The 55-year-old prairie conservation organization and land trust honored champions of prairie and native plant conservation on August 20 during its virtual Annual Dinner. Awardees hail from Marshall, Columbia, Harwood, Springfield, Meadville, and Eminence, Missouri, as well as Hudson, Wisconsin.
The Missouri Prairie Foundation’s Annual Dinner, held virtually on August 20, 2021, is a celebration of Missouri’s prairie legacy. During the event, the 55-year-old prairie conservation organization and land trust paid tribute to seven awardees.
“Missouri’s remaining prairies are rare and priceless treasures,” said David Young, Missouri Prairie Foundation President. “Protecting and promoting them requires dedication and commitment from many people. Our award program recognizes individuals who have made or are making a positive difference in the conservation of Missouri’s prairie legacy and in the promotion or protection of native plants.”
The Missouri Prairie Foundation 2021 awardees are:
Clair L. Kucera Prairie Landowner of the Year Award: Mark Belwood of Marshall, MO – Mark Belwood is an agricultural producer who owns hundreds of acres of row crops, as well as nearly 60 acres of diverse prairie plantings, wooded acres, and a small glade. Belwood’s prairie plantings are exceptionally well managed and diverse. He has established buffer strips of prairie plants along some of his row crops that provide pollinator and wildlife habitat and reduce runoff and erosion. Mark is vigilant about controlling invasive plants and manages his glade to protect its special biological attributes. He welcomes many people to his property to learn about his prairie plantings. For instance, he hosted the Missouri Prairie Foundation’s Prairie Eclipse Party in 2017 and provided tours of his plantings. Belwood never stops learning about prairie ecology and applies what he learns to make his plantings and glade as well managed as possible.
William A. Davit Prairie Communicator of the Year: Noppadol Paothong of Columbia, MO – Noppadol Paothong is one of the nation’s and indeed the world’s leading wildlife photographers. Paothong is an associate fellow with the International League of Conservation Photographers, an elite group of the world’s top wildlife, nature, and culture photographers from around the globe. He is also a staff wildlife photographer with the Missouri Department of Conservation and contributes his images and stories to its Missouri Conservationist and Xplor magazines, and also to many other publications, including Audubon, National Wildlife, Ranger Rick, and more. For more than 20 years, he has been documenting rare and endangered species, primarily grassland grouse and their habitat, and has published two large-format, national award-winning books—Save the Last Dance in 2012 and Sage Grouse, Icon of the West in 2017. Paothong has logged hundreds of thousands of miles to capture the incredible beauty and complex life history of prairie-chickens, sharp-tailed grouse, and other prairie plants and animals that have been enjoyed by thousands through his books, his writing, and in countless presentations he has given around the country.
Bill T. Crawford Prairie Professional of the Year Award: Bobby Lyness of Harwood, MO – Bobby Lyness is a wildlife services contractor who has worked for more than 30 years controlling invasive plants and performing other management services on thousands of acres for the Missouri Department of Conservation, The Nature Conservancy, and the Missouri Prairie Foundation, among other clients. Lyness is careful to target control efforts to invasive plants only in order to avoid any negative impacts to native flora, and he works hard to train his personnel. Bobby has established a 60-acre prairie planting on his farm, and his observations of its plant species compliment his professional work. Lyness’s pleasant and flexible nature, and his depth of knowledge, work ethic, and dedication are critically important to statewide prairie conservation efforts overall.
The August 20 program also included the announcement of two awards from the Missouri Prairie Foundation’s 21-year-old Grow Native! program:
Grow Native! Native Plant Pioneer Award: Judy Allmon of Springfield, MO; George Seek of Meadville, MO; and Cheryl Riley of Hudson, WI
This award recognizes individuals whose past work has been foundational to the advancement of the native plant industry and movement. The 2021 award recognizes a team of three: Judy Allmon, George Seek, and Cheryl Riley. Allmon, Riley, and Seek comprise a “founders trio” of the Grow Native! program. In the 1990s, Allmon and Riley developed an inspired program for the Conservation Federation of Missouri called “Bringing Nature Home.” It made native plant materials and native landscaping advice available to the public. In early 2000, the Conservation Federation of Missouri ended the program and Allmon set out to find a new sponsor. Seek, then the Private Land Services Division Administrator for the Missouri Department of Conservation, embraced the program—and rebranded it as “Grow Native!.” There are numerous individuals who have contributed to the program’s development and success, but it was the concerted efforts and promotion of these three individuals at the very start that set the stage for the blossoming of Grow Native!
Grow Native! Native Plant Protector Award: Susan Farrington of Eminence, MO To enjoy the benefits of native plants in the native plant industry, the original habitat of native plants must be protected. For this reason, in 2020, the Grow Native! program created the Grow Native! Native Plant Protector Award. The 2021 awardee is Susan Farrington with the Missouri Department of Conservation. Farrington has worked tirelessly for nearly 15 years to protect the native plant communities of the Upper and Lower Ozarks of Missouri. Early in her career, Susan worked as a horticulturist at the Missouri Botanical Garden, then pursued and completed a master’s degree in forestry and botany with her thesis on ginseng population biology. From there, she became the botanist for the Missouri Forest Ecosystem Project (also known as MoFEP). She was based in West Plains where she trained and supervised the botany crews for many years. During this time, she developed the MoFEP botany manual, which many natural resource professionals from several conservation agencies consider an essential reference. This manual contains at least 300 species of Ozark plants with a key to diagnostic characteristics and photos.
As a Natural History Biologist for the Ozark region since 2010, Farrington has been dedicating her career to protecting the native diversity of the Ozarks in significant ways, which include serving as burn boss for many prescribed burns, training AmeriCorps crews for several years, and vigilantly controlling invasive plants in all temperature extremes. Since COVID, Farrington has stepped up to the plate and served as burn boss for all Missouri Department of Conservation burns in the Eminence District. If not for her efforts, these botanically rich, fire-dependent areas would not have received prescribed fire. In 2020 and in years past, she also led AmeriCorps crews to conduct prescribed burns and invasive plant control on National Park Service Land. Farrington is highly regarded by her peers and the entire conservation community in Missouri as a critically important resource for the conservation of native plants and so many other aspects of native biodiversity in the Ozarks.
The Missouri Prairie Foundation is a 55-year-old membership organization and land trust that protects and restores prairie and other native grasslands through acquisition, management, education, and support of prairie research. The organization currently owns 29 properties totaling 4,100 acres of prairie across the state, and, with partners, inspires the conservation of thousands more. The Missouri Prairie Foundation is also home to the Grow Native! native plant education and marketing program and the Missouri Invasive Plant Council.