Resource Stewardship

Governors Conservation Achievement Awards

The Alabama Wildlife Federation’s Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards are the most prestigious conservation awards in the state. For over 30 years, the awards have been presented to individuals and organizations that make great contributions to the conservation of our wildlife and related natural resources, the natural elements upon which all life depends.
The purpose of the Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards program is to promote leadership by example and in turn increase conservation of the natural resources of the State of Alabama – its wildlife, forests, soils, water, and air. The program is designed to bring about a greater knowledge and awareness of conservation practices and projects, and to give proper recognition to those persons and organizations that make outstanding contributions to the natural resource welfare of the community and the state.
2016 AWF Governor's Conservation Achievement Awards
Check Out the Photos from the Event

Award Recipients:
Hunter Safety Instructor of the Year
Mike O'Neal, Guntersville

Since obtaining certification in 1993, Mike O’Neal has become an excellent hunter safety instructor by combining his love of the outdoors, his enthusiasm for teaching, and his desire to enhance safety programs in Marshall County. Mike has led well over 50 classes, reaching and certifying thousands of students. 

Mike has donated a tremendous amount of time and money; always looking for new equipment, materials and facilities to enhance the hunter safety program. He understands and conveys the importance of safe and ethical practices, while engaging in the conservation of our wildlife and related natural resources. 

As one of his peers stated, “Alabama has one of the best hunter safety records in the Southeast, and Mike’s leadership is partly responsible for that accomplishment. His level of dedication and enthusiasm is matched by few.”

Judicial Conservationist of the Year
Justice Jim Main

Justice Jim Main has a long history of supporting conservation sensitive and law enforcement-related issues as a landowner, lawyer, and Judge.

As a landowner and outdoorsman, Justice Main has a personal connection to the land and our wildlife resources. His property in Bullock county is a Treasured Forest. His expertise and commitment to conservation has been responsible for resolving important issues pertaining to oil and gas royalty; preventing the closing of Blakeley and Saint Stephens Parks; supporting the Forever Wild program; and 
land conservation for the benefit of our 
wildlife resources, outdoor pursuits, and the people of Alabama. 

During his tenure on the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and now the Alabama Supreme Court, Justice Main’s opinions have supported conservation law enforcement, hunting and fishing principles, and important private property rights. 

Legislative Conservationist of the Year
Senator Richard Shelby, Tuscaloosa

Management and access to the Red Snapper Fishery has been a high profile issue for several years involving natural resource agencies and recreational and commercial fishing interests throughout the Gulf Coast states. Alabama, has been a leader in these discussions and issues as a result of our well established and successful Artificial Reef Complex that has resulted in highly abundant red snapper populations. Thanks to Senator Shelby, significant gains have recently been made in the management of and access to this important and popular resource.

In support of the Alabama Marine Resources Division’s efforts to enhance state-level involvement with managing reef fish and the Red Snapper resource and fishery in particular, Senator Shelby introduced in Committee last year critical amendments to important legislation on this topic.  As a result of his actions and those amendments, Alabama’s state water line was extended to nine miles off shore and provisions were passed to provide increased state-level involvement in red snapper stock assessments, allocation decisions, and appropriate recreational and commercial access.  All of these gains increase the ability of Alabama’s marine resource professionals to manage the unique characteristics of the Red Snapper Fishery in Alabama’s waters and maximize our citizens access to these resources while maintaining a sustainable resource and fishery for the long-term.

Conservation Enforcement Officer of the Year
Officer Greg Gilliland, Munford
Officer Greg Gilliland has served in Talladega County as a Conservation Enforcement Officer since 2003. He has worked diligently to patrol and enforce Alabama’s Game, Fish and Wildlife Laws, even in the most trying and dangerous of situations. 

In addition to enforcing conservation laws, Officer Gilliland is very active in community outreach programs; such as youth outdoor skills days, kid’s fishing derbies, and many other events involving churches, schools and landowners. He respects wildlife and related natural resources, and has taught his children the importance of also being good stewards of our wildlife, land and water. 

Officer Gilliland has one of the highest case rates in the state with a conviction rate of nearly 100%. Among peers and members of his community he is well respected and known for being dependable, resourceful, and one who applies the law with fairness and common sense.

Conservation Communicator of the Year
James "Big Daddy" Lawler, Camden

James “Big Daddy” Lawler grew up in Camden, Alabama and developed a love for the outdoors at an early age. It has been stated that his radio show, “The Gettin’ Outdoors Radio Network,” is one of the best celebrations of outdoor pursuits ranging from hunting and fishing, birding and wildlife viewing, to outdoor education and promoting the wise use, management and protection of our natural resources. At the same time, he has utilized his platform for over 10 years to educate his listeners on conservation issues and initiatives and their role in passing along the outdoors and outdoor pursuits to the next generation.

What shines through in everything Big Daddy does is his personal passion and commitment to Alabama’s wildlife and outdoor resources. That passion grew out of his connection to his family property in the Grampion Hills; a property he and his family have utilized and generously shared with countless Alabamians.

Conservation Educator of the Year
Doyle Keasal, Auburn
For the past 35 years, Doyle Keasal has worked in education. Throughout that time, conservation topics have always been an important component of his teaching and efforts to develop good stewards of our natural resources. 

For the past 13 years, Doyle has worked in a partnership position with the Alabama Wildlife Federation and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System supporting delivery of the Alabama Outdoor Classroom Program, Discovering Our Heritage Program, and Conservation Education-oriented Teacher Workshops. 

Through these efforts with students, schools, and teachers, it is estimated that Doyle has provided natural resources based training to 4,500 educators through more than 225 workshops. In addition, he has worked with over 150 schools through the Alabama Outdoor Classroom Program to help them develop nature-based learning laboratories on school grounds.

Air Conservationist of the Year
Georgia-Pacific Naheola Mill

The Georgia-Pacific Naheola Mill in Choctaw County is an integrated pulp and paper mill, producing products such as bathroom tissue, paper towels, napkins and market pulp. The plant is extremely conscious of the potential for air pollution from its operations and is committed to meeting all standards for air pollution control. 

The Mill replaced over 1,900 existing light fixtures with energy efficient LED fixtures which reduced the annual energy consumption by 3,424,000 kilowatt-hours. In addition, these changes also directly reduced air emissions. Sulfur Dioxide emissions were reduced by 20,000 pounds per year; Nitrogen Oxide was reduced by 14,000 pounds per year; Carbon Dioxide was reduced by 3,400,000 pounds per year; fine particulate emissions by 800 pounds per year.

Georgia-Pacific Naheola Mill has proven to be a leader in eco-friendly programs that reduce air emissions and improves the health and welfare of the citizens of Alabama.

Water Conservationist of the Year
Dr. Pat O'Neil, Tuscaloosa

Pat O’Neil is Deputy Director for the Geological Survey of Alabama. Over the last 35 years, he has made numerous discoveries and advances through his research that has aided in identifying and protecting our water resources and the fish and wildlife that depend on aquatic habitats. Some of Pat’s water resource studies include: Water Quality and Biological Monitoring in Choccolocco Creek; Water Quality in the Upper Mobile-Tensaw River Delta; Hatchet Creek Regional Reference Watershed Study.

Equally as impressive in his work with aquatic organisms, such as: Biotic Integrity for the Coosa and Tallapoosa River Systems; Critical Habitat Units for Threatened and Endangered Mussels in the Mobile River Basin; Fisher of Conservation Concern in Coastal Rivers and Streams. In 1996, Pat co-authored the comprehensive book “Fishes of Alabama and the Mobile Basin.” This world-class book catalogues both the abundant and rare fish of Alabama. Since the publication, he has made several discoveries and rediscoveries of fish once thought to be extirpated in Alabama.

Pat’s expertise on water and aquatic resources conservation, along with his passion for management planning and implementation to insure these resources exist in a high-quality manner for generations to come is recognized across Alabama and the southeast.

Land Conservationist of the Year
Blythe Cotton Company, Town Creek

The Blythe Cotton Company is a family farming operation comprised of Jimmy Blythe, Jr., his wife Betty, daughter Jamie, and her husband Kenny Paul Arnold. The farm, located in Town Creek, rotates cotton, corn, wheat and soybeans and uses a diversified cropping system on their 3500 acres. The no-tilling conservation method has been utilized to reduce soil erosion from 15 tons to less than 1 ton per acre.  At the same time, it has increased organic matter, improved soil health, decreased runoff potential from fertilizers and pesticides.

Blythe Cotton also uses the latest technology in Precision Agriculture using data collected from yield and soil maps to improve their soil stewardship and overall land stewardship.

Forest Conservationist of the Year
Jimmy Bullock, Birmingham

Jimmy Bullock is Senior Vice President of Forest Sustainability at Resource Management Services in Birmingham. He is responsible for sustainable forestry policies and programs, forest certifications, wildlife and environmental policy development and implementation. 

Jimmy is also a passionate leader in landscape-scale conservation of Longleaf Ecosystems. The Coastal Headwaters Longleaf Conservation and Restoration Initiative, the largest longleaf pine restoration and protection effort on private lands, has received significant support thanks to his inspirational, leadership effort. This project is a collaborative, public-private effort to restore functional longleaf ecosystems across 8 million acres by 2020. The beginning of this initiative will take place on 205,000-acres of Resource Management lands in Baldwin County,  Alabama and the Florida panhandle. Not only will this project lead to the expansion of the Longleaf Ecosystem, it will do so in a manner that maintains a working forest that yields economic benefits, critical wildlife habitat and corridors, and builds economic and quality of life benefits to the communities with the Coastal Headwaters region. All of these attributes represent the personal values and fingerprint of Jimmy and his leadership.

Fisheries Conservationist of the Year
Chris Blankenship, Mobile
Chris Blankenship goes above and beyond in his duties as Director of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Marine Resources Division. 

In the years following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Chris provided superior leadership to ensure Alabama’s marine resources were monitored and assessed for damages, plans were made for protective and restorative actions, and that funds were directed to Alabama to insure the long-term health of these public, natural resources. In addition, he worked tirelessly to insure that fish, shrimp, oysters, and other marine resources consumed by the public were healthy, safe to eat, and that consumer confidence was restored. 

Chris has also spearheaded Alabama and Gulf-wide efforts to improve management and sustainable utilization of our marine resources. These efforts include oyster, crab, and shrimp resources, seafood aquaculture, recreational inshore and offshore reef fish populations and fishing opportunities. He has been a recognized leader in the management and utilization of the popular Red Snapper resource, in particular, artificial reef establishment, state water boundaries, and increased state-level involvement in reef fisheries management.  As a result of his collaborative leadership, over $12 million has been secured to support Alabama marine fisheries.

Wildlife Conservationist of the Year
Luis de Hechavarria, Orrville

Luis de Hechavarria, Jr., better known to his friends as “Wicho,” has assembled over the last 30 years nine tracts of land in Dallas county totaling over 4,000 acres. One of these properties in particular, known as Bogue Chitto Creek Farms, is 2800 acres and consists of riparian hardwood forests, bottomland hardwood forests, upland pine forests, black belt prairies, herbaceous wetlands and moist-soil habitats. Wicho deliberately manages to provide year-round habitat for white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, northern bobwhite, and waterfowl. He is very conscious about utilizing management practices such as forest thinning, understory control, and prescribed burning to maintain quality wildlife habitat and productive forests.

Wicho has a deep passion for wildlife conservation, and his interest and commitment to land management has been the driving force behind practicing good stewardship. He shares his passion by allowing his property to be used as a demonstration site, including one of ten Native Warm Season Grass establishment and management sites, to help promote the benefits of sound management to resource professionals, land managers, and landowners.

Conservationist of the Year
Dr. David Thrasher, Montgomery

Dr. David Thrasher is a pulmonary and critical care physician who has a heart for wildlife conservation and stewardship.

Before going to medical school Dr. Thrasher studied wildlife and fisheries biology at Auburn University where he received his BS and MS degrees. To this day, Dr. Thrasher provides Auburn University students an opportunity to study on his property in Macon County. 

Dr. Thrasher has partnered with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to implement management practices that enhance the wildlife, forests, land and waters on his property known as Two Creek Plantation. Hardwood and pine forests have been established on over 400 acres. A green tree reservoir was constructed to benefit waterfowl. A twelve-acre shallow water impoundment was also created and over 40,000 hardwood trees were planted. Native warm season grasses were established, prescribed fire utilized, and brush piles were created to improve wildlife habitat. At the same time, significant effort and importance has been placed on eliminating invasive species.

Dr. Thrasher’s love for wildlife and related natural resources is also evident through other projects he is passionate about. He has been involved in the restoration of rare and declining habitats, forestry demonstrations, extensive studies with white-tail deer and largemouth bass, and hosting Wounded Warrior and youth hunts.

Dr. Thrasher makes his property available for both educational and recreational purposes including forest and wildlife demonstrations, feral hog and beaver management seminars, and Boy Scout Camporees and merit badge activities.

Dr. Thrasher is an Eagle Scout and received the 2007 Distinguished Eagle Scout Award and the 2015 Good Scout Award. He is a recipient of the W. Kelly Mosely Environmental Award, currently serves as the Vice President of the Alabama Conservation and Natural Resources Foundation, and is a member of the Auburn University Research Foundation. He served as President of the Alabama Wildlife Federation in 1993, serves on the Alabama Wildlife Endowment Board, and is a leading philanthropist in the conservation community.
Presenting Sponsors
Alabama Power

Award Recipient Sponsors
Talladega Superspeedway
Ralph & Catherine Martin, III
Josh & Mary Virginia Mandell
Russell Lands
River Bank & Trust
Ball, Ball, Matthews & Novak, P.A.
UBS Financial Services, Inc.,
       Longleaf Wealth Management
WeldenField Development
Lee Thuston
CDG Engineers & Associates
Consolidated Construction Co.
First South Farm Credit
Scott Bridge Company
David & Kelly Thomas
Seafood Sponsor
Social Sponsors


CONSERVATIONIST OF THE YEAR - For an individual who has excelled in an overall conservation effort, in environmental achievements, or other significant contribution to the conservation of natural resources.
WILDLIFE CONSERVATIONIST - To recognize private individuals, professionals, clubs, firms or agency staff whose outstanding wildlife resource conservation efforts demonstrate commitment and leadership.
FISHERIES CONSERVATIONIST - To recognize an individual or organization whose outstanding fisheries resource conservation efforts demonstrate commitment and leadership.

FOREST CONSERVATIONIST - For an individual, group, firm or agency which has demonstrated outstanding leadership in management of forest resources. Fish and wildlife consideration must have been a major component in the recognized effort.

LAND CONSERVATIONIST - To recognize an individual or organization which has demonstrated outstanding achievement in the land conservation arena, including soil resource conservation, watershed planning/management, and/or landscape level conservation efforts.

WATER CONSERVATIONIST - For outstanding contribution to water resource conservation, whether surface water, ground water or wetlands. Efforts focusing on protection and improvement of water quality are especially important.

AIR CONSERVATIONIST - To recognize outstanding efforts of an individual, group, firm, or agency toward improvement of air quality in Alabama.
CONSERVATION EDUCATOR - For outstanding contribution by a professional or volunteer, classroom teacher or scout troop leader, firm, or organization to conservation education, whether in the classroom or by other means. The scope of the effort and its effectiveness are of major consideration.
CONSERVATION COMMUNICATOR - To recognize the outstanding efforts of a journalist or media firm in communicating the Alabama Wildlife Federation’s conservation message to the general public.

CONSERVATION ENFORCEMENT OFFICER - For outstanding performance in enforcement of laws to protect Alabama’s natural resources. Must be a duly authorized officer of the law, and enforcement activity may be related to fish and wildlife, littering, or environmental laws or regulations.
LEGISLATIVE CONSERVATIONIST - For demonstration of an outstanding commitment to conservation and stewardship of Alabama’s natural resources in legislative matters.
JUDICIAL CONSERVATIONIST - For demonstration of an outstanding commitment to natural resource conservation, fish and wildlife, or land, air and water; and a significant contribution to conservation of those resources through judicial action.
HUNTER SAFETY INSTRUCTOR - For outstanding commitment and service to hunter education and safety instruction.

YOUTH CONSERVATIONIST - For outstanding achievement by a youth, having not reached the age of 19 at the time of nomination, in resource conservation. Accomplishments may include, but need not be limited to on-the-ground projects for conservation of fish, wildlife habitat, air, soil, forest or water. Efforts in the field of public awareness, communication and education are also eligible for recognition.
Past Award Recipients

2000  |  2001  |  2002  |  2003  |  2004  |  2005  |  2006  |  2007  |  2008   |  2009  |  2010  |  2011  |  2012  |  2013  |  2014  |  2015