BHA Honors Conservation Warriors with Annual Awards

From Backcountry Hunters & Anglers:

MISSOULA, Mont. – At the 10th annual Backcountry Hunters & Anglers North American Rendezvous, held in Missoula, Montana, June 3-5, an enthusiastic crowd of public lands sportsmen and women applauded BHA’s 2021 slate of award winners. BHA’s annual awards recognize unsurpassed commitment and a lifetime commitment to our shared lands and waters, shining a spotlight on the hunting and angling community’s most influential voices.     

The 2021 honorees are as follows:

BHA’s Aldo Leopold Award recognizes exceptional work and dedication to the conservation of terrestrial wildlife habitat. The 2021 Leopold award winner is Jared Oakleaf, of Lander, Wyoming, a 20-year veteran of the public service sector and an active board member and volunteer for a number of conservation groups, including BHA.

“Jared’s insights have been critical in shaping our engagement as a chapter, and his leadership and involvement has been integral to many conservation successes across Wyoming,” said Brien Webster, BHA program manager and Wyoming chapter coordinator. “Even with the challenges this last year presented, he found a way to have a profound impact, leading an effort that raised nearly $50,000 to expand public access to a 33,000-acre wilderness study area.

“Jared often credits mule deer as being the best teachers he’s ever had,” Webster stated, “a sentiment that we believe would be appreciated by this award’s namesake.”

The Sigurd F. Olson Award acknowledges outstanding effort conserving rivers, lakes or wetland habitat. The 2021 Olson award was presented to Joel Gay, of Albuquerque, a longtime water policy advocate in his state of New Mexico.

“From working strategically to form collaborative campaigns with conservation partners on stream access to nurturing the future stewards of our natural resources, I can say without hesitation that our wild public lands, waters and wildlife are better off because of Joel Gay,” said BHA Conservation Director John Gale.

“I have known Joel for over 15 years,” continued Gale, “and I have witnessed his leadership and influence on consequential water policy in the state of New Mexico – stretching from his time at the New Mexico Wildlife Federation to his indelible impact building New Mexico BHA into a policy powerhouse.”

BHA’s Jim Posewitz Award recognizes outstanding ethical behavior in the field and the education of the outdoor public on the importance of ethical behavior. The winner of the 2021 Posewitz award is Adam Gall of Paonia, Colorado, a business owner, outfitter and longtime BHA member, volunteer and supporter.

“Adam speaks up boldly for wildlife and wild places and works passionately to instill a strong hunting and conservation ethic into the next generation of hunters,” said Tim Brass, BHA state policy and field operations director. “He also started his own business aimed at helping recruit and teach new hunters interested in hunting for wild meat. 

“There’s little doubt that Jim Posewitz would be pleased to know that this year’s recipient very much embodies Jim’s professional legacy fighting for wild places, as well as his teachings of personal hunting ethics,” Brass concluded.

BHA’s Rachel Carson Award honors young leaders for outstanding work on behalf of hunting, angling and conservation. The 2021 Carson awardee is Jeffrey Edwards, president of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point BHA college club.

“The Carson award recipient is intended to be someone who demonstrates initiative to execute innovative ideas for the benefit of wildlife, habitat, or public land and water, who seeks to develop relationships and collaborations with diverse entities in their line of work, and who professionally upholds BHA’s mission and standards of fair chase,” said Kylie Schumacher, BHA collegiate program coordinator.

“Nominated by his peers, Jeffrey has shown great initiative and leadership in his role,” stated Schumacher, “particularly with regards to stewardship of our public lands and waters, relationship building with local land and wildlife managers, time dedicated to the club and its members, and wildlife research.”

The Larry Fischer Award honors the memory and contributions of a longtime BHA board member by recognizing exceptional dedication by a business to BHA’s mission. The 2021 Fischer awardee is Vortex Optics. A longtime BHA corporate partner, Vortex is a strong supporter of BHA projects and campaigns, including Hike to Hunt and the North American Rendezvous, and is always willing to help out where needed.

“Industry and business can be a powerful voice and powerful in action in many ways for conservation,” said Rachel Schmidt, BHA innovative alliances director. “Vortex has proven it is a company that stands for and supports opportunity and access for its customers. We could not be more proud and grateful to work with a partner like Vortex.”  

The Ted Trueblood Award is presented by BHA for exceptional communications work informing and inspiring people for the benefit of public lands, waters and wildlife. Don and Lori Thomas are the 2021 Trueblood award honorees. Two individuals who both are experts in communicating the outdoors experience with passion and grace, Lori shoots evocative photographs that have appeared in dozens of books and magazines, while Don is a giant in North American outdoor writing, on the masthead of numerous publications (including as co-editor of Traditional Bowhunter magazine, winner of the first Trueblood award ever presented) and author of 20 books.

“Don is an outspoken advocate for public lands and waters who’s known for never suffering fools gladly and for speaking his mind, regardless of personal costs,” said Katie McKalip, BHA communications director. “In this respect, I think he embodies some part of the spirit of BHA…that willingness to say the things that need to be said on behalf of the places and opportunities we all hold dear. Lori is an accomplished outdoor photographer who’s supplied hundreds of photos for Don’s writing and whose images are widely published in outdoors media.

“While the work by Don and by Lori stands alone, they are inseparable as a partnership,” McKalip said. “This is worth recognizing as well. Those of us who have experienced a partnership like this know that it exists as part of and also apart from us as individuals. A great partnership makes us stronger, helps us grow and become better, helps ground us and balance us.”

The George Bird Grinnell Award honors the outstanding BHA chapter of the year. BHA’s New England chapter is the 2021 Grinnell honoree. 

“A big strength of the New England chapter is accounting for the nuances of the parts – six contiguous states – while still maintaining a healthy chapter identity,” said Chris Hennessey, BHA regional manager and coordinator for the New England chapter. “State leadership teams engage their members and keep an eye on public lands in their backyards while the chapter leadership executes on overall strategy and decisive administration.

“Most of the executive officers and board members have been in office a while now,” continued Hennessey. “That continuity brings durability. At the same time, they’re always looking for new leaders to bring into the fold so they can lead in the future.”

Finally, the Mike Beagle-Chairman’s Award, named after one of BHA’s founders, is bestowed to an individual who shows outstanding effort on behalf of BHA. The 2021 Beagle award winner is John Sullivan, chair of BHA’s Montana chapter, who lives in Missoula.

“John epitomizes what it is to be a chapter leader at BHA,” said Land Tawney, BHA president and CEO. “He is humble, thoughtful and as steady as they come. In his tenure he has expanded the Montana board in both size and expertise, engaged on difficult policy issues like access in the Crazy Mountains, and led a team of volunteer leaders and members through one of the toughest state legislative sessions we have ever seen. Lastly, John has been a key player in bringing our Midnight Forest Bourbon to fruition, carrying on the legacy of the late Jim Posewitz. 

“We are lucky that John chooses to spend his time, talent and treasure with BHA,” Tawney concluded. “I look forward to getting out on the river and celebrating his prowess in earnest over big bugs and trout.”

Read more about BHA’s 2021 North American Rendezvous.

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