Federation Honors Tennessee’s Top Conservationists

May 19, 2021

56th annual conservation achievement awards

Each year, the Federation recognizes individuals and companies from all corners of the state making an impact on Tennessee’s natural places.

“This is the Federation’s 56th year hosting the Conservation Achievement Awards,” said Kendall McCarter, chief development officer for the Federation.

“After a year when the great outdoors were more important to our daily lives than usual, we’re thrilled to celebrate those who have gone above and beyond for Tennessee’s wildlife and natural resources.”

To ensure the health and safety of this year’s winners, the Federation celebrated the awards virtually.

“This year’s recipients reflect the broad spectrum of work taking place around the state to conserve our great outdoors,” said Michael Butler, chief executive officer for the Federation.

“As a 75-year old organization, we’ve seen time and time again how the efforts of individuals and organizations working to better our wild places can have a significant and lasting impact.”

The honorees of the 56th Annual Conservation Achievement Awards are as follows.

Z. Cartter Patten Award — Senator Lamar Alexander Jr.
J. Clark Akers, III Champion of Conservation Award — Tom Rice
Chairman’s Award — Libby and Frank Duff
Wildlife Conservationist of the Year — Greg Vital
Land Conservationist of the Year — Cayce McAlister
Forest Conservationist of the Year — Bridgestone Americas Inc.
Conservation Organization of the Year — Nashville Symphony
Conservation by Business — Grasslands Environmental
Conservation Educator of the Year — Connie Deegan
Conservation Communicator of the Year — Jenifer Wisniewski
Youth Conservationist of the Year — Cash Daniels
On Target Award — Doug Bryant
Dan & Cherie Hammond Sharing the Harvest Award — Keith Clow
Gedeon D. Petit Memorial Award — Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Public Land Duck Hunting Team
Hunter Education Instructor of the Year — Philip Ware

Z. Cartter Patten Award

Senator Lamar Alexander Jr. of Maryville, Tenn. with work nationwide
Senator Lamar Alexander and Tennessee Wildlife Federation CEO Mike Butler
Mike Butler, Tennessee Wildlife Federation CEO, with Senator Lamar Alexander

Senator Lamar Alexander Jr. served as Tennessee’s senator from 2003 to 2021 and as its governor from 1979 to 1987. Alexander has a long and proven history of working to preserve not only Tennessee’s, but the nation’s, natural heritage. Alexander grew up near Great Smoky Mountains National Park where he spent many weekends exploring Tennessee’s wild places and developing a passion for conservation. During his decades of public service, Alexander championed countless issues, from chairing President Reagan’s Commission on Americans Outdoors, to restoring anglers’ access to tailwater fishing. 

Most recently, Alexander led the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act in 2020—marking the biggest win for public lands in decades. The Act provides five years of funding, up to a total of $9.5 billion, to address a sizable portion of the national parks’ maintenance backlog. The same bill also provides full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. At $900 million every year, this will expand recreation opportunities, conserve wildlife, and create jobs. Because of Alexander’s leadership and commitment to conserve the great outdoors, future generations will have the opportunity to enjoy Tennessee’s natural areas for years to come.

Watch Lamar’s video.

J. Clark Akers, III Champion of Conservation Award

Tom Rice of Nashville, Tenn. with work statewide
Tom Rice

Tom Rice exemplifies what it means to have a philanthropic heart for conservation. Not only does he generously support the Federation, he gives his guidance and expertise as a Federation board member. Rice served as a board member from 2004 to 2007 and from 2010 to 2011. He served as the chair of the board of directors from 2008 to 2009. Today, Rice continues to provide critical support as a member of the Federation’s advisory board. In the last 13 years, Rice has worked closely with the Federation’s Hunting and Fishing Academy to encourage more youth to get into the outdoors. Each year, Tom teams up with the Federation to host the annual Davis P. Rice Memorial Youth Waterfowl Hunt. The youth hunt honors Davis, Tom’s son, through his favorite pastime and fosters an appreciation for wildlife conservation. Davis tragically passed away in 2007.

Chairman’s Award

Libby and Frank Duff of Chattanooga, Tenn. with conservation work statewide

Libby and Frank Duff truly exemplify what it means to be a conservationist. Not only have they generously supported many conservation organizations over the years, but they have also spent countless hours enhancing their 200-acre farm to serve as a wildlife haven for a number of species of fish, bird, and mammal. This includes creating fisheries, installing birdhouses, and planting more than 25,000 trees to restore the native food web. Libby is a tireless champion for the Federation and continually advocates for policy initiatives and philanthropic activities that benefit Tennessee’s wild places. A former board member for 10 years, Frank’s guidance and expertise helped build the Federation into the organization it is today.

Wildlife Conservationist of the Year

Greg Vital of Georgetown, Tenn. with work spanning southeast Tennesse

Greg Vital is the chairman, president, and co-founder of Morning Pointe Senior Living and Independent Healthcare Properties. Vital’s love for conservation began with his love for land. Vital understands the importance of balancing economic growth with the preservation and conservation of land for wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation. Vital is chairman of the board for The Land of Trust for Tennessee. He owns a 300-acre buffalo farm in Hamilton County. Originally a cattle ranch, Vital has helped wildlife thrive by creating ideal habitat for game species and creating designated wildlife areas, including 90-acres dedicated as a land conservation area. With The Land Trust for Tennessee, Vital has helped conserve more than 50,000 acres in southeast Tennessee. He’s also investing in the next generation of conservationists by helping to grow Cleveland State Community College’s forestry, fisheries, and wildlife program.

Watch Greg’s video.

Land Conservationist of the Year

Cayce McAlister of Nashville, Tenn. with work nationwide

In 2015, Cayce McAlister and members of the Garden Club of Nashville—in partnership with Garden Club of America’s Partners for Plants program—launched Weed Wrangle. Weed Wrangle is a one-day, area-wide, volunteer effort to remove invasive plants from public parks and natural areas. Thousands of volunteers are supervised by horticultural experts and educated on the benefits of removing invasive species and replanting with natives to help wildlife thrive. Since the program began, Weed Wrangle has spread throughout Tennessee and is now being implemented in 20 states. The success of Weed Wrangle is a result of McAlister’s ability to network and bring together conservation partners and groups whose work will continue to benefit Tennessee’s great outdoors for years to come.

Forest Conservationist of the Year

Bridgestone Americas Inc. in Nashville, Tenn. with work in White County and nationwide

In 2018, Bridgestone Americas Inc. generously donated nearly 6,000 acres of land to The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee as part of its mission to be environmental stewards. Today, that tract is known as the Bridgestone Nature Reserve at Chestnut Mountain. The land was owned by Bridgestone since the 1970s and, instead of developing the land to serve as a corporate retreat, Bridgestone saw an opportunity to benefit Tennessee’s wild places. The reserve is surrounded by 60,000 acres of public conservation lands in the Cumberland Plateau and is the site of many ecological restoration activities. It preserves and restores native tree species such as the shortleaf pine—a species that’s seen a 50 percent decrease in the southeast in the last three decades—and is used to explore different natural solutions to current conservation challenges. The reserve is home to a unique Savannah ecosystem that provides important benefits not available from dense forests. It also works to offset CO2 emissions and provides critical habitat for more than 100 wildlife species of conservation concern, including the green salamander and golden eagle. There are plans to open the reserve to the public for outdoor recreation in the future

Watch Bridgestone’s video.

Conservation Organization of the Year

Nashville Symphony in Nashville, Tenn.

The Nashville Symphony has been an integral part of Music City since 1946 and in 2020, it showed its support for conserving Tennessee’s wildlife and natural resources. Last summer 150,000 purple martins roosted in the trees around the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, home of the Nashville Symphony. The natural phenomenon only lasts a few weeks, but it can create an expensive mess for property owners. Instead of driving the birds away cheaply, the Symphony responded to the conservation community and acted in the best interest of the birds. With help from the Federation and The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee, tens of thousands of dollars were raised to help clean the grounds around the Symphony once the birds left.

Conservation by Business

Grasslands Environmental in Nashville, Tenn. with work spanning the Southeast

Grasslands Environmental is committed to creating a more sustainable future by offering environmentally responsible disposal solutions for liquid waste. When liquid waste is generated, such as grease from restaurants, Grasslands Environmental hauls it to one of its regional facilities. There, solids and fluids are separated from the water. Solids are converted into compost that is used to revitalize soils. The water is cleaned by Grasslands Environmental and is then further treated by municipal water facilities. Currently, it processes and cleans 100 million gallons of liquid waste water each year, a number they intend to grow. As avid fishermen, the leadership of Grasslands Environmental were determined to reduce pollution in the waterways. In Middle Tennessee and across the Southeast, Grasslands Environmental has done precisely that by providing solutions to wisely use and protect our state’s natural resources.

Conservation Educator of the Year

Connie Deegan of Elizabethton, Tenn. with work spanning Carter, Sullivan, and Washington counties

Connie Deegan has served as the nature program coordinator for the Johnson City Parks and Recreation Department for nearly a decade. As a naturalist and herpetologist, Deegan has a wealth of knowledge about the natural world and a passion for sharing it with others. Whether it’s talking to students, the Salvation Army, cub scouts, or visitors in the parks, Deegan can masterfully break down the complex ways nature works for any audience. Over the years, she’s inspired thousands of people to take an interest in and care for the great outdoors. In addition to educating others, Deegan organizes and coordinates hundreds of volunteers each year to create and maintain park trails and work on a number of special projects that benefit the outdoors. Deegan was the recipient of the Local Government Aquatic Stewardship Award in 2015 and the Washington County Soil Conservation District 2015 Conservation Educator Award.

Conservation Communicator of the Year

Jenifer Wisniewski of Mount Juliet, Tenn. with work statewide

Jenifer Wisniewski is the chief of outreach and communication for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA). Wisniewski is a lifelong sportswomen and a nationally respected marketing and communications professional. Since joining the agency in 2018, Wisniewski has had an immense impact on wildlife conservation in the state through her unflinching focus on robust, numbers-driven marketing. Most recently, Wisniewski was instrumental in dramatically growing the number of hunters and anglers in Tennessee by strategically seizing on the public’s move outdoors during the pandemic. In 2020, Tennessee saw the highest growth in sportsmen license purchases in the nation. The funding generated from those new license holders will benefit all of Tennessee’s wildlife. Wisniewski also practices what she preaches. She makes a point to take a new person or a group hunting and fishing each year.

Watch Jenifer’s video.

Youth Conservationist of the Year

Cash Daniels of Chattanooga, Tenn.

This is Cash Daniels’ third time receiving the Federation’s Youth Conservationist of the Year award. Commonly known as “The Conservation Kid,” Daniels has always found a way to give back to Tennessee’s wildlife, waters, and wild places. At only 11 years old, Daniels routinely organizes monthly litter clean ups with volunteers along Tennessee’s rivers. When COVID-19 limited large gatherings in 2020, Daniels wasn’t deterred. He took a more socially distant approach and still managed to remove nearly 3,000 pounds of trash from the Tennessee River. Daniels recently founded a nonprofit that helps spread awareness about litter pollution and spends his time sharing the importance of our natural resources with state officials, businesses, and schools.

Watch Cash’s video.

On Target Award

Doug Bryant of Knoxville, Tenn.

Doug Bryant is this year’s recipient of the On Target Award for his outstanding support of the Federation’s Tennessee Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP). Bryant served as a member of the program’s steering committee for more than a decade and served as its chairman for two years. During that time, he was instrumental in shaping Tennessee SCTP into the successful program it is today. Bryant was always willing to work with new and young athletes and was quick to provide guidance to coaches and new teams throughout the state. His wisdom was always welcomed in the community. Bryant passed away in August of 2020. The award will be presented to his family.

Dan & Cherie Hammond Sharing the Harvest Award

Keith Clow of Clarksville, Tenn.

Keith Clow owns and manages Hunters Harvest Deer Processing. When Clow opened his business in 2006—after retiring from the US Army—he became a certified processor for the Federation’s Hunters for the Hungry program. During his 15 years with the program, Clow has processed 530 deer providing more than 24,000 servings of protein to locals in need. In 2018, Clow set a goal to feed more hungry Tennesseans in his community by processing as many donations as he could. In 2019, he processed 67 deer and in 2020 he hit his personal best, processing 109 donations. His enthusiastic support for the program and passion to serve others make Clow a model within the program.

Gedeon D. Petit Memorial Award

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Public Land Duck Hunting Team with work statewide

For years, Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency staff and commissioners have heard from duck hunters about the limited and poor quality of public waterfowl hunting opportunities and problems with how they are allocated. A broad team examined these issues and how to improve access and opportunity. The agency contracted with the University of Tennessee to conduct a scientific, third-party survey to accurately gauge duck hunter satisfaction. The team then held a series of public meeting and comment opportunities as they first presented conceptual solutions and later molded those concepts into detailed proposals. The thorough process measured and responded to public sentiment and resulted in changes expected to increase access and opportunity at the state’s best public duck hunting areas.

Hunter Education Instructor of the Year

Phillip Ware of Mt. Juliet, Tenn.

Philip Ware has served as a volunteer hunter education instructor with Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) for more than three decades. His passion for conservation began when he started hunting at eight years old. Growing up, Ware didn’t have a mentor to show him how to hunt so he learned by doing it himself. When he began volunteering as an instructor, he became the mentor he never had for thousands of people wanting to get outdoors. Today, generations of Tennessee sportsmen and women are out in the field equipped with the knowledge and training to enjoy the outdoors safely because of Ware. As a testament to his passion for helping others, Ware was named Volunteer Instructor of the Year for Region II by TWRA in 2015.

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