2024 WAFWA Award Recipients

Posted by WAFWA on June 20, 2024

The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) honored conservation professionals during the award ceremony at the 2024 WAFWA Summer Conference. This ceremony was emceed by Kelly Susewind, Director of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

This ceremony honors the exceptional conservation efforts of staff of WAFWA member agencies, partner organizations, and private citizens.

The WAFWA Awards and Recognitions Committee was chaired by J Shirley (UT) with members Jeb Williams (ND) and Kelly Susewind (WA).

See the WAFWA Awards page for more information on the selection criteria and for instructions to submit nominations for next year’s award ceremony.

Brad Loveless (center) receives the WAFWA Lifetime Membership Award with WAFWA President Brian Nesvik (left) and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director, Kelly Susewind (right).
Curt Melcher (center) receives the WAFWA Lifetime Membership Award with WAFWA President Brian Nesvik (left) and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director, Kelly Susewind (right).

Honorary Lifetime WAFWA Memberships

Brad Loveless. Brad served with steadfast commitment as Director of Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks for five years. Prior to joining Kansas Department of Wildlife, Brad worked in environmental conservation and sustainability as senior director at Evergy. Under his tenure at KDWP, the Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park and the Lehigh Portland State Park were established. Additionally, Kansas’ Flint Hills Trail was added to the National Trails System. Brad served on the WAFWA Executive Committee, was Chair of the Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative Council, and was the Chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee – now known as the Access and Engagement Committee. We appreciate Brad’s lifelong commitment to conservation in Kansas, and the contributions he made to WAFWA.

Curt Melcher. Curt Melcher has served nearly 40 years at Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. The last ten years he has served as Director leading over 1000 employees and a 487-million-dollar 2-year budget. When Curt took over, the department was in the midst of a budget crisis, but under his tenure the agency stabilized without raising fees for hunters and anglers. As director, Melcher helped conserve and open access to nearly 16,000 acres of wildlife and riparian habitat along the Minam River in northeast Oregon as well as 10,000 acres of the lower Deschutes River. Melcher also helped foster cooperative agreements with six tribes to restore and improve hunting and fishing access on their historic lands and to collaborate on regulation. Curt served as President of WAFWA from 2017-2018 and then president of AFWA 2022-2023.

JD Strong. JD served as the Director of Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation for seven years. He made significant improvements to the agency’s licensing system, developed strategic partnerships with country music star Blake Shelton and NBA star Paul George and formed important partnerships with Oklahoma fishing license retailers, Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s, Academy Sports and Outdoors, OKC Latina, and more. Strong is the former Executive Director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) and has held a number of leadership positions at both the state and national level with organizations including the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) and the Sport Fishing & Boating Partnership Council (SFBPC). JD served as president of WAFWA in 2020/2021, served on the WAFWA Executive Committee for several years, and did a phenomenal job hosting WAFWA’s 100th anniversary celebration in 2022. Thanks to JD for his dedication to wildlife conservation in Oklahoma, the West, and nationwide.

WAFWA President Brian Nesvik (far left) and Kelly Susewind (far right) present the WAFWA 2024 Outstanding Citizen Wildlife Contributor of the Year award to Irene (center left) and Kent Martin (center right).
Cayla Bendel (center) receives the WAFWA 2024 Conservation Change Agent Award with WAFWA President Brian Nesvik (left) and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director, Kelly Susewind (right).
Heidi Rayment (center) receives the WAFWA 2024 Conservation Change Agent Award with WAFWA President Brian Nesvik (left) and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director, Kelly Susewind (right).
Rick Langely (center) receives a WAFWA 2024 Special Recognition Award with WAFWA President Brian Nesvik (left) and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director, Kelly Susewind (right).
Greg Link (center) receives a WAFWA 2024 Special Recognition Award with WAFWA President Brian Nesvik (left) and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director, Kelly Susewind (right).
WAFWA President Brian Nesvik (far left) and Kelly Susewind (far right) present the WAFWA 2024 Commission of the Year Award to Idaho Fish and Game Commission representatives Don Ebert (center left) and Jordan Cheirrett (center right).

Federal Conservation Partner of the Year Award

Frank Quamen. Frank is the BLM’s Headquarters Division Chief for Wildlife Conservation, Aquatics, and Environmental Protection. Frank leads a team of wildlife and resource specialists focused on Federal land uses almost entirely within the borders of WAFWA. He is successful with his principled approach toward developing shared priorities, to maintain communication through tense resolutions, and to represent his employer and the resource as a devoted and accountable professional. He believes that when States and Federal Agencies maintain open communication, address points of disagreement, and proceed with accountability for commitments that many great things remain possible.

Outstanding Citizen Wildlife Contributor of the Year Award

Kent & Irene Martin. The Martins are fourth-generation commercial salmon fishers who have spent their lives fighting for conservation of salmon stocks in the Columbia River, Willapa Bay, and Alaska. Irene and Kent have been invaluable and steadfast partners with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and various committees and boards including WDFW advisory committees, Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board, Columbia Basin Collaborative, Board of Trustees of the Columbia River Maritime Museum, and Board of Directors for Salmon for All. The Martins have also served on several regional forums focused on recovering salmon stocks, ensuring sustainable and economically viable fisheries and preserving Washington’s maritime heritage. Irene is an award-winning author, having written extensively on the importance and history of lower Columbia River salmon fisheries. Kent & Irene have fought tirelessly for our salmon resources, donating their limited non-fishing hours to consulting with the Department, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, and policy makers at the state and federal level. The conservation and recovery of salmon is a complex and extremely difficult challenge. 

Conservation Change Agent Award

Cayla Bendel. Cayla of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department is the R3 Coordinator and serves as the direct supervisor of the Department’s marketing and social media programs and has been creative in her approach in order to reach new audiences. On behalf of the Department, Cayla writes a blog called “The Drift,” she produces a wild game cooking program called Cayla’s Kitchen, and an “NDO” podcast that is approaching 50 episodes. She has helped meet the Department’s R3 needs; such as urban fisheries, shore fishing access points, Wildlife Management Area access and activities. Cayla’s efforts have helped the Department better inform hunters, citizens, government officials, and legislators in North Dakota and beyond about the importance of wild things and wild places.

Heidi Rayment. Heidi is the Marketing and Public Affairs Branch Chief for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Heidi leads a team of professionals for the Department and is responsible for the communication across numerous channels, including: social media, website content and strategy, public affairs and media relations, publications, and productions that reach more than 1 million people a month. She is sought out for her expertise and creative, outside-of-the-box ideas. She has been integral to the success of the Department’s Public Private Alliances, the statewide outreach campaign “Conserve and Protect”, and recently led the Department’s first ever rebranding effort. Heidi’s efforts continue to allow the Arizona Game and Fish Department to engage new audiences and has been a catalyst for positive change, growth and innovation for the Department.

Special Recognition Awards

Richard Langely. Rick Langley has worked for the Arizona Game and Fish Department for just over 31 years. He started as a Wildlife Manager, then Game Specialist, and now is the Terrestrial Wildlife Program Manager. From 2005 through 2024 Rick played a key role in moving 808 turkey to enhance populations in six different game management units across the central part of the state. As a result of these efforts, the agency has been able to increase hunting opportunities in a number of different game management units. Rick has played an integral role in capture planning, implementation, and coordination of bighorn sheep translocations from the population from the Pinetop Region to other parts of the state. Through these efforts three new herd units have been established and are self-sustaining to the point where they support hunting opportunities. Rick has also been an important component of the Mexican Wolf Interagency Team’s success when it comes to conducting end-of-year count and capture operations. Rick regularly shares his knowledge and expertise across the state to help programs meet their needs.

Greg Link. Greg link, of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department began his career in 1980 holding many positions with the Department over four decades. When he was a Private Lands Coordinator, Greg embraced the challenge of developing one of the most recognizable private lands habitat and access programs in the country; Private Land Open To Sportsmen (PLOTS). Through his leadership and collaboration, he established relationships between private landowners, conservation partners and agricultural entities. The program flourished and is still providing opportunities for private landowners and hunters today. In his current capacity as Chief of the Conservation and Communication Division, Greg has led efforts to implement the Department’s State Wildlife Action Plan and has been a key partner in discussions and negotiations and with private industry, commissions, political leaders and others ensuring that wildlife and habitat interests are being considered in the state’s increasing energy development. His passion for collaborative conservation led to the development of the North Dakota Meadowlark Initiative, which unites over 30 partner groups including private landowners, agencies, NGOs, industry, and academia. Together these groups strive to promote and create thriving grasslands that provide biodiversity and prosperity for wildlife, pollinators, ranching operations, and communities by supporting ranching, establishing grasslands, offsetting developmental impacts, promoting societal benefits, and advancing science and education.

Commission of the Year Award

Idaho Game and Fish Commission. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission’s exceptional oversight and guidance through challenging wildlife management issues in 2023 and recent years makes them worthy of recognition as the Commission of the Year. Collectively, the seven members demonstrate an extraordinary commitment to serve, a passion for fish and wildlife, and a willingness to listen and learn from each other, the public, and staff. Civility and professionalism characterize the Commission. In fact, long-time observers of the Commission admit they are unable to identify party affiliations based on discussion and conduct at a meeting. Every member is well informed and interested in wildlife conservation and restoration. Recently, they’ve been required to make policy decisions on several complex and high-stake issues including Chronic Wasting Disease, Salmon and Steelhead management, Wolf management. They have engaged with staff, hunters, the public, Tribes, landowners, and other stakeholders to understand their perspectives and garnering support for fish and wildlife management. Additional accomplishments and attributes of the commission include: implementation of an innovative system to manage distribution of non-resident deer and elk hunters across the state; maintaining hunting opportunities by resisting pressure to legalize advancements in technology; an immediate response to the detection of Quagga Mussels in the Snake River with hunting, fishing, and trapping closures to facilitate treatment and prevent the spread to other waters; and active involvement and support for Bighorn Sheep management program.

WAFWA Executive Director, Zach Lowe (center) was selected to receive the President’s Award by President Brian Nesvik (right). Kelly Susewind (left) presented the award to Zach.
Cody Allen (center) receives the WAFWA 2024 Pogue-Elms Award with WAFWA President Brian Nesvik (left) and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director, Kelly Susewind (right).

Outstanding WAFWA Contributor of the Year Award

Therese Thompson. Therese Thompson recently retired from WAFWA after serving as the Western Native Trout Initiative – or WNTI as it’s affectionately known. She had served as WNTI’s coordinator since 2014. Under Therese’s watch, WNTI developed from a moderately performing program into the gold standard of fish habitat partnerships. Therese’s efforts have brought WNTI much of its success at directing $7 million in federal fish habitat funds and leveraging $57 public and private matching dollars for over 200 native trout conservation projects. Her innovative approach to using social media as a fundraising mechanism with the RepYourWater campaign and the Western Native Trout Challenge has increased native trout and invasive species awareness and has funded conservation projects benefiting native trout and char. For the last 10 years, Therese has ultimately been responsible for operations, planning, development, and communications for WNTI. She has been an invaluable member of the WAFWA fisheries team.

President’s Award

Zach Lowe. The President’s award is selected by the sitting WAFWA President. Brian Nesvik selected WAFWA’s Executive Director, Zach Lowe.

Pogue-Elms Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award

Cody Allen. Since 2017, Cody has been involved in every major criminal investigation in the Southeast Region of Idaho. He was instrumental in every phase of these investigations from the initial undercover work through the filing of criminal charges. These cases were extensive, complicated investigations with many search warrants resulting in multiple felony indictments and misdemeanor charges. One noteworthy case was a multi-year commercial trafficking case involving Idaho, Montana, California, and Utah resulting in multiple felony charges and over one hundred thousand dollars in fines and restitution. Cody has excelled beyond the expectation of his role. He is in constant contact with investigators and is committed to professionalism in every investigation. Cody’s investigative skills, specifically related to digital media, are outstanding. His ability to collect evidence from cell phone data, social media sites and computer storage is second to none. Cody is largely regarded as the state subject matter expert on cell phone investigations, and he regularly receives requests from other regions for assistance. Cody’s skill and use of alternative methods to investigate wildlife crime have positively impacted the public’s perception and confidence in the Department’s ability to manage wildlife in a way that is fair for all.

Craig Burley (center) receives the WAFWA 2024 Professional of the Year Award with WAFWA President Brian Nesvik (left) and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director, Kelly Susewind (right).
Curt Melcher (center) receives the WAFWA’s 2024 Lifetime Achievement Award with WAFWA President Brian Nesvik (left) and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director, Kelly Susewind (right).

Professional of the Year Award

Craig Burley. Craig Burley of the Washington Department of Game and Fish has been a leader in recovering and managing fish throughout the west, and particularly the State of Washington for almost 40 years. In 1991, Craig began his career at WDFW by initiating the Northern Pikeminnow Sport Reward Program that continues to contribute to conservation of salmon in the Colorado River today. In western Washington, one of the most important tools for conservation is the 50-year agreements to mitigate for impacts from energy produced through dams. Craig served as lead for Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relicensing negotiations for Cowlitz River (Tacoma Power) Hydroelectric projects and the Lewis River (PacifiCorp) Hydroelectric projects. We cannot overstate how important these agreements are to restore and conserve WA salmon that traverse the Eastern Pacific ecosystem.  While serving as Fish Management Division lead, Craig led the team developing the Puget Sound Rockfish Conservation Plan, a pivotal document for Puget Sound recovery. Craig began his contributions to WAFWA in 2007, representing WDFW at Fish Chiefs’ meeting and continues to be an active member of the WAFWA Fish community.  In addition to the conservation contributions of his career, Craig made extraordinary efforts to improve operational effectiveness of the $280M WDFW Fish Program. Craig’s careful stewardship, inclusive prioritization and effective communication skills have resulted in a highly effective Program that benefits fish throughout WA.  His tenure as the Deputy Director of Fish Program, has been marked by some of the most extraordinary challenges we have faced from COVID to the accidental death of two Fish Program staff. He has demonstrated a deep empathy and professionalism throughout these challenges. The entire WDFW team values Craig’s leadership and recognizes his contributions to our agency and to the conservation of fish throughout the state. It is time for him to be celebrated by his WAFWA peers.

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.

Curt Melcher. Curt served the people, fish, and wildlife in Oregon for 39 years. He retired from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) after 10 years as Director. He left the department in an unprecedentedly strong position to address the conservation issues of the future. Curt was an active participant in WAFWA, serving in key leadership roles and shaping the future trajectories of both organizations.  Curt is known for his steady, calming influence, his commitment to doing the right thing, knowing everyone’s name, his remarkable ability to recall facts from many years prior, and his ability to propose simple solutions to complex problems. Curt emphasizes that successful conservation takes much longer than one person’s career. With that in mind, he is most proud of getting ODFW in a solid financial position to support long term conservation. Over 10 years, ODFW went from a $2.69 monthly operating reserve to a healthy $60 million today. This financial health has resulted in allowing ODFW to focus on protecting and enhancing natural resources and pursuing beneficial outcomes including the first ever fish delisted from the ESA due to recovery – Oregon Chub (since followed by delisting 3 more fish); removing wolves from the state endangered list, while supporting wolf expansion through careful management under the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan; fish passage improvements including the largest dam removal in the world; preventing the need to list greater sage-grouse and supporting the ongoing work of the Sagebrush EOC; creation of Oregon’s first five Marine Reserves; strategic expansions of the multiple Wildlife Management Areas totaling over 30,000 acres; and implementing a settlement with Bonneville Power Administration for protection of over 16,000 acres of priority habitats in the Willamette Basin. Finally, Curt has used his roles over the last forty years to make steady improvements in ODFW’s relationship with federally recognized tribes. Throughout his time in the Director’s Office, he has intentionally taken action to enhance partnerships with tribes to engage their support for ODFW’s mission while at the same time restoring access to hunting, fishing, and trapping for tribal members through cooperative agreements under the existing authority of the Fish and Wildlife.