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‘Refuge Hero’ Lonnie Williamson

By Bill Hilts Sr.

When this writer queried Lonnie Williamson about interviewing him relative to an article for “OWAA Legends” in Outdoors Unlimited, he responded in his typical fashion: “I am not a legend. Legends are dead. I am not dead. I know that because I occasionally have sex — mostly in my dreams, but sex nonetheless.”

But, Williamson’s friends are legion. The group cuts a wide swath all across North America and beyond, and includes wildlife professionals, educators at all levels of the educational scene, lawmakers, government agency people, writers of all disciplines, as well as sportsmen and sportswomen, and all will agree that the mild-mannered Georgian is indeed a “living legend.” He is honored, loved and respected.

His contributions to the conservation world are numerous and widely varied. His opinions are always well thought out and liberally saturated with good, common sense.

Williamson is a Georgia boy, born in Jackson County, Ga., on Nov. 12, 1939. His education began at Jefferson High School in Jefferson, Ga., where he graduated in 1957. His college degrees include A.B.J. degree in 1960 from the University of Georgia School of Journalism; a master’s degree in wildlife management in 1969 from the University of Georgia School of Forest Resources; and post-graduate studies in 1971-72 in natural resources economics from the University of Maryland.

Williamson’s professional career began in 1958 as a reporter with the Athens Banner Herald newspaper, Athens, Ga., and spanned a myriad of positions, ranging from newspapers to an advertising agency to the U.S. Postal Service, to research associate with the Southeast Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia.

In 1970 he became a part of the prestigious Wildlife Management Institute in Washington, D.C., as editor of the Outdoor News Bulletin. From 1975-1986 he served as secretary of the Institute and from 1987-1999 he filled the role of vice president. While at the Institute, in 1998 Williamson was honored at a Washington reception for helping raise awareness of the National Wildlife Refuge System among outdoor media. For this, Williamson received the “Refuge Hero” award from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Naturally, his awards are many. His first recognition was in 1974 when the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers Association honored him with the Talbot Denmead Memorial Award for conservation writings.

OWAA has honored him three times. First with the Jade of Chiefs Award in 1983, then in 2000 he was named the recipient of the coveted Ham Brown Award for outstanding service. In 1991-1992, with OWAA’s highest honor, he was elected to the office of president.

Other awards include his selection for inclusion in the book National Leaders of American Conservation, published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1985; in 1987 the Distinguished Service Award from the U.S. Forest Service for conceiving and developing the Challenge Cost-Share Program.

Also, in 1990 he received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Military Fish and Wildlife Association; 1996 the Distinguished Service Award from the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service for helping develop the Seeking Common Ground Program to restore federal rangelands; and 1998 a Special Commendation for Exceptional Contributions to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Williamson says one of his great joys in life was when he authored conservation writings in 1984-1995 for Outdoor Life magazine. He also free-lanced his popular conservation writings to numerous other magazines and periodicals.

He served as president, chairman of the board and director in the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers Association. He also served as vice president, board chairman and member of the board of directors for OWAA.

From 1992-93 he served on the board of directors of The Pinchot Institute for Conservation. He was also on the board of directors for the Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage from 1992-1996. Until recently, he was the Southeast Field Coordinator for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Currently he is a member of the Wildlife Society and the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

Lonnie Williamson says: “My time is now spent on the farm where I was born, where my father was born and where my grandfather was born. In fact, we all were born in the same room in front of the same fireplace.”

“A herd of beef cattle and a border collie take much of my time now. However, I still find time to visit national forests and wildlife refuges in the southeast to help keep the management machines going so that my three grandchildren will have places to have the fun I have had on federal public lands.”

“I still take at least one trip a year to Europe, Africa or South America to visit with friends and acquaintances in the wildlife conservation business and offer my 2-cents worth to help, if I can.”

“All in all, life is good. And with God’s help, it will get gooder!”

Life member Bill Hilts Sr. works as a freelance writer, editor (New York State Conservation Comments) and writes a column for Lake Ontario Outdoors. Hilts is a past president of the New York State Outdoor Writers Association and makes his home in Sanborn, NY.

© Outdoor Writers Association of America