Wilderness Society honors diverse conservation heroes

Our national parks, national forests, and other public lands belong to all Americans — and Americans of all kinds are doing great work to protect these natural treasures for future generations. The Wilderness Society’s Diversity Task Force honors this citizen richness by selecting dedicated Americans to put on the “Faces of Conservation” wall in our Washington, D.C., headquarters.

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Every two years, five of these conservationists are identified. We seek individuals who have made important contributions to land conservation, are passionate about their conservation work, have overcome significant obstacles or taken risks in support of wildland protection, are held in high esteem by their peers within the conservation community, and have developed creative ways to protect the land and/or strengthen the conservation movement by inspiring others.

Here is our fourth set of honorees:

Bishop Heron Johnson. Photo by Olan Mills.Bishop Heron Johnson is the founding pastor of Faith Apostolic Church in Birmingham, Ala. He orchestrated a partnership that brought a church, an environmental group, a power company, and two universities together to protect the endangered watercress darter. His work with the fish and the Freshwater Land Trust expanded to include other green initiatives across the city, including the creation of 1,108-acre Red Mountain Park, which he hopes will one day connect via a greenway to the church’s Seven Springs Preserve. Bishop Johnson, who received the Torchbearer Award from the United Negro College Fund, believes that God placed the fish in his care and marvels that such a tiny fish could make so many great things happen.

Carolyn Finney. Photo by Lynnly Lobovitz.Carolyn Finney, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, with a Ph.D. in geography, is committed to working with all people to reclaim, review, and renew their relationship with the natural world. Her work grows out of a determination to reconsider long-held assumptions about the production, representation, and dissemination of knowledge about people, places, and ideas. She serves on a committee of the Second Century National Park Commission that addresses the educational role of the national parks in the 21st century, and she is finishing a book exploring the relationship of African Americans to the environment and to the environmental movement.

Meggan Laxalt Mackey. Photo by Burns Studio, Boise.Meggan Laxalt Mackey is a founder of the Idaho Children and Nature Network, dedicated to connecting children with nature in Idaho, from backyards to mountaintops. While chairing the coalition from 2007 to 2009, she led the effort to create a statewide initiative “Be Outside Idaho.” The initiative encourages youth to experience Idaho’s natural treasures. A long-time employee of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Mackey also is active with the Basque Museum & Cultural Center, which seeks to raise awareness of Basque culture.

Rue Mapp. Photo by Delane Sims.Rue Mapp created Outdoor Afro, a website promoting African-Americans’ involvement with the natural world. She believes: “Participation, across generations, is the only way to foster outdoor stewardship. If people don’t have a personal relationship with the outdoors through repeated, positive interaction, then it’s hard for people to have awareness about the outdoors, much less care for it.” Her leadership and creativity led to a White House invitation to participate in a 2010 conference to shape the Obama administration’s initiative America’s Great Outdoors.

Virak Kchao. Photo by David Kchao.Virak Kchao started an environmental group at Virginia Tech that grew rapidly and made an impression on the community with projects such as the one dramatizing the deforestation of the Amazon. To illustrate that every second a square mile of forest is cut down, the students marked off a square mile on the campus forest. Now working for the United States Conference of Mayors, Kchao helps mayors stay informed on climate change, sustainability, and green jobs. He hopes to go to Cambodia, where his parents immigrated from, to play a role in protecting that country’s rapidly disappearing forests.

Previous “Faces of Conservation:”

  • Dacho Alexander
  • Cheryl Armstrong
  • Ernie Atencio
  • Sergio Avila-Villegas
  • Luci Beach
  • Ester Ceja
  • Dudley Edmondson
  • Faith Gemmill
  • Moises Gonzalez
  • Congressman Raúl Grijalva
  • James Hoyte
  • Charles Jordan
  • Congressman John Lewis
  • Mamie Parker
  • Queen Quet
  • J. T. Reynolds
  • Jerome Ringo
  • Arturo Sandoval
  • Erik Schultz
  • Robert Stanton