The National Wetlands Awards are presented annually to individuals who have excelled in wetlands protection, restoration, and education. Through coordinated media outreach and an awards ceremony on Capitol Hill, awardees receive national recognition and attention for their outstanding efforts. The program is administered by the Environmental Law Institute and supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, NOAA Fisheries, and the Federal Highway Administration. ELI coordinates the awards program, while our federal agency supporters provide financial support, serve on the selection committee, and/or participate in the ceremony.
The awardees are selected by a widely representative committee composed of 12-18 wetlands experts from around the country, including representatives from each federal supporting agency, members of the conservation and business communities, and representatives from state and local governments. Selection Committee members are carefully selected to represent a diversity of geographic areas and wetland expertise. ELI facilitates the Selection Committee meeting, but does not participate in selecting the winners. The awardees are determined by a majority vote of the Selection Committee.
The awardees were recognized for their individual achievements in six categories: Conservation and Restoration; Education and Outreach; Landowner Stewardship; Scientific Research; State, Tribal, and Local Program Development; and Wetlands Business Leader.
This year’s Landowner Stewardship award went to The Gibbons Family of Cedar Breaks Ranch in Brookings, South Dakota. Over the past 28 years, William and Jeanette Gibbons and their family have devoted tremendous time and financial resources to restore degraded land and water on their land. Since the purchase of an initial 240 acres in 1989, the Gibbons developed their formerly overgrazed and eroded property into a showcase of how various conservation practices can be seamlessly and profitably integrated into a working farm. They also use their land to further research on natural resource management, host workshops, tours, and youth hunting and fishing events. The Gibbons’ remarkable achievements encouraged other landowners to incorporate regenerative agriculture into their own practices to build soil, expand biodiversity, and increase sustainability.
Kerstin Wasson was the recipient of the Science Research award. Kerstin Wasson has been the Research Coordinator at the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve in Watsonville, California, for over 18 years. She engages citizen scientists in long-term monitoring, from collecting water quality data to counting migratory shorebirds to tracking nesting at a heronry. She launched an ambitious ecosystem-based management initiative to bring together diverse stakeholders to jointly develop a shared vision for restoration of the estuary’s wetlands, and conducts extensive salt marsh and native oyster restoration experiments. In addition to this work, Kerstin has led major collaborative projects across the network of National Estuarine Reserve Reserves, assessing salt marsh resilience to sea-level rise and testing climate adaptation strategies.
The Education and Outreach award went to Mark D. Sees, who has served as the Manager of Florida’s Orlando Wetlands Park for over 20 years. In addition to his daily duties of managing the wetland treatment system, he has proactively sought opportunities to evolve the park into a center of public recreation as well as wetlands education and research. In 1999, he initiated the annual “Orlando Wetland Festival” to provide local children and adults an opportunity to take tours in the wetlands to understand their place in the watershed as well as how they filter and remove pollutants from water and protect downstream water bodies. The annual festival now attracts more than 5,000 people each year.
Maryann M. McGraw, Wetland Program Coordinator for the New Mexico Environment Department in Santa Fe, New Mexico, was the recipient of the State, Tribal, and Local Program Development award. Maryann M. McGraw initiated the state’s Wetlands Program in 2003 and continues to provide vision and guide development to ensure the program reflects the crucial role of wetlands and riparian areas in the arid west. Her recent projects include the development of rapid assessment methods for montane and lowland riverine wetlands, confined valleys, and playas of the Southern High Plains, which provides data necessary for the development of state wetlands water quality standards and antidegradation policies.
The Conservation and Restoration award went to Latimore M. Smith, a retired Restoration Ecologist with The Nature Conservancy in Covington, Louisiana. A gifted botanist and plant community ecologist, Latimore M. Smith spent more than 15 years with the Louisiana Natural Heritage Program in the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, identifying and documenting the diversity and ecology of natural habitats across the state of Louisiana. He was the first to recognize and formally describe a variety of natural wetland communities previously undocumented for the state, including globally rare longleaf pine flatwood wetlands. And as the former Director of Stewardship/Restoration Ecologist for The Nature Conservancy’s Louisiana Field Office, he dedicated himself to conserving, restoring, and managing many of the state’s premier natural areas.
Roy R. “Robin” Lewis III, Founder/President of Lewis Environmental Service Inc./Coastal Resource Group Inc. in Salt Springs, Florida, was the winner of the Wetlands Business Leader award, a new category for 2018. For more than four decades, Robin Lewis has been at the vanguard of wetland restoration and creation, designing or assisting in the design of more than 200 completed wetland projects in Florida, California, South Carolina, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Nigeria, and Thailand. In addition to founding two environmental consulting companies—Lewis Environmental Services, Inc. and Mangrove Systems, Inc.—he is also president of Coastal Resource Group, Inc., a nonprofit educational and scientific organization. He also works with the Association of State Wetland Managers to provide education opportunities and resources.