The Mission of the Missoula Conservation Roundtable is to Remember, Honor and Celebrate leaders who have sustained and protected natural resources in the Missoula area. Our awards inform Roundtable members and the general public about conservation, grow awareness of the continuing importance of conservation, and inspire others to contribute their time and talents to sustain and protect our natural resources.
Who We Are
We are persons who have been selected by Roundtable members to be recognized for our accomplishments in many areas of natural resource conservation. We began as a small group but now number more than a hundred. The Roundtable is informally organized, bound together by our ties to a sustainable future. We have no officers.Volunteers serve as planners and organizers.
What the Roundtable Does
We meet each year to nominate candidates for the annual awards. Any member or group of members can nominate. Awardees selected from those nominated are honored at our annual awards event.The geographic area from which award candidates are selected is generally the Missoula area. It has extended southwest into the Bitterroot and northeast as far as Lincoln.
by Robin Tawney-Nichols
The Conservation Roundtable had an unlikely beginning as the spawn of an all-male sports banquet.
But let’s back up a bit. Decades before the Roundtable awards program began, the Missoula Chamber of Commerce inaugurated its Sportsman of the Year Award, naming it after longtime Missoulian sportswriter Ray Rocene. While the first recipients of the Ray T. Rocene Sportsman of the Year Award all were involved in some way with organized sports, the Chamber presented its 11th award in 1967 to a bit of a hybrid: Don Aldrich, truly a sports fan but, more than that, a passionate conservationist.
From the beginning, Ray Rocene had insisted that since the outdoors was part of his Missoulian news beat and, thus, aspects of outdoor recreation and the work of conservationists appeared regularly in his column, “conservationists” should be eligible for his name sake award. Ray’s persistence finally paid off when the Chamber at last recognized Don for his conservation advocacy.
A lifelong outdoorsman, Don Aldrich pursued his interest in conservation during the 33 years he worked for the Montana Power Co. After hours and sometimes on the job, Don studied wildlife management, resource conservation and forest practices, and he was transformed by what he read. Starting in the 1950s, Don gave wildlife and wildlands a voice and a constituency, inspiring legions of Montanans to take up the cause of conservation. When here tired in 1969, Don became a full-time voice for conservation as executive secretary of the Montana Wildlife Federation, single-handedly representing all Montana conservationists at the state legislature. Before he died in 1990, Don was involved in virtually every major conservation battle in Montana.
Not long after Don became the Rocene Sportsman of the Year, the Chamber shifted their award to the Missoula Mavericks, an athletic booster club. Adding the Rocene Award to the mix seemed like a good idea because, since 1958, the Mavericks had held an annual banquet to honor individuals who contributed to the local organized sports scene—either professionally or as volunteers.
At first, the Maverick’s honored Rocene’s intentions and named a few more of Missoula’s stalwart conservationists as Sportsman of the Year. Honorees included Ed Engelhart and Archie Erskine, and then, in 1972, Dale Burk became the last conservationist to receive the Ray T. Rocene Sportsman of the Year Award. At the time, Dale was a Missoulian reporter and columnist who broke the news about environmental degradation in Western Montana and later became an author, publisher and Nieman Fellow.
After 1972, the Mavericks thwarted subsequent efforts by Aldrich, Burk, Engelhart and Erskine to honor others in the conservation field. Then Don came up with the idea fora second, separate award—still under the banner of the Mavericks—to recognize a Conservationist of the Year for “intensive and persistent efforts to establish and retain fish and wildlife communities and make them available for public enjoyment.” Intense lobbying by Don, Ed and Archie made this award a reality in 1986 when it was christened the Don Aldrich Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Award.
Not without irony, Don’s former employer, the Montana Power Company, a key opponent to environmental regulation, sponsored the Aldrich award until closing its doors in 2003.
Don chose Harold Knapp as the first Aldrich Award recipient. As a biology and forestry teacher in the Missoula County high schools, Harold had urged his students to become active participants in conservation by taking them out of the classroom and into the field.
Dale Burk was named a Don Aldrich award winner retroactively and from 1986-on,the list of awardees grew, man by man: Arnold Bolle, 1987; Bruce Bugbee, 1988; Phil Tawney, 1989; Bob Munson, 1990; Dale Harris, 1991; Gerry Slingsby, 1991; Tom France, 1992; and Hank Fischer, 1993.Each year, Don asked this group of Aldrich honorees to join him in selecting individuals to be recognized for the award at the next Mavericks banquet.
Equal opportunity is sometimes slow-coming, even in Missoula, but it does happen. By 1994, the group of early Aldrich winners were eager to honor a woman and considered it a disgrace that the Mavericks were closed to such a notion. Their idea was quickly rebuffed by the all-male Mavericks, so the Aldrich committee created an independent banquet program—the Conservation Roundtable—and honored Ellen Knight as the first awardee under the “new” program. The Conservation Roundtable continues to honor both women and men.
Seeking a venue for its award program, the Conservation Roundtable first partnered with the Five Valleys Land Trust, which graciously provided a forum for Roundtable award presentations at its annual banquet and auction from 1995 to 2003, when the sheer size of that event and the Roundtable’s need for sharper focus led to the present stand-alone format in 2004.
Simultaneously, the recognition program evolved to accommodate the great diversity and broad scope of effort in the conservation field with the addition of the Arnold Bolle Award in 1995, the Burk-Brandborg Award in 1998, the Lifetime Conservation Award in 2001, and the Emerging Conservationist Award in 2017.
Early in the formation of the Conservation Roundtable, Roundtable members decided to limit the awards program to individuals who demonstrated particularly creative and effective conservation efforts in Missoula and its immediate geographic area—not in the entire state of Montana.Further, the group acknowledged that award recipients are a few among many deserving such recognition because each person in the conservation community contributes in his or her own, unique way, some acting individually, others through community organizations and agencies.
Each year, following the tradition begun by Don Aldrich, previous award winners gather to select new recipients. In presenting a handful of awards, however, Roundtable members believe they also are honoring the accomplishments of all conservationists who are active in this Western Montana community.
The Conservation Roundtable awards evening provides an opportunity for all members and their fellow conservationists to “Remember, Honor and Celebrate” their mutual commitments to this place through conservation activism, stewardship, education, and dedicated public service. Living in the greater Missoula area is considered a special privilege that invokes the notion of active, continued involvement by people who care about this place and each other. Both our “place”and the “people”of this community give much to each of us, and that giving calls us to reciprocate.
We respond, each in our own way, as we are able, and as we are suited. Fortunately for us all, there are many who find ways to pay it forward because the challenges facing conservation and the environment are never-ending.
[The Ray T. Rocene Sportsman of the Year Award continues to be given annually in Missoula at the rebranded KPAX Sports Awards Banquet to an outstanding individual who has symbolized sportsmanship through volunteer efforts. Today, women are not only welcome to attend the banquet but are honored for their roles in organized sports.The Mavericks continue to provide financial support for individuals, team and clubs.]
The Missoula Conservation Roundtable gratefully acknowledges the help and support received from both individuals and organizations!
The Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame has allowed us to use the biographies and photographs if its members who are also members of the Missoula Conservation Roundtable. Roundtable member Vicki Watson has generously provided oversight for the writing of biographies by Environmental Studies Student Kalle Fox as well as by others.Generous financial contributions were received from Missoula Conservation Roundtable Members:
Smoke and Thelma Elser
Harold and Jan Hoem
Ellen and Bob Knight
Gary and Judy Matson