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Pioneers of Wisconsin conservation deserve to be honored

Apr 06, 2017

Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame Awards

Wisconsin’s conservation legacy includes a very long list of conservation leaders who are well known to some and yet to be discovered by others. Generations of citizen-led conservation is grounded in the work of John Muir, Aldo Leopold and Gaylord Nelson, the early pioneers of ecological science, puts Wisconsin squarely in the vanguard of philosophical and practical expression of the conservation ethic.

On Earth Day in Stevens Point, our conservation history will reflect three new names of leaders whose contributions will not be forgotten. Early in my career I was privileged to have many mentors now honored in the Conservation Hall of Fame.  Women leaders were particularly important for a young, female lawyer like myself. Emily Earley, inducted in 2010, was one of the hardest working people I’ll ever know. Her stature may have been tiny but she taught me to expect to be listened to if I had something to say—an important encouragement at the time. It's important to honor people like Emily and the inductees who inspire us and who led the way.

While there are many people behind every success, without leaders to provide a center of gravity for the rest of us to gather around, we’d have fewer accomplishments to share.The Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame will induct Milly Zantow, Christine Thomas and Hugh Iltis on April 22 at the Sentry Theater and the public is invited.

When the board of the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of fame released the inductees’ names, we said that this year’s honorees “reflect the important role of conservation organizations, universities, governments and industries, and the significant contributions of women to conservation and environmental quality in Wisconsin and nationally.” I couldn't agree more.

The program includes a free coffee reception at 9:00 a.m. and the induction ceremony at 10:00 a.m. Tickets are available online for a luncheon at 12:30 p.m. for $25.

- Kimberlee Wright, Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame Board Member

The Inductees

Christine Thomas (1951-)

Christine Thomas has promoted the cause of conservation in Wisconsin and the nation through her contributions to higher education, research, natural resource policy, and the advancement of citizen participation in Wisconsin’s rich conservation heritage.

Recognized for her teaching and administrative talents, Thomas has served since 2005 as the Dean of the College of Natural Resources at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP), one of the largest colleges of its kind in the nation.

Throughout her career Thomas has focused on the importance of access to well managed public lands. As member of the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board for 11 years (and who served as Chair for three years), she advanced environmental and natural resource policy affecting outdoor recreation, water and habitat protection and the management of Wisconsin’s wildlife, forests, and parks.

At the national level, she has served on the boards and councils of many conservation organizations and governmental agencies, including the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the U.S. Interior and U.S. Agriculture Department’s Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council. She currently serves on the board of Ducks Unlimited.

Her statewide and national leadership has inspired women studying and working in the conservation profession. To promote the involvement of women in outdoor activities and conservation efforts, in 1991 she helped found the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) program, an educational outreach program at UW-Stevens Point teaching outdoor skills in Wisconsin and many other states. In recognition of her leadership and contributions to conservation, she has received numerous awards from state and national conservation organizations.


Hugh IltisHugh Iltis (1925-2016)

Hugh Iltis was a distinguished scientist, teacher, environmentalist and passionate spokesperson for conservation.

In 1955, he joined the UW-Madison Botany Department and for many years served as Director of the University of Wisconsin Herbarium. In 1960 he co-founded The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin and championed its efforts to protect natural areas by serving on its Board, providing technical and scientific advice on acquisitions, and working with landowners to protect some of Wisconsin’s most unique ecosystems, including the Baraboo Hills and Chiwaukee Prairie. In the 1960s he joined fellow citizen activists to launch efforts to ban the use of DDT in Wisconsin and the nation. He also worked with many other national conservation organizations to protect natural areas and promote environmental quality.

Nationally and globally, Iltis is best known for his work as UW Herbarium Director, his efforts to protect biosphere reserves in Mexico and South America, and his plant studies, including the discovery in Mexico of Zea diploperennis, a perennial wild relative of corn, now being used for plant breeding. Iltis received numerous awards for his contributions to conservation including TNC’s highest honor – the Golden Oak Leaf Award, and a Presidential Award from the Republic of Mexico for his role in establishing the Sierra de Manantlan Biosphere Reserve.


Milly Zantow (1923-2014)

With tenacity, enthusiasm, and a few good ideas, Milly Zantow, a grandmother and citizen activist from North Freedom, helped launch the recycling revolution in Wisconsin and the nation.

From the E-Z Recycling Center that she and friends founded in 1979 in Sauk County, she proved that recycling was not only environmentally sound, but also practical and cost effectiveInspired by a 1978 trip to Japan – a nation that was already recycling consumer waste – she urged local governments and plastic industries in the United States to start recycling programs and to find markets for waste resources. Working with communities, lawmakers and industry, she helped develop a simple system to identify different plastics with a number code inside a triangle, a system that was adopted in 1988 by the Society of Plastic Industry and is now used worldwide.

Recognized for her foresight and determination, Zantow was also a major contributor to the framing of the 1990 Wisconsin Recycling Law which required municipalities to collect plastics, metals, paper, and glass to keep them out of landfills. This law was seen, at the time, as the most comprehensive state recycling program in the nation. She also provided advice on setting up recycling programs to municipalities all over the country and internationally. She received awards and recognition for her pioneering work in recycling and for her many contributions as a community volunteer. The conservation legacy of Milly Zantow and other recycling advocates continues, day by day, as citizens recycle their waste, schools teach the 3Rs of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, and municipalities, businesses and industries cooperate to recycle and conserve Wisconsin’s natural resources.


Traveling to Stevens Point? Visit the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame Gallery in the visitor center in Schmeeckle Reserve. You can learn more about the 88 leaders who have contributed significantly to Wisconsin’s conservation legacy.

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