Fishing Conservation photo

At a time when the U.S. government is being asked to do more with less, conservationists all over the country are doing more without waiting to be asked. These efforts were recognized at the sixth annual Heroes of Conservation awards gala, sponsored by Field & Stream and Toyota. “It’s a critical time, budgets are tight, and it is possible that essential projects to restore and protect America’s wildlife and lands will be shelved due to lack of funds,” F&S Editor Anthony Licata said at the Washington, D.C. event. “But there is hope. We are humbled by and incredibly grateful to people like our heroes, who are willing to work even when there isn’t a budget.”

David Ramsey of Unicoi, Tenn., was named Field & Stream‘s Conservation Hero of the Year for his extraordinary effort in securing the 10,000-acre Rocky Fork Watershed for public use as a wildlife management area. “I am completely overwhelmed by this award and this event,” said Ramsey.

Ramsey spent 15 years brokering relationships between sportsmen’s groups, government officials, and conservation organizations to permanently protect the Tennessee watershed for public use. A sporting-goods store manager and wildlife photographer, he used his photographs of the pristine mountain land in presentations about its heritage in an effort to grip listeners. With the help of the Conservation Fund, Ramsey’s efforts finally paid off. The land was purchased away from developers, and people are using it the same way they always have.

The ceremony honored seven finalists for their efforts to salvage river and forest ecosystems, educate local youth, and manage natural resources that impact game.

Secretary of the U.S. Interior Ken Salazar was a surprise guest at the gala, taking the podium to point out that volunteerism is the backbone of conservation in the outdoors.

Dan Ashe, the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was a speaker at the event, thanking the finalists for their extraordinary contributions to their communities. He also lauded the Hero for a Day volunteer program, which took place in six locations across the country this spring.

The awards were hosted by chart-topping country music singer Craig Morgan, who also hosts All Access Outdoors on Outdoor Channel. “The conservation work of these heroes paints all outdoorsmen in a positive light,” he says. “People don’t realize the environmental impact hunters and fishermen have, not to mention the financial impact. It’s important that we as conservationists continue to get involved and educate the community on what we bring to the table.” Morgan is involved with the National Wild Turkey Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the Whitetail Institute. He ended the night with an acoustic set of hits and a preview of his yet-to-be-released new album, including the single “This Ole Boy.”

Each Hero of the Year finalist received a check for $5,000 to contribute to their projects, and Ramsey was also awarded the grand prize: a new Toyota Tundra.