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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Ducks Unlimited honors Mississippi conservationists

MS Heroes of Conservation
Billy Joe Cross
Toxey Haas
Richard (Rick) M. Kaminski, Ph.D.
Will Primos
Bill Sugg
Melvin Tingle
William E. Walker Jr.
Morgan Freeman
MS Heroes group

(l-r) DU Group Manager Dan Thiel pictured with honoree Melvin Tingle, DU Chairman of the Board Bruce Lewis, and honorees Rick Kaminski, Bill Sugg, Toxey Haas, Will Primos, Billy Joe Cross, and Marcie Skelton (Dir. of Walker Foundation) who accepted the award on behalf of the late Bill Walker.

RIDGELAND, Miss., Aug. 3, 2009 – Nearly 300 people gathered at the Hilton in Jackson to honor eight Heroes of Conservation. Ducks Unlimited hosted the evening to celebrate the conservation accomplishments of these men. Event honorees are listed at right.

These gentlemen have made impressive contributions to conservation in Mississippi and elsewhere through their personal careers, philanthropic support of conservation organizations, conservation activities on their own lands, efforts to educate the public about conservation, and through a lifetime of sharing their own passion for the outdoors with those around them.

With more than a million supporters, Ducks Unlimited is the world's largest and most effective wetland and waterfowl conservation organization with more than 12 million acres conserved. The United States alone has lost more than half of its original wetlands – nature's most productive ecosystem – and continues to lose more than 80,000 wetland acres each year.

Billy Joe Cross
Past executive director of the Mississippi Game and Fish Commission and retired director of field operations for Ducks Unlimited

Billy Joe Cross, a native of Meridian, Miss., has made a dramatic difference in Bruce Lewis presents Cross (right) with awardconservation through efforts in policy, fundraising and education. He taught at Hinds Community College, Holmes CC and Mississippi College. He is a Mason, a Shriner and a Marine Corps Veteran.

Elected to the state House of Representatives in 1962, he was appointed director of the Mississippi Game and Fish Commission in 1966 and served in that capacity for six years. In 1972, Cross was appointed a Commissioner of the Game and Fish Board. Additionally, he has served as president of the Mississippi Flyway Council and president of the Southeastern Association of Game and Fish Directors.

Cross has been an extraordinary proponent of using wild game through numerous cookbooks, cooking shows, annual fund raising dinners for several Mississippi colleges and churches, and as a frequent teacher and lecturer for the Viking Culinary Institute in Memphis and Greenwood. He was also selected as Celebrity Chef for the Delta Food Fair in Greenville, Miss.

To attest to his impact on conservation, in 1979 he was chosen as the Wildlife Conservationist of the Year by the Mississippi Wildlife Federation. He was appointed to the Dean's Advisory Committee in Mississippi State University's School of Wildlife, Forestry and Forest Products. And in 2004 a wildlife project at O'Keefe Wildlife Management Area was dedicated to Cross in honor of his career with Ducks Unlimited. The 250-acre wetland restoration project provides improved wintering-staging habitat for waterfowl in the Mississippi Delta.

Cross has been heavily involved with Ducks Unlimited since becoming a Regional Director in 1966. During his tenure with DU, he subsequently served as regional supervisor, Mississippi Flyway MARSH coordinator, field operations supervisor, and director of field operations. He also did a stint as the food columnist for the DU Magazine.

Toxey Haas
CEO of Haas Outdoors

Haas is best known as the founder of Mossy Oak® Brand Camo, established in Bruce Lewis presents Haas (right) with award1986. Consumed by his desire to get closer to game, he took to the woods in search of dirt, sticks and leaves. To get closer, he needed to become nature, to blend in with the surroundings in the areas where he hunted.

That fist full of dirt was the inspiration that built a camouflage company. After 23 years and over 15 patterns, today Mossy Oak boasts five major patterns: Break-Up®, Treestand®, Obsession®, Duck Blind®, and Brush®.

In 1998, Haas embarked on a new business venture, providing wildlife with improved habitat. Mossy Oak BioLogic is dedicated to creating the world's best forage blends for food plots that attract wildlife and encourage healthy game growth.

In 2003, Haas added real estate to his interests with Mossy Oak Properties. Mossy Oak Properties is dedicated to the stewardship of land used by outdoor enthusiasts for hunting, investment, or management.

One of his greatest contributions to a legacy of conservation is perhaps his latest Mossy Oak enterprise, Nativ Nurseries. The goal of Nativ Nurseries is to not only provide hand-selected, hand-grown plants for wildlife, but to provide information on how to grow and manage these plants for the ultimate benefit.

Richard (Rick) M. Kaminski, Ph.D.
Associate Dean and Professor of Wildlife, College of Forest Resources, Mississippi State University and Holder of the James C. Kennedy Endowed Chair in Waterfowl and Wetlands Conservation

Richard M. Kaminski has had an undeniable impact on conservation. In addition Bruce Lewis presents Rick Kaminski (right) with awardto a lifetime of personal dedication to wetlands and waterfowl conservation, as an educator, Kaminski has influenced and mentored a multitude of budding conservationists and wildlife managers. This passing down of his passion and dedication has had its own incalculable impact to conservation.

After graduating from Michigan State University (M.S. and Ph.D., 1975 and 1979) and University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (B.S., 1972), Kaminski worked four years as a research biologist for Ducks Unlimited Canada. Since joining the faculty of Mississippi State University in 1983 he has personally mentored over 40 graduate students.

Kaminski has taught courses at MSU on waterfowl ecology and management, wetlands ecology and management, wildlife techniques, wildlife management field practices, and professional communications. He and his students and colleagues have published widely on waterfowl and wetlands ecology and conservation, including a book and a Wildlife Monograph both of which received publication awards from The Wildlife Society.

To attest to his contribution to conservation, Kaminski has received numerous awards and accolades including multiple honors from MSU for his contributions to teaching, research, and service, recognition as a Fellow of The Wildlife Society in 2007, a lifetime conservation achievement award from Ducks Unlimited in 2006, and inclusion in a group of 25 North Americans who have made significant contributions to hunting and wildlife conservation by Outdoor Life magazine in 2008.

In 1994, Kaminski was selected by the Mississippi Wildlife Federation as Wildlife Conservationist of the Year for his and Dr. Brian Gray' s research and outreach on illegal waterfowl hunting in the Mississippi Flyway.

On the philanthropic front, Kaminski has spent a lifetime leading people to Ducks Unlimited. He was instrumental in attracting philanthropic gifts for establishment of The James C. Kennedy Endowed Chair in Waterfowl and Wetlands Conservation and the Scenic Homes 'Richard M. Kaminski' Endowed Undergraduate Scholarship in Waterfowl and Wetlands at MSU.

Will Primos
Founder of Primos Hunting Calls

Primos, founder and president of Primos Hunting Calls, is a philanthropist, hunter, conservationist and waterfowl enthusiast. From an early age, family members Bruce Lewis presents Will Primos (right) with awardcould see the passion for wildlife in his eyes. Primos crafted his first duck call at the age of 11; it was a sign of what was to come. Today Primos Hunting Calls is a major force in the outdoors industry, providing skillfully crafted calls for a variety of game. Primos also has developed a successful video series called "The Truth" and a popular television series called "Primos' Truth about Hunting."

In addition to his contributions to the outdoor industry, Primos is an energetic supporter of Ducks Unlimited. He continually uses his standing as a widely recognized and respected outdoorsman to encourage others to commit to conservation. Primos Hunting Calls is a DU Corporate Sponsor, and Primos has helped DU in numerous other ways, especially in the pursuit of major sponsors and foundation support for the cause of wetlands conservation.

In 2007, Primos played an integral part in helping DU secure an $800,000 grant from a national foundation for work along the entire Mississippi River corridor. He is a member of DU's Feather Society and has been a presenter and outspoken advocate at numerous DU gatherings including Leadership Conferences and corporate partner meetings.

Primos further demonstrates his commitment to conservation through his avid support of DU's land protection programs. In August of 2004, Primos purchased a 2,652-acre parcel of land in Humphreys and Leflore counties in Mississippi. This property, the Rivers Run tract, was under perpetual protection through the Wetlands America Trust conservation easement program. The property was a "good" wildlife property when acquired, and through his efforts, it has been converted into a "great" wildlife property.

In addition to holding property under a conservation easement, Primos actively encourages others to consider perpetual protection of their recreational lands.

Primos received the 2009 Wetland Conservation Achievement Award in Conservation/Private Citizen category from DU. This national award recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the restoration and conservation of North America's wetlands and waterfowl. He also received Wings of Innovation Award from DU in 2008.

Bill Sugg
President of Haas Outdoors

Bruce Lewis presents Bill Sugg Jr. (right) with awardSugg is a lifelong outdoorsman passionate about hunting and all things outdoors, with a specific reverence for waterfowl and wild turkey. As president of Haas Outdoors, home of the well-known camouflage brand Mossy Oak, Sugg channels that passion into overseeing the day-to-day processes and business decisions at Mossy Oak.

Under Sugg's leadership, Mossy Oak has donated time and resources to organizations that work to support conservation and promote hunting and fishing. Mossy Oak has been a huge supporter of DU as a corporate sponsor, by contributing to specific DU projects, through The Great Outdoors Festival, and with presence in Ducks Unlimited magazine to name a few. Other conservation organizations Mossy Oak has lent support to include: the National Wild Turkey Federation, Safari Club International, Quality Deer Management Association, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Boone and Crockett Club among others.

Sugg also understands the importance of passing on the outdoor heritage by involving youth in the Great Outdoors, starting with his own three children. Through Mossy Oak, Sugg lends his support to youth involvement by way of organizations such as Camp Compass Academy, International Hunter Education Association, Texas Trophy Hunters Association and the Catch-A-Dream Foundation, where Bill serves as a current board member.

Melvin Tingle
Host of Mississippi Outdoors television show

As a young man growing up in Neshoba County in the 1940s, Tingle's passion was hunting and fishing. His dream was to work for the Mississippi Game and Fish Bruce Lewis presents Melvin Tingle (right) with awardCommission.

"Every year I would travel to Jackson to make sure my job application was still on file," Tingle said. "My first big break came in 1966, when Mr. Billy Joe Cross was appointed Executive Director of the Mississippi Game & Fish Commission (now known as the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks). I was hired as a Public Relations Field Representative."

Tingle's first television opportunity came in 1972 when he became the cameraman for the television show, "Mississippi Outdoors." The 15-minute, weekly show started under the direction of Billy Joe Cross and was hosted by Paul Ott. After Ott left the Commission, Tingle became the cameraman, editor, producer, and host of "Mississippi Outdoors" for the next 14 years. For his service, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation presented him with their Conservation Communicator of the Year award.

The show was designed to promote Mississippi's natural resources by giving the public a view of what Mississippi had to offer the sportsman. Additionally, the Commission hoped to educate hunters, fishermen, and the general public about game management and conservation. Keep in mind that this was 1972; outdoor television shows were rare, and wildlife management was just beginning to become popular.

"I depended on the Commission's game and fisheries divisions and law enforcement for segment ideas. They were my talent, support, and team members," Tingle said. "We also often depended on other conservation organizations, such as Ducks Unlimited, to come on and expose our viewers to ongoing conservation needs and successes in Mississippi."

In 1986 public service time (free time) was no longer provided on commercial stations. The show was canceled, and Melvin transferred to the "Hunter Education" division as the Hunter Education Coordinator for District 4. In this capacity, he continued his dedication to educating the public and encouraging ethical hunting practices.

In 1990, Mississippi Public Broadcasting and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks came together in a joint effort to produce the current "Mississippi Outdoors" television show. Tingle returned to the role of host. This weekly, award winning show is in its 20th year of production.

"Very few people get to live out their dreams, but with God's grace and the support of my wife, Betty, Dr. Sam Polles with the MDWFP, and the good people of Mississippi, I have and continue to live my dream," Tingle said.

Tingle is also involved in a variety of community service organizations including the Newton County District Soil and Water Conservation Commission, Veteran's Cemetery Committee, Clarke-Venable Baptist Church, and Newton County Historical and Genealogy Society.

William E. Walker Jr. (posthumously)
Founder of the Walker Conservation Foundation and Bill's Dollar Stores

"To live amidst the peace and solitude of God's creation, to witness the beauty of the ever-changing outdoors, to marvel at and to experience the wonders of Bill Walkerwildlife and of all Nature – this is what brings a deep meaning to life. It helps us want to do what we can to leave this a better place than we found it." These are not just words from Bill Walker (1928 – 1993), they are a reflection of his passionate, life-long commitment to wildlife conservation and to the preservation of the habitats needed to support wildlife.

Walker believed that good stewardship of the land would preserve the plants, animals, and the natural communities that represent diversity of life. His successes and legacies have become even more important throughout the years, and today they serve as the guideposts for the conservation activities of the Walker Foundation.

Walker was a self-made businessman, having built and developed Bill's Dollar Stores into a very successful chain. He took over the helm of the company at the age of 19, and he was serving as Chairman of the Board of that company when he sold it in 1988.

Walker was known for his philanthropy and generous support of programs for the truly needy and for public education. Walker was an environmental pioneer. He was one of the first individuals to invest his own resources to implement successful and sustainable integrated land management programs for wildlife and the environment. Today, the ideas incorporated in his program continue to serve as a model for others to follow.

He utilized his own funds to enhance land in the Mississippi Delta, creating 2,000

Bruce Lewis presents Bill Walker's award to Marchie Skelton, Dir. of Walker Foundation (right).

Bruce Lewis presents Bill Walker's award to Marcie Skelton, director of the Walker Foundation (right).

acres of wildlife habitat through the construction of dikes and water control structures. The tract was turned over to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks and is preserved in perpetuity as a bottomland hardwood forest. He also played a key role in the development of the Tallahatchie National Wildlife Refuge.

In 1988, ABC filmed an "American Sportsman Special" at Cottonwood, a 10,000-acre tract of Mississippi bottom land owned by Walker. The ABC program provided an update on the status of North American waterfowl populations and was a celebration of over 50 years of the habitat work of Ducks Unlimited. In 1974, Cottonwood was home to 5,000 ducks. By 1994, up to 90,000 ducks were wintering at Cottonwood, including more than a dozen different species.

In 1993, Walker received the lifetime Conservation Achievement Award from the Mississippi Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. He was also a recipient of the Wildlife Conservation Award from the Mississippi Wildlife Federation.

The Walker Foundation continues to allocate resources to organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, the Delta Waterfowl Foundation, and others to sustain and enhance wildlife environments.

Morgan Freeman
Actor and outdoor enthusiast

The 'a-ha' moment was 25 years ago. Morgan Freeman was standing on a street corner in New York when his lungs took in a big blast of bus exhaust. Air pollution, water pollution, global environmental problems: Morgan decided to make a change.

Morgan Freeman

Morgan Freeman was unable to attend Mississippi Heroes of Conservation, but his work for wetlands and waterfowl was honored at the event.

Best known for his critically acclaimed roles in The Shawshank Redemption and Million Dollar Baby, most people are only vaguely aware of his environmental activism, and that's okay with him. Morgan knows his role. "We celebrities all know our trump card in this game is to pull focus," he says. "If we have an audience, and we have someone we can talk to and say, 'This is a good idea,' that's it."

Over the years, he's had a few good ideas, including the founding of two organizations to help with education and disaster preparedness. The latter, called PLAN!T NOW, focuses on hurricane preparedness through education, research and indirect relief in the form of scholarships, grants and micro loans. PLAN!T NOW advocates for individual and community preparedness with the goal of reducing loss of life and destruction caused by hurricanes. PLAN!T NOW also sends the message that communities must work to protect, restore, and strengthen their natural line of defense: the wetlands, forests, and floodplains that buffer against high winds and absorb high water.

Wetlands conservation is right up DU's alley, and Morgan and DU have been preaching this message for years. Morgan's melodious voice narrated the 2005 March of the Penguins, chronicling the story of the emperor penguin's mating trek across Antarctica – a trek that is considered one of nature's most arduous solutions to perpetuating a species.

Morgan's involvement with Ducks Unlimited, Sierra Club, and Earth Biofuels is one visible example of how he uses his well-known voice and celebrity status to advocate for a conservation cause.

For individual photos or profiles: Andi Cooper, 601.206.5463 or acooper@ducks.org.

Related:  mississippi

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