It's almost time to pick a winner. We looked at more than 50 nominations, and our selection committee very carefully reviewed the efforts of regular people who are lobbying government agencies, collecting data onstream, organizing river cleanups, teaching kids in the classroom, organizing river cleanups, and fundraising for conservation efforts on their local waters—whether they are saltwater flats or headwater streams in the mountains.
We narrowed the field down to our Top Ten Finalists. Our overall winner will be announced January 1, 2018. The winner will get a new Sage rod scripted with their name and "Conservationist of the Year." They'll also get a check from Sage for $5,000 made out in their name to the nonprofit environmental group of their choice.
Every week starting October 25, 2017, we will reveal another top nomination for the Fly Fisherman Conservationist of the Year Award sponsored by Sage. Here is the most recent finalist you should get to know:
Pennsylvania Trout Unlimited
Charlie Charlesworth's concern for local rivers began in childhood.
"I grew up on the banks of the vile and disgusting Schuylkill River in Pennsylvania," he said. "The Schuylkill was plagued not only by the wonton discharge of Industrial pollution, but a double whammy in the form of Acid Mine Discharge. Nothing but rats could survive in this orange waterway and after 150 years of disregard for the environment."
Since then, Charlie's acted as a model Citizen Scientist in major Pennsylvania trout fishery restoration, through membership and leadership of many river conservation groups. As President of the Lackawanna Valley TU Chapter, Charlie joined forces with 35 partner groups and founded the Keystone TU Teens Summer Camp.
Over the last 10 years, every major trout habitat project on the Lackawanna River has been designed and funded by Charlie. Today, the Lackawanna is a Class A wild trout stream with special regulations, largely due to his efforts. He additionally built the Sweeney Beach Environmental Center through fundraising, direct effort and organizing volunteers. He was the winner of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council's Thomas P. Shelburne Award for Environmental Excellence.
San Diego Fly Fishers — Golden Trout Restoration Project
In the late 1990s, Gary retired from his position as a Naval Officer and Aerospace Project Manager. Since then, he's dedicated thousands of hours to San Diego fisheries. He said, "I had little background in environmental science but a passion for fly fishing and healthy waters. Over the years, that led to a great new passion for healthy waters and many opportunities to work with the wonderful scientists, students and volunteers to improve our riparian and aquatic habitats."
Gary's worked as leader and board member of the San Diego Stream Team, has garnered the San Diego River Park Foundation 2006 Volunteer of the Year Award, dedicated time as the South Coast Steelhead Coalition Water Quality Monitoring Team Leader, and fundraised for San Diego Fly Fishers (SDFF). One of SDFF's most successful projects has been the Trout in the Classroom Program, which gives classrooms 50 to 100 fertile trout eggs to raise while learning about trout fisheries.
Governors Schwarzenegger and Brown have appointed Gary to the California Water Quality Control Board, San Diego Region since 2010. In this position, he's been instrumental in adjudications totaling more than $100 million in clean up and abatement orders and fines. This has resulted in significant improvements in the quality of regional streams, bays and estuaries. In his tenure as conservation chair of SD Fly Fishers, the group has donated $100,000 to various conservation and educational organizations.
Coastal Habitat Education & Environmental Restoration (CHEER)
In 2004, Herman founded CHEER, a group dedicated to the protection and restoration of threatened steelhead in Uvas Creek and the Pajaro River watershed of Southern California. He's now the volunteer Executive Director. A creative thinker who looks for collaborators in unexpected places, Herman trades homeless people food for their helpful efforts in river clean-up projects and their collective efforts have removed more than 1,000 tires and five abandoned boats.
CHEER uses a mobile garbage museum to educate children in ongoing grade school educational program about threatened salmonids. The group has additionally installed 24/7 security cameras to monitor illegal dumping and poaching and has also organized volunteers to use night vision goggles to monitor illegal dumping activities.
Anglers of the Au Sable
Josh Greenberg lives, works and fishes in Grayling, Michigan on the Au Sable River. A third-generation fly-fisher, he enjoys everything about the sport. As a teenager, he began working at Gates Au Sable Lodge. He learned the responsibility of the Industry from his boss, Calvin "Rusty" Gates. When Rusty became ill with cancer, Josh purchased the business in 2010, quitting his guide job. Seven years never went by so fast. There were a host of expectations and responsibilities, but none more important than the river that supported his lodge, guides, community and state.
Josh has aided in the ongoing battle against a commercial fish farm on the AuSable. This private fish farm would raise up to 300,000 pounds of trout annually using water from the river. With that, it would pollute the most productive stretch of trout water in the state, a nine-mile catch-and-release section known as the "Holy Waters" for its cold water, wild trout and prolific hatches.
For three years, the Anglers of the Au Sable— a landmark fly-fishing conservation organization founded by Rusty Gates — has fought to halt a damaging DEQ permit for a fish farm. The group has elevated the issue of commercial fish farming statewide and inspired legislation such as the Preserving Fishing on Wild & Scenic River Act and the Ban Aquaculture in the Great Lakes Act. Unfortunately, both pieces of legislation died in the Michigan Legislature in 2017. The fight against the DEQ permit for a fish farm is far from over. The efforts of Josh and the leadership of the Anglers of the Au Sable goes to show that sportsmen can powerfully capture the attention of decision makers.
Coastal Water Institute
A native of the Washington coast, Anne Shaffer raised her family on the Olympic Peninsula and returned to school once her children left the nest. She recently completed her PhD in Fisheries Conservation. She now serves as Executive Director and Lead Scientist of the Coastal Watershed Institute (CWI), a small, place-based environmental non-profit dedicated to protecting and conserving coastal ecosystems through community-led scientific partnerships. More than 95% of Anne's time is as a volunteer and when she does earn a salary, she donates it back to CWI.
Anne and her team implement large, complex restoration, science, and community engagement initiatives. She plays a key role in studying post-dam-removal habitat around the Elwha Estuary, a location with the largest dam removal project in the nation to-date. This one study will have tremendous implications for future dam removal projects across the U.S. CWI work has featured in National Geographic, New Yorker Magazine, Al Jazeera, PBS and NPR programs.
Anne also leads a field mentoring program for the next generation of scientists and managers through a series of CWI-sponsored and grant funded college internships. College students are given paid internships to work with CWI, state and federal agencies and local Tribes, and private corporations on nearshore management and research projects. Currently in this internship program, Anne supervises the recent restoration of over a half mile of severely degraded Elwha nearshore, and six acres of nearshore along steelhead shorelines of the western Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Stonycreek-Conemaugh River Improvement Project (SCRIP)
Mountain Laurel Chapter — Trout Unlimited
"Len Lichvar's submission was huge, with dozens and dozens of newspaper clippings," said Fly Fisherman Editor Ross Purnell, based in Harrisburg. "Lenny has done huge things for Pennsylvania fisheries."
Currently, Len's the District Manager of the Somerset Conservation District where he and his staff enhance and conserve natural resources and improve water quality through on the ground projects, education and technical assistance. Since the 1980s, he's worked on the formerly-barren Quemahoning Reservoir and Creek, which culminated in the creation of a new trout fishery. After much lobbying and negotiation, a 10.8 MGD release of cold water was mandated by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Len also assisted with creating the first abandoned mine passive treatment system in the Stonycreek River watershed, thereby restoring 12 miles of trout fishing after 100 years of sterile water.
Voluntarily, Len is a state-appointed official as the District 4 Commissioner on the Board of Commissioners of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and Chairman of the Stonycreek-Conemaugh River Improvement. Lenny is additionally a Board Member of the Mountain Laurel Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the Somerset County Conservancy and a member of the Somerset Lake Action Committee, and Land Committee of the Jenner Rod and Gun Club that manages over one thousand acres of land open to public recreation. He's served as a Hunter-Trapper Education Course instructor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission for 25 years. Len's been an outdoor writer for decades and most recently co-authored the new book, Keystone Fly Fishing.
Trout Unlimited - El Dorado Chapter
In early 2014, Melinda and her family became aware of critical stressors to the Cosumnes River, including significant flow barriers to Chinook Salmon passage.
"The Cosumnes River is the last free flowing river on the western slope of the Sierras," said Melinda."'Cosumnes' is a Miwok word. Cos means 'salmon' and umne means 'people'. So together it means 'salmon people'. We made a decision as a family to do what we could to help this important ecosystem, and were fortunate to connect with key mentors at organizations and agencies to form a Coalition to work at a watershed scale."
Today, Melinda facilitates the Consumnes Coalition (formed in 2014) and works for the American Rivers Conservancy as the Cosumnes River Water Quality Monitoring Coordinator. Three years later, the Coalition has made significant progress in connecting people and applying science to create solutions.
in 2016, Melinda donated 40 hours per week to these causes and coorindated more than 40 volunteer citizen scientists to monitor flow, temperature, pH and habitat quality at more than 20 sites on the Consumnes.
"The time investment to achieve win-win, lasting solutions can be daunting," said Melinda. "But I can't imagine a world where my son would not have the opportunity to see salmon in the wild. Their survival is a symbol of our hopes for the watershed as a whole."
JOHN KARAKASHIAN & STEVE FRALEY
Trout Unlimited — Pere Marquette
Pere Marquette Watershed Council
The Pere Marquette River—legendary for its part in the introduction of German brown trout to American fisheries--is a designated Wild and Scenic River, as well as a Blue Ribbon fishery.
The PM remains "scenic" due to the efforts of the grass roots conservation organizations and requires constant attention from conservation organizations and caring individuals to maintain the resource for future generations. Two such individuals are Steve Fraley and John Karakashian.
For more than 10 years, the two have co-owned Baldwin Bait and Tackle in Baldwin, MI. During that time, they have funded, sponsored and organized two annual clean-up days on the Pere Marquette. During those days, they cover 35 miles of river. Steve and John also guide on the PM and have taught countless anglers the art of reading water, understanding fish habits and techniques for stalking and catching Brown trout, migratory Steelhead and King Salmon.
Both are members of the Pere Marquette Watershed Council and help promote and have participated in the "Cast for Conservation", a one-day flyfishing fundraiser, for the last 20 years. The funds raised by this annual event go towards stream improvement projects to create fish habitat and for the placement of rip-rap to prevent bank erosion.
Both promote the mentality to protect and preserve the fishery for future generations and they've converted many to their conservation mind-set and beliefs.
Save Our Smith
Montana Environmental Information Center
For 43 years, Steve Gilbert's worked as a biological consultant in Montana. During that time, he's worked on hundreds of natural resources projects in the Rocky Mountain West and beyond. In addition, Steve's fished and floated on Montana's crown jewel river, the Smith, for four decades , half of those as a guide.
He has testified in the Montana Legislature and U.S. Senate on water and air quality, soils, aquatics and wildlife habitat issues relating to irresponsible energy development, coal and hard-rock mines. His biological background, combined with angling and guiding expertise have helped to rally many people to join the efforts of the conservation community. Steve is a strong environmental advocate and has served on numerous conservation non-profit boards, as well as received awards for his service.
With the recent threat of a copper mine on the headwaters of the famed Smith River, Steve put all of his conservation know-how to use through the Save Our Smith campaign. Derf Johnson, Water Program Director of MEIC, wrote: "Steve has done more than we can recollect for this cause. He very willingly reviewed the biological information in Tintina's application, pro bono, and pointed out several discrepancies in their data and methodologies that will serve to inform our advocacy. Steve is unwavering in his position that the mine should never be built, and he has the ability to convey this message thoughtfully and effectively. His volunteer work has served to grow our movement and turn a strong majority of Montanans against this mine."