North Carolina’s Local Land Trusts Present Annual Awards to Five Conservation Leaders

Press release from Conservation Trust for North Carolina:

North Carolina’s 24 local land trusts bestowed their annual awards on deserving winners during a dinner celebration at the 2016 Land Trust Assembly in Raleigh on Wednesday, May 25.  The NC Land Trust awards are given annually to businesses, nonprofits, governments, and individuals who lead efforts to protect streams, farms, parks, forests, and trails to help provide safe drinking water, clean air, fresh local foods, and abundant recreational opportunities for all North Carolina families. The award winners included:

  • Corporate Conservation Partner of the Year: Pepsi Bottling Ventures
  • Federal Government Conservation Partner of the Year: United States Fish & Wildlife Service
  • State Government Conservation Partner of the Year: Chimney Rock State Park
  • Stanback Volunteer Conservationist of the Year: Tony Doster
  • Rising Conservation Leader of the Year: Hanni Muerdter

Corporate Conservation Partner of the Year: Pepsi Bottling Ventures
Nominated by Conservation Trust for North Carolina, Eno River Association, Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, Tar River Land Conservancy, The Conservation Fund and Triangle Greenways Council.

Initiative, which The Conservation Fund, Conservation Trust for North Carolina, Eno River Association, Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, Tar River Land Conservancy, and Triangle Greenways Council have partnered on for more than a decade. The Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative is a partnership of nonprofit organizations and local governments that seeks to protect the lands most critical for ensuring the long-term health of drinking water supplies in the Upper Neuse River Basin.

PBV has also generously supported the North Carolina Youth Conservation Corps (NCYCC), a program of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina. The NCYCC is a comprehensive youth development program that uses the natural world as a platform for teaching environmental stewardship, job and life skills, leadership, community service, and personal responsibility.

Pepsi has been a significant financial supporter of these two programs since 2013, contributing $40,000. In addition, their in-kind support of refreshing beverages for the NCYCC has been extremely valuable to crews working in 100 degree heat for consecutive days.

“We greatly appreciate Pepsi Bottling Ventures’ generous support, which has helped us conserve land to protect drinking water supplies, connect young people to the outdoors, and improve public awareness of natural areas and water quality,” said Margaret Newbold, Associate Director with the Conservation Trust for North Carolina.

As the largest single consumer of clean drinking water in Raleigh, Pepsi Bottling Ventures is a key ally to the land trust partners in the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative.

Land trusts’ partnership with Pepsi Bottling Ventures is advancing the water protection efforts of the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative, and helping young people preserve, improve and restore protected lands in the Triangle.


Federal Government Conservation Partner of the Year: United States Fish & Wildlife Service
Nominated by North Carolina Coastal Land Trust.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) mission is to “work with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.”  Their conservation efforts across the nation have clearly aligned with those of local land trusts.  In North Carolina, USFWS representatives from multiple offices have partnered with many land trusts on a myriad of important projects such as assisting Mainspring Conservation Trust with the repair of eroded streambanks along the Little Tennessee River, helping the Piedmont Land Conservancy with restoration of early successional habitat at their Long Point Preserve, collaborating with the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and others to establish the Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge, and helping conserve thousands of acres of valuable upland and wetland habitats by providing millions of grant dollars for land trust acquisition projects across the state.  The NC Coastal Land Trust alone estimates that it has conserved over 9,500 acres to date with USFWS grant funds.

In addition, the USFWS has provided technical and cost share assistance to land trusts and conservation easement landowners across the state for habitat restoration projects, primarily through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program (Partners).  The NC Coastal Land Trust has obtained Partners funds, for example, to restore longleaf pine and bottomland hardwood forests, as well as create habitat for native pollinators.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been a solid partner to the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust and other NC land trusts for many years.  The federal biologists we have had the pleasure to work with are positive, energetic, helpful and well-respected.  They have contributed a tremendous amount of time and resources to so many of our successful wildlife and wetland conservation projects.  It is a wonder we have not recognized them earlier!” stated Janice Allen, Deputy Director, NC Coastal Land Trust.


State Government Conservation Partner of the Year: Chimney Rock State Park
Nominated by Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina.

Chimney Rock State Park was established in 2005.  Since the beginning, development of the Park has involved a strong partnership with non-profit conservation organizations working in the Hickory Nut Gorge, including Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, The Nature Conservancy and The Conservation Fund.

Hickory Nut Gorge is one of the most biologically diverse areas in North Carolina, and the Chimney Rock State Park Natural Area encompasses habitat for many rare and endangered plant and animal species and significant natural communities within its 6,200 acres. The park joined Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, and The Nature Conservancy on the inaugural steering committee of the Weed Action Coalition of the Hickory Nut Gorge in 2012. Since 2013, the organizations have utilized the program to leverage state park funds for the treatment of non-native invasive species on nearly 300 acres within the park. From innovative invasive plant treatments using goats, to contracting a labor crew of young adults (The American Conservation Experience), Chimney Rock State Park has engaged in innovative opportunities and solutions to conservation challenges.

“Chimney Rock State Park contains habitat of national significance.  We are so grateful to have a partner in the NC Division of Parks and Recreation that understands the importance of active land management, particularly the control of invasive species, for long-term habitat protection,” said Kieran Roe, Executive Director of Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy.


Stanback Volunteer Conservationist of the Year: Tony Doster
Nominated by North Carolina Coastal Land Trust.

Tony Doster manages the North Carolina portfolio of forestlands held by one of the country’s top five timber management investment organizations. As a passionate and hard-working volunteer, Tony is involved in conservation work at the state, regional, and local levels. Tony does more than simply facilitate cooperation between forest managers in the for-profit sector and nonprofit leaders in conservation. Tony is respected in both worlds, and exemplifies a model of leadership that seeks to find common purpose, and carry out common goals to protect our natural resources.

Tony is actively involved in the Society of American Foresters (SAF), having led the NC Division.  He currently serves as Chair of the Appalachian Society of American Foresters (NC, SC and VA), and he has served on the Board of the NC Forestry Association. Tony was also an early and enthusiastic supporter of the Cape Fear Arch, which he chairs. The “Arch” is a regional (coastal NC and SC) conservation partnership whose mission is to develop and implement a community conservation vision and to build awareness, protection and stewardship of the region’s important natural resources.  Today, the Cape Fear Arch has 28 cooperating partners.  The participating organizations represent a broad spectrum of land managers and land conservation advocates with differing missions.

“Tony is actively engaged in protecting nature, wildlife, conservation, sustainability, and biological diversity in North Carolina. He works tirelessly and cheerfully to bring conservation and timber industry leaders together at all levels: local, state and national, for the greater good,” said Camilla Herlevich, Executive Director of the Coastal Land Trust. “We are lucky to have him in our community.”

In addition, Tony serves as one of 9 members on the NC Natural Heritage Advisory Committee, the volunteers charged with overseeing the state’s dedicated nature preserves and registered heritage areas and the development of the NC Natural Heritage Program.  He is respected for his expertise, his openness to new ideas, and his sincere commitment to nature.

Rising Conservation Leader of the Year: Hanni Muerdter
Nominated by Blue Ridge Conservancy and Blue Ridge Forever.

Hanni Muerdter started her career as a Project Conserve AmeriCorps Member in western North Carolina and continued on as the Stewardship and Conservation Planning Director for the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, where she still serves today. Hanni has made an impact in her current role by strengthening Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy’s land and easement stewardship program through the creation of modern policies and procedures that will ensure their easements will last.

Hanni is chair of the Blue Ridge Forever Conservation Committee; she has served in this role since 2010.  She leads development of meeting agendas and facilitates knowledge-sharing among land protection and stewardship staff of 10 land trusts in western North Carolina, which in turn enhances the capacity of these organizations to respond to an ever-changing conservation landscape.  Furthermore, as Committee Chair she led the development of Blue Ridge Forever’s region-wide conservation vision with discreet focus areas, and is currently updating that tool as the coalition moves into its second decade.

“Hanni’s dedication and approach to conservation are inspiring.  She regularly takes on responsibilities well beyond expectations, manages her ever-more-complex workload with calm focus, and approaches every interaction with empathy.  Inspiring, understanding, hard-working, and forward-thinking – these are all characteristics of a good leader, and Hanni embodies each,” said Jessica Laggis, Director of Blue Ridge Forever.

Hanni is also an active member in the Asheville community. She is the past Chair of the Board of Directors of Jubilee Community Church. Under her leadership and organizational skills the church was able to create a more formal framework, which will guide the church into the future. She is also an accomplished actress in the local theater.