Sierra Club Announces 2021 National Award Winners


Ellen Davis, 512-639-9959 or

(Oakland, California) – The founder of an organization that is helping the Catholic Church use its vast global land holdings to mitigate the climate crisis, a photographer who has captured images of more than 11,000 threatened species, and an attorney who has set important new legal precedents across Hawai'I and the nation are among those receiving awards from the Sierra Club this year.

The organization’s top honor, the Sierra Club Changemaker of the Year Award, goes to Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich'in Steering Committee. The group was formed in 1988 in response to proposals to drill for oil in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They are largely responsible for convincing every major U.S bank. to pledge not to fund projects that drill for oil and gas in the Refuge, and for making it a Day-One priority for the Biden administration to suspend Arctic oil and gas leasing.                

“Bernadette and the Steering Committee have helped bring into the mainstream the urgency of protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, broadening its scope from an environmental focus into one of human rights, traditional Indigenous culture, and reverence for wildlife and the landscape,” said Sierra Club President Ramón Cruz.

The Emerging Changemaker Award goes to Rahul Durai, a 15-year-old from West Lafayette, Indiana, who founded a grassroots organization to address the climate crisis in Indiana. Durai will receive $500 to further the work of his youth-led group, Confront the Climate Crisis

Three public officials from California are receiving the Environmental Service Award, which honors persons in public service for long-term commitment to the environment and/or environmental justice. Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn was recognized for her work to right an injustice done to Charles and Willa Bruce, a Black family in Manhattan Beach, more than 100 years ago. District 27 Assembly member Ash Kalra was recognized for his work to protect the Coyote Valley, which serves as a critical wildlife corridor. Dave Pine, a member of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, was recognized for numerous environmental achievements, including establishing the San Mateo County Office of Sustainability, which has become a major center for new environmental initiatives.

Jack Ainsworth, executive director of the California Coastal Commission, is receiving the Environmental Achievement Award for his leadership on ending the longtime practice of off-road driving on eight miles of coastal beach and dunes in Oceano Park in San Luis Obispo County.

The Ansel Adams Award for Photography goes to Joel Sartore of Lincoln, Nebraska. Sartore is the founder of the Photo Ark project, which is documenting every captive animal species in the world.  

The Ansel Adams Award for Video goes to Craig Johnson of Tempe, Arizona. Johnson produced a four-part series of videos to help raise awareness of the dangers posed by the proposed Oak Flat copper mine outside Superior, Arizona.

The Rachel Carson Award, which honors sustained achievement by professional journalists or authors, goes to Michelle Nijhuis of White Salmon, Washington. Nijhuis is the author of the 2021 book Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction, which tells the story of the modern conservation movement through the lives and ideas of the people who built it. Her work also has been published in The Atlantic, National Geographic, the New York Times Magazine, Nature, Scientific American, Smithsonian magazine, Audubon magazine and many other outlets.

The Robert Bullard Environmental Justice Award goes to Dennis Grzezinski of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Grzezinski fought two massive highway expansion projects in Milwaukee on the grounds that they simply provided faster traffic conditions for white suburbanites at the cost of people of color.

The William O. Douglas Award, which recognizes individuals who have made outstanding use of the legal/judicial process to achieve environmental goals, goes to Earthjustice attorney David Henkin of Honolulu, Hawai'i. Henkin’s work over the past 20 years has set important new legal precedents across Hawai'I and the nation.

The EarthCare Award, which honors individuals or organizations that have made a unique contribution to international environmental protection and conservation, goes to Molly Burhans of New Haven, Connecticut. Burhans used her knowledge of geographic information systems to found an organization called Goodlands that helps the Catholic Church use its vast global land holdings to mitigate the climate crisis.    

The William E. Colby Volunteer Leadership Award, which recognizes administrative service to the Sierra Club, goes to David Haake of Culver City, California. Haake created an online tool used by Sierra Club leaders nationwide to connect people who are passionate about the environment with meaningful volunteer positions.


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

Atlas Award (for administrative contributions to Sierra Club chapters): Scott Blankman of Deerfield, Wisconsin; Alyssa Cadwalader of Lake Worth, Florida; and Julia Nichols of Leonardtown, Maryland. Blankman has served as treasurer of the Wisconsin Chapter since 2013. Cadwalader has held a variety of leadership positions in the Loxahatchee Group and the Florida Chapter. Nichols has held a variety of administrative positions in the Southern Maryland Group and the Maryland Chapter.

Communication Excellence Award (honors the best use of communications by a Sierra Club group, chapter or other entity to further the organization’s mission): Kip Fisher of Cooper City, Florida, and the Maryland Chapter Communication Team chaired by Ashley Cobaugh. Fisher helped expand the Broward Group’s use of technology for communication and the Maryland Chapter Communication Team has unified the chapter’s messaging on social media.

Environmental Alliance Award (honors Club volunteers who have helped further environmental goals through collaboration with other, non-Sierra Club constituencies): Connie Schmidt of Warrenville, Illinois. Schmidt has built transformational partnerships between the Sierra Club and other organizations in DuPage County.

Madelyn Pyeatt Outdoors for All Award (honors Club volunteers who have worked proactively to make outings more accessible and more inclusive for persons of any age and includes a $500 prize): Catherine Ronan of Los Angeles, California. Ronan’s work with the Angeles Chapter’s Inspiring Connections Outdoors (ICO) program has enabled hundreds of underserved middle-school students to experience and appreciate the natural world. 

Oliver Kehrlein Outings Leadership Award (for outstanding service to the Sierra Club’s Outings program): Bill Armstrong of Jacksonville, Florida, and Bill Snow of St. Augustine, Florida. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Armstrong and Snow worked together to develop virtual outings programs on Zoom complete with video clips, trail maps and directions, and a well-researched narration.

Outings for Action Award (honors Sierra Club volunteers who combine outings with education and/or advocacy work): Bob Boxwell of Lusby, Maryland. Boxwell has run hundreds of hikes, nature walks, and educational activities for the Southern Maryland Group over      the past 30 years.

Volunteer Achievement Award (honors Sierra Club volunteers for a single act of importance to the environment or to the Sierra Club): Darrell Clarke of Pasadena, California; Michael Ferreira of Moss Beach, California; and Debra Jacobson of McLean, Virginia. Clarke has spent decades working to increase transportation options in the Los Angeles area. Ferreira has been the backbone of the Sierra Club’s Loma Prieta Chapter’s environmental work for more than a decade. Jacobson has been instrumental in pushing Fairfax County, the largest jurisdiction in Virginia, to fully embrace climate action at the local level. 

Volunteer Service Award (honors Sierra Club volunteers for strong and consistent commitment to the environment or the Sierra Club over an extended period of time): Don Ferber of Madison, Wisconsin; Michael Fitzpatrick of Boynton Beach, Florida; Max Goldstein of Weston, Florida; Brian Paradise of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida; and Barbara VanHanken of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Ferber is a long-time leader in the Wisconsin Chapter. Fitzpatrick has spent nearly 50 years as an environmental activist, concentrating on saving urban pockets of ecological importance in Palm Beach County. Goldstein has held a variety of positions with the Broward Group in Florida. Paradise has been a valuable administrative and conservation leader in the Northeast Florida Group since the late 1970s. VanHanken’s work has been crucial to the success of the Sierra Club in Oklahoma.

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 3.5 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, 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