Alberta’s wilderness is among the most pristine and beautiful in the world. Our wild places are the source of our health, wealth and quality of life. Alberta’s wilderness cannot be taken for granted. We must take an active role in its conservation.
The Alberta Wilderness Defenders Awards are dedicated to individuals who have inspired us with their love of Alberta’s wild lands, wild rivers and wildlife, and their efforts and achievements for conservation.
If you would like to nominate an individual for this award, please contact AWA.
Past winners of the Alberta Wilderness Defenders Awards are:
(1951 – 1986)
Orval Pall, a dedicated and enthusiastic wildlife biologist, devoted his life to understanding the behaviour and place of wildlife in nature. Cougars, wolverines and woodland caribou were the primary focus of his research. Like the animals he loved and studied, Orval thrived on wilderness. His vision for wilderness protection and support of the Alberta Wilderness Association has inspired friends and colleagues through the years. Orval died June 6, 1986 while surveying bighorn sheep from the air in Kananaskis Country.
An active and skilled pilot for much of his life, Steve Dixon joyfully celebrated his bird’s eye view of the natural earth. He was described as one of the spark plugs in the early formation of the Alberta Wilderness Association. His concerns about human overpopulation and the loss of wildlife and natural areas prompted an enthusiastic and vociferous advocacy for preserving wilderness values. An avid hunter, he applied his conservationist principles to his farming operation, east of High River. With his mechanic’s training, Steve also enjoyed inventing and building devices for improving farming efficiencies.
William (Bill) Michalsky injected his strong support for conservation principles into all his work, as a rancher in southwest Alberta or as a trapper throughout Western Canada. The first interim president of the Alberta Wilderness Association in June, 1968, he had a profound influence on ensuring the continuation of those principles. Although he died in 1996, his defence against what he called the unjustified shredding of our wildlands by commercial interests remains as valid a rallying cry today as it was then. With a particular fascination for bighorn sheep, his interests encompassed all aspects of the natural world.
The first-ever elected president of the Alberta Wilderness Association, 1969-1972, Floyd Stromstedt enjoyed a remarkably varied life, from camp cook to oilfield technologist, pilot to opera singer. His frustrations as a sheep hunter seeing the encroaching industrialization of the Foothills region sparked his early involvement with the Alberta Wilderness Association. His vision was to attract as broad a membership as possible. With his rich baritone voice, he shared his passion for wilderness values in speeches throughout Alberta. Later in his working life, Floyd returned to settle on the land in Peace River originally occupied by his parents.
Dorothy Dickson brought many talents to Canada when she emigrated from England at age 35 with her husband and two daughters. A teacher by profession, she had a zest for natural history, drama, music, writing, dance, sports and horse riding. Once here, she offered her talents as a volunteer, making particular contributions to the lives of young people. Her pioneering work with environmental education, her later participation in provincial advisory boards and her leadership roles in groups such as the Calgary Field Naturalists’ Society, Canadian Nature Federation and, of course, the Alberta Wilderness Association are testimony to Dorothy Dickson’s life-long commitment as a naturalist.
Through his energetic pursuit of scientific knowledge and his contacts with other scientists throughout the world, Bill Fuller has consistently summoned an impressive case on behalf of the natural environment. He has applied powerful scientific principles to all his endeavours, as a Canadian Wildlife biologist in the North early in his career, as a professor in the University of Alberta zoology department for 25 years and as a volunteer activist. A deep passion for the natural world underscores his always reasoned and relentless approach to environmental issues. The author of numerous academic papers, Bill Fuller is known internationally for his work with buffalo and other northern mammals.
Andy Russell’s roles as mountain man, conservationist, cowboy, writer, broadcaster, photographer, filmmaker, public speaker, rancher, political candidate, trapper, hunter, wilderness guide, horse trainer, form a uniquely colourful life story for this popular Alberta figure. The producer of two feature-length movies and the author of 12 published books including the best-selling Grizzly Country, he’s been called one of the most engaging storytellers in Canadian history. Powerful conservationist ideals have motivated Andy Russell’s activities throughout his life. His many awards include the Order of Canada, a Golden Jubilee Medal from Queen Elizabeth ll, and four honorary degrees from Alberta universities.
Family, friends and colleagues remember Ray Sloan warmly as a committed yet joyful wildlife advocate who lived life to the fullest. He passed on his love of the outdoors to his family and hundreds of students who came under his guidance during his 30 years as an instructor in the Mount Royal College environmental technology program. With his masters degree in population biology, he applied his innovative ideas in particular to a better understanding of fish and their habitat in Alberta’s foothills. One of the Alberta Wilderness Association’s founding members in the 1960s and AWA president 1976-78, Ray Sloan played key roles in vital conservation battles.
USSR-born, raised in Germany and Austria, Valerius Geist has an unquenchable passion for knowledge. During 27 years at the University of Calgary, this courageous conservationist determinedly brought science into public policy debate. He has spoken out, whether against game ranching or for preserving mountain sheep. He has written 16 books, some best sellers. With a BSc in zoology and a PhD in ethology from the University of British Columbia, he did post-doctoral work at Seewiesen, Germany. Using an inter-disciplinary approach, he taught environmental science and human biology. A second line of teaching and research centred on policies for wildlife conservation and large-mammal biology.
Since arriving from her native Minnesota, Martha Kostuch has dominated Alberta’s environmental activism scene. The relentless Rocky Mountain House veterinarian has tackled huge issues, from stopping a major resort by the Cline River to reducing sulphur dioxide emissions she’s linked to sickness in west-central Alberta. Other activities include fighting the Oldman River Dam, defending the fisheries, and opposing some logging practices. The widespread and deep respect for her was reflected in her nomination for Alberta Environment’s first individual Emerald Award. More recent honours include awards from the Canadian Nature Federation and Canadian Geographic. She has played leadership roles in many organizations.
Highlights of Ian Ross’s shortened life include a 14-year study of cougars in the Kananaskis. Part of an illustrious career researching large mammals, it gained national attention, helping inform conservation strategies. A past Alberta Wildlife Society president, he embraced strong conservation ethics. Ontario-born, he was a keen hunter-fisherman who loved the wilderness. He had a University of Guelph wildlife biology degree. His humane capture work of cougars, bears, and bighorn sheep was shown on the Discovery Channel. He was killed in a light aircraft crash while tracking lions for a Kenyan conservation project. A gentle man, he was well-known for his writing and excellent story-telling.
His dedicated volunteering and international biologist career have made Cliff Wallis one of Alberta’s most effective advocates for the natural environment. His involvement with the Alberta Wilderness Association since 1980, including a number of years as president, plus other conservation leadership roles, confirm his abilities. Combining scientific rigour with passion, especially for the prairie, his successes include helping formulate the Milk River management plan. The Suffield Wildlife Sanctuary designation results partly from his efforts. He has protected many sensitive areas from industrial incursions. He has a University of Calgary BSc in botany and zoology. He has received awards from the World Wildlife Fund and the Canadian Nature Federation and the Canada 125th Anniversary medal.
Ever passionate, sometimes controversial, Jim Butler has assumed many roles – environmental advocate, conservation biologist, professor, author, and poet, among them. In a distinguished, 26-year career at the University of Alberta Department of Forest Science, he’s won acclaim for his work in such areas as boreal forest ecology, parks management and ecotourism. The West Virginia-born man completed doctoral studies at the University of Seattle, Washington, in parks and recreation interpretation. Consulting assignments have taken him throughout the world. Published books deal with topics from birds to the boreal forest. He has spent four decades exploring the mosaic of the human/nature bond.
Lethbridge-born, raised in the U.K., Dawn Dickinson is a fearless environmentalist, combining tenacity with grace and humour. Since 1989, she has served as a dedicated volunteer for conservation, particularly in the Medicine Hat region. With a masters in zoology from the University of Alberta at age 46, she worked as a biologist and travelled throughout the North. She received a Prairie Conservation and Endangered Species Conference Award in 2004. Her efforts helped create the Suffield National Wildlife Area and led to the Meridian Dam’s cancellation. She’s also used painting, photography, writing and movie scripts to express her love of the natural landscape.
Richard Pharis combines a ground-breaking career as a botanist, expanding understanding of plant hormones, with four decades promoting Canadian conservationism, including a leadership role in the AWA’s successful evolution. Indiana-born and with his plant physiology doctorate from Duke University, Carolina, he served the University of Calgary’s botany department for 30 years. Since 1974, he’s maintained close ties with New Zealand as a visiting research scientist and vineyard co-owner. Honours include the Heaslip Award for Environmental Stewardship and a United Nations Commemorative Silver Medal in 1982. A keen hunter and fisherman, he focused many of his efforts on preserving the Eastern Slopes.
Since that pivotal day in 1993 when he counted 103 golden eagles in one day soaring over the Mount Lorette area, Peter Sherrington has worked to ensure a legacy of stewardship that he hopes will benefit future generations. “As long as these birds have a future,” he says, “so do we.” Sherrington, a past president of AWA, has been a member for 30 years and served on the board for 10. His dedicated tracking of the migrating golden eagles came after retiring from a 30-year career in oil and gas. Since then, he has given about 250 presentations on the magnificent raptors, evidence of his passion for spreading environmental literacy.
Infused with a love of wilderness as a child roaming her grandparents’ ranch, Vivian Pharis has spent much of her life relentlessly advocating for the preservation of natural places. After completing a BSc in botany and a BEd, she taught high school biology and art for 10 years. She has been involved with AWA since the 1960’s, participating in the development of the Eastern Slopes Policy, leading cleanup trips on horseback in the Bighorn, acting as AWA President, and being a Board member for almost two decades. In 1992, Vivian was recognized for her achievements by being named one of the Calgary Herald’s Women of Consequence. Her love of horses and dogs, her experience as a vineyard owner, her artistic pursuits, and her passion for nature are just some of the threads in the tapestry of Vivian’s diverse life.
Herb’s passion for wilderness began was born along the banks of the Elbe River in his native Germany. When the family moved to Oregon in 1938, his connection with the Cascadian landscape led to a deep awareness of the human impact on the natural world. Herb’s lifestyle and outspoken environmental advocacy grew naturally from his belief that humans are not separate from their environment. He passed that mindset on to his students during his many years as a geography professor. Herb was instrumental in founding the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Sierra Club, and after moving to Calgary in 1967, the Prairie Chapter. He was recognized by the Alpine Club of Canada with the Silver Rope for mountaineering leadership (1980) and the Distinguished Service Award (1988).
Cheryl Bradley’s unwavering leadership in conserving Alberta’s wildlands has inspired countless advocates for wilderness. Combining her expertise as a botanist with her ability to motivate and engage people, she has had crucial roles in numerous conservation organizations. Among her outstanding gifts is that of synthesizing information and communicating it to others. In the early 1980s, Cheryl used this skill to attract attention to the Rumsey Wildland and to bring about its protection. Cheryl’s defence of wilderness is grounded in the sense of joy that she experiences in the places she loves. Her commitment to the work of AWA included the roles of vice-president and then president from 1979 to 1983, and she continues to be a vital pillar of AWA’s work.
Ian Urquhart’s childhood rambles in interior B.C. set the stage for a lifelong love of wilderness. An engaging writer, his numerous publications include Making It Work: Kyoto, Trade, and Politics (2002) and The Last Great Forest: Japanese Multinationals and Alberta’s Northern Forests (1994). Ian has been teaching political science at the University of Alberta since 1987. He has an uncompromising commitment to speak the truth about Alberta’s current political climate and about how it affects wilderness. His lifelong defence of Alberta’s wild places has included invaluable contributions to AWA as board member, writer, and conservationist. Ian’s dedication to accurate critique and to a conservation ethic is as much a part of him as his love of Alberta’s wild places.
Diane and Mike McIvor have passionately and jointly defended Alberta’s wild lands for four decades, particularly in the Bow Valley, their home for many years. Intensely interested in both natural history and conservation, interests they believe are inseparable, they have conducted many bird and amphibian studies in the Bow Valley. They have been dedicated members of the Bow Valley Naturalists since the late 1960s, with Mike serving several terms as president. He also served as president of the Federation of Alberta Naturalists for two terms and as an Alberta Wilderness Association director for 13 years. Mike and Diane’s untiring conservation efforts have made a lasting contribution to conserving Wild Alberta for future generations.
Dave Sheppard’s unwavering commitment to Alberta’s wild lands distinguishes him as one of our outstanding Wilderness Defenders. Dave and his wife, Jean, moved to the foothills near Pincher Creek in the late 1970s after teaching biology at the University of Saskatchewan. He soon recognized the ecological importance of the Castle region and worked tirelessly toward its protection. His innate ability to rally a disparate group of people behind a common cause, maintain an even keel when things get rough, and create lasting social bonds among those he meets has left us with a living legacy of environmental stewardship that will echo through the Castle and beyond for decades to come.
James Tweedie and Judy Huntley, partners in life and in dedication to the land, have focused their conservation efforts in Alberta’s south-west. While they act for the benefit of local communities, their work is always within the context of broad, global perspectives.
Together, they have become a formidable force defending wilderness and wildlife and all who cannot speak out on behalf of critical lands such as the headwaters of the Castle and Oldman Rivers or the unique Whaleback. The respect James and Judy have within their community was evident when they were able to organize a rare rancher-environmental coalition to successfully fight a sour gas drilling program in the Whaleback. They are founding members of the Castle Crown Wilderness Coalition and have held active roles in many Alberta and Canadian environmental organizations, including AWA.
Richard Secord has, through hard work, dedication, and the drive of his conscience become a leading environmental lawyer in Alberta and Canada. Since being called to the Alberta Bar in 1980, Richard’s work has evolved to incorporate an impressive list of First Nations and environmental cases in which his defense of the “underdog” has often resulted in impressive decisions. One notable set of hearings went on three years with Richard acting for the Lesser Slave Lake Indian Regional Council and resulting in thwarting a decision to transport dangerous waste across Canada t be treated at the Swan Hills Waste Treatment Plant. His caring and dedicated nature extends to the environment in other ways too, including his active membership in the AWA where he became a Director in 2000 and was President from 2003 to 2007.
Tom Beck used quiet demeanor and his capacity for diplomacy in pioneering the greening of Alberta’s early petroleum industry, and later in building substantive bridges between this industry and aboriginal peoples of Canada’s Arctic. These traits—combined with the admiration and love Tom developed for wide open spaces and nature’s beauty after arriving in Alberta as a teenager from the starkness of post-war Scotland—gave him the tools to craft unique agreements between the oil and gas industry and the Inuvialuit of Banks Island, gaining for them wildlife protection and parks development, land use plans and environmental screening. Between 1978 and 1987, Tom served all Canadians as Chair of the Canadian Environmental Advisory Council.
Tom is also a distinguished environmental volunteer. While serving on the board of the Nature Conservancy, he helped to gain the Cross Conservation Area near Calgary. His earliest volunteering, though, was as a founding member of the Alberta Wilderness Association.
Peter Lee’s love affair with nature and wildlife began as a youngster on the north shore of Lake Superior. He pursued that passion in the outdoors and the classroom. After completing a Master’s degree at the University of Alberta he worked first in government, then for World Wildlife Fund Canada and is now the Executive Director of Global Forest Watch Canada. The work of Global Forest Watch Canada: to use sophisticated technologies such as satellite imagery and Geographical Information System (GIS) software, to identify and evaluate the conservation challenges we face; is vital to our ecological future. His advice to “act with integrity, try to be a role model, have some fun” are words we all would do well to live by.
Bob Scammell is an Alberta treasure. A lawyer by profession and best known as an outdoorsman through his 45 years of writing weekly outdoors columns for the Red Deer Advocate as well as many other local papers. His articles appear regularly in North American outdoors journals such as Field and Stream. Always a student of nature, Bob became a fly fisherman, a keenly observant hunter and a staunch defender of Alberta’s public lands. These interests led him into an active side life, serving on the executive and boards of various conservation organizations including the Alberta Fish and Game Association, Canadian Wildlife Federation and Alberta Conservation Association. Well recognized for public service, Bob’s three books and hundreds of articles and columns have brought him even greater recognition.
Stephen Herrero’s name is synonymous with bears. His contribution to our understanding of bears and their behaviour has been unparalleled in North America, probably in the world. Stephen left his native California in 1967 with a PhD in psychology/ zoology. His travels led him inexorably towards Alberta, where he began a long and fruitful association with the University of Calgary, studying how bears interact with one another and how this translates to their interactions with people. Throughout his career Stephen has shown an understanding that with the privilege of studying such spectacular creatures as grizzly bears comes the responsibility of advocating on their behalf. His renowned book Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance was first published in 1985, and has been in print ever since. It has sold more than 115,000 copies.
Dr. Alison Dinwoodie has been an outstanding advocate for Alberta’s wild spaces for decades. Alison’s passion for our natural heritage may best be reflected in her longstanding commitment to the ecological health of the Cardinal Divide Natural Area and Wildland Provincial Park. Alison is a founding member and past-president of the Stewards of Alberta’s Protected Areas Association. This association of volunteer stewards is dedicated to the “preservation, protection and restoration of the ecological integrity of Alberta’s Protected Areas.” Alison’s tenacity and passion have made her a vital mentor and a formidable wilderness defender.
It is one thing to tell people how the land should be managed, and another to be engaged and show how to manage. Lorne has worked tirelessly at helping others learn and at being a voice for Alberta’s wilderness, both within the government and without. His career has met with many successes, from Antelope Creek demonstration ranch to the 1991 establishment of Cows and Fish. Lorne is a writer, teacher, mentor and board member of five conservation organizations. “We have to step up to the plate,” he says. “As citizens, we need to take a role.”
Roger Creasey was an industry man with a difference. He thought like an environmentalist always seeing beyond to the bigger picture and the farther horizon. He was an environmental biologist and maintained dual careers in the petroleum industry and as a university educator. Full of good humor, Roger had a rare talent for pulling together disparate sides and working towards compromise while ensuring environmental principles underpinned each decision. There were few as capable as Roger at working successfully across a range of sectors: government, industry, science and environment, while always incorporating human values. His legacy is his ability to see and act for the greater good for all. Roger was a friend and intelligent adviser to the AWA.
Truly a life-long naturalist, even from grade school days, Gus walked several miles each day in North Battleford, Saskatchewan observing plants and animals along the way. In 1972, he founded his own nature travel company, leading outdoor tours across Canada and to many other countries. Gus leads nature walks and birding courses in and around Calgary encouraging environmental stewardship and awareness. He has received many awards and is known widely as a walking biological encyclopedia. An advocate for countless conservation causes, an ongoing supporter of AWA, and a passionate teacher Gus tirelessly shares his knowledge and inspires people of all ages and walks of life.
Tom Maccagno devoted his life to Alberta sharing his energy, intellect, love of nature and passion for local history. A lawyer by profession, Tom was a naturalist, conservationist and historian at heart. His passion led to the discovery of many orchid species and rare plants in the Lakeland district. Tom was a civic man who embraced local politics and served Lac La Biche as its mayor. Tenacious in his manner, he will be remembered for representing the public good and helping others be concerned with environmental stewardship. His association with the protection of local parks and historical places is a lasting legacy.
Standing as tall as the mountains around him, he gazes forward to a time when they will no longer need his voice calling for their protection. Gord was lured to the south-west corner of Alberta by its beauty and by the potential to restore it to its wilderness glory. He’s been a knowledgeable and tireless campaigner for the ideals of the Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition, an artful photographer and devoted advocate for sound land management throughout the Eastern Slopes. He hasn’t wavered in his beliefs and devotion to the wilderness as he walks softly and carries a mighty stick.
As iconically Albertan as are the bull pines profiling rocky ridge tops in the south-west corner where he lives. Through poetry, songs and prose, he celebrates our ties to landscapes, wild critters and our colourful past. Sid claims that communing with wild places is restorative by slowing the pace of life, allowing us to live in the present moment and connect with “those old souls” that knew this land as long ago as 10,000 years. Sid is highly regarded and when he stands up, others learn from him and stand up too.
Ray’s contributions to protecting wild Alberta are as many and varied as the province’s landscapes. AWA, CPAWS, and Alberta Environmental Network are just some of the environmental organizations to benefit from Ray’s passion for the natural world. Professor Emeritus in the University of Alberta’s School of Business Ray championed the importance of sustainable development in a number of municipal and provincial advisory committees. His passion for Willmore Wilderness Park is boundless. Through his annual hikes into the Willmore he has introduced hundreds of hikers to the wonders of this special place.
Passion for the intrinsic values within Alberta’s immense boreal forests drove Helene’s career in conservation. Where some saw a timber resource, she saw teeming life and beauty, nature’s strength and fragility, grandeur and wildness. Helene’s work has boldly alerted governments, industry, and fellow environmentalists of the dire need to conserve the boreal forest. Although many Albertans care about intact landscapes, few act with Helene’s passion, persistence, intellect, and energy. Her unwavering focus, partnered with a rational and diplomatic approach, is an inspiration. Although it cannot speak, we’re certain the boreal and its biodiversity says, “thank you!”.
Raised with conservation mindsets, Colleen and Dylan have been advocates who walk the talk to bring environmental issues into the hearts and homes of Canadians. Whether it was marching in the streets to save Haida Gwaii in years past or running TK Ranch today, they advocate positive change and protect human and natural history with a practical, environmental and solution focused ethic. Their ranch on rare native northern fescue grasslands exemplifies the stewardship and care they bring to the land, to the animals they raise, and to the wildlife that shares their special place in the middle of everywhere, Alberta.
The natural beauty and native plant communities of the alpine meant that for years we could find Reg with the Flora of Alberta under his arm, exploring and documenting rare plants somewhere in the Castle Wilderness. Reg has created awareness of the threat of invasive species to these native plants and has been instrumental in a number of studies and projects focused on protection. Motivated by a sense of duty, that the work he was doing was something he felt he was obliged to do, he has helped many others learn, saved more than a rattlesnake or two and added to the records of rare and endangered plants in Alberta.
Wendy has always been a vital defender of wilderness and since she moved to the Pincher Creek area in the 1970s she has stood up for wild spaces and the wildlife that depend on it. Her childhood on the family farm near Brooks, working with her father to care for horses and the land, inspired Wendy to become a prominent member of the local community that fought for more than 40 years to protect the Castle Wilderness. Throughout the years she has been a tireless weed puller, garbage picker and teacher for so many who didn’t realize the impact recreation and industrial activity could have. Wendy knows most if not all the trails of the Crown of the Continent and is tireless in her efforts for better stewardship by all. With the formal creation of the Castle parks Wendy’s knowledge and efforts help ensure the parks are well-managed, grasslands are protected, and that a new generation of activists will continue to carry the stewardship torch in southwest Alberta.
Alberta’s generous public education system gave Dave the rare privilege to work as a freshwater scientist throughout western Canada, doing fieldwork in some of the most heartbreakingly beautiful landscapes anywhere on earth. In appreciation for that opportunity given by his fellow citizens, he has fought with them to retain the best, most essential parts of the areas he knows best, as wilderness for the benefit of the public. His donated time and expertise includes pro bono, volunteer, or limited compensation independent research, writing, representation and testimony for numerous Canadian environmental and landowners groups, including AWA, Y2Y, CPAWS, Rocky Mountain Ecosystem Coalition, Timberwolf Wilderness Society, various ad hoc citizen groups, underfunded government agencies and university environmental departments, not to mention public interest interventions under his own name. He reminds us that, as our First Nations have long known and our scientists have been discovering in their own way, wilderness is not just nice to have: it is essential to have. We literally cannot live without it. He reminds his fellow scientists that advocacy is an essential part of science. Scientists have an explicit obligation to fight for what they have shown to be true.