Every year, individuals and organizations throughout Wisconsin dedicate their time, energy, and resources to conservation efforts. They work tirelessly to protect our waters, restore habitats, reduce pollution, and raise awareness about conservation issues specific to Wisconsin.

Our Conservation Awards recognize and honor those members of in organization who have made a significant impact on conservation in Wisconsin. Nominations are judged by the Professional Improvement Committee. At our Annual Conference, we celebrate their achievements and share their inspiring stories with the people of Wisconsin. Look for 2025 nomination materials in summer 2024. 

Our Award Categories

Outstanding Conservation Employee

This award recognizes a land conservation department employee who has made significant contributions to land and water conservation. There are three categories in which you can nominate an individual:

  1. County Conservationist/Administrator/Supervisor
  2. Technician/Planner/Project Manager/GIS Specialist/Agronomist
  3. Administrative Assistant/Clerical

See guidelines and nomination form »

Outstanding LCC Member

This award recognizes a land conservation committee (LCC) member who has provided strong and effective leadership in promoting resource conservation through their actions and work in their community.

See guidelines and nomination form »

Brad Matson Outstanding Youth Educator Award

This award is in honor of Brad Matson, Iron County LCC and his work involving youth education and all of its programs. The Brad Matson Youth Education Award will carry on Brad’s legacy which recognizes the importance of educating our youth about protecting and managing our natural resources for the next generations.

See guidelines and nomination form »

Conservation Legacy Award

This award recognizes an individual who through their personal dedication, commitment, and selfless service has made direct and lasting contributions to Wisconsin Land+Water, Wisconsin land and water conservation departments, and most importantly, Wisconsin communities.

See guidelines and nomination form »

Friend of Conservation

This award recognizes an individual, business, organization, agency, etc. outside of our organization and membership for their outstanding contributions dedicated to protecting and conserving Wisconsin’s natural resources.

See guidelines and nomination form »

Conservation Farm Family of the Year

This award promotes farm conservation accomplishments by recognizing farmers performing outstanding work, including community involvement and conservation education.

The state winner will host Conservation Observance Day, which is funded in part by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP).

See guidelines and nomination form »

2024 Conservation Award Winners

Cathy Higley, Brad Matson Youth Education Award for Outstanding Youth Educator

Meet the heart and soul of Vilas County's Youth Education Program! Cathy loves wildlife, especially herps and reptiles, the natural world, and loves kids! Though, not necessarily in that order! Whether crafting engaging board games to explain fragmentation or orchestrating unforgettable Lake Ecology Days for fourth graders, she jumps in with new ideas to improve the core education programs in schools. Since 2019, she's been an invaluable member of the WI Land+Water Youth Education Committee, serving as secretary of the Poster & Speaking subcommittee since 2020. From coordinating countywide contests to organizing immersive experiences, she strives to enhance educational opportunities for all.

UW-Stevens Point Center for Watershed Science and Education & Water and Environmental Analysis, Friend of Conservation

Since 1972, the UWSP Center for Watershed Science and Education & Water and Environmental Analysis Lab have dedicated friends of land and water conservation. From water testing to educational workshops, their services and resources have touched countless communities. They mentor and empower the next generation of water resource professionals, fostering a legacy of stewardship. Their unparalleled dedication and expertise have undoubtedly made Wisconsin's waters healthier and cleaner. In countless letters of support, their unmatched passion and commitment to conservation shine through.

Joan Schemenauer, Administrative Assistant of this Year

Joan's passion and enthusiasm for conservation can be felt immediately when working alongside her in Chippewa County. Serving as an Administrative Assistant for decades, she greets customers with a warm and helpful demeanor, prioritizing their needs daily. Her attention to detail is remarkable, catching errors with precision, crucial for public documents and ordinances. Beyond administrative duties, she plays a vital role in groundwater testing and tracking nitrate data, treating each homeowner with genuine enthusiasm.

Jen McNelly, Outstanding Technician/Planner/Project Manager

When Jen worked for Portage County, her coworkers noted that she stood out for her exceptional adaptability and resourcefulness. Jen tackled intricate and diverse tasks with unwavering commitment and professionalism. Some of her noteworthy achievements include securing funding for projects enhancing access to safe drinking water in the county, overseeing water sample collection and analysis, aiding homeowners in navigating state well compensation grants, organizing citizen volunteers for lake and stream data collection, managing a hydrograph well database, collaborating on initiatives to enhance groundwater quality across multiple counties, and orchestrating nitrate screening events for homeowners, from sample collection to result dissemination.

Tonya Gratz, Outstanding Employee in the Technician/Planner/Program Manager

Tonya Gratz, a standout since joining Green County in 2003, earned two separate nominations for this award. She initiated a nutrient management program for farmers and revitalized the youth conservation field days, drawing 300 students annually for comprehensive education on various environmental topics. Notably, her launch of a Producer-led Watershed group stands as a pinnacle achievement, hailed by her supervisor and fellow farmers for its transformative impact and Gratz's unwavering dedication. A dedicated advocate for soil health and cover crops, she consistently delivers insightful presentations at monthly committee meetings and plays a pivotal role in initiatives like Soil Sisters, earning accolades such as the "Queen Bee" lifetime achievement award from Wisconsin Women in Conservation.

Melissa Schlupp, Outstanding County Conservationist

Known for her enduring dedication and leadership, Melissa's journey in Sauk County began over a decade ago as a Resource Conservationist, swiftly earning recognition for her problem-solving and natural leadership. Promoted to Conservationist Manager, she has propelled her county forward with innovative strategies and a forward-thinking approach. In 2023, amidst hosting Farm Tech Days and spearheading agency partnership events, Melissa was appointed acting Director for the Land Resources and Environment Department, showcasing her exceptional management skills and commitment to progress. Beyond her departmental duties, Melissa actively contributes to statewide initiatives, serving on the WI Land+Water Legislative and Administrative Committee and advocating for land conservation at the state level. Under her guidance, the team flourishes, with Melissa fostering an environment of appreciation, support, and trust.

Bob Kaner, Conservation Legacy Award

Bob has devoted an impressive 39 years to Dunn County's land conservation office. Instrumental in shaping and executing all four of the county's Land and Water Resource Management Plans, he has earned widespread trust and respect among peers, landowners, and contractors alike. His steadfast commitment and tireless efforts have left an indelible mark on conservation efforts both locally and statewide. Known for his receptive and patient demeanor, Bob navigates challenges with grace, offering invaluable perspectives rooted in decades of experience. With a remarkable ability to refocus on core principles amidst complexities, he exemplifies unwavering dedication to conservation goals. Always ready to lend a hand, whether in project implementation or the setup and cleanup of events, his selflessness embodies the spirit of community. Dunn County proudly celebrates his contributions, recognizing him as an invaluable asset to the conservation cause.

Conservation Awards Showcase

From exceptional conservationists to community leaders, our archive features a comprehensive list of honorees who have made a lasting impact on our Wisconsin conservation community.

View Showcase

Want to Get Involved?

To learn more about our Conservation Awards, contact Chris Schlutt or a member of our Professional Improvement Committee.

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