Land & Conservation

Champions of Conservation 2023

Saving wild turkeys, protecting Venus flytraps, cleaning up rivers, cultivating the crops of tomorrow, and more—the heroic efforts of these ten undersung scientists, advocates, and innovators are helping defend the South’s imperiled ecosystems

Top, left to right: Jacqueline Echols, Mike Chamberlain, Julie Moore, JJ Apodaca, and Jennie L. Stephens. Bottom, left to right: Adam Chappell, Alvin Dedeaux, Mitzi Reed, Chris Smith, and Ryan J. Brown.


Champion of Clean Water

Water Warrior:
Jacqueline Echols


Long before Atlanta’s South River became a political flash point, Jacqueline Echols began fighting to conserve the waterway


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Champion of Wild Turkeys

Feathered Friend:
Mike Chamberlain


Plummeting turkey numbers? A Georgia biologist and hunter is stepping in


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Champion of Carnivorous Plants

The Flytrap Queen:
Julie Moore


This Carolina botanist won’t rest till the South’s iconic insectivorous plants are protected


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Champion of Amphibians, Reptiles, and Fish

Gene Genius:
JJ Apodaca


An inventive herpetologist wields DNA in wild and wonderful ways


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Champion of Family Land Legacies

Defender of Descendants:
Jennie L. Stephens


Families with heirs’ property across the region have an ally in this South Carolina dynamo


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Champion of Regenerative Farming

The Good Earther:
Adam Chappell


An inspiring farmer goes soil deep to prove what’s old is new again



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Champion of the Lower Colorado River and Texas Hill Country Streams

Action Hero:
Alvin Dedeaux


This Texas fly guide is hooking up the Lower Colorado with cleaner waters


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Champion of Native Species

Tribal Counsel:
Mitzi Reed


Rooting out invasives, beckoning youth to the cause: A Choctaw biologist doubles down


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Champion of Seeds

Seed Savior:
Chris Smith


In the face of climate change, monoculture, and an uncertain future, a grower tries new tactics


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Meghan Marchetti/DWR

Champion of Inclusivity Outdoors

Policy (Maker):
Ryan J. Brown


Virginia’s natural wonders extend a wider welcome with this man at the helm


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Watch a Conversation with Several Champions

Led by editor in chief David DiBenedetto

Leading the Way

Meet our panel


the sporting press


The methodology: To help select this year’s Champions of Conservation, we consulted with six experts with a broad range of ecological perspectives. “We must ensure the sustainable use of land and water to support the South’s econ- omy, create recreational opportunities, and preserve our cultural identity for generations to come,” says Mamie Parker, an Arkansas native and former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leader. “It was inspiring to serve on this panel and witness the passion and dedication of individuals actively working to preserve and protect our region’s natural beauty.”

Sally Bethea, one of the first women in America to become a “riverkeeper”—a vocal defender of a specific waterway who holds companies and governing bodies accountable for pollution—served as executive director of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper in Atlanta for two decades and continues to assist the organization as a senior adviser. In July, she published Keeping the Chattahoochee: Reviving and Defending a Great Southern River, detailing her restoration efforts.

Caleb Hickman, a G&G 2022 Champion of Conservation, is the supervisory biologist for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina. As such, the Oklahoma native and citizen of the Cherokee Nation lives at the intersection of culture and ecology. He and his team manage tribal lands and conduct some thirty-plus projects a year focused on native species historically important to the Cherokee, including elk, hellbenders, and fish such as the sicklefin redhorse.

Mamie Parker followed up a career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as chief of staff and head of fisheries with her current position as a success coach and consultant at Ecologix Group, Inc., collaborating with such clients as the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and National Wild Turkey Federation. The governor of Arkansas inducted the biologist into the Natural State’s Outdoor Hall of Fame for her work on fish habitats and invasive species.

Simon Perkins is a lifelong outdoorsman and represents the third generation of the Perkins family to lead Orvis, as president. Before joining the company in 2012, he spent a decade as an upland hunting and fly-fishing guide in Montana, and he served for years on the board of Trout Unlimited Headwaters. He also advocates for Orvis’s support of conservation across the country through the Breaking Barriers Awards and by collaborating with organizations such as Black Warrior Riverkeeper, the Everglades Foundation, and the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Felica Sanders, named the 2020 Biologist of the Year by the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, has spent more than three decades conserving a wide diversity of bird species, from neotropical migrants to red-cockaded wood-peckers. As the Coastal Bird Conservation Project supervisor for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, she focuses on shorebirds and the preservation and protection of their coastal habitats, including Charleston’s Deveaux Bank, not ar from her home just north in McClellanville.

Jonathan Wilkins, a hunting educator and facilitator in his seasonal home base of Brinkley, Arkansas, organizes hunting and fishing trips through his company, Black Duck Revival, to reconnect people, especially “nontraditional” hunters and Black Americans, to the land and self-reliance skills. An expert in wild-game cooking and an advocate for sustainable hunting, Wilkins has also served as a state board member for the Arkansas chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.


Power of One

Asheville eco-pioneer Wilma Dykeman proved that a single person can move (and conserve) mountains


Portrait: Jim Stokely

The Appalachian writer and speaker Wilma Dykeman, born in the Beaverdam community of Asheville, North Carolina, in 1920, was a conservationist ahead of her time. Almost a decade before Rachel Carson published the watershed 1962 environmental book Silent Spring, Dykeman wrote The French Broad, tracing the history and culture of Asheville’s iconic river. The Rivers of America book series had commissioned the work, and Dykeman (who died in 2006) had to fight to include a controversial chapter on the river’s rampant pollution from industrial waste and untreated sewage. “There is only one respectable course for a free citizen and that is to shoulder his share of the responsibility for the ‘killing,’ for the pollution,” she wrote, arguing that clean water actually goes hand in hand with a healthy economy.

“Today things have changed so much that people raft down the French Broad,” reflects Dykeman’s son, Jim Stokely. “Her vision of sixty years ago is alive today in Asheville’s thriving brewery scene and the River Arts district.”

The Wilma Dykeman Greenway now runs through that district, and since 2012, Stokely and his wife have honored the three pillars of his mother’s lifework through the Wilma Dykeman Legacy, which organizes talks, workshops, and events promoting her core values—environmental integrity, social justice, and the power of the written and spoken word. “If she were here today, she would say that we’ve made signifi- cant progress,” Stokely says. “But she would also say that we are in the middle of it—that we have a long way to go.”