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Five Triangle Region Residents and Organizations Receive Top Conservation Honors from NC Wildlife Federation

(September 19, 2022)

Five Triangle Region Residents and Organizations Receive Top Conservation Honors from NC Wildlife Federation


RALEIGH - North Carolina Urban Forest Council, natural resources scientist Todd Douglas Ewing, wildlife volunteers Herb and Pat Amyx, and public lands conservationist Gretchen Smith earned top conservation honors from North Carolina Wildlife Federation for their dedication to the state’s wildlife, habitat and natural resources. 


North Carolina Urban Forest Council is Conservation Organization of the Year; Todd Douglas Ewing, former assistant chief of N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s

Inland Fisheries Division, is Natural Resources Scientist of the Year; Dr. and Mrs. Herb and Pat Amyx are Wildlife Volunteers of the Year; and Gretchen Smith, president of Friends of the Lower Haw River State Natural Area, is Public Lands Conservationist of the Year.

They were among the 19 agency professionals, elected officials, volunteers and organizations honored on Sept. 10 at the 58th Annual Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards banquet in Cary. NCWF Board Chair John Hairr and Deputy Secretary Jeff Michael with the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources presented honorees with custom-made wildlife statuettes following a thank you video message from Gov. Roy Cooper. 


First presented in 1958, the Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards are the highest natural resource honors given in the state. The annual program brings together diverse conservationists to highlight wildlife conservation achievements and inspire others to take a more active role in protecting North Carolina’s natural resources for future generations.


“It’s always one of our favorite events of the year – a chance to celebrate the beauty of nature and the shared commitment of those working every day to protect, conserve and restore North Carolina’s wildlife, habitat and natural resources,” said Tim Gestwicki, N.C. Wildlife Federation CEO. 


“This year’s honorees are helping ensure we sustainably manage our state’s bountiful flora and fauna for future generations – North Carolinians who demonstrate promise and possibility while making great strides in preserving unique ecosystems and species.”

North Carolina Urban Forest Council, Conservation Organization of the Year (Raleigh)


Remarks from banquet emcee and award chair T. Edward Nickens: 

“Every city should be a city of oaks, a city of maples, a city of longleaf pine and sassafras and hickory. By focusing on advocacy, education and tree planting programs, the North Carolina Urban Forest Council supports the sustainable development of urban forests. The council’s efforts help ensure communities have healthy trees that will survive for decades, benefiting both people and wildlife. And over the last year, the Urban Forest Council teamed up with N.C. Wildlife Federation, N.C. State Extension Service and N.C. Forest Service on a pilot program to eradicate invasive Bradford pear trees from the Southeast. A literal bounty was placed on these trees, which threaten the balance of environmental biodiversity by outcompeting native grasses, wildflowers, shrubs and young trees that wildlife and pollinators depend on. Bradford pears put out tons of edible fruits, which birds eat, and then poop the seeds out on what appears to be every corner of the continent. Through the Bradford Pear Bounty NC program, the council helped distribute 250 native trees to replace the Bradford pears homeowners removed. Council members used the bounty program to educate communities on the importance of planting a diversity of native species to support wildlife populations, with plans to expand the program to other parts of the state. It’s an awesomely imaginative program from an awesomely committed group of conservationists.”


Remarks from Executive Director Leslie Moorman:

“I’m really proud and happy to be part of this organization. I love what I do and the people I work with. We don’t go into those fields looking for accolades and lots of money and prestige, so it’s good to be recognized every now and then for some of our efforts. I wouldn’t be here and the Urban Forest Council wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the volunteers and partnerships we’ve developed. We’re a small organization with a staff of 1.5 and a 12-member volunteer board – proof that you don’t have to be big to have a big impact. We look forward to continuing our mission of advocating, educating, protecting, and managing our urban forests.” 

Todd Douglas Ewing, Natural Resources Scientist of the Year (Fuquay-Varina)

Former Assistant Chief of Inland Fisheries Division, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission


Remarks from banquet emcee and award chair T. Edward Nickens: 

“For the last 14 years, Todd Ewing has been up to his ears in efforts to conserve and manage North Carolina’s rare and imperiled aquatic species. Until his retirement this year, he led N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s Aquatic Wildlife Diversity Program and served as assistant chief of the Inland Fisheries Division. In those roles, Ewing worked on updating the listing process for N.C.’s protected animals, directed a partner coalition to develop safe harbor and conservation agreements for 22 aquatic species, and helped expand and reintroduce rare fish and mussel species. Most recently, Ewing collaborated with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in developing an innovative approach to augmenting and reintroducing stocks of federally threatened and endangered aquatic species. He retired from the state in 2022, but not from working for wildlife. As program coordinator for the Southeast Aquatic Research Partnership, Ewing now works with natural resource and science agencies and conservation organizations to strengthen aquatic resources in the Southeast.”


Remarks from Todd Ewing:

“My biggest accomplishment was being fortunate enough to be surrounded by a lot of really good and dedicated people through the years. I’d like to acknowledge my wife, Michelle. Without her, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish anything worthwhile through the years. I’d like to acknowledge the staff I supervised for the last 14 years … the group charged with conserving aquatic biodiversity in this state comprises 10 biologists. They’re incredibly smart, hardworking, and dedicated and even made me look good a couple of times through the years. I retired from the wildlife commission, but I truly believe I had the honor of serving the wildlife and the citizens of the best state in the country and would do it all over again.” 

Dr. and Mrs. Herb and Pat Amyx, Wildlife Volunteers of the Year (Wake Forest)


Remarks from banquet emcee and award chair T. Edward Nickens: 

“It’s easy to love the famous places—the Smokies, the Outer Banks, the national parks and marquee preserves of North Carolina. It takes special people, with a special kind of commitment, to love the unknown and the overlooked. Dr. Herb Amyx and his wife, Pat, have had that kind of commitment for many years. As preserve stewards for the Friends of Plant Conservation, the couple monitors five rare plant preserves owned by the N.C. Department of Agriculture around Durham. They care for the plants, remove invasives, watch out for the properties, and even grow rare plants, such as the endangered smooth purple coneflower and the narrow leaf smooth aster, at their home and then transplant the wildflowers back to the preserve. The couple is rooted deeply in wildlife volunteerism. Three times a year, they take part in the Falls Lake Bird Count, as well as in Bio-Blitzes for N.C. State Parks and Wake County Parks. They’ve traveled to mountains for tree species inventories and led plant identification workshops for state park rangers. They have been very active in the Native Plant Society, and the Amyxes are also very active in the Neuse River Hawks, the Wake Forest area chapter of N.C. Wildlife Federation. Pat currently serves as the president of the River Hawks and is past secretary. Together, they manage the River Hawks and Raleigh Parks partnership in caring for the Forest Ridge Wildlife Garden.” 


Remarks from Herb and Pat Amyx:

“We’re deeply honored to receive this award. We have so many people we’d like to mention … Ann Rogerson, a past Environmental Education award winner and the monarch and bluebird guru in our area … Debbie Ludas, founder, past president and the energy spark that started the entire chapter ... Rob Evans from the plant conservation department who first drew us into and fueled our enthusiasm for the rare, smooth flowers … Jerry Reynolds, head of outreach for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, whose knowledge and enthusiasm for learning about the natural world is contagious. We both feel humbled by being in the presence of all of these very like-minded people.” 


Gretchen Smith, Public Lands Conservationist of the Year (Chapel Hill)

President, Friends of the Lower Haw River State Natural Area


Remarks from banquet emcee and award chair T. Edward Nickens: 

“The Haw River runs for 110 miles through the Piedmont of North Carolina. Nearly one million people live in the Haw River watershed, and there was a time you wouldn’t have stuck the tip of your pinkie toe into the Haw River. While the river still has challenges, its transformation from a dumping ground to a forest-lined green jewel has been dramatic. And for the last six years, much of the success of turning the Haw River into a sort of long, thin Central Park for the Piedmont has been due to the tireless work of Gretchen Smith. After retiring from a 37-year career in healthcare management, Smith turned her attention to protecting and improving public lands conservation in Chatham County’s Haw River corridor. As co-founder and president of Friends of Lower Haw River State Natural Area and an active member of multiple conservation organizations, she has written grants resulting in infrastructure improvements at public river access sites, kiosks with educational signage, shade shelter with nature murals, and improved pathways. Recently, Smith was the catalyst for forming the Haw River Trail Steering Committee, representing town and county governments, state agencies, land trusts, and trail and paddle organizations. She also helped secure a grant for a trail corridor feasibility study and economic impact analysis. The project will lay the groundwork for constructing a Haw River Trail in Chatham County that connects to a regional Haw River Trail network.”


Remarks from Gretchen Smith: 

“Those of us who work to support conservation don’t do it for the money or the glory. We do it for our love of place, land, waters, sky, and other creatures -- great and small -- who call this place home. Whether we work alone or in a group, no matter what background we come from, we come together to work towards a common goal of good stewardship to safeguard this place. We urgently need to ensure we can serve lands of natural significance, not only for the public to enjoy but also so the other animals and plants still have their place to call home.” 


For full event recap, including downloadable photos and complete list of award winners and remarks, visit ncwf.org.

North Carolina Urban Forest Council Executive Director Leslie Moorman receives “Conservation Organization of the Year” honors from N.C. Wildlife Federation. Deputy Secretary Jeff Michael, N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, and John Hairr, N.C. Wildlife Federation board chairman, celebrated the council at the 58th Annual Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards banquet on Sept. 10 in Cary.

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