WASHINGTON — The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) recognized 11 individuals and two state wildlife agencies for their dedication to advancing fish and wildlife conservation at the Association’s Annual Awards Ceremony held on September 13, 2011 in Omaha, Nebraska.

Rebecca Humphries, regional director with Ducks Unlimited and former director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, received the Association’s top honor, the Seth Gordon Award for lifetime achievement in conserving North America’s natural resources in the public trust and contributing to the programs of the Association. Humphries has held national and regional leadership positions and is known for being an effective and skilled consensus-builder, for tackling tough planning and regulatory issues, and for connecting new generations to hunting, angling and careers in conservation.

“Rebecca is a tireless advocate for conservation, and she readily faces the challenges of protecting and conserving our natural resources,” said Corky Pugh, the ceremony’s emcee, who is a former AFWA president and current director of the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “She’s a nationally recognized expert in fish and wildlife health planning and has been instrumental in improving the partnership between state agencies and the hunting and shooting sports community.”

South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks and Wildlife Program Manager, John Kanta, received the Ernest Thompson Seton Award for leadership in scientific wildlife management in recognition of the public engagement strategy for the Department’s Mountain Lion Management Plan. Since 2003, Kanta has steered more than 30 public meetings to present biological information about mountain lions and seek input on the state’s management plan, which includes a hunting season.

By embodying the Department’s willingness and desire to engage the state’s citizens, Kanta turned contentious discussions into productive ones and demonstrated that public involvement is an important component of scientific wildlife management.

Kellie Tharp, Education Branch Chief with the Arizona Game and Fish Department received the Mark Reeff Memorial Award for outstanding young wildlife management professional under 35. Tharp oversees all of her agency’s educational programs including hunter, angler, boater, wildlife education and the Adobe Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. She also developed a school curriculum “America’s Wildlife, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” to tell the story of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, which reached more than 22,000 students in 2010.

Kellie also started a field trip program for home schoolers in her state, enhanced Arizona’s Outdoor Expo with a popular youth day for school children that’s grown in attendance by 900%, and she became a certified instructor for the Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow program. In addition, Kellie was recognized her contributions to AFWA’s North American Conservation Education Strategy and dedication to ensuring core concepts about conservation and the work of state fish and wildlife agencies are taught schools.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Hunting and Angling Heritage Work Group (HAHWG) under the leadership of Craig McMullen received the Boone & Crockett Club Award for outstanding achievement in promoting and encouraging outdoor ethics. Established in 2007, the HAHWG has focused on educating all Arizonans about the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and providing more recruitment and retention opportunities.

The HAHWG created an award for ethical behavior and sportsmanship in the field and it has developed a web site, radio campaign and brochure about the North American Model to promote the role hunters and anglers play in conservation and the many resulting benefits to all Arizonans. The HAHWG also has brought together an alliance of stakeholders from sportsmen’s groups, outdoor industry representatives and youth development organizations that have spawned more than 30 recruitment and retention events each year.

In honor of their proactive conservation and environmental protection measures, Ted and Brian Alexander, owners and operators of the Alexander Ranch in Kansas, received the National Private Lands Fish and Wildlife Stewardship Award.  Since taking over the ranch in 1984, the Alexanders have implemented practices that directly benefit the ranch’s profitability such as managed intensive-grazing and prescribed burning, while also increasing their land’s biodiversity by enhancing habitat for Arkansas darters, lesser prairie chicken, pallid bats, red-spotted toads, northern bobwhite quail and other wildlife. The Alexanders also willingly share what they’ve learned by mentoring young ranchers and serving as board members on a number of conservation organizations.

In addition, the Association presented special recognition awards for conservation excellence to Jack Buckley, Deputy Director of the Massachusetts Division of Wildlife; Randy Stark, Chief Conservation Warden for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and faculty member of the National Conservation Leadership Institute; Susan-Marie Stedman of NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service; and Dave White, Chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The Association also awarded honorary lifetime memberships to Corky Pugh; Terry Johnson, Threatened and Endangered Species Coordinator for the Arizona Game and Fish Department; and Rex Amack, Director of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.  A moment of silence was held in tribute to fallen hero, Wildlife Conservation Officer David L. Grove of the Pennsylvania Game Commission who gave his life in the line of duty.

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