2023 WAFWA Award Recipients

Posted by WAFWA on November 3, 2023

The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) honored conservation professionals during the award ceremony at the 2023 WAFWA Summer Conference.

“It is an honor to recognize the accomplishments of the conservation professionals that make up our organization.”

– Brad Loveless, Secretary of Kansas Wildlife and Parks

Presented by Brad Loveless, Secretary of Kansas Wildlife and Parks and chair of WAFWA’s Awards and Recognition Committee on July 12, 2023.

This evening is always a highlight of WAFWA’s summer meeting. It is such an honor to recognize the accomplishments of the professionals that work for the western wildlife agencies that make up our organization. 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.

Before we get started with the award presentations, I’d like to acknowledge the other members of the awards committee:  Directors J Shirley (UT) and Jeb Williams (ND). I’d also like to thank the member agencies who submitted nominations. Reading through the nomination packets underscores what good conservation work is being accomplished across the West. We hope you will be as inspired as we are as you hear more about our award winners this evening.

These are folks who have served their agencies….and WAFWA…. well during their careers This year, we have five new lifetime members.

Honorary Lifetime WAFWA Memberships

Honorary Lifetime WAFWA Memberships

Dan Prenzlow. After working for Colorado Parks and Wildlife for 36 years serving the last 3 as director of the agency, Dan retired from CPW in November of 2022. Dan came up through the law enforcement ranks and was a regional supervisor in Colorado. Dan contributed to WAFWA by serving on the Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative Council and serving on the WAFWA Executive Committee. For those of you who know Dan, he is a dedicated, focused, passionate advocate for conservation. We appreciate Dan’s lifelong commitment to conservation in Colorado, and the contributions he made to WAFWA.

Ed Schriever. Ed retired in November 2022 after 39 years with Idaho Fish and Game. He rose through the fisheries ranks to become director in 2019. Ed served multiple roles in WAFWA including as director sponsor of the mule deer working group, chair of the inland and marine fisheries committee, and on the WAFWA Executive Committee. Director Schriever also served as the representative of the “F” in WAFWA consistently reminding our wildlife-minded colleagues to consider the aquatic species and habitats in our conversations. We thank Ed for his dedication to fish and wildlife conservation in Idaho and the contributions he made in WAFWA.

Carter Smith. After nearly 15 years as Executive Director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Carter Smith retired this January. Carter had an accomplished career in conservation even before he came to Texas Park and Wildlife. Both Texas and WAFWA benefitted from his wealth of experience and personal connections in the conservation community. He served as WAFWA president in 2014. As director in a state shared by two regional organizations, he also served as SEAFWA’s president in 2011. He was also active in AFWA serving in their executive committee. Thanks to Carter for his dedication to wildlife conservation in Texas and nationwide.

Jeff Ver Steeg. This spring, Jeff Ver Steeg retired from his position as Assistant Director for Research, Policy, and Planning in Colorado Parks and Wildlife. He had been with CPW for 21 years. Prior to his work in Colorado, Jeff served 21 years in the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Jeff has had an impact on state, regional, and national fish and wildlife research for most of his career. During WAFWA meetings, Jeff could be found sitting quietly and offering a friendly smile. When asked, he could recall statistics and information off the top of his head. He served as the Chair for our Resolutions Committee. Jeff received WAFWA’s 2015 Professional of the Year Award recognizing his outstanding contributions. Congratulations to Jeff for a remarkable career.

Tony Wasley. I’m going to ask Tony to come forward. Tony retired from Nevada Department of Wildlife last December. He served 25 years in the department with the last 10 years as director. Tony served as WAFWA president in 2015, as AFWA president in 2021, and has now moved on to serve as president of Wildlife Management Institute. When he retired Tony was still quite active in WAFWA serving in a leadership role in many WAFWA committees –Western Bird Conservation Committee, Wild Sheep Working Group, Wildlife Movement and Migration Working Group, Nongame and Endangered Species Committee, and the Awards and Recognitions Committee. Tony was instrumental in the relevancy roadmap which guides our decision making in the United States and will do so for many years to come. Tony, thank you for your commitment to Fish and Wildlife Conservation and your investment in WAFWA over the years. Best of luck with WMI.

Federal Conservation Partner of the Year Award

Dr. Brady McGee. This year we’re proud to recognize the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator, Dr. Brady McGee. He has continuously fostered a working relationship with the Arizona and New Mexico wildlife agencies to assist with the Mexican wolf recovery in the U.S. He has chosen time and again to put the recovery of the wild population ahead of political pressures. Under the leadership of Dr. McGee, last year Mexican wolves achieved a 23% growth rate and no less than 241 individuals now roam their historical range in the U.S. While the wolves themselves have played a role in this This remarkable recovery is due to the extraordinary collaboration between the full team of agencies working together under the steady leadership of Dr. McGee. Dr. McGee could not be here today, so Amy Leuders Region 2 Director of US Fish and Wildlife Service will be accepting the award on his behalf.
Please join me in congratulating our Federal Conservation Partner of the Year: US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Dr. Brady McGee.

Outstanding Citizen Wildlife Contributor of the Year Award

Brad Gorsuch. I’m pleased and proud to announce that Brad Gorsuch of Kansas is this year’s winner. Brad is joining us virtually this evening along with Craig Johnson, the regional fisheries biologist who he’s partnered with. Since 2016, Mr. Gorsuch has been heavily involved in fish habitat enhancement efforts at several Kansas reservoirs. His activities include coordinating with KDWP district fisheries biologists, coordinating with angler groups such as the Kansas Walleye Association, locating and organizing volunteer labor, donation of anchor blocks and wire, equipment upgrades, and new equipment design/fabrication. The first time I met Brad, he showed me in his shop the hydraulic system and the mechanism he had developed to move these large brush piles. His contributions to increased safety, efficiency, work crew coordination, and his ability to motivate volunteers to provide much more effective equipment that has resulted in greatly increased fish habitat in Kansas reservoirs. I asked Craig Johnson to also be present tonight to share in this recognition because it took his leadership and humility to engage Brad and these many hard-driving volunteers and allow them to realize their full potential to collaborate with our agency to achieve this remarkable outcome.
Brian Sowards, Kansas Wildlife and Parks Fisheries Division Director will be accepting this award on Brad’s behalf. Please join me in applauding WAFWA’s Outstanding Citizen Wildlife Contributor: Kansas’s own Brad Gorsuch.

Commission of the Year Award

Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission. 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 Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission. This commission has addressed the issue of hunting, shooting, and fishing access in Oklahoma by beginning an aggressive, statewide effort to bring public shooting ranges to almost 20 wildlife management areas. They helped create a new private lands lease/walk-in hunting and fishing program which now offers hundreds of properties. They recently acquired three new public areas to open up thousands of acres for public use. They encouraged The Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department to launch a cooperative effort to create the Oklahoma Fishing Trail.

Outstanding WAFWA Contributor of the Year Award

Scott Lavin. This award goes to Scott Lavin of Arizona Game and Fish Department. Scott serves as the WAFWA R3 Committee Chair, and previously served as the committee vice-chair. Scott’s work in building the R3 community, facilitating discussions, and providing organizational management are just a few of the skills that he has demonstrated in leading this important committee. The Annual WAFWA R3 Workshop would not happen without Scott’s diligent planning and work to get the right people in the room to take on the critical task of recruiting, retaining and reactivating hunters and anglers. He incorporates his experience from both the private and public sectors to connect the dots across the western United States. Without Scott, WAFWA would not be the same leader in the R3 community as it is today. Join me in congratulating Scott Lavin as our Outstanding WAFWA Contributor of the Year.

President’s Award

Stewart Liley. I would like to welcome WAFWA’s President Jen Psyllakis to the podium to present the President’s award.

The WAFWA President’s award provides a wide-open opportunity to acknowledge someone, an initiative, or a program from the community of WAFWA. This year I reflected on WAFWA’s core values of “leadership, teamwork, support, integrity, respect, and excellence” and I am pleased to acknowledge Stewart Liley with this year’s award given his consistent demonstration of these values and the outstanding contributions to WAFWA and conservation in the west, nationally and internationally.

In New Mexico, Stewart has been instrumental in developing on the ground research and recovery efforts for a broad suite of species including Bighorn Sheep, ptarmigan, Gila monster, and Mexican gray wolves.  He has been a leader in habitat restoration projects that have involved multiple partners and complex landscapes.  He has also been an innovator in developing regulations that ensure sustainable harvest, while optimizing specific opportunities or experiences.  Stewart consistently steps up and leans into demands, for New Mexico and for WAFWA. He is a key member of multiple working groups and this year’s chair of the  Wildlife Chiefs Committee, member of Non-game and Endangered Fish and Wildlife species and Deputies committees, and WAFWA’s CITES representative where he is recognized for his international diplomacy.

Stewart’s strengths as a leader and partner are consistently reflected. For example,  as Amy Leuders notes “All of us who work in wildlife conservation in the West, and particularly those of us who work in NM, are incredibly fortunate to have Stewart as a partner”.  I have also heard from a key people (Director Sloane and WAFWA Executive Director Lowe) how equally impressive Stewart is in the understanding of the administrative side of wildlife management. Science and administration are key ingredients that don’t always mix together and when they do it can put a lot of demand on a person and Stewart always steps up and delivers.

It is Stewart’s combination of strategic vision, ability to operate at a tactical level, his administrative savvy and his demonstration of WAFWA values that have enabled lasting conservation solutions to some of the west’s most complex challenges.   Stewart is a role model of all of us.

Pogue-Elms Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award

Chad Wippermann. 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. Idaho Conservation Officer Chad Wippermann is being honored with WAFWA’s Pogue-Elms Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award for his impressive investigation outcomes in the last year. In the last year, Chad wrapped up a successful prosecution that involved over 50 charges. He also investigated cases that involved hunting out of season or in the wrong unit, hunters leaving meat and trapping violations in the backcountry, illegally trapped bobcats and otters, and illegally netting for steelhead. Each of these cases required a combination of patrol time, investigation, search warrants, and patience. Chad exhibits the investigative prowess to understand the nuances of this work. Chad’s also passing his knowledge and experience to future conservation officers. In 2022, he logged a total of 400 hours of training for his two assigned trainees. During the fall, Chad and his trainee discovered nearly 40 violations – a number that could surpass annual violations detected by some officers. Congratulations, Chad, for your exemplary service to Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Please join me in honoring Chad Wippermann as this year’s Pogue-Elms Law Enforcement Officer of the Year! Chad’s chief, Greg Wooten, wanted to be the first one to shake his hand, so I’ll invite him to join Chad, too

Professional of the Year Award

Mark Watson. Mark has been with New Mexico Department Game and Fish since 1997, and he has spent the last 16 years as the Terrestrial Habitat Specialist.
Mark’s made significant contributions to New Mexico Department of Game and Fish including assessing and recommending ways to reduce wildlife and habitat impacts from proposed projects, policies, and plans from private entities and government agencies.
Mark readily invests his time and energy into wide-ranging efforts like the state’s habitat guidelines; Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy; and the review, revision and production of the New Mexico State Wildlife Action Plan. Mark has served as a department representative for each of the 5 U.S. Forest Service national forest plan revisions, he reviews the annual integrated Natural resource management plans updates for four military installations, and he participates in numerous statewide proposal review panels. Mark is also the Department’s expert on vehicle-wildlife collisions and connectivity issues, and he was instrumental in developing the Wildlife Corridors Action plan. Mark could not join us this evening, so Orrin Duvuvuei, (DA-VUV-EE-AY) New Mexico’s deer program manager, will be accepting the award on Mark’s behalf. Join me in congratulating Mark Watson on his accomplishments.

Casey Stemler. Casey Stemler’s exceptional career can best be defined as “making a difference for wildlife at a landscape scale.” Casey was at the heart of executing the Secretarial Order 3362 “Improving Habitat Quality in Western Big Game Winter Range and Migration Corridors.” He initiated early development of the policy and saw it completely through execution on the ground.
Casey has an exceptional ability to recognize who should be at the table to achieve quality, impactful and durable work. He has established a direct line of communication from the states to the Department of Interior and has continuously been an advocate for including a state voice in federal programs. As a result of Casey’s emphasis on open communication and strong relationships, the Order is recognized as the gold standard of effective state and federal coordination. WAFWA states recognize and highly value Casey’s significate contribution to wildlife, his professional and collaborative approach, and his friendship. Please join me in congratulating Casey Stemler on his accomplishments.

WAFWA’s 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. This year, we have TWO recipients.

Mitch Lockwood. It is an honor to present our first Philip W. Schneider Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Mitch Lockwood. Mitch announced his retirement from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department this spring after 23 years with the agency. He has spent the last 14 of those years as the Big Game Program Director. Over the course of his career, Mitch has displayed exemplary leadership on some of the toughest issues facing TPWD while still managing to promote diverse and innovative research projects, build strong partnerships statewide and nationally, develop and support staff in their careers, and adopt new approaches and technologies to constantly improve TPWD’s management of natural resources. Mitch’s leadership skills have been both fully developed and realized by supporting a team of biologists in very diverse conservation efforts. Those include: reintroduction of desert bighorn sheep to much of their historic home range, restoration of pronghorn populations in the Trans-Pecos ecoregion through intensive habitat development and translocation efforts, development of an alligator management program as the population expands throughout much of its historical territory, and promoting extensive research and management efforts for white-tail and mule deer populations. Beyond all of that, the single most defining feature of Mitch’s career has been his efforts to manage Chronic Wasting Disease by developing a CWD testing program which has been critical to the state’s CWD surveillance. Mitch’s contributions have been to the management, protection, and enhancement of wildlife resources in Texas and nationally. While he will be greatly missed, he has left his mark on North American conservation that will be felt for generations to come. Please join me in a round of applause for Mitch Lockwood.

Hank Edwards. Our second Philip W. Schneider Lifetime Achievement Award goes to William Henry “Hank” Edwards. Hank has dedicated the last 32 years to the discipline of wildlife health. In his role of supervising the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Wildlife Health Laboratory, the core of his work has been developing and facilitating diagnostics to improve understanding of disease dynamics and management in wildlife populations. These include: Wyoming Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), brucellosis in wild elk and bison, and bighorn sheep pneumonia. Under Hank’s supervision, The Wildlife Health Laboratory expanded its employee base and diagnostic scope and now conducts testing on tens of thousands of samples, annually. Hank has collaborated with numerous working groups and committees throughout his career and has contributed to nationally referenced publications like AFWA’s CWD Best Management Practices and the Field Guide to Diseases of Wyoming Wildlife. Hank has a unique ability to condense complex disease-related issues into simple, understandable terms.  He is adept at navigating difficult relationships, building trust, and openly discussing the importance of integrating disease research into management decisions. Even addressing the most complex disease issues (like CWD and elk feeding grounds in Wyoming), he conveys the message in a clear, honest, and easily-digestible way. He continues to teach and mentor both students and colleagues on appropriate sampling and necropsy techniques, laboratory diagnostic methods, and interpretation of disease surveillance results, ensuring such knowledge is passed down to future generations of wildlife health professionals. Join me in congratulating Hank on receiving the Philip W. Schneider Lifetime Achievement Award.

Thank you for being with us tonight for the 2023 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.