An all-star cast of conservation heroes were honored at Saturday’s 8th Annual Wild South Green Gala. At the event, Wild South recognized the winners of the Roosevelt-Ashe Conservation Awards and special awards, as well as celebrated Wild South’s legacy of 25 years.

On May 7, 2016, 175 people gathered at The Millroom for a seated dinner, award ceremony, music, and silent auction that benefited Wild South. The keynote address was given by DeLene Beeland, author of The Secret World of Red Wolves: The Fight to Save North America’s Other Wolf. Beeland’s speech addressed the history and current status of the endangered red wolf, of which there are fewer than 50 left in the wild.

“We are grateful to the many contributions of our sponsors, community partners, supporters, volunteers who made this event an enormous success,” says Hannah Morgan, Wild South’s Development and Communications Coordinator. “The event was a very special moment to celebrate the many accomplishments of Wild South over the past 25 years as well as the accomplishments of many special conservation leaders.”

The award winning conservation heroes.

The winners of the Roosevelt-Ashe Awards in each category are:

  • Outstanding Journalist
    • Will Harlan: Editor of Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine, Asheville, North Carolina

Will Harlan is the Editor of Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine in Asheville, North Carolina, where he is a consummate voice for wild places in the Southeast. As the editor of Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine for more than 15 years, he works tirelessly in the name of conservation science and education, featuring stories about ways to get outdoors hiking, mountain biking, fly-fishing, camping, skiing and backpacking, as well as stories on protecting land from logging, keeping rivers and streams clean, protecting air quality and conserving wilderness and wildlife. Will has also been very involved in the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest Plan Revision, is part of Friends of Big Ivy, and runs Barefoot Farms, an organic, not-for-profit farm whose proceeds benefit the Tarahumara Indians in the Copper Canyons of northern Mexico. Will Harlan has made an impressive impact as the voice for the outdoors and wild places of the Southeast.

  • Outstanding Small Business
    • Holladog Farms: Organic Farm, Pamplico, South Carolina

Holladog Farms is located in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina Low Country and is owned by Daniel and Dana Holladay. They pride themselves on practicing organic farming and using permaculture techniques. They have been educating members of the community on the importance of composting, growing plants that attract pollinators, and collaborating and supporting fellow local organic farmers. Daniel and Dana are strong advocates against the use of harmful pest control and non-organic additives which have been traditionally widely used in the region. They are proponents of practicing conservation techniques and support healthy, organic, sustainable production on farms.

  • Outstanding Youth
    • Bennett David: Scout/Student-Volunteer, Boy Scout Troop 91, Asheville, North Carolina

Bennett David is a scout and student volunteer with Boy Scout Troop 91 in Asheville. He has put in hundreds of hours to conservation efforts and demonstrates a quality of leadership that is as impactful as it is impressive. Conservation projects that he has lead and participated in have contributed over 1700 hours thus far and over 900 people have directly participated. Bennett has led demonstrations on the construction and implementation of nest boxes for nuthatches to help restore the species. Alongside the North Carolina Arboretum, Bennet helped install a monarch waystation and pollinator meadow at the Franklin School of Innovation where it is utilized in the curriculum and for citizen science efforts. Bennett has also helped coordinate clean up days and invasive species removal project days with Asheville GreenWorks and RiverLink. He is a terrific model of youth in conservation to his fellow scouts and peers.

  •  Olivia & Carter Ries: Founders of One More Generation, Fayetteville, Georgia

Olivia and Carter Ries are the young faces behind One More Generation. This brother and sister duo founded the nonprofit organization at the young ages of eight and seven, respectively. For the past seven years the pair have been actively raising awareness and educating the public on the importance of cleaning up our environment and saving endangered species. Olivia and Carter’s commitment towards conservation science and education as well as wildlife advocacy is exemplary. They aim to inspire the next generation of leaders to get involved with solving many of the global issues we all face when trying to protect the wild places and wild things we all love and cherish. They travel the world to seek solutions to issues such as plastic pollution, oil spills, wildlife trafficking/poaching and habitat loss. They have developed an award winning curriculum on plastic pollution which is currently in place in multiple countries. Both have been awarded the President’s Volunteer Service Awards and the Jane Goodall ‘Roots & Shoots’ Volunteer award. Carter and Olivia, with One More Generation, have made a significant impact globally and continue to inspire others to get involved in the efforts to save endangered species and have a cleaner environment for at least one more generation…and beyond.

  • Outstanding Educator
    • Kim Wheeler: Executive Director of The Red Wolf Coalition, Columbia, North Carolina

Kim Wheeler is the Executive Director of The Red Wolf Coalition and has worked for the recovery of the red wolf in eastern North Carolina for 11 years. She has been instrumental in the protection of the red wolf and is a leader in the fight to save the species from extinction. Among her successes have been the acquisition of funding for a state-of-the-art Red Wolf Education Center in Columbia, North Carolina. She has educated countless audiences with programs on red wolves, endangered species, and wild lands for over three years. Kim has revised and adapted curriculums to better fit the needs of schools and programs for red wolf education. She is president of the Tyrrell County Chamber of Commerce where she promotes the value of red wolves and other wildlife on the landscape, economy, tourism, and cultural heritage of the area. She has made exceptional contributions to wolf education and is a key national leader in wolf conservation and endangered species protection and education.

  • Outstanding Conservationist
    • Carl Silverstein: Executive Director of Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Asheville, North Carolina

Carl Silverstein is the Executive Director of Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and has spent the last twenty years dedicated to preserving the unique ecological resources of the Southern Appalachian mountains. He has immersed himself in the culture of the region, and in the conservation movement of professionals and grassroots advocates seeking to protect what is special about this place. Carl brings a brilliant legal mind to the transactional side of conservation finance, complex negotiations with landowners, and defense of conservation easement violations. Under his impressive leadership, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy has grown significantly, and he has helped permanently protect 50,000 acres of land. Carl may be described as a quiet giant due to his humble attitude towards his immense influence in the region. His reputation for professionalism and excellence has grown over the years and reaches far beyond his native range.

Additional special awards were given to outstanding individuals in their field:

  • Outstanding Community Conservationist: To recognize an individual’s contribution to education and community engagement on conservation, spanning many categories of achievement. This is a special, one-year award designated by the Roosevelt-Ashe Selection Committee.
    • Forest Hilyer: Chairman of Lumpkin Coalition, Dahlonega, Georgia

Forest Hilyer cofounded the Lumpkin Coalition in 2005 and remains active as chair of the all-volunteer, non-profit organization based out of Dahlonega, Georgia. For the past eleven years Forest and hundreds of volunteers with the Lumpkin Coalition   have organized the widely successful and popular HemlockFest, a three day music and educational benefit festival aimed at raising awareness of the non-native hemlock woolly adelgid which threatens extinction of hemlocks throughout the region. Forest has been instrumental in raising funds to support insectaries at universities to rear beetles as biological controls to save the hemlocks. He brought scientists in the southeast together to share experiences in working on this issue.  He has inspired countless people through his tireless passion for the hemlocks and the protection of lands in Georgia. As a naturalist, educator, and river guide, Forest, contributes his time and heart to causes throughout Georgia.

  • Kayah Gaydish Award: For an individual who has advanced Wild South’s mission and vision and has demonstrated the same dedication Kayah had for inspiring others to protect our wild places.
    • Ben Prater: Southeast Program Director of Defenders of Wildlife, Asheville, North Carolina

Last December, Wild South lost an outstanding conservation hero – Kayah Gaydish. Kayah was our North Carolina Conservation Coordinator at the time of her tragic rock climbing accident. What Kayah accomplished in the years she worked in the Gorge was extraordinarily impressive. But even more than the acres of invasive Princess Trees she removed from the Linville Gorge and the miles of trails she maintained with volunteers was the way she fostered in people a lasting and meaningful connection to the land. Her legacy lives on the hearts of all the people she touched through her unending dedication, commitment, and love for the wild. Wild South continues to carry on Kayah’s outstanding legacy in the Linville Gorge and in our community. In her honor, we created this award to recognize others who carry on her commitment to move others to action through inspiration.

The Kayah Gaydish award is for an individual who has advanced Wild South’s vision and mission and has demonstrated the same passion Kayah had for inspiring others to protect our wild places. This is important because inspiration is the heart and soul of our mission – our mission is to inspire others to enjoy, value, and protect wild places and wild things.

The inaugural recipient of this award is our beloved friend and colleague, Ben Prater. After an internship with Wild South in 2003,  Ben came on to lead Wild South’s conservation programs for 11 years with the same level of enthusiasm for Wild South’s mission to inspire others as the first day of his internship.  Ben continues to inspire others in his new role as the Southeast Program Director at Defenders of Wildlife.

Ben, we are proud to call you a valued partner and lifelong friend of Wild South. Your work to inspire others has helped Wild South grow and blossom to be the effective and passionate organization that it is today. And we are delighted that you continue to inspire others to defend and protect the places and critters we all love.

  • Cultural Heritage Award: For an individual who has demonstrated commitment to preserving cultural heritage in our region.
    • Robin Swayney: Program Manager, Qualla Boundary Library, Cherokee, NC.

In addition to managing the Qualla Boundary Public Library, EBCI member Robin Swayney is involved in many community projects. She co-founded the Qualla Boundary Historical Society as well as a weekly genealogical class for Tribal members. By partnering with Wild South’s Cultural Heritage Department, Robin has helped make thousands of historical Cherokee records accessible for research. Robin has a design degree from the Art Institute in Atlanta, GA and a bachelor of fine arts from Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. She was the first Cherokee to graduate from that program and the first person in her family to obtain a degree. After college, Robin went on to work for a law firm in Greensboro, North Carolina before finding her way back to the Qualla Boundary.With stewards like her, Cherokee culture looks to be in very good hands. Wild South is proud to honor Robin Swayney tonight with our Cultural Heritage award.

  • Public Service Award: For a dedicated public servant whose work has promoted a conservation vision and values that mirror Wild South’s and represents the type of conscientious stewardship of natural resources that promotes collaborative partnerships with organizations.
    • Gary Kauffman: Botanist & Ecologist of U.S. Forest Service, Asheville, North Carolina

Gary Kauffman is one of the most knowledgeable botanists and ecologists in a region rich with them. His passion for rare plants, healthy ecosystems, and ecological restoration also make him an extremely effective conservationist. Those that are lucky enough to work with Gary on projects have witnessed that very few people are as capable or successful in translating passion to on the ground conservation.  Gary has been a pioneer in the conservation, protection, and management of medicinal plants in the Blue Ridge Mountains and is a leader in the conservation of ginseng. Gary has been a leader in research, monitoring, and recovery of endangered species such as Mountain Golden Heather, Heller’s Blazing Star, Spreading Avens, Schweinitz’s Sunflower, and Red Cockaded Woodpecker, and received the USFS’s highest honor for his efforts protecting endangered species.

Gary was the driving force behind restoring natural plant communities to the Blue Ridge Parkway, going above and beyond what anyone expected and spending an excessive amount of personal time to ensure that the ecosystems along the parkway were both native and as healthy as possible. Gary is an irreplaceable leader and advocate for combatting invasive species on our public lands. I’ll again refer to a quote from one of his colleagues who stated that “without a doubt, Gary is the leading expert and advocate for invasive species in the region. His expertise range from on the ground implementation and management to region wide strategy.

Clearly, Gary is a holistic thinker with the passion and energy of a small army. His work has been a major contribution to the transformation of the USFS to an organization that is more focused on restoring fire to the landscape and native plants, animals, and ecosystems to their full ecological potential. Gary is a force to be reckoned with and we are all lucky to have him as a member of the conservation community.

  • Friend of Wilderness Award: For an individual who has worked to designate and increase protection for our special wild places in the Southeast.
    • Mike Leonard: Board Chair of The Conservation Fund and attorney at Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, PLLC, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

There is virtually no place in the South and now throughout the nation that Mike Leonard has not had an impact on land conservation.  The Cheaha Wilderness. Sipsey Wilderness. Pinhoti Trail. The Appalachian Trail, Cowee Mound, Chimney Rock. Rocky Fork. In North Carolina alone, Mike has been a part of preserving more than 125,000 acres in 22 counties.  In Alabama, Mike  has worked tirelessly for decades to connect the Appalachian Trail to the Pinhoti Trail.  He led the campaigns to create the Cheaha Wilderness and expand the Sipsey Wilderness in Alabama. And just this past year, Mike capped off a decade long effort to save Rocky Fork on the Tennessee and North Carolina border.

As chair of the Board of Directors for the Conservation Fund, Mike is now leading one of the leading and most effective national land conservation organization. A true friend of Wilderness.  Wild South is proud to honor Mike Leonard tonight with our “Friend of Wilderness award.

The 8th Annual Wild South Green Gala is proudly sponsored by PRADCO Outdoor Brands, a subsidiary of EBSCO Ind. Inc., Outdoor Sports Marketing, Daniels Law Firm, Green Earth Developments, P.C, Donovan Electric, ENO Hammocks, Mast General Store, with venue and furnishings provided by The Millroom, Green Sage Café, Go Big Gigantic! Off the Wall Marketing, and Danny’s Dumpsters with silent auction items donated by Grass to Greens, Outdoor Sports Marketing, Natural Investments LLC Money with a Mission, Carolina Adventure Guides, REI, Asheville Community Theater, Kleen Kanteen, pottery Laurie Caffery artist Andrea Cassetta, Asheville Massage and Natural Therapeutics, and basketmaker Mark Kolinski.

About Wild South:

Wild South is the voice of our public lands, forests, and waters as people across the region band together to save the wild places and wild things that we all love. Wild South’s mission is to inspire people to enjoy, value and protect the wild character and natural legacy of the South. For the past 25 years, Wild South has been a leader in protecting our public lands in the South. Working in eight states, Wild South has offices in Asheville, North Carolina, and Moulton, Alabama, with additional staff in Tennessee and Mississippi. To learn more about Wild South, visit