Accepting the TWF Conservation Organization of the Year Award on behalf of the Rocky Fork Partnership were (from left to right) Jay Leutze, Southern Appalachian Highland Conservancy; Patrick Jaynes, deputy chief of staff for Sen. Lamar Alexander; Tom Speaks, U.S. Forest Service; Ed Carter, TWRA executive director; and Ralph Knoll and Rex Boner with The Conservation Fund. (Photo: Contributed)

Each year since 1965, the Tennessee Wildlife Federation has honored a select group of leaders across the state for their work in the conservation and stewardship of wildlife and their habitats.

"These awards recognize those individuals and organizations that have made truly meaningful contributions to conservation in Tennessee and to TWF," Michael Butler, the federation's CEO, said. "The current generation is building upon the great work of our past winners, and we are proud to honor their contributions."

The 47th annual TWF Conservation Achievement Awards were held Wednesday, April 18 at the War Memorial Auditorium in downtown Nashville.

Col. Patricia Jones, director of the Tennessee National Guard's J9 Military and Family Readiness Operations, and Sgt. Maj. Darrell Allen, with the Tennessee Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention Battalion, accepted a TWF Davis P. Rice Scholarship on behalf of Jarvis Kinnie-Shaw, son of the late Sgt. 1st Class David James Shaw of Jackson.

Kinnie-Shaw, who is a student at the Tennessee Technological Center in Jackson, was unable to attend because of finals.

The scholarship program was created to honor the life of Davis P. Rice, son of former TWF Chairman Tom Rice and a passionate outdoorsman, who lost his life in an automobile accident while in college. The Tennessee Army National Guard is the presenting sponsor of TWF's Tennessee Scholastic Clay Target Program.

The Rocky Fork Partnership was named Conservation Organization of the Year for leading an effort to raise $40 million to protect the iconic Rocky Fork tract of land in the Cherokee National Forest.

Scott Davis of Franklin, director of conservation programs for The Nature Conservancy's North American Central Division, was named Land Conservationist of the Year. Davis, who formerly served as TNC's Tennessee state director, completed the largest conservation land acquisition since the Smoky Mountains, securing tens of thousands of acres in the Cumberland Mountains, and he also developed a nationally recognized state wildlife action plan for Tennessee.

Dr. Paul Johnson, director of the Alabama Aquatic Biodiversity Center, was honored as the 2012 Fish and Wildlife Conservationist of the Year for his work to restore regionally significant mussel and snail species in the rivers between Tennessee and Alabama.

Tennessee House Speaker Pro Tem Judd Matheny of Tullahoma was named the Conservation Legislator of the Year. Matheny demonstrated unwavering leadership leading up to and during this year's legislative session in bringing together the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and members of the Tennessee House of Representatives to foster strong and productive relationships.

Matheny has also been a sponsor and champion of HB2776, which was carefully crafted to strengthen the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission.

Crossville Mayor J.H. Graham III was named Water Conservationist of the Year for facilitating a partnership among multiple agencies and organizations to implement a habitat conservation plan for the Crossville area—the first of its kind—that has led to the identification and protection of at least 23 endangered and threatened species.

The Ged Pettit Memorial Award was presented posthumously to longtime TWRA Region IV information and education coordinator Allen Ricks of Morristown, who served the state and its wildlife for 32 years. Ricks was instrumental in educating youth and implementing outreach programs that drew young people into the outdoors. Receiving the award on his behalf was his son, Jonathon Ricks.

Tom Speaks of Cleveland was named Forest Conservationist of the Year for his efforts to rehabilitate the historic Pinnacle Mountain Fire Tower near Buffalo Mountain and a five-mile trail to connect it to the future site of the Tanasi Arts and Heritage Center.

Speaks also assisted in the acquisition of additional land for the Rocky Fork Property in the Northern Cherokee Park, and he also brought together a diverse group of stakeholders to develop a set of ecologically sound practices to restore the Northern Zone of the Cherokee National Forest.

Longtime volunteer Eddie Cothern of Arrington was named the 2012 Hunter Education Instructor of the Year. Since 2008, Cothern has taught nearly 75 hunter education classes and has certified more than 2,800 students.

The Youth Conservationist of the Year was Caylor Romines of Knoxville, who began volunteering with the Wildlife and Fisheries Program at the University of Tennessee at the age of 13. Romines received a scholarship from the American Fisheries Society to spend the summer working with the U.S. Forest Service while still in high school, and he has assisted in a number of public programs to spread his love of the great outdoors to children and adults. As a UT wildlife and fisheries student, he has become a member of the Wildlife Society, orchestrated forest workdays among fellow students, completed wildland fire training and assisted the U.S. Forest Service with prescribed burns.

Retired Shelby County school district teacher Wieda Ringley was named Conservation Educator of the Year, after the entire membership of the Shelby County 4-H program endorsed her application. After graduating college, Ringley became a science teacher at Caldwell Elementary School in Memphis, where she organized and developed an outdoor classroom and gardening group. More recently, her 4-H forestry team has won six regional championships and is heading to the national championships this summer.

Ringley has also coached the Wildlife and Fisheries Team, which has won the junior regional championships twice. As part of numerous service projects, her 4-H groups have organized recycling services for events and neighborhoods, built nesting boxes for the Wolf River WMA, planted 6,000 trees throughout West Tennessee and more.

Tennessee's "Wildside" Producer Ken Tucker of Pegram is the 2012 Conservation Communicator of the Year. His passion for wildlife and talent for television production have had a major impact on the telling of the story of conservation in Tennessee. "Wildside" has been recognized three times as the best outdoor show in North America, has won multiple Emmy Awards and does a service statewide to raise awareness among Tennesseans of the importance of conservation and wildlife stewardship. A segment he produced on Cummins Falls led to the preservation of the falls and the land around it, and his profile on TWF's Great Outdoors University has helped raise thousands of dollars to provide outdoor opportunities for inner-city children.

Internationally recognized wildlife artist Phillip Crowe of Franklin was named the winner of the Louis John "Lou" Williams Award for his work to support the federation and Tennessee's wildlife resources over the course of a 40-year career. He started in commercial art, but his passion for drawing and painting wildlife has helped raise millions of dollars for organizations including Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Tennessee Wildlife Federation. His record includes 15 top ten finishes in the federal duck stamp competition, six times as the Arkansas duck stamp champion, and a total of 62 wins across 16 states in other waterfowl and conservation stamp competitions.

The Z. Cartter Patten Award went to Rex Boner, vice president and Southeast representative for The Conservation Fund. Working in partnership with other conservation organizations and agencies, the fund has protected more than 6 million acres of forestland, wildlife habitat, wetlands and historic sites, including nearly 155,000 acres in Tennessee. Boner has contributed to the purchase of 4,000 acres on the Wolf River, the protection of 75,000 acres of the Cumberland Forest adjacent to the Royal Blue WMA, the purchase of the Cumberland Trail State Park Corridor and the acquisition of 10,000 acres in Rocky Fork.

TWF board member, Tennessee's "Wildside" host and world-class outdoorsman Chris Nischan was honored with the Chairman's Award by TWF Chairman of the Board Dan Hammond. Nischan has represented TWF's mission and programs with professionalism and compassion, donating his time and talents not only to assist with the federation's advocacy efforts in the General Assembly, but also as a mentor to hundreds of kids through TWF's Great Outdoors University Program.

Presenting sponsors were Bridgestone Americas and Packaging Corporation of America.

Founded in 1946, the Tennessee Wildlife Federation is dedicated to the conservation, sound management and enjoyment of Tennessee's wildlife and natural resources for current and future generations through stewardship, advocacy and education. To learn more, visit