Bear Yuba Land Trust (BYLT) is proud to announce Shelly Covert and Debra Weistar as the recipients of the 2020 BYLT Conservation Awards. Shelly Covert is recognized with the William Nickerl Award for Conservation Leadership for her tireless commitment to conservation and dedication to enriching the community’s connection to the ancestral homelands of the Nisenan Tribe. Debra Weistar is recognized with the John F. Skinner Sierra Outdoors Recreation Award for her lifelong commitment to educating and mentoring youth through nature programming and documentary filmmaking.
Covert and Weistar will be presented their awards at BYLT’s annual fundraiser, Open Spaces & Wild Places Gala and Conservation Awards, a virtual event taking place Friday, October 16th and hosted by Nevada County Media.
“This year, it feels especially important to recognize two truly inspiring women who are deeply connected to the land,” said Erika Seward, Co-Executive Director of BYLT. “Through their work, each has elevated the public consciousness around the critical importance of conservation and stewardship.”
William Nickerl Award for Conservation Leadership
The Land Trust award is given to individuals who demonstrate the six traits personified in its namesake, William (Bill) Nickerl whose entire career has been focused on conservation of land in the California foothills. Specifically:
- Live or work in Bear and Yuba River Watersheds region
- Demonstrate a long time commitment to land conservation
- Be an advocate for sustainability and environmental policy
- Have proven dedication to BYLT’s mission to enrich a community connection with land
- Have achieved measurable success through fostering or inventing a new effort
- Be a leader who never gives up in the face of a challenge and inspires others to act
William “Bill” Nickerl devoted his life to land conservation in the California foothills. The William Nickerl Award for Conservation Leadership is given to Bear and Yuba Watershed residents with a similar conservation ethic who inspire others to build a connection with the land. Bill passed away on November 30, 2017 at his home.
“Bill gave himself wholeheartedly to the cause—the forest, the environment, the educational side of the land trust’s mission. He inspired me and others in his quiet way. I am glad we have a prize in his name that he be long remembered,” said BYLT Founding Member Dave Palley.
William Nickerl Award Recipients
2020 Shelly Covert
Shelly Covert is the Spokesperson for the Nevada City Rancheria Nisenan Tribe. She sits on the Tribal Council and is community outreach liaison. She is also the Executive Director of the Tribally guided, non-profit, CHIRP, as known as the California Heritage: Indigenous Research Project, whose mission is to preserve, protect and perpetuate Nisenan Culture. Nevada City Rancheria Nisenan Tribal members are direct, lineal descendants of the original Indigenous people who were here thousands of years before the gold rush.
Most of Shelly’s work is focused within the Bear and Yuba River watersheds which are the ancestral homelands of her Tribe. Recently, with the efforts to restore federal recognition to the Nevada City Rancheria, her work has taken on a wider scope that includes social, environmental, and racial justice topics that impact the Tribal community and their wellbeing. Undoing the erasure of Nisenan history has been at the forefront of Tribal efforts and a focus for CHIRP. Raising the visibility of the Nisenan through community outreach, public events, and education has been of great importance as the Tribe struggles with the reintroduction of its culture and identity in 2020. As Tribal liaison, Shelly works closely with the Elders, Tribal Council, and Tribal members, to identify the areas of greatest need, and then guides CHIRP as Executive Director, to develop and implement projects that have found funding.
Neil Robinson was a Nevada County native whose great grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Robinson came to Penn Valley from Ohio in 1874. The 3,000 acres under the family’s ownership in Penn Valley, called Robinson Ranch, is one of 12 original ranches in Nevada County. The Robinson family was also instrumental in helping to start the Nevada Irrigation District, which is instrumental in providing water to agricultural operations.
BYLT worked with Neil Robinson and his family to protect 1,600 acres of the Robinson Ranch to establish an agricultural conservation easement on the property. This easement will eliminate future subdivisions and development of this land, and will ensure it remains in productive agricultural use. With this easement, the Robinson Family has now protected the entire 3,000-acre ranch – the largest private land holding under conservation easement in Nevada County. Sadly, Neil passed away January 22, 2020 but his legacy will continue.
Joanne Hild has her MS in Zoology from University of Massachusetts in Amherst and her BS in Biology from Tufts University. She worked as a research scientist with the Wildlife Conservancy in Sacramento, with the Bermuda Biological Station and with Cornell University. She was a Biology Professor at Sierra College for 15 years, teaching various general biology, anatomy and physiology, and ecology courses.
Joanne began working at Friends of Deer Creek (now Sierra Streams Institute) as a River Scientist in February 2000 and became Executive Director in 2004. In her free time, she enjoys going on family adventures.
2017 Ted Beedy
Ted Beedy is one of the preeminent birders in Northern California (and beyond). A biologist and ornithologist, he has co-authored Discovering Sierra Birds and Birds of the Sierra Nevada. A lifetime love of birding has made him a much sought-after expert – an outing with Ted will have you looking with new eyes at these lovely creatures.
2016 Janet Cohen
As an experienced strategist for non-profits, Janet Cohen has secured tens of millions of dollars in grant funding for environmental causes. She was a key early player in the acquisition and conservation of BYLT’s largest landholding – 2,700 acres on the Yuba River known as Rice’s Crossing Preserve. Besides working with a number of conservation groups, Cohen served as the Executive Director of South Yuba River Citizens League for four years and mobilized thousands of volunteers to clean up trash in Sierra watersheds. She was an important player in the community effort to forever stop dam construction on the river and helped secure Wild and Scenic status for the Yuba. She developed the first Great Sierra River Clean Up and started the first Wild & Scenic Film Festival, now the largest environmental film festival in the nation.
Cohen is the winner of the 2005 River Network River Hero and wrote the first “Climate Change Toolkit” for the Sierra Nevada Alliance.
2015 Alicia Funk
Alicia Funk is the founder of the Living Wild Project and co-author of Living Wild—Gardening, Cooking and Healing with Native Plants of California. She lives off the grid with her husband and their three children. She first studied plant-based medicine in 1990 from an indigenous grandmother in Ecuador’s rainforest. She is the editor of six publications on herbal medicine, including and her Living Wild books and programs www.livingwild.org support environmental and cultural conservation. Funk is a long-time supporter of BYLT and believes strongly in the organization’s mission. She has led nature walks, orchestrated art shows and provided books and native plant baskets in support of BYLT.
2014 Roger Ingram
For nearly three decades, Roger Ingram has supported farmers and ranchers in Nevada County. After 28 years with UC Cooperative Extension, Roger believes the primary challenges facing local agriculture are: Economic viability, attracting a new generation to become farmers and ranchers and access to resources and capital. Ingram sees BYLT’s work to preserve historic farmland as critical to the local food supply. In recent years, Ingram’s efforts have focused on food security, coinciding with a growing community awareness and appreciation for a local food system. Ingram was part of the team that helped establish Nevada County Grown.
2013 Elizabeth “Izzy” Martin
For 30 years, Elizabeth “Izzy” Martin has been a leader in environmental advocacy and community organizing, working with a diverse constituency – from farmers to rural environmentalists. Izzy served as a Nevada County Planning Commissioner from 1991 – 1998 and County Supervisor from 1999 – 2002. She led the fight in the state legislature to put the South Yuba River into the state’s Wild and Scenic river program. In 2004, Izzy worked with Assembly members John Laird and Tim Leslie to establish the Sierra Nevada Conservancy. That same year she took the helm at The Sierra Fund. Most recently Izzy and The Sierra Fund helped Bear Yuba Land Trust secure funds for the acquisition of Rice’s Crossing Preserve.
2012 Andy Cassano
Since 1969, Andy Cassano has been a local leader in all aspects of land surveying, city and regional planning, environmental planning and land conservation for community development. He was involved in planning for some of the most important civic projects in our community including: Nevada County Campus of Sierra College and the City of Grass Valley Wastewater Master Plan. Andy worked extensively on projects such as Alta Sierra, Tahoe Donner, and portions of Lake Wildwood and Lake of the Pines. In addition to private sector work, Cassano served contractually as the first official City Planner for the City of Nevada City. Andy was an early leader of Nevada County Land Trust (today Bear Yuba Land Trust) for 9 years as Chairman of the Lands Committee and in 2004 and 2015 as President of the organization. Under Andy’s leadership, nearly 5,000 acres came under the protection of conservation easements and many of the area’s most beloved trails were built.
2011 Geri Bergen
Geri Bergen was the first female line officer in the Forest Service, first as deputy forest supervisor and then as forest supervisor of the Tahoe National Forest. An active member of the Society of American Foresters, she has successfully made her way in a previously male-dominated federal agency. Geri also participated in volunteer conservation activity with Save San Francisco Bay Association, People for Open Space, and Richmond Citizens’ Planning Association, and Richmond Recreation and Parks Commission. She has been a very active member of the Society of American Foresters. Since her retirement, Bergen served as a board member and president of Nevada County Land Trust. Geri passed away in 2018. The Geri Bergen Memorial Forest at Woodpecker Wildlife Preserve in Nevada City commemorates her legacy.
2010 John Taylor (1926-2015)
A longtime resident of Grass Valley, John was a mentor for many agricultural and environmental professionals in our community. He has served in a number of agricultural and community service committees and positions, including: manager of the Nevada County Farm Bureau, past president of the Retired Public Employees Association, the Nevada City Rotary Club, and the Nevada County User Fee Committee. John is also a retired Nevada County Agricultural Commissioner and former president of the Nevada County Fair and Nevada County Land Trust Boards. He was on the boards of the Nevada County Resource Conservation District, LAFCO, Economic Resource Council, California Biological Control Committee, High Sierra Resource Conservation and Development Council, Yuba Watershed Foundation, and the North Star Historic Conservancy.
2009 John Deveaux Olmsted (1938-2011)
Founder of Independence Trail, John Olmsted was a noted naturalist, educator and volunteer conservationist. His life was dedicated to the land ethics and land preservation traditions of John Muir. He worked tirelessly to preserve wild areas, open space, trails, parks, and rural landscapes. In 1969 John rediscovered many rock-lined ditches and wood flumes previously known as the Excelsior Canal, overlooking the South Yuba River in Nevada County, becoming the origin of the Independence Trail — the nation’s first wheelchair accessible wilderness trail. In addition he helped to create the 2,250 acre South Yuba State Park. He founded the California Institute of Man in Nature in 1968 and Sequoya Challenge in 1974 with the purpose of restoring a living thread of landscapes – a necklace of parks across California – from Jughandle State Park in Mendocino to Lake Tahoe.
2008 William Nickerl
BYLT’s first award recipient, Bill’s entire career has been focused on conservation of land in the California foothills. During his years with Bureau of Land Management as the acquisitions specialist for the state of California, Bill worked closely with The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, and several land trusts. He was instrumental in saving habitat for the California Condor and was on the Board of Directors for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. Bill fostered the creation of the first Nevada County Land Trust conservation easement, the Round Mountain Wildlife Preserve, a 160-acre parcel of land just outside Nevada City. Round Mountain Wildlife Preserve became the first successful conservation easement and established the Land Trust’s role of land steward. He launched the Treks for Health program and developed a series of outings with FREED a series of outings called “Treks for People with Limited Mobility.” William Nickerl passed away on November 30, 2017 at his home.
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John Skinner Sierra Outdoors Recreation Award
In 2013, Bear Yuba Land Trust began the John Skinner Sierra Outdoors Recreation Award.The award was created in honor of the late John Skinner who led many treks for the Land Trust. A retired Forest Supervisor of the Tahoe National Forest, John Skinner loved the outdoors. Despite a heart condition, Skinner hiked as many local trails as he could.
He was the author of the reference Sierra Outdoors Recreation – the paper “book” and online resource. The book featured over 200 trails, 100 lakes and 125 camping and picnic areas stretching one million miles from the Lakes Basin to Auburn State Recreation Area. Skinner wrote numerous articles for Sierra Heritage Magazine. John passed away on July 27, 2009.
The John Skinner Sierra Outdoors Recreation Award honors an individual for work or leadership of unusual significance in the field of outdoor recreation and education including contributions which have made a difference in local parks, preserves and community programs throughout Nevada County. The award may recognize one specific contribution or series of contributions. The candidate must:
- Live or work in Bear and Yuba River Watersheds region
- Advocate for local parks, preserves, recreational programming and/or outdoor education
- Have a proven track record of outstanding volunteer service and success
- Be a leader who never gives up in the face of a challenge and inspires others to act
© Photo Credit Wayde Carrol
John Skinner Sierra Outdoors Recreation Award Recipients
2020 Debra Weistar
Debra Weistar is a lifelong resident of the Sierra, which imprinted on her before she was a year old – at the rustic Fallen Leaf Lake cabin built by her great-grandfather in 1913. Knowing firsthand what connection to place means to a child, she has spent the last 35 years working with youth in wild places; introducing them to conservation issues and activism, often through documentary filmmaking. She has mentored dozens of youth over the years – many who have gone on to careers in conservation and environmental leadership. She and her husband, Tom, co-founded and direct Synergia Learning Center, a non-profit youth organization based on the San Juan Ridge, and for five years ran Finding the Good, a high school semester program based on studying and documenting innovations in regenerative systems.
Their most recent initiative is Nature School, for local 6-11 year olds. Motivated by deep concern for protecting our watershed for future generations, in 2015 Debra joined the Board of Directors of SYRCL, the South Yuba River Citizens League, and has served as co-president, secretary, and most recently as vice-president. In 2017, she was selected for one of the environmentalist seats on the Nevada County CAG (Community Advisory Group for commercial cannabis ordinance).
In September 2017, Tim Kiser was appointed as Grass Valley’s City Manager after working as the City’s Engineer since 2005. Kiser is a Napa County native who graduated from Sacramento State with a degree in civil engineering. He served as a senior engineer for Placer County before moving to Grass Valley in 2005. Under Tim’s guidance, Grass Valley has revitalized the downtown region and nearly completed construction of the Wolf Creek Trail between Northstar Mining Museum and the shopping areas around West McKnight Way.
Additionally, the City of Grass Valley has agreed to provide $30,000 of matching funding for the Litton Trail Enhancement Project. Tim provides strong leadership with an emphasis on bringing additional state dollars to Grass Valley to improve non-motorized transportation routes and our existing roads, sidewalks, and local parks. All of these accomplishments greatly enhance the quality of life in Nevada County.
Rick Berry began with the Tracker School in 1986 at the age of 15. Later, Rick spent two years in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey as a caretaker for the Tracker School, testing and refining his tracking and survival skills. Rick taught with both Jon Young and Tom Brown, Jr. through the Tracker School’s Coyote Camps, and moved on to serve seven years as Director of The Children of the Earth Foundation.
Today, with 25 years experience teaching Earth Skills, Rick shares dynamic teachings and philosophy of living as one with the Earth through 4 Elements Earth Education (4EEE) and its Fox Walkers program for school-aged children. 4 EEE is a unique non-profit, located in Nevada City, which immerses children, families and adults in nature and building skills of which most of us are unaware exist.
Ron Mathis served as Director and Treasurer of the North Star Historic Conservancy from formation until 2014. The Conservancy was created for the purpose of rehabilitating the 14-acre parcel containing the North Star House designed by renowned architect Julia Morgan. Ron also served on the Nevada County Land Trust Board of Directors from 1996 to 2008.
Warren, 83, drives 55 miles one way from his home in Fair Oaks to volunteer on Independence Trail. He started on the board of Sequoya Challenge more than a decade ago when he was in charge of trail maintenance. When the nonprofit group founded by late naturalist John Olmsted disbanded, Wittich continued to devote his time to the nation’s first wheelchair accessible trail known for its Gold Rush-era wooden flumes and converted water ditches. With the trail now co-managed by CA State Parks and BYLT, Wittich works at least one day a month with BYLT’s Land Access Manager Shaun Clarke and volunteers to keep the trail in good working order. Wittich is optimistic that the community can come together to raise awareness and funding to restore the dilapidated wooden bridge at Rush Creek.
2016 David Lawler
Geologist and Paleontologist David Lawler is the Executive Director of Farwest Geoscience Foundation and for more than 20 years a volunteer leader of BYLT’s popular outings to Chalk Bluff and Henness Pass. At age five, David found his first fossils at Pyramid Lake, Nevada, while on a mineralogy field trip with his parents. As a teen, David participated with University of California research expeditions, collecting dinosaurs, other primitive archosaurs and early amphibians in the Southwest U.S. and Canada. At age 21, his paleo research culminated in the discovery of an early Jurassic missing link dinosaur “Scutellosaurus lawleri” on the Navajo Indian reservation in Arizona. In 1990, “Dino Dave” founded Farwest Geoscience Foundation, an interdisciplinary group devoted to geoscience research and education. The Foundation provides talks, field trips, walks, workshops, and publications on geoscience. David has worked as a mineral commodities specialist in Latin America, organizing many exploration teams in the Amazonian rain forest and mountain regions of northern South America. He spent a decade working for the federal government as a minerals specialist and California abandoned mine expert and in 2006 his team was honored in Washington, D.C. with the National Environmental Achievement award for developing toxic mercury remediation methods at an abandoned hydraulic mine site in Nevada County.
2015 Clarence Motter
Clarence Motter loves the outdoors. He can’t remember a time when he wasn’t curious about what he would find on the other side of the mountain. Adventurous, inquisitive and always seeking new discoveries, Motter has led multiple treks for Bear Yuba Land Trust over the years. A long-time member and volunteer, Motter helped build and maintain trails like Rattlesnake Ridge, Independence Trail and the connector to Cascade Canal. He helped paint the North Star House during the early years of restoration. In many ways, Land Trust values – like preserving open space and getting people outdoors – mirrors Motter’s own life path.
2014 Julie Carville
For over 35 years, as a writer, photographer and botanist, Julie Carville has led wildflower field classes in Tahoe, Pt. Reyes, and Nevada County. Locally she has led walks for Bear Yuba Land Trust, Yuba Watershed Institute, and the Native Plant Society. She created Mountain Gypsy Wildflower Seminars offering wildflowers field classes to children and adults. Carville is the author of Hiking Tahoe’s Wildflower Trails, (aka. Lingering in Tahoe’s Wild Gardens), a contributing author of California’s Wild Gardens, and co-author of Wildflowers of Nevada & Placer Counties, CA and Trees, Shrubs & Woody Vines of Nevada & Placer Counties, CA.
2013 Hank Meals
Hank Meals, archeologist, writer, and photographer worked off and on as an archeologist for the Tahoe National Forest for 25 years. His resume includes photojournalism, tree planting, firefighting, trail construction, cone gathering, wildlife habitat improvement, archaeology, trail guide and interpretation. He is the author of several books about trails: The River: Hiking Trails and History of the South Fork of the Yuba River and Yuba Trails 1 and 2 and is co-authoring a book about the Nisenan people. Meals began leading hikes for Bear Yuba Land Trust more than 20 years ago and his knowledge of local history and trails remain popular draws.
2013 Greg Archbald
In 2013, Greg Archbald received the John Skinner Sierra Outdoors Recreation Award for Volunteerism. He has devoted his life’s work to conservation. Greg was one of the first environmental attorneys in California and an environmental activist during a time when the coastlines of Marin and Sonoma were being saved from development. He co-founded The Trust for Public Land with Huey Johnson in 1972. He set precedent with his ideas about citizen volunteerism and the natural resource stewardship programs he helped start at the Golden Gate National Parks are going strong to this day. In 2009, Greg worked with Bear Yuba Land Trust Trails Coordinator Bill Haire and his hiking friend, the late John Skinner in an effort to inventory local trails for BYLT’s online trails portal.
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