2022 WAFWA Award Recipients

Posted by WAFWA on August 9, 2022

The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) honored conservation professionals from several western states at their virtual award ceremony at the 2022 WAFWA Summer Conference.

“This evening is always a highlight of WAFWA’s summer meeting. It’s truly an honor to recognize the accomplishments of the professionals that work for the western wildlife agencies that make up our organization. For me it’s a blessing to be part of acknowledging this work…From the conservation professionals who do the hard work that make our agencies run, to the many partners and volunteers who support us in so many ways. We come together this evening to honor and recognize our peers.”

Tony Wasley, Director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife and chair of WAFWA’s Awards and Recognition Committee.

The 2022 WAFWA Professional Award Recipients


We’re going to get started tonight by recognizing new honorary lifetime members. These are folks who have served their agencies….and WAFWA…. well during their careers. This year, we have two new lifetime members.

  • Jim Douglas served 47 years in the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission serving the last 9 of those years as director of the agency.
  • Kurt Davis Kurt served as a commissioner for the Arizona Game and Fish Commission for 10 years.

We appreciate your many years of service to your states…and to WAFWA.  Congratulations!

Federal Conservation Partners of the Year

First is the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chief of Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration, Steve Jose who is responsible for ensuring that grants, reports and awards are accurate. Most recently, Steve was critical in helping Utah conserve about 8,000 acres for wildlife through limited time constraints and many state funding and legislative timelines. Steve helped ensure Utah followed the correct process, supported his staff in expediting the request, and helped Utah secure critical wildlife habitat ensuring public access for years to come. Steve is a humble, knowledgeable, and diligent public servant. He has been a treasure trove of information, help and kindness.

Our second Federal Conservation Partner of the Year is Heather Hollis, who prior to her retirement in May 2022 managed grands under the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 (otherwise known as the Pittman-Robertson Act) for Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. Heather truly valued the federal/state partnership. When given the opportunity to talk about her favorite thing about working for the USFWS, she replied “There are two things I have to say make my job so rewarding. First is the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration team, and second is the partnerships with our state grantees.” Those who had the pleasure to work closely with Heather know that those statements were true.

Congratulations to our Federal Conservation Partners of the Year: US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Steve Jose and Heather Hollis.

Outstanding Citizen Wildlife Contributor of the Year

Now we’d like to recognize the Outstanding Citizen Wildlife Contributor of the Year. I’m pleased and proud to announce that Cory Lytle from Nevada is this year’s winner. Cory has been one of the driving forces of habitat enhancement projects in Lincoln County, NV for nearly 20 years. He is one of the founding members of Meadow Valley Wildlife Unlimited, which raises money by holding an annual banquet for approximately 500 people each year. The money has been used for habitat projects such as conifer removal, fire rehabilitation, water development, water hauling, spring fencing, and even helped pay for a new helicopter for Nevada Department of Wildlife. At the Meadow Valley Wildlife Unlimited banquet in 2022, the Nevada Heritage elk tag sold for a record $200,000. He has been the Chairman of the Lincoln County Wildlife Advisory Board for 18 years and is a member of the Mule Deer Enhancement Program Oversight Committee. Please join me in applauding WAFWA’s Outstanding Citizen Wildlife Contributor: Cory Lytle

Outstanding WAFWA Contributor of the Year

Our next award is the Outstanding WAFWA Contributor of the Year. This award goes to Jeff Gagnon of Arizona Game and Fish Department. Jeff Gagnon has worked for the Arizona Game and Fish Department for 25 years and has spent most of that time focused on habitat fragmentation and wildlife-vehicle collision mitigation throughout Arizona. During 2022, Jeff oversaw of a team that conducts research and monitoring associated with Secretarial Order 3362 to help define corridors important for future mitigation efforts. Although Jeff works for the state of Arizona, his sphere of influence extends outside of those boundaries in support of other WAFWA member states including collaborative roles on the highly successful Nevada Boulder City Bypass Phase II and the New Mexico Wildlife-Vehicle Collision Mitigation Monitoring projects. Jeff was a major contributor to the recent New Mexico Wildlife Corridors Action Plan. Jeff has also played key roles in support of the advancement of WAFWA Wild Sheep Initiative through roadway projects focused on bighorn sheep conservation. Jeff has already contributed a career’s worth of work towards connectivity and hopes with these efforts the future will be even brighter. Please congratulate Jeff for his efforts to work with partner states to promote WAFWA’s mission of landscape level conservation. Well done, Jeff.

President’s Award

Davia Palmeri brings a dedication to excellence, leadership, and spirited involvement to many aspects of her professional life. She has consistently gone above and beyond in her service to WAFWA and all aspects of the conservation community she serves nationally and in Oregon. For many years within WAFWA she has coordinated the women in conservation events, always finds great people to share their experience, and steps up to contribute on important efforts. Davia’s commitment to conservation and building partnerships is apparent at every step in her career. Davia started in the profession serving as a seasonal technician with the Bureau of Land Management on Endangered species issues and quickly grew into other opportunities for avian conservation projects within the non-profit sector and lead her to earn her master’s degree in Conservation Biology from Columbia University. Davia exhibited her skills for fostering collaborations and engaged leadership and this launched her into a national position with the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies where she served multiple roles assisting states with adaptive strategies on climate change, energy, and improved conservation outcomes. Currently Davia is the Conservation Policy Coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. In her role with Oregon, she helps the Department prepare for and respond to crosscutting conservation issues between its fish and wildlife divisions, including climate change, renewable energy development, and conservation funding. Davia is a leader and innovator, and she consistently elevates the outcomes of projects with which she’s involved.

Commission or Board of the Year Award

Now it’s my pleasure to recognize the Commission of the Year. I know I speak for all the directors and wildlife agency staff in the room…. We appreciate the work you do day in and day out to support the conservation mission of wildlife agencies across the West. This year, we’re pleased to recognize the Utah Wildlife Board. The Utah Wildlife Board should be commended for collaborative and transparent decision-making on emotionally charged issues. This past year, the Board collectively dedicated hundreds of hours to address several highly contentious issues. The highest profile issue debated was the use of trail cameras and other technology for hunting purposes in Utah, and whether use of certain technology should be restricted or banned. The Board thoughtfully considered wide-ranging opinions submitted through various public process channels and then contemplated the right decision for Utah’s wildlife and Utah’s hunters. Please join me in honoring the Utah Wildlife Board. Board Chairman Kevin Albrecht and Vice Chair Randy Dearth please come forward with Director J Shirley to accept this award.

Special Recognition Awards

We’re honoring Kevin Kading of the North Dakota Fish and Game Department for his 25-year contribution to developing and improving wildlife habitat in North Dakota. As the Private Lands Section leader for North Dakota Kevin’s success can be attributed to his propensity for establishing and maintaining partnerships. Under Kevin’s leadership the North Dakota Private Land Open To Sportsman (or PLOTS) program has grown into one of the most successful hunter access programs in the nation. Congratulations, Kevin.

Our second Special Recognition Award goes to Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Big Game Program Manager, Amber Munig. In Amber’s career she has assisted on or overseen the translocation of over 1,400 bighorn sheep, 1,100 pronghorn, 100 elk and saw the return of the Gould’s turkey to Arizona, which now occupy virtually every available sky island habitat that can sustain them. Some of Amber’s major accomplishments include the creation of a unique Game Data Management System allowing for the automation of hunt recommendation for 10 big game species in Arizona. Amber has worked tirelessly to improve knowledge and science of species, the public process, and game data management. Excellent work, Amber

Our next Special Recognition Award goes to Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks’s Mike Miller. Mike joined KDWP in 1983 as a wildlife illustrator, Mike has “risen the ranks” over the years, most recently earning a spot as KDWP’s Assistant Secretary of Operations – a role he fulfills with great pride and humility. From regularly ensuring meaningful dialogue occurs between landowners, hunters and anglers, and biologists alike, to taking the time to bait hooks for children visiting the ponds outside of KDWP’s Operations headquarters – Mike never lets his position of authority affect the way he engages with others. He’s a consummate professional, a loyal colleague, and a true ambassador for conservation. Mike is retiring from KDWP this month. What boots to fill. Congratulations, Mike, on your Special Recognition Award and your retirement.

Our final Special Recognition Award goes to Oklahoma’s own Rod Smith. Rod Smith began his career with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation in 1978. He has spent all 44 years in the field managing wildlife to improve, protect, and enhance the natural resources in Oklahoma. Rod retired earlier this year as Regional Supervisor but also was our Rio Grande Wild Turkey Project Leader, attended WAFWA’s annual Wild Turkey Workshops, and a 35 year member of NWTF’s Technical Committee. From 1978-1995, Rod was an integral part of wild turkey restoration in Oklahoma. Under his watch, Rio Grande turkey numbers reached all time highs and also lead to huntable populations in all counties with suitable Rio habitat. Rod has served the agency in many capacities including strategic plan committee, coordinating elk and deer hunts on USFWS NWR, overseeing our Falconry Program, and others. Rod is a consummate professional, mentor and friend. Congratulations on a full and fruitful career, Rod, and congratulations on receiving WAFWA’s Special Recognition Award.

Professional of the Year

Our next award is WAFWA’s 2022 Professional of the Year. This year we’re honoring Darren Bruning for his wildlife conservation efforts across the West. Over the last 33 years, Darren has shared his leadership and dedication to wildlife with four state wildlife agencies (Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Alaska), the Taos Pueblo, and the US Department of Agriculture, with emphasis on habitat, wildlife health, and restoration of wildlife to historic range. His work for the last 12 years in Alaska has included excelling in leadership and effort to restore wood bison to Alaska’s landscape, culminating in the recent acquisition of 40 yearling wood bison from Elk Island National Park in April 2022. Darren oversees management of robust caribou, Dall’s sheep, moose, wolf, bison, black and brown bear populations, and all U.S wild wood bison. Darren manages social and politically sensitive issues associated with international caribou herds and Alaska intensive management efforts. Tonight, we present Darren with a sculpture that as closely resembles a wood bison as we could find. Congratulations, Darren, on your Professional of the Year Award.

Pogue-Elms Law Enforcement Officer of the Year

This award memorializes Idaho Fish and Game officers Bill Pogue and Conley Elms, who were killed in January 1981 while trying to arrest a poacher in a remote region of southwestern Idaho. Honorees for this award exemplify the lifelong commitment that game wardens and conservation officers across the country dedicate to their work. Colorado Area Wildlife Manager Mark Lamb is being honored with WAFWA’s Pogue-Elms Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award for his fair and compassionate approach to wildlife law enforcement and for being a mentor and positive influence on his team and his community. Mark’s reputation as a wildlife officer in the area is one of fairness and even-handedness. Poachers fear him, but the law-abiding public know that he has their interests, and the interests of future generations of hunters at heart. When hunters make a mistake, they are not afraid to call Mark, knowing that he will deal with them fairly and with compassion. He’s taught hunter education, fishing clinics, shooting sports and even coached the kids of South Park for decades, establishing a rapport with the new generation of outdoor enthusiasts, and perhaps more importantly, their parents. Mark has built bridges and facilitated relationships with US Forest Service, BLM, private landowners. As a mentor, Mark shines the brightest. He has the power of positivity, rubbing off and influencing anyone around that will listen. He has built his life, career and family around the principle that you can have a say in your outlook on life, simply by remaining positive. Mark’s emphasis on his officers’ families and their marriages has provided a buoy for his team as they have worked through weddings and divorces, new babies and life’s tragedies. In a remarkable turn of fate- this has even resulted in his son (Jared) joining the profession as a wildlife officer for CPW, in addition to his daughter (Samantha) dating another wildlife officer for CPW – The apples have not fallen far from the tree. Congratulations, Mark, the impact you have on those around you is evident. Please join me in honoring Mark Lamb as this year’s Pogue-Elms Law Enforcement Officer of the Year!

Phillip W. Schneider Lifetime Achievement Award

And now, the final and most prestigious award of the evening. WAFWA’s Lifetime Achievement Award is named for Phillip W. Schneider of Oregon, whose legendary commitment to fish and wildlife resources spanned more than 40 years in a career in which he served as director of the state’s game and fish agency, and later as a commissioner and commissioner emeritus of Oregon’s Fish and Wildlife Commission. This award recognizes an individual who has dedicated his or her entire career to conservation of fish and wildlife resources in the West.

It is an honor to bestow this award on Kurt Davis, retired Arizona Game and Fish Commissioner. Kurt Davis has demonstrated courageous leadership and an unwavering commitment to Arizona’s wildlife and outdoor recreational opportunities while serving on the Arizona Game and Fish Commission from 2011-2022. Kurt has built a stellar resume of success on behalf of Arizona’s wildlife and citizens while maintaining the Commission’s and Arizona’s authority to manage its wildlife resources and making it easier for Arizonans to enjoy them. Kurt brought several qualities to the Commission including passion, leadership, vision and an uncanny ability to address and break down complex wildlife issues into simple, common sense solutions. He was able to package and deliver these solutions to key partners, stakeholders, Arizona decision makers and, most importantly, to the Department’s customers to achieve long term success. Kurt’s vision and passion while serving on the Commission resulted in a variety of significant accomplishments in support of Arizona’s wildlife and for those who enjoy experiencing the outdoors. Kurt leaves behind a legacy that will certainly serve as an example for future commissions and Department staff. Rest assured, he will continue to provide a watchful eye and perspective on the challenges that confront Arizona’s wildlife and the North American Model. Please join me in a round of applause for Kurt Davis.

Closing Remarks. Thank you for being with us tonight for the 2022 WAFWA Professional Awards and Recognition Program. We hope the program has left you encouraged and inspired by the incredible conservation work being done by your peers and colleagues across the western United States. Thank you all!

Tony Wasley, Director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife and chair of WAFWA’s Awards and Recognition Committee.