BLM recognizes eight outstanding volunteers at the 2023 “Making a Difference” awards ceremony

On Aug. 16, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) honored eight outstanding volunteers from around the country with the annual "Making a Difference" awards during a virtual ceremony. Since 1996, the BLM awards program has recognized volunteers and BLM employees who contribute significantly to BLM programs, initiatives, projects, and/or events.

The volunteer program is an essential component of the BLM's mission and the agency's commitment to community-based conservation, citizen-centered stewardship and public service. In 2022, 21,651 volunteers donated nearly 700,000 hours to the BLM, providing labor valued at more than 20 million dollars—the equivalent to 373 full time employees working on behalf of the American people.  

During the ceremony, BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning congratulated the volunteers and expressed her profound gratitude for their service.  

“We, as Federal employees, are proud of our public service. But it’s the volunteers like you -- who make such critical contributions to our work and the American people - that are special,” the BLM Director said. "You do this out of love – for the public lands we manage, for the wildlife and wild places these lands encompass, for your fellow BLM employees and volunteers. And most of all, for the public we serve."  

Read about some of the award winners’ accomplishments below.

“Lifetime Achievement” award winner: Monte Tish (Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, Idaho)  

Monte Tish of Nampa, Idaho is a passionate and dedicated advocate of the unique resources and wildlife of the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area (NCA), home to the largest and densest population of nesting raptors in North America. Monte worked with Morley Nelson to establish permanent protection for the NCA in 1993. He has spent decades rehabilitating raptors and providing education about raptors and their habitat at the NCA.  

A man holds a an award plaque in the other. A raptor stands on a box next to him. To his left a woman is smiling. To his right, another woman stands behind a laptop screen. A Snake River Birds of Prey sign is in the background.
Monte Tish and Golden Eagle, 'Slim,' accept the Lifetime Achievement Volunteer Award during the virtual awards ceremony. Pictured left to right: Cory Roberts, Monte Tish, Slim, and Amanda Hoffman. (Photo by Amber Miraya)

“Lifetime Achievement” award winner: Susan Halpin (Headwaters Forest Reserve, California) 

For more than ten years, Susan Halpin has been invaluable to the BLM Arcata Field Office serving as a volunteer trail docent and BLM ambassador to the Salmon Pass Trail in the BLM’s Headwaters Forest Reserve. As the program’s most active trail docent, she has provided opportunities for tours that would not have been available otherwise, connecting hundreds of visitors to the incredible resources of Headwaters. She also leads volunteer trail and weed removal projects throughout the Reserve, and volunteers to assist BLM partners in support of coastal dune conservation. Susan helped lead the charge in founding the ‘Friends of Headwaters’ (FOH), a Friends group. 

A woman holds a plaque smiling. To her left is a man smiling and the Headwaters Reserve sign.
Collin Ewing, Field Manager for the Arcata Field Office, presents Susan Halpin with the Lifetime Achievement Award. (Photo by Jennifer Wheeler, BLM)

“Lifetime Achievement” award winner: Ada Nuckles (Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, California) 

Ada Nuckels has been engaged in volunteer programs in support of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument over the past 13 years. She leads guided hike programs, helps with set up and greeting of visitors for special events at the visitor center, works behind the front desk of the visitor center, assists with on-going community science research projects, and lends a hand on a variety of stewardship programs such as weed warriors and trail clean-ups. 

“Outstanding Achievement” award winner: Brian Dilenge (Challis Field Office, Idaho) 

During fiscal year 2022, Brian made significant contributions to the recreation and travel and transportation programs within the Challis Field Office. Brian leveraged additional funding of approximately $2,000 from the national non-profit, Tread Lightly!, to purchase supplies for three new informational kiosks for the BLM-managed Challis Foothills Trail System. He also assisted in rehabilitation efforts on the popular Lombard ATV Trail and performed route inventories of high priority areas to assist the field office in their travel management planning. 

“Outstanding Achievement” award winner: Jim and Linda Bily (Arizona Strip and Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona) 

Jim and Linda Bily donate their time and energy to the Arizona Strip, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, and the public lands surrounding St. George, Utah. They volunteer at the front desk of the Public Lands Information Center in St. George, the Safety Patrol for Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, and the Public Lands’ Day event (California condor release) most years. They dedicate hundreds of hours to training other volunteers and keeping the public safe and informed in every season. 

“Outstanding Achievement” award winner: James Lucero (Socorro Field Office, New Mexico) 

For over a decade, James Lucero has dedicated countless hours of volunteer service to the Socorro Field Office each year. For every volunteer work project hosted by the field office, he makes the one-hour drive from Albuquerque, New Mexico. James also serves as the unofficial Volunteer Coordinator for all the wildlife and volunteer groups within the state. His labor hours have been critical to the BLM Socorro Field Office meeting annual Wildlife Habitat Improvement targets.

“Group Excellence” award winner: Friends and Neighbors of the Deschutes Canyon Area (Prineville District, Oregon) 

The mission of the Friends and Neighbors of the Deschutes Canyon Area (FANs) is to protect, preserve and restore the wild landscapes of the middle Deschutes and lower Crooked Rivers, as well as the nearby Whychus Creek. Recovering from the distance imposed by COVID, the FANs successfully held seven programs on local geology, native plants, invasive species, and climate resilience, helping people take this knowledge to create their own wildfire and weed resistant native landscapes. Through a grant with the Conservation Lands Foundation, the FANs expanded on their list of local publications, creating the second edition of the “Guide to Common Native Plants of the Deschutes Canyon Area.” The FANs partnered with a local school and hosted field days where students hiked, pulled weeds, birded, and started to develop their own passion for land management. The team led 21 guided hikes on the local resources of the area, and added in a Night Sky Adventure, reaching over 170 participants. This work has been done without any paid staff. 

A large group of smiling Prineville District BLM staff pose with the Friends and Neighbors of Deschutes Canyon Area
Prineville District BLM staff pose for a photo with Friends and Neighbors of Deschutes Canyon Area after presenting them with a “Group Excellence” award from the Bureau of Land Management's 2023 “Making a Difference” National Volunteer Awards ceremony.

“Outstanding Youth” award winner: Robert Heward (National Historic Trails Interpretive Center, Wyoming) 

Robert Heward has volunteered at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center (NHTIC) since 2018. He has been highly involved in living history events at the NHTIC. Robert provided interpretation, assisted in the planning, and reenacted as a civilian pioneer, military soldier, and mountain man/fur trapper. Robert was also highly involved in the start-up of a new group called The Platte Bridge Company, a living history group that presents special programs and living history reenactments at the center to various audience members that come from all over the world. 

A boy stands in period military soldier uniform holding a rifle.
Robert Heward

BLM staff

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