TWF honors conservation leaders

The Tennessee Wildlife Federation (TWF) is one of the largest and oldest nonprofits dedicated to the conservation of the state wildlife and natural resources. The organization recently recognized 15 individuals and companies during its 56th Annual Conservation Achievement Awards. To ensure the health and safety of this year’s winners, the Federation celebrated the awards virtually on May 19.

“This is the Federation’s 56th year hosting the awards and our 75th anniversary as an organization,” said Kendall McCarter, chief development officer for the Federation. “Being our 75th anniversary and after a year when the great outdoors were more important to our daily lives than usual, we are eager to recognize and celebrate those who have gone above and beyond for Tennessee’s natural places.”

Some of the honorees follow:

The Z. Carter Patten Award, for many years of service to conservation

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.

Clark Akers, III Champion of Conservation Award, for many years of service to Tennessee Wildlife Federation

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.

Land Conservationist of the Year

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

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.

Conservation Organization of the Year

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 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 was 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.

Youth Conservationist of the Year

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.

On Target Award, for outstanding support of Tennessee Scholastic Clay Target Program

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 members.

Gedeon D. Petit Memorial Award, for outstanding accomplishments by Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency employees

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.

Tennessee Wildlife Federation is an independent nonprofit dedicated to conserving Tennessee’s wildlife, waters and wild places. Since 1946, the Federation has spearheaded the development of the state’s wildlife policy, advanced landmark legislation on air and water quality and other conservation initiatives, helped restore numerous species and introduced thousands of kids to the great outdoors. To learn more, visit tnwf.org.