MISSOULA, Mont. – A passionate and driven lineup of sportsmen and women were honored by Backcountry Hunters & Anglers during the 9th annual BHA North American Rendezvous for their commitment to public lands and waters. In addition to recognizing conservation, communications, chapter achievement and fair chase, a new award in 2020 acknowledges emerging leaders. The 2020 honorees follow:
BHA’s Rachel Carson Emerging Leaders Award, presented for the first time in 2020, recognizes young leaders for outstanding work on behalf of hunting, angling and conservation. While Carson is best known for writing Silent Spring and its contributions to the ban of DDT and other pesticides, she began her conservation advocacy in her 30s, when her essay “Undersea” was published in the Atlantic Monthly. The first ever Carson award winner and 2020 honoree is Kyle Hildebrandt, a college student and president of BHA’s University of Minnesota collegiate club, of Stewartville, Minnesota.
“I met Kyle at a pint night after our public lands rally at the state capitol last year,” said Minnesota BHA member Mark Norquist, who nominated Hildebrandt for the award. “I learned he was part of another conservation club at the university and asked if he’d be interested in starting a BHA club on campus. He immediately grabbed the bull by the horns, chartered the club and started organizing events. Since that time he has organized club leaders and held numerous events, including a public lands film festival and a turkey hunting clinic.
“Kyle is a marine and biology student who plans to go into work related to wildlife and conservation,” Norquist continued. “I can think of nobody more deserving for this award than Kyle.”
BHA’s Jim Posewitz Award for Ethical Hunting and Fishing recognizes outstanding ethical behavior in the field and the education of the outdoor public on the importance of ethical behavior. The 2020 award was presented to Jim Akenson of Enterprise, Oregon.
“Jim’s background as a research biologist in Idaho’s backcountry is just a piece of his legacy toward wildlife science, and our hunting heritage,” said Oregon BHA member Karl Findling. “Jim was BHA’s first executive director. He is tireless in working for wildlife and ethics in hunting no matter where he is, or whom he is with.”
BHA North American board member Bill Hanlon continued, “As a friend and former colleague, Jim and his wife Holly have been staunch defenders of hunting and ethics in hunting as well as a consistent voice for wildlife science and our hunting heritage. Jim espouses the virtues of a leader and educator for backcountry values, wildlife research and traditional bowhunting.”
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. The 2020 Trueblood Award recipient is Christine Peterson of Laramie, Wyo. Peterson has written about hunting, fishing, wildlife and conservation for more than a decade. She’s a contributing writer to Outdoor Life, and her words have appeared in High Country News, National Geographic Animals and, for most of her career, Wyoming’s state newspaper, the Casper Star-Tribune.
“Christine is an active and devoted public lands hunter and angler who has dedicated her career to covering natural resources and conservation policy, outdoors experiences and adventure afield,” said BHA Communications Director Katie McKalip. “She works well and cooperatively with BHA staff and volunteers, always giving us a fair shake. Quite frankly, she embodies BHA’s values and ideals.”
BHA’s Aldo Leopold Award recognizes exceptional work and dedication to the conservation of wildlife habitat. The 2020 winner is Bill Geer of Missoula, Montana. Geer is former director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, coordinator for the North American Waterfowl Management Plan for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a vice president with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and director of Western lands for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
“Bill has dedicated his entire career to conserving fish, wildlife and habitat,” said BHA Colorado member Ed Arnett, himself a past Leopold awardee. “His work has spanned multiple groups, species and habitats, and challenging issues. Even in his retirement, he remains a strong advocate for conservation, notably in Montana where he in engaged in the state legislature ensuring public lands, fish and wildlife are conserved. He also has been a leading voice in the sporting community on climate change.”
The Sigurd F. Olson Award recognizes outstanding effort in the conservation of rivers, lakes or wetland habitat. The 2020 award winner is Josh Mills of Spokane, Washington.
“Josh recently worked with our Washington chapter and the Wild Steelhead Coalition, where he is a board member, to purchase land along the lower Grande Ronde river, which will be donated to the state, preserving angler access forever,” said Zack Williams, editor of Backcountry Journal. “He also organized the fundraising of over $100,000 in the past year to help Bahamas hurricane victims and Australian wildfire victims through anglers tying flies for auction. I have never met anyone else who puts as much effort into conservation as a citizen-volunteer.”
The George Bird Grinnell Award honors the outstanding BHA chapter of the year. The 2020 award was presented to the Pennsylvania chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. In partnership with other sportsman’s groups, the chapter threw itself behind a successful effort to pass Senate Bill 147, which in 2019 repealed the ban on Sunday hunting.
“In November of 2017, Pennsylvania BHA was a chapter in name only,” said Chris Hennessey, BHA regional manager. “The chapter had never held an event or fundraised a nickel. There were no meetings, no bank account, no plan.
“Four individuals, Nate Fronk, Nick Long, Don Rank and Josh Stewart, would soon be named officers of the reborn chapter,” Hennessey continued. “While there were many hands on deck, these four deserve the lion’s share of the credit. For two years, they have been the backbone of PA BHA. Their commitment has inspired others. The last call for an open board seat in Pennsylvania yielded 19 applicants.
“The chapter’s biggest success is one that is hard to quantify, but probably the most important for an advocacy organization,” Hennessey said. “PA BHA has earned the respect and trust of other nonprofit organizations, state agencies and foundations across Pennsylvania.”
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. goHUNT is the 2020 awardee.
“goHUNT is always down to help whenever we ask,” said Grant Alban, BHA development coordinator. “They hauled three cords of wood and a keg trailer to the Nevada desert, helping BHA pull off the coolest SHOT Show event ever. They brought a big crew to the 2019 Rende and hosted a podcast on site, filmed the whole event, and were key in making our annual gathering a rousing success.”
“goHUNT is one of BHA’s most responsive partners when it comes to policy engagement,” added BHA Conservation Director John Gale. “They’re quick to move with the media, sign onto letters to decision-makers, and are eager to work with fellow business leaders to elevate the importance of business engagement on policy and conservation advocacy on behalf of our public lands, waters and wildlife.”
Finally, the Mike Beagle-Chairman’s Award is bestowed to an individual who shows outstanding effort on behalf of BHA. The award is named after Beagle, a BHA founder who launched BHA “around an Oregon campfire” in 2004. The 2020 Beagle award winner is Erik Jensen of Minneapolis.
“A longtime board member on the MN BHA chapter, Erik is a mentor for new hunters in Minnesota, bringing dozens of new people into the field since I’ve known him,” said BHA MN member Nick Atherton. “He has a curiosity about conservation that extends far beyond the Midwest and even North America, and he understands the diversity of reasons people seek out natural recreation. Erik is a tireless advocate for the values at the heart of BHA’s mission: quality lands and waters, public access and conservation for the future.”
BHA Rendezvous sessions, including the 2020 awards presentations, can be viewed online. BHA’s 10th annual North American Rendezvous will take place in Missoula, Montana, June 10-12, 2021.
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