Bear Yuba Land Trust (BYLT) is proud to announce Shelly Covert and Debra Weistar as the recipients of the 2020 BYLT Conservation Awards. 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. 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 free 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.”
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.
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).
Covert and Weistar were selected from nominations submitted by the public for local conservation heroes; from that pool of candidates, a committee made these selections.
“Gaining community input is a special part of our process. ” said Robin Milam, BYLT Board of Director and Chair of this year’s selection committee. “It is truly inspiring to learn of the impact of innovative change makers throughout the Bear and Yuba River watersheds who share our commitment to preserving local lands, wildlife, water and trails and their efforts to improve our way of life.”
BYLT’s Conservation Awards, established in 2008, are named for two very special individuals. William “Bill” Nickerl devoted his life to land conservation in the California foothills. During his years with the Bureau of Land Management as the acquisitions specialist for the state of California, Nickerl 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. He also fostered the creation of the first BYLT (formerly Nevada County Land Trust) conservation easement, the Round Mountain Wildlife Preserve, a 160-acre parcel of land just outside Nevada City. Past recipients have included Izzy Martin, CEO of the Sierra Fund, Joanne Hild, Executive Director of Sierra Streams Institute, biologist and ornithologist Ted Beedy, author and educator Alicia Funk, and last year’s recipient Neil Robinson.
John Skinner, a retired Forest Supervisor of the Tahoe National Forest, loved the outdoors and led many treks for BYLT. Despite a heart condition, Skinner hiked as many local trails as he could. He was also the author of the reference Sierra Outdoors Recreation, which 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. Rick Berry of Fox Walkers and 4 Elements Earth Education, Ron Mathis of the North Star Historic Conservancy, writer and wildflower expert Julie Carville, and Geologist and Paleontologist David Lawler, are among those who have received the John F. Skinner Sierra Outdoors Recreation Award in recent years. Grass Valley City Manager Tim Kiser was the 2019 recipient.
“These awards help connect us to a long legacy of conservation leaders and outdoor enthusiasts who have made incredible contributions to improving the health and resilience of the Bear and Yuba River watersheds,” says Seward. “The annual gala is the perfect setting to show our deep appreciation as a community.”
All net proceeds of the Gala will support Bear Yuba Land Trust (BYLT), an accredited land trust and non-profit based in Grass Valley with a mission to protect and defend the working and natural lands of the Bear and Yuba River watersheds and empower healthy, resilient communities through nature access and education. This year’s event was made possible by the BriarPatch Food Co-op, Emily’s Catering & Cakes, Grass Valley Brewing Company, Volz Brothers, and Moxie Bookkeeping & Coaching.
Since 1990, BYLT has been a conservation leader in the Sierra Nevada region, saving more than 17,600 acres of foothill forests, oak woodlands, meadows, riparian habitat, farms and ranches. BYLT has also built and maintains over 45 miles of trails that provide access to nature for residents and visitors alike. This year’s Fund-A-Need will be dedicated to the rebuilding efforts of the Independence Trail, which was significantly damaged by the Jones Fire, with a special tribute by the musical folk duo The Moore Brothers and words by Alden Olmsted, son of John Olmsted, the trail’s visionary founder.
Visit BYLT.org and RSVP for a fun and informative gala celebration. The online silent auction is already underway with a plethora of unique gifts, works of art and nature
experiences open for bidding. Visit BYLT’s Silent Auction to explore and place your bids. Check back often as new items are being added daily until the closing on October 16.
To view past BYLT Conservation Award recipients, follow the link.
Open Spaces, Wild Places Virtual Gala & Conservation Awards
We are getting ready for our Annual Open Spaces and Wild Places Virtual Gala & Conservation Awards- save the date for FRIDAY, October 16th from 6-7:30PM. This year, due to social distancing guidelines and in order to safeguard public health, this FREE event will take place over two weeks kicking off on October 1st with an online silent auction & Fund-A-Need for the Independence Trail. The event will end with our Live Conservation Awards Presentation and Virtual Gala on Friday, October 16th. The live event will include award presentations, live music, and so much more!
Proceeds from the Open Space & Wild Places : Virtual Gala and Conservation Awards benefits BYLT conservation programs. Thank you so much for supporting us in our mission to protect and defend the working and natural lands of the Bear and Yuba River watersheds. Silent Auction bidding opens October 1st and closes October 16th at 7:30pm.
Join us Friday October 16 from 6:00 – 7:30pm for our FREE Open Space & Wild Places : Virtual Gala and Conservation Awards event to celebrate our lands and our heroes!