has been a national leader in fisheries science. While he teaches at Tennessee Tech, Dr. Bettoli also spends time on state waterways directing studies as the unit leader for the United States Geological Survey’s Cooperative Fishery Research Unit. His most recent research concerns the population explosion of the invasive silver and bighead Asian carp species, but he has published dozens of papers on stocking strategies and the ecology of crappie, walleye, sauger, largemouth and smallmouth bass, and numerous other fish and aquatic species.
Land Conservationist of the Year: David Salyers, West Tennessee River Basin Authority
As executive director of the West Tennessee River Basin Authority since 1997, David Salyers’ focuses primarily on water conservation. Yet he has also contributed greatly to wetlands restoration as it relates to agricultural lands in west Tennessee. Under his leadership, the Authority is currently working to restore channelized streams that pose a flood threat, promoting soil conservation practices with local farmers that will improve the health of the target watersheds. The team is also working on a floodplain project on the Middle Fork of the Forked Deer River that will mitigate downstream flood risk while restoring bottomland hardwood forest habitat.
Dan and Cherie Hammond “Sharing the Harvest” Award: Henry County Sheriff Monty Belew
Six years ago, Sheriff Monty Belew launched a program at the Henry County Sheriff’s Department to process donated deer on-site and provide the venison to his community. He quickly joined forces with Hunters for the Hungry, and the program has since processed more than 640 deer – 226 last year alone – and provided more than 106,000 meals to his Henry County community. Inmates at the county jail gain a much-needed morale boost by handling much of the processing and actually serving their neighbors in need. When the packaged venison is not provided to hungry citizens at the sheriff’s department facility or at area food banks, it is personally delivered by deputies on patrol.
Wildlife Conservationist Award: John Dicken Jr., Memphis
As a young man growing up in Lexington, Ky., John Dicken Jr. learned how to hunt and fish with his father and gained an appreciation for the Great Outdoors. Later in life, as he started to put together his own property in Fayette County, Tenn., Dicken invested the tools and technical resources to significantly enhance the farm for wildlife. Now on an annual basis, he plants more than 100 acres of food plots including corn, soybean, clover, wheat, rye and oats, along with 75 acres of sunflowers. The habitat and food sources created support not only deer, turkey, dove and quail, but also songbirds, pollinators like honeybees and monarch butterflies, and a host of other wildlife. Dicken has passed his love of stewardship on to his sons, John and Tully, assuring that his legacy of conservation will live on for generations.
Chairman’s Award: Chris Richardson, Special Assistant to the TWRA Director in Policy and Legislation
As the director policy and legislative affairs for the state’s wildlife agency, Chris Richardson has become a formidable friend to Tennessee’s outdoor community. Richardson was a practicing attorney before joining TWRA in 2013, and has since demonstrated a unique ability to interpret difficult subjects, solve problems and build relationships. His work on key legislative initiatives on challenges ranging from the eradication of invasive wild hogs to the Wildlife Restitution Act and the establishment of license fees that largely fund the state’s wildlife conservation efforts have made a dramatic impact on Tennessee’ natural resources. As a result, revenues have increased, outdate policies have been reworked, and TWRA is one of the nation’s most highly regarded wildlife and fisheries agencies.
Conservationist of the Year: Charlie Arant, CEO, The Tennessee Aquarium
There is perhaps no finer freshwater aquarium on the planet than our own Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, and a large part of its success can be traced to its 21-year chief executive, Charlie Arant. Throughout his tenure, the facility opened 10 major exhibits and emerged as the industry’s best in terms of animal care and exhibit quality. In 1996, the aquarium established the Southeast Aquatic Research Institute to study and conserve aquatic animals in the region. Now known as the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, the organization conducts scientific studies that help to restore and protect the region’s natural ecosystems and encourage the public to take conservation action. Though Arant officially retired on March 15, he has delayed that retirement so he can oversee the construction of a new state-of-the-art facility opening this September that will expand the Institute’s operations and play a critical role in training future generations of scientists and conservationists.
“All of the winners have made significant contributions to conservation in our state, but Charlie Arant and the Tennessee Aquarium have educated thousands of people on Tennessee’s unique ecosystems while also serving as a key national resource for training and research,” said Mike Butler, CEO of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation. “His legacy will live on through the Conservation Institute for generations to come.”
Z. Cartter Patton Award: Tom Hensley
The Z. Cartter Patton Award is named in honor of one of the founders of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, and is given for many years of valuable service to the cause of conservation in Tennessee, including natural resources management, environmental protection and enhancement, public education, public service or political support. As a TWRA Commissioner for 18 years, Tom Hensley has had an influence in all of those areas. But as a legislative lobbyist, Hensley is a legend. Over the last four decades of conservation policy, his fingerprints are everywhere. From the Wetlands Acquisition Act of the 1980s that has protected more than 217,000 acres and generated over $100 million in public lands funding, to the boating under the influence laws and guarding the TWRA Wildlife Fund, Hensley has been a champion for Tennessee’s wildlife and wild places.