Conservation Achievement Awards

The Conservation Federation of Missouri is pleased to announce the recipients of our Conservation Achievement Awards for 2021. These winners are Missourians who exemplify all that CFM stands for and have bettered Missouri's outdoors through personal efforts throughout 2021 and their lives. Congratulations to our award winners who will be recognized at the CFM Annual Convention Awards Ceremony on Friday, March 11th at Margaritaville Resort at Lake of the Ozarks. Reservations are not required for the Awards Ceremony portion of the CFM Convention.

Outstanding Lifetime Achievement - Larry Whiteley
As the award suggests, Larry Whiteley has spent his life dedicated to conservation and enjoyment of the outdoors. A family man and strong believer in Christ, Mr. Whiteley began his outdoor passion not only through interest, but also necessity. He grew up on his grandparents’ farm in southwest Missouri and even as a youngster, helped put food on the table through hunting and fishing. His relationship with the outdoors started to evolve after he returned from his service in the Navy. Mr. Whiteley’s family started a media company called The Great Ozarks Outdoors, Inc. His reach was growing. He has voiced and penned many thousands of radio shows and news articles and spent 30 years as the “voice of Bass Pro,” hosting the Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World Radio Show. During that time, he became the Corporate Public Relations Manager for Bass Pro and spent 23 years in that position. If you’ve ever called or walked into a Bass Pro store, you were likely greeted by Larry Whiteley’s voice.

Conservation Communicator of the Year - Heather Feeler
Heather Feeler is the Communications Branch Chief at the Missouri Department of Conservation. Like many of us, Heather has had the dream to work for MDC since she was a child, frequenting the grounds around the Jefferson City office with her family. Her passion for the outdoors is lifelong and she has made a career of helping connect people with nature.
Heather’s positive personality lifts all those around her. She has the “Midas touch” in her work and provides a great service to the Department by helping conservation biologists communicate their research to the general public and she does so in an easily understandable manner.

Corporate Conservationist of the Year - Roeslein Alternative Energy
Roeslein Alternative Energy (RAE) was founded in 2012 as an operator and developer of renewable energy production facilities that convert agricultural and renewable biomass feedstocks, into renewable natural gas and sustainable co-products. RAE focuses on sustainability and environmental improvement. Rudi Roeslein has a vision to restore 30 million acres of grasslands on marginal lands throughout the Midwest in 30 years. Beyond that, they hope to use this as a model to restore hundreds of millions of acres of grasslands around the globe. A rapidly growing population is causing incredible stress on our landscapes. RAE has a market-based solution to the competing demands for both sustainable agriculture and renewable energy.

Conservation Educator of the Year - Keith Jones
Keith Jones is the science teacher at White Rock School in McDonald County. Keith has a strong connection to conservation and sportsmen ethics and he regularly gives the students a habitat-based approach to his lessons. Keith also utilizes MDC’s Discover Nature Schools curriculum and instructs his classrooms with a more in-depth view of Missouri’s aquatic life, food webs, watersheds, and the chemistry behind our water quality and pollutants. Mr. Jones introduces students to their local state parks, Roaring River and Big Sugar, with investigative outdoor lab studies of plants, birds, and so much more. Projects like these are common with Mr. Jones’ gifted student program. Initiated a few years ago, the SOPE Program, named after the combined words of “success” and “hope,” takes students into nature one week of each month.

Conservation Organization of the Year -
Missouri Hunting Heritage Federation
The Missouri Hunting Heritage Federation Hunter Education Program (MHHF) is designed to introduce youth and their families to an outdoor way of life featuring hunting and shooting sports. MHHF has made every effort to identify and eliminate barriers that prevent youth from experiencing their first hunt.
Motivated to action by reports of students graduating from hunter education classes and never experiencing their first hunt, a handful of Missouri’s volunteer instructors organized a turkey hunt for five youth in the spring of 2006. Mentoring youth on their first hunt was a gratifying experience for these volunteer instructors that led to three additional events the first year. By the end of 2007, the youth hunts evolved and expanded into clinics that included classroom courses, live-fire sessions, mentored hunts, and a group meal, all conducted in a single weekend.

Professional Conservationist of the Year - Mike Leahy
Mike Leahy is a Natural Community Ecologist at the Missouri Department of Conservation. He truly exemplifies the courageous and inspiring ideals embodied in the symbology of this prestigious award, serving as a respected innovator, dedicated both professionally and personally to fish and wildlife conservation. Mr. Leahy provides expertise in the classification, inventory, restoration, and management of natural communities and native biodiversity. He leads the Department’s efforts to develop monitoring protocols and metrics to measure and evaluate effectiveness of management actions. The knowledge and experiences he has grown throughout his career serve him well as a resource and allow him to assist in training MDC staff, partners, and citizen groups like Missouri Master Naturalists.

Hunter Educator of the Year - Shawn Kellis
Due to his hard work of teaching and mentoring his outdoor recreation classes at Ozark Middle School, Shawn Kellis is building a legacy and inspiring the next generation of conservationists, instilling in them a passion for hunting, fishing, and all things nature. Sixteen years ago, when Shawn began teaching at Ozark, he brought his love for the outdoors with him. He continues that passion today. Through these outdoor recreation classes, he makes a positive impact in the lives of approximately 250 students each semester, teaching them ethical hunting practices and passing along a myriad of conservation education lessons and outdoor skills. Mr. Kellis’s classes are proving to be a model program, having a huge impact on the entire district – helping improve student behavior, attendance, and creating a desire for deeper learning.

Wildlife Conservationist of the Year - Laura Conlee
Laura Conlee has done incredible work as the state Furbearer Biologist for Missouri. She has overseen research, data collection, and management of furbearer species for the Missouri Department of Conservation. This work takes coordinated efforts to combine data from population indexes and bowhunter observation surveys and to share this information to the Conservation Commission and Missouri citizens for input on regulations and management decisions. Perhaps her most challenging and exciting work so far has been her work as the Chair of the Black Bear Task Force. She worked tirelessly to collect black bear population data across the state from various sources including scientific research and reports from the public.

Youth Conservationist of the Year - Sofia Gerasimchuk
Sofia Gerasimchuk took an impactful trip to Portugal where she got to kayak along the coast and explore caves hidden in the cliffs. That would have been an amazing trip for anyone, but for Sofia, it was transformational. When she came home to Missouri, she knew she wanted to make a difference in her community. She, along with a friend, created the Environmental and Community Action Club at her school. They wanted to give students the opportunity to take action on environmental issues ranging from conservation to composting. She worked with state and local agencies, contacting them to find opportunities for high schoolers to get involved in their area. She organized events like stream team clean-ups and conservation campaigns in the Springfield area and worked diligently to connect other students with organizations that needed energetic volunteers.

Conservation Legislator of the Year (House) -
Representative Tim Taylor
Representative Tim Taylor (R) represents parts of Howard, Cooper, Saline, and Pettis Counties (District 48) in the Missouri House of Representatives. He was elected to his first two-year term in November 2020. Prior to serving in the legislature, Taylor retired from the Columbia Fire Department after a long career. Born in Mexico and raised in Boonville, Taylor entered the United States Air Force in 1987. Rep. Taylor is past president of the Cooper County Youth Fair, past member of the University of Missouri Extension, member of the Masonic Wallace Lodge #456, and is active as a firearms and archery instructor for 4H.

Conservation Legislator of the Year (Senate) -
Senator Holly Thompson Rehder
Holly Thompson Rehder was elected to the Missouri Senate in 2020. Previously, Sen. Thompson Rehder (R) represented District 148 in the Missouri House of Representatives from 2013 through 2020. Holly was instrumental in assisting HB 369 through the Senate during the 2021 session. This bill created the “Prescribed Burning Act”, which specifies that any landowner or agent of a landowner will not be liable for damage, injury, or loss caused by a prescribed burn, as defined in the bill, or the resulting smoke of a prescribed burn unless the landowner is proven to be negligent. Multiple landowner protections were also part of this historic legislation.

Conservationist of the Year - Justine Gartner

Justine serves as the Forestry Section Chief and State Forester where she continues to provide strategic and programmatic guidance to her team and the Agency. Her leadership on a local, state, and national scale has been recognized by many including most recently by the Missouri Chapter of the Society of American Foresters where she received the highest honor of the Karkagne Award. Justine has provided key guidance and conservation leadership within the conservation family and provided Department leadership in our Agency reorganization. Her leadership in finalizing the new Shared Stewardship Agreement for the State of Missouri, finalizing the DART Team review of the State Forest Nursery (as well as and implementing recommendations from that plan), developing and implementing a new Statewide Resource Management Branch Awards Program, development of Forestry Program Joint Directives for our Department Team members to use in their daily work, and her active leadership with various Department initiatives, committees and workgroups makes her worthy of this recognition. Many others at a local, state, and national level seek Justine out to be a part of their work teams, initiatives, and assignments.