Rick Sasser of Goldboro and Chris Williams of Princeton earned top conservation honors from the North Carolina Wildlife Federation for their dedication to wildlife, habitat and natural resources.
“Marine Resource Conservationist of the Year” Sasser and “Sportsman of the Year” Williams were among the 18 agency professionals, elected officials, volunteers and organizations honored on Sept. 11 at the 57th Annual Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards banquet in Cary.
NCWF Board Chair John Hairr and NC Wildlife Resources Commission Executive Director Cameron Ingram presented honorees with specially made wildlife statuettes following a thank you message from Gov. Roy Cooper.
“Your commitment to North Carolina’s wildlife, habitats and natural resources is clear, and our state is better off because of your work. Protecting our state’s natural resources is critical, not only for the beauty of our state but also for our economy,” Cooper said.
“North Carolina has unique resources, and it’s important that we protect our state’s wildlife. By investing in clean water, expanding clean energy, and protecting waterways and greenways, North Carolina can continue to thrive.”
Banquet emcee and awards chair T. Edward Nickens said Sasser has dedicated countless hours studying, researching and compiling information on the harmful effects of the continued use of destructive gear in North Carolina’s commercial fishing industry.
“Rick has spent years advocating for the removal of shrimp trawlers from these important nursery areas in front of anyone that will listen, including the Marine Fisheries Commission, Division of Marine Fisheries, legislators and countless recreational anglers,” Nickens said.
“Thankfully, Rick knows that the only way to fail is to stop trying. And those who rely on his steadfastness and deep knowledge understand that ‘stop’ isn’t in his vocabulary. At least, not until North Carolina fisheries get the legislative and regulatory respect they deserve.”
Sasser thanked the NCWF team for “listening, recognizing and taking on the fight to honestly identify and protect our critical habitat nursery areas, particularly those in the Pamlico Sound.”
He added, “There is a Greek proverb that says, ‘A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit.’ Fisheries reform is such a tree. But I do hope to spend a little time in the shade before leaving abundant and sustainable fisheries to our future generations.”
Raised in Garner, Williams joined Delta Waterfowl 20 years ago. Now Atlantic Flyway Regional Director, Nickens said Williams has never left the front lines working for waterfowl and waterfowl hunters in North Carolina and beyond.
“Hunting for coastal diving ducks isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a big water, big weather, big hopes, big ups and big downs kind of affair,” Nickens said. He added that Williams “works like a crazy man 12 months a year to keep our duck hunting heritage top of mind for legislators and elevated for all of us who thrill to cupped wings over the marshes.”
Williams said he’s a proud United States Army Police Veteran, a group of individuals who have spent their careers and volunteer service “assisting, protecting and defending what everybody in this room loves.”
He asked banquet attendees to take their passion for conservation, land, habitat, youth and North Carolina’s resources, “everything that each person in this room works day-in and day-out to preserve and cherish,” and keep it going.
First presented in 1958, the Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards are the highest natural resource honors given in the state. The annual program brings together diverse groups of conservationists to highlight wildlife conservation achievements to inspire others to take a more active role in protecting North Carolina’s natural resources for future generations.