Wilburforce Foundation presents Conservation Leadership Awards to four visionaries protecting wildlands and key species

by Angela Sponsler

The Wilburforce Foundation presented today its 2022 Conservation Leadership Awards (CLA) to four visionaries for their yearslong efforts to preserve species and wildlands, particularly in northern Canada and in partnership with Indigenous leaders.   

The Conservation Leadership Award was established in 2000 and comes with a cash award for both the individual winner and the organization they represent.

“Our awardees this year are not only leaders, they are mentors, trainers and true collaborators,” said Paul Beaudet, executive director of the Wilburforce Foundation. “They know that conserving our wildlife and wild spaces takes all of us. And thus, they’re dedicated to listening to, learning from and supporting others.” 

The 2022 CLA honors were presented to:

  • Erin Dovichin, Alaska Venture Fund: Dovichin founded Alaska Venture Fund in 2018 to make the state a model for a sustainable future. A visionary with a love for Alaska’s wildlands and Alaska’s people, Dovichin is determined to bring people together to realize Alaska’s outsized economic and conservation opportunities, from its incredible and valuable carbon reserves to its wild salmon ecosystems, from its unparallelled outdoor recreation to its powerful Indigenous-led stewardship efforts and rich cultural heritage. Alaska Venture Fund builds and advances projects in every region of the state, and is particularly committed to supporting Alaska Native leaders and Native communities to achieve their climate and conservation objectives with resources, research and knowledge exchange programs. Dovichin has played a key role in successful efforts to protect the Tongass National Forest and to defend Bristol Bay from the proposed Pebble mine, while building new community models of economic prosperity and stewardship rooted in Indigenous governance and self-determination. 
     
  • Dr. Justina Ray, WCS Canada: Dr. Ray co-founded WCS Canada—an affiliate of the global Wildlife Conservation Society—where she serves as president and senior scientist, in 2004. The organization has become a leading resource for conservation efforts that have impacted millions of square kilometers across the country. WCS Canada strongly supports Indigenous-led conservation, and Dr. Ray has been a strong advocate for conservation through reconciliation. In recent years, WCS Canada science has had positive impacts on land-use planning throughout Canada, providing science to policymakers for critical decisions. Their work has boosted understanding of the Greater Muskwa-Kechika region, and informed protection of Nahanni National Park and the Castle Provincial Park & Castle Wildland Provincial Park. Dr. Ray served for almost a decade as a member of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, and has served on numerous governmental science advisory panels. 
     
  • Dr. Fiona Schmiegelow, University of Alberta and Yukon University: As leader of the BEACONs Team (Boreal Ecosystems Analysis for Conservation Networks) and Director of the Northern Environmental and Conservation Sciences at the University of Alberta and Yukon University, Dr. Schmiegelow focuses on conducting robust research and building local capacity to inform land-use and wildlife conservation policies and practices in northern Canada. Her work includes numerous collaborations with First Nations and a wide range of other partners, and has expanded programs at UA and YukonU to strengthen relationships between researchers, students and Indigenous communities in northern Canada. Along with land-use planning, her work includes extensive support for migratory bird and caribou conservation, and she has served on many government advisory panels advancing these interests. Some of her most impactful work is in nurturing a next generation of conservation scientists who bring fresh perspective and a deeply rooted commitment to reconciliation as a foundation for their work.
     
  • Mitch Friedman, Conservation Northwest: The impact of Mitch Friedman and the advocates he’s led at Conservation Northwest can be felt throughout the Pacific Northwest. Since starting the organization in 1989, his efforts have resulted in a healthier, more vibrant and more resilient Cascadia, creating and restoring connections for wildlife, for wild places and for the people that love their Pacific Northwest home. Mitch and his team were instrumental in securing state and federal funding to build numerous wildlife crossings across Interstate 90; that success has led to new initiatives for crossings near I-5 to link the Olympic Peninsula to the Cascade Mountains. He raised funds to purchase private ranch land and return it to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation Tribe for their stewardship. Under his leadership, CNW and the Colville Tribes are also working together to prevent potential pollution disasters from failing dams at the Copper Mountain mine in British Columbia.

“The work we need to do in our wild places—from mitigating the effects of climate change to stopping extinction—is a tall challenge,” said Beaudet. “These leaders recognize that we cannot do it alone. Their partnerships and collaborations with Tribes, governments, land owners and others inspires all of us to listen, think creatively and extend our hands to many interests to achieve our common goals.”