Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar awarded a prestigious Partners in Conservation Award to the Friends of Nevada Wilderness, which supports Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge and other wilderness areas in Nevada.

Celebrating its 27th anniversary, Friends of Nevada Wilderness is dedicated to preserving Nevada’s wildlife heritage. The Friends includes diverse partners, such as business and scouting organizations, faith–based and service organizations. More than three million across of wilderness have been designated across Nevada.

The Partners in Conservation Award is given to organizations and individuals who partner with others to conserve and restore land, help wildlife thrive, address water issues and forge solutions to complex natural resource challenges.

Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuge was honored this year with a Southeast Regional Director’s award for its ability to overcome obstacles. The organization supports eight refuges—Atchafalaya, Bayou Sauvage, Bayou Teche, Big Branch Marsh, Bague Chitto, Breton, Delta and Mandalay. First came Hurricane Katrina in 2005 which displaced three–quarters of the group’s members. Then–president Jim Schmidt and his wife Bonnie are credited with keeping the Friends alive by bringing in new members and organizing work–play days.

Once a month, Friends and volunteers gather to work on a specific project, such as mulching gardens, removing invasives or planting, and then take a canoe ride on Bayou Lacombe. “And there’s always plenty of food,” says Brett Henry, who responded to one of the calls for volunteers and is now president–in–waiting, a new position created to allow a more orderly transfer of leadership responsibilities. A new membership chair is responsible for adding members and keeping current members engaged.

The Louisiana refuges also had to cope with the impact of the Gulf oil spill in 2010. Current president Denise Stearns said the “Friends membership swelled with people who wanted to do something to be part of the recovery effort.” Now the Friends group sports 150 members, many of whom help run the 15–year old Wild Things Festival in October—which brings about 4,000 people to the refuge each year and raised $8,000 for refuge programs last year.