Sierra Club Announces 2018 Award Winners


Lane Boldman, 859-552-1173 or

Note to editors: Photos of the award winners are available upon request

(Washington, D.C.) – A rock climber who has contributed more than $90 million to grassroots environmental groups, a photographer known for his iconic images of bears in Yellowstone National Park, and two red-state mayors who have been leaders in moving their towns toward renewable energy were among those receiving national awards from the Sierra Club this year.

The club’s top award, the John Muir Award, went to Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard. A rock climber who built a leading outdoor apparel company, Chouinard as a teenager started to make gear to meet the needs of his friends to climb in a clean, minimalist, self-reliant style partly inspired by the writings of John Muir. In the 1970s, Chouinard launched Patagonia, a clothing company for whom sustainability and responsible practices are core to the business. It has given more than $89 million to grassroots environmental organizations, and has encouraged other companies to contribute at least one percent of their annual sales to environmental causes as well. More recently, Chouinard and his team at Patagonia have started a venture capital fund called Tin Shed Ventures, which invests in start-ups that offer solutions to environmental problems, as well as Patagonia Action Works, a new platform to connect customers with nonprofit environmental groups to take meaningful action to protect our planet.

“Patagonia’s business model is truly inspiring,” said Sierra Club President Loren Blackford. “It is a blueprint for other businesses, large and small, to follow.” Blackford also noted that Chouinard has been a leader in opposing the Trump Administration’s anti-environmental efforts.

The club’s top award for public officials, the Edgar Wayburn Award, went to Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico. Since he was first elected to Congress in 1998, Udall has taken a leadership role on a wide array of environmental issues. He was one of the original co-sponsors of the Arctic Wilderness Bill, and more recently, has worked closely with the Navajo and Pueblo nations in New Mexico to oppose new leasing, drilling and fracking near Chaco Canyon National Park. Udall is the third member of his family to receive the Wayburn Award. His father, Stewart Udall, a three-term congressman from Arizona and former Secretary of the Interior, received it in 2004, and his uncle, Mo Udall, a U.S. representative from Arizona for three decades, received it in 1980.

The Distinguished Service Award, which honors persons in public service for long-term commitment to conservation, went to David Deen of Putney, Vermont; Brett Walton of Seattle, Washington; Dr. Caroline Snyder of North Sandwich, New Hampshire; and Dr. David Lewis of Watkinsville, Georgia. Deen is retiring this year after 30 years as a Vermont state legislator. Walton writes about water policy for a nonprofit news agency called Circle of Blue. Snyder and Lewis received the award jointly for their work to raise awareness of the environmental and health risks posed by pollutants in sewage sludge.

The Distinguished Achievement Award, which honors persons in public service for particular acts of benefit to the environment, went to Stephen Benjamin, the mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, and Dale Ross, the mayor of Georgetown, Texas. Benjamin, who was recently elected president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, spearheaded that group’s passage of a resolution in support of 100 percent renewable energy. Under Ross’ leadership, Georgetown, Texas, became one of the first cities in the country to commit to using 100 percent renewable energy.

The Special Achievement Award, which honors Sierra Club members for particular achievements, went to Charlie Baglan of Frankfort, Kentucky, and Rebecca Solnit of San Francisco, California. Baglan created a public radio documentary observing the 50th anniversary of the 1967 protest hike that led to the undamming of Red River Gorge. Solnit has published 20 books and is a regular contributor to several national magazines.  

The Ansel Adams Award, which honors excellence in conservation photography, went to noted wildlife photographer Thomas Mangelsen of Jackson, Wyoming. Mangelsen is best known for his photos of the bears in Yellowstone National Park as well as his iconic photo of a spawning sockeye salmon leaping out of the rushing water into the mouth of a wild Alaskan brown bear. For the past 17 years, Mangelsen has teamed up with Jane Goodall to raise money for the protection of cranes, chimpanzees and cougars.

The Robert Bullard Environmental Justice Award, which recognizes individuals who have done outstanding work in the area of environmental justice, went to Ruth “Tata” Santiago of Salina, Puerto Rico. Armed with a law degree from Columbia University, Santiago has made it her life’s work to fight environmental injustices in Puerto Rico.

The William O. Douglas Award, which recognizes individuals who have made outstanding use of the legal/judicial process to achieve environmental goals, went to Trip Van Noppen of San Francisco, California. Van Noppen is retiring this year as Executive Director of Earthjustice, an organization with 140 lawyers that has been at the forefront of challenging the Trump Administration’s efforts to roll back environmental protections.

The EarthCare Award, which honors an individual, organization or agency that has made a unique contribution to international environmental protection and conservation, went to Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, who was the first Wildlife Veterinary Officer of the Uganda Wildlife Authority. Kalema-Zikusoka founded an organization called Conservation Through Public Health to promote gorilla conservation.

The Chico Mendes Award, which recognizes individuals or non-governmental organizations outside the United States who have exhibited extraordinary courage and leadership in the universal struggle to protect the environment, was given to the Kenya-based group Save the Elephants in honor of Esmond Bradley Martin. Martin spent decades risking his life to secretly photograph and document illegal sales of ivory and rhino horn throughout the world.

Others receiving national awards from the Sierra Club this year were:

Communication Award (Honors the best use of print or electronic communication by a Sierra Club group, chapter or other entity): The Yodeler (San Francisco Bay Chapter) and the Hawaii Chapter newsletter and website.

Joseph Barbosa Award (recognizes club members under the age of 30 who have a demonstrated record of service to the environment): Amira Odeh Quiñones of Bayamón, Puerto Rico. Odeh Quiñones has served as director of the Sierra Student Coalition’s leadership training program known as SPROG and developed a “No más botellas” campaign at the University of Puerto Rico’s Rio Piedras Campus.

Oliver Kehrlein Award (for outstanding service to the Sierra Club’s outings program): Charles Hunt of Boynton Beach, Florida. Hunt has been the Loxahatchee Group’s Outings Chair since 1999.

One-Club Award (recognizes club members who have combined outings with conservation): Jerry Balch of New York City. In the past 18 years, Balch has brought almost 850 Sierra Club members from across the country to work on various park projects in New York City.

Raymond Sherwin International Award (Honors extraordinary volunteer service toward international conservation): Thaddeus (Ted) Trzyna of Claremont, California. Trzyna is a past chair of the Sierra Club International Committee and has been active in the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Special Service Award (for strong and consistent commitment to conservation over an extended period of time): Heather Anderson of Bend, Oregon; Richard Barish of Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Wayne Hoskisson of Moab, Utah. Anderson is a long-time volunteer with the Tehipite Chapter, Barish is a long-time volunteer with the Rio Grande Chapter, and Hoskisson is a conservation activist for the Utah Chapter.

William E. Colby Award (for administrative service to the Sierra Club): Ellen Davis of Georgetown, Texas. Davis has served as chair of the Club’s Honors and Awards Committee for more than 20 years.

The awards were presented Sept. 29 at an event held in Denver, Colorado. For more information on the Sierra Club awards program, visit

About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3 million members and supporters. In addition to helping people from all backgrounds explore nature and our outdoor heritage, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit