Rep. Greg Vital Honored At Achievement Award Event In Nashville

  • Friday, May 24, 2024
Tennessee Wildlife Federation Chief Executive Officer Michael Butler, left, presents the 2024 Conservation Legislator of the Year award to State Rep. Greg Vital during the 59th annual Conservation Achievement Awards in Nashville on May 17.
Tennessee Wildlife Federation Chief Executive Officer Michael Butler, left, presents the 2024 Conservation Legislator of the Year award to State Rep. Greg Vital during the 59th annual Conservation Achievement Awards in Nashville on May 17.

State Representative Greg Vital has been named the 2024 Conservation Legislator of the Year by the Tennessee Wildlife Federation.

The award recognizes a state or federal lawmaker for their outstanding achievement in conservation legislation or other legislative work within the previous year. It was presented during the TWF’s 59th annual Conservation Achievement Awards last week in Nashville.

“Tennessee has been blessed with remarkable beauty and diverse natural resources that must be preserved for future generations,” Rep. Vital said. “I am incredibly proud of the work we’ve been able to accomplish this year, and honored to receive this prestigious award. Conservation is a team effort, and the TWF has been a remarkable partner in our ongoing efforts to protect Tennessee’s natural resources.”

Rep. Vital, who is a member of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, co-sponsored legislation increasing protections for a portion of the Duck River in Maury County. He also guided passage of legislation increasing support for state parks and has been a strong advocate for FFA and 4-H organizations statewide.

Officials said, "Conserving Tennessee’s abundant and diverse natural resources would not be possible without dedicated individuals and organizations working together. Seventeen incredible conservationists from across the state were honored last Friday at Tennessee Wildlife Federation’s 59th Annual Conservation Achievement Awards in Nashville.

"Award winners and their guests were welcomed with a lunch reception at the iconic Loveless Café. The event was emceed by renowned radio personality and longtime friend of the Federation, Bill Cody. This was the seventh year Bill offered his time to help celebrate the achievements of Tennessee’s conservationists."

“Every year, I am amazed by the award winners and the expansive impact of their work. It is inspiring to see how each piece fits into the interconnected world of conservation,” said Mr. Cody. “I am proud to be able to commemorate these people and groups for their diligence in conserving Tennessee’s great outdoors.”

Bob Fulcher, park manager at Cumberland Trail State Park, received this year’s Z. Cartter Patten Award, a lifetime achievement award recognizing many years of service to the cause of conservation in Tennessee.

"Bob has spent his career conserving Tennessee’s state parks and the history and culture associated with them. Through initiatives such as the Cumberland Trail Heritage Project and the Tennessee River Folklife Center, Bob’s work has ensured Tennessee’s natural heritage will not be forgotten," officials said.

“These awards are about taking the time to recognize the faces of conservation in Tennessee. Some are well-known across the state, some are prominent members of their community—but all are essential figures of Tennessee’s conservation story,” said Kendall McCarter, chief development officer of Tennessee Wildlife Federation. “I can confidently say our state’s natural resources would not be where they are today without the work of these 17 honorees.”

The Conservation Achievement Awards are sponsored by Packaging Corporation of America, Davey
Resource Group, Bridgestone Americas and First Horizon.

The honorees of the 59th Annual Conservation Achievement Awards are as follows:
Z. Cartter Patten Award — Bob Fulcher
Conservationist of the Year — Keith Cole
Dr. John O. “Jack” Gayden Leadership Award — Derek “DC” Curry
J. Clark Akers, III Champion of Conservation Award — Chris Nischan
Conservation Legislator of the Year — Representative Greg Vital
Wildlife Conservationist of the Year — Joe Wright
Water Conservationist of the Year — Dr. Ryan Jackwood
Forest Conservationist of the Year — Alexandra Richman
Conservation Organization of the Year — Ducks Unlimited
Conservation by Business — Bass Pro Shops
Conservation Educator of the Year — LouAnn Partington
Conservation Communicator of the Year — Joey Monteleone
Youth Conservationist of the Year — Trace Nystrom
On Target Award — Devin Farmer
Dan and Cherie Hammond Sharing the Harvest Award — AJ’s Deer Processing
Gedeon D. Petit Memorial Award — Ryne Goats
Hunter Education Instructor of the Year — Greg and Shari Atwell

About the awards and winners:

Z. Cartter Patten Award — Bob Fulcher
Bob Fulcher has spent his career conserving Tennessee’s parks and preserving the history and culture associated with them. In 1979, he began the Tennessee State Parks Folklife Project, a groundbreaking program that integrated cultural fieldwork into the state park system. Since then, Bob has conducted hundreds of hours of oral history interviews and created several cultural heritage events, including the Cumberland Trail Heritage Project and the Tennessee River Folklife Center. Bob hosts the Cumberland Trail radio show on WDVX in East Tennessee to highlight traditional and new music of the region, and he founded a nonprofit record label, Sandrock Recordings, to continue celebrating the musical culture of the region.

Conservationist of the Year — Keith Cole
Keith Cole became executive director of the Wolf River Conservancy in 2011. Under his leadership, the Conservancy became an Accredited Land Trust in 2015. Since then, the Conservancy has protected an additional 5,000 acres of land in the Wolf River watershed. Keith led the Environmental Stewardship Committee of the Blue Stream Task Force in Memphis, which brought experts together to determine the best approach to protect the region’s water supply. He also served on the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner’s Council on Greenways and Trails. Keith’s leadership at Wolf River Conservancy has made an incredible impact on the region’s natural resources and the greater Memphis community.

Dr. John O. “Jack” Gayden Leadership Award — Derek “DC” Curry
Derek “DC” Curry is a partner at Grasslands Environmental, an environmental company that specializes in non-hazardous liquids hauling, disposal, and composting. He joined the Federation’s Board of Directors in 2022 and excitedly stepped in as Treasurer soon after joining. Because of his personal and professional commitments to bettering Tennessee’s resources, DC brings a unique perspective to his role as a board member. He takes his role seriously and works hard to improve the organization’s impact on conservation. DC truly exemplifies what it means to be a leader in conservation.

J. Clark Akers, III Champion of Conservation Award — Chris Nischan
As a hunting and fishing guide for more than 30 years, Chris Nischan is a well-respected member of the outdoors community. He has served on Tennessee Wildlife Federation’s Board of Directors for 15 years, during which he has consistently given his time and money to support the organization’s work. Chris is also heavily involved in the Federation’s programs. He is always willing to speak up in support of the Federation’s policy work to ensure our state’s resources are protected, and he also volunteers his time for Hunting and Fishing Academy events to help teach the next generation of outdoorsmen and women.

Conservation Legislator of the Year — Representative Greg Vital
Representative Greg Vital has been a friend of Tennessee Wildlife Federation since long before he
became a legislator. He has a personal passion for conservation, which greatly influences his work as a member of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. Since becoming a legislator, Rep. Vital has been a staunch ally of the Federation and of conservation as a whole. In the last legislative session, key pieces of legislation that would have been detrimental to conservation were stopped in their tracks, thanks in no small part to Rep. Vital.

Wildlife Conservationist of the Year — Joe Wright
Several years ago, Joe Wright realized his family’s 340-acre farm did not have enough water sources for the wildlife that inhabited the land. What started as building a small retention pond quickly grew into a major project. Over the past few years, Joe oversaw the project and utilized public resources such as University of Tennessee Extension to ensure the pond would provide maximum benefit to the wildlife on his property. Now completed, Joe is seeing the benefits to his property and has seen an increase in the number of species in and around his farm—especially dove, bobwhite quail, deer, and turkey.

Water Conservationist of the Year — Dr. Ryan Jackwood
Dr. Ryan Jackwood is the director of Watershed Science and Restoration at Harpeth Conservancy. In this position, he plays a key role in monitoring the water quality of Tennessee’s rivers to prioritize restoration efforts. Dr. Jackwood excels at simplifying complex scientific information for widespread understanding, which has been crucial in helping shape Harpeth Conservancy’s legislative work. In the last year, Dr. Jackwood has researched and worked on scientific studies regarding residential developments, wetland resources, wastewater treatment, and more.

Forest Conservationist of the Year — Alexandra Richman
Alexandra Richman is the chief operating officer of Cumberland Springs Land Company, a family farm in Lynchburg, Tn. She is the fourth generation in her family to manage the property. For the last several years, she also worked as a contract forester for the Tennessee Forestry Association, where she coordinated forester field days to get landowners more interested in actively managing their properties. In 2014, she was appointed to the Tennessee Forestry Commission, and in 2018 she was named Tennessee Tree Farmer of the Year by the Tennessee Forestry Association.

Conservation Organization of the Year — Ducks Unlimited
Ducks Unlimited (DU) has an 87-year history of being a leading waterfowl and wetland conservation
organization. In Tennessee, DU has more than 13,000 members and has conserved more than 50,000 acres of wetland habitat. DU partners with Tennessee Wildlife Federation and other organizations to improve Tennessee wetlands. Recent projects have enhanced water quality, flood capacity, and waterfowl habitat on hundreds of acres of wetland across the state. This year, DU also joined the Federation at the state capitol and played a major role in advocating against a bill that would have been detrimental to Tennessee’s wetlands.

Conservation by Business — Bass Pro Shops
For more than 50 years, Bass Pro Shops has been at the forefront of connecting people with the
outdoors and giving back to conservation every step of the way. Bass Pro Shops has been a supporter of Tennessee Wildlife Federation for many years. Beginning in 2019, Bass Pro Shops partnered with country music artist Chris Janson through a limited edition hat that benefits Hunters for the Hungry and two other conservation organizations. In 2023, the store in Kodak, TN, chose Tennessee Wildlife Federation as the recipient of its portion of the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund—a generous $6,200.

Conservation Educator of the Year — LouAnn Partington
LouAnn Partington has been a wildlife rehabilitator for more than 30 years. When she moved to
Tennessee, she began volunteering with Ziggy’s Tree Wildlife Rehabilitation Center as a songbird
specialist. LouAnn cares for hundreds of birds each year, and she also uses her role to educate
community members. By empowering the community with knowledge about native wildlife and their
habitat needs, LouAnn is creating better ecosystems for wildlife and reducing the chances for wildlife to need rehabilitation.

Conservation Communicator of the Year — Joey Monteleone
From the moment he caught his first fish as a kid, Joey Monteleone was hooked on the outdoors. His
many years of experience have given him a wealth of knowledge about all things fishing—and he has used that knowledge to serve as a role model for outdoor enthusiasts. Joey was a fishing guide on the television program Tennessee’s Wild Side for more than 10 years, where he coined his famous catchphrase, “I’ll be Tennessean ya.” He has also been on WSM radio for more than 35 years and has spoken at countless events, teaching the conservation message wherever possible over the decades.

Youth Conservationist of the Year — Trace Nystrom
Trace Nystrom fell in love with fishing when he was four years old and has been outside ever since. He founded the Bass Fishing Club at the Webb School of Knoxville and is also deeply involved in
conservation through scouting. He joined Boy Scouts of America in second grade and recently earned the achievement of Eagle Scout. His Eagle Scout project was a statewide advocacy video highlighting the invasive carp problem. Trace has held multiple leadership roles in his troop over the years, and he was named one of the Boy Scouts of the Year by the Great Smoky Mountain Council earlier this year.

On Target Award — Devin Farmer
When his son joined the Columbia Central Clay Sports team, Devin Farmer began volunteering with the team. He is now the president of the Maury County Gun Club and the Sporting Clays Director on the Tennessee Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP) Steering Committee. He has developed the Maury County Gun Club into a key practice range for Tennessee SCTP teams by adding new fields and courses. He also helped introduce a new discipline—super sporting clays—which has brought increased participation in traditional sporting clays from athletes who previously did not compete in that discipline.

Dan and Cherie Hammond Sharing the Harvest Award — AJ’s Deer Processing
Dennis Kimbrough opened AJ’s Deer Processing 39 years ago. His son, Ashley, has helped at AJ’s since he was a kid, and officially took over the business in 2022. AJ’s is one of only two processors that has been part of Hunters for the Hungry since it started in 1998. In the last 26 years, AJ’s has processed and distributed 1,671 deer, which has provided more than 314,000 servings to Tennesseans in need. No matter how busy they get, Dennis and Ashley never turn away a deer that will be donated to Hunters for the Hungry.

Gedeon D. Petit Memorial Award — Ryne Goats
Ryne Goats joined Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency as a wildlife officer in Franklin County in 2013 and now serves in Giles County, where he grew up hunting and fishing and learned to love the outdoors. Over the last year, Ryne conducted more than 21 public outreach and educational events and assisted fellow officers in several other events across the district. Through these events, Ryne taught more than 11,000 Tennesseans about safe and ethical outdoor recreation. Ryne’s hard work and leadership in the community also earned him the 2023 Tennessee Wildlife Officer of the Year award.

Hunter Education Instructor of the Year — Greg and Shari Atwell
Husband and wife duo Greg and Shari Atwell teach some of the most engaging hunter education classes in the state. Greg became a certified hunter education instructor in Maury County in 1998. Shari helped at several of Greg’s classes over the years, and became certified herself in 2015. Both are passionate about hunter safety and strive to ensure students are excited to learn and walk away with confidence to hunt and fish safely and ethically. Greg and Shari have taught 72 hunter education classes together in the Middle Tennessee area, and they have certified more than 2,000 students.

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