Flathead Audubon honors individuals, businesses with conservation awards
A northern flicker at the Owen Sowerwine Natural Area. (JP Edge photo)
| September 14, 2023 12:00 AM
Three individuals and one business received Conservation Achievement Recognitions this year from Flathead Audubon Society.
Beverly Skinner’s love of the natural world dates to her childhood when her heart was molded by her maternal grandmother – a “wild crafter” from the Missouri Ozarks who Beverly lived with for a while when she was very young. This country grandmother taught her granddaughter about birds and believed everyone should own a pair of binoculars and a bird book.
Beverly went on to earn degrees in wildlife management and plant sciences, as well as a master’s in wildlife management from the University of Missouri. Her federal career started with the Forest Service in the Missouri Ozarks working on birds and endangered plants. She then worked as a land operations specialist with the Bureau of Indian Affairs on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
She also worked as a wildlife biologist on the Innoko National Wildlife Refuge for 13+ years.
When her elderly parents needed her to live close to them Beverly returned to the Lower 48 for jobs at Charles M Russell NWR in Lewistown.
After 11 years there and her husband Bob ready to retire after 35 years of federal service, Beverly was offered an opportunity to transfer to Lost Trail NWR in 2013. She and Bob live in one of the historic houses on the refuge sharing their home with their much-loved Tibetan Mastiff whom visitors mistake as a bear. She plans to remain at Lost Trail NWR until official retirement age.
“Beverly was absolutely instrumental in getting a 100,000 acre conservation area established around Lost trail”, says Gael Bissell, past President of Flathead Audubon Society and FWP colleague of Beverly. “You can’t imagine how much work that took internally and externally to get something like that accomplished within a very understaffed bureaucracy. Nothing would have been done for lost Trail had it not been for Beverly and her husband Bob. They had the vision, and she had the means. She approached the conservation plan using her experience and knowledge and then orchestrated the establishment of this larger conservation area within her agency.”
River Design Group — Business Conservation Achievement Recognition
River Design Group (RDG), one of the leading river restoration consulting firms in the Intermountain West and Pacific Northwest, was founded in the Flathead Valley in 2003 by four individuals with a passion for rivers.
Since the beginning, the company has promoted a healthy work-life balance and maintained a culture deeply rooted in restoration ethic and respect for aquatic ecosystems. Building upon a reputation as a leader in the restoration industry, in 20 years RDG has grown to be an employee-owned business of 30 professionals with offices in Montana, Oregon and Idaho.
Their services include restoration, dam removal, fish passage, wetland and river assessments, remote sensing such as wastewater risk mapping and dam monitoring and land surveys.
While RDG is based in Whitefish they complete projects in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington and California. RDG is involved with a project from the initial site survey through completion of construction and oversight of the finished project.
Over the last 20 years, RDG has completed over 600 river restoration design projects, assessed or restored over 1,500 miles of river, designed and built 70 culverts and bridges for fish passage, removed or modified 47 dams, implemented 50 fish screen projects, and restored 1,800 acres of wetland or estuary.
Some of the projects River Design Group has worked on near their home base include the restoration of Krause Creek in Bigfork, the Milltown Dam Restoration near Missoula, the Trail Creek fish passage in Seeley Lake, and restorations on the Swan River National Wildlife Refuge in Swan Valley and Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge near Marion.
Dave Hadden — Lifetime Achievement Recognition
Dave Hadden lives and works in the Flathead Valley where he has dedicated his life working as an environmental professional to change the political climate of the community set in the magnificent mountains of the Crown of the Continent.
“If I have a single goal in my work, it is to restore the good name of conservation in the magnificent Flathead,” Dave said.
Born in rural Ohio, Dave spent time outdoors in his home state and also in Vermont where he enjoyed a love of nature. He was quite fond of the birds and the quietness of nature. This love spurred him to go west for college, enrolling at the University of Montana in 1974. He was one of those fortunate students taken under the wing of Dr. Les Pengelly and later, in grad school, of Dr. Charles Jonkel, while he earned his bachelor’s in zoology and a master’s in wildlife biology.
As early as 1976 Dave became involved with the Flathead Coalition that was working to protect the North Fork Flathead River and Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park from the proposed Cabin Creek coal mine just six miles north of the British Columbia border. This early effort evolved to become the primary focus of his conservation career, culminating in 2010, in the North Fork Watershed Protection Act. The enactment of this Act, in conjunction with legislation in B.C., placed the entire North Fork watershed off limits to oil, gas, coal, and other energy extraction.
Dave also acted as Field Director of the Flathead-Kootenai Chapter of the Montana Wilderness Association. Concurrently, he served as a board member of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) which focuses conservation work in the Rocky Mountains with the importance of birds and bird habitat as a central theme.
In 2006, Dave, along with a few other Flathead conservationists started Headwaters Montana which focused on the water, wildlife, and wildlands of the transboundary region between Northwest Montana and B.C./Alberta. The focus of Headwaters Montana is the North Fork of the Flathead River, the unprotected wildlands of southeastern B.C., and the international Kootenay River that originates in southeastern B.C.
Through Headwaters Montana Dave enjoyed a number of conservation wins during 2006-2020. These included a new Flathead Forest Plan that maintained protections for wildlife and wildlands across the forest, the protection of the North Fork Flathead River, and the establishment of pollution limits for selenium in the Kootenai. Headwaters Montana closed its doors in 2020 when Dave retired.
Dave continues to work on conservation concerns in Flathead Valley. He is the organizer and co-chair of the Community Association for North Shore Conservation (CANSC) which has been working to remove an illegally built bridge on the north shore of Flathead Lake near Bigfork next to the Osprey View Fisheries Conservation Area.
Gail Cleveland — Volunteer of the Year
Gail Cleveland taught at Whitefish High School and has contributed many volunteer hours to the Whitefish Theatre Company as artist, booking agent, supporter, actor and director. Gail and her husband Bruce Tannehill, live in Whitefish.
Both before and after her retirement from teaching, Gail has found time to volunteer countless hours for Flathead Audubon Society.
“Gail has been our behind the scenes advisor/coach/cheerleader for many years,” says board member Kay Mitchell.
Over those many years Gail and Bruce have led birding field trips to their favorite spots around Whitefish. In addition, they have been enthusiastic participants in many FAS Birdathons, securing large numbers of pledges each year, then turning those pledges into significant donations to FAS by observing high numbers of species on Birdathon day.
Gail wrote her first Bird of the Month article for the Pileated Post in 2003 and contributed a total of 17 articles over the next 17 years. She volunteered for the first Owen Sowerwine work day in 2002, and has helped on work days ever since – pulling weeds, controlling buckthorn, maintaining trails and assisting with the five-year plots. She and Bruce built the first stairway to Owen Sowerwine at the Greenridge Drive entrance.
Gail has provided crucial guidance and assistance to FAS efforts to secure funding for chapter projects.