Neal Maine Receives Lower Nehalem Community Trust's Inaugural Ferdun Conservation Award
Neal Maine (left), first recipient of the Ferdun Conservation Award receives a congratulatory handshake from Gareth and Georgenne Ferdun for whom the award is named.
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Contact: Dale Cramer Burr
NEHALEM, ME -- It was a standing ovation moment for local conservation icon Neal Maine as he received the first annual Ferdun Conservation Award at Lower Nehalem Community Trust's 7th annual Living Locally gala on June 7, 2014.
The award, established by the LNCT board in honor of Gareth and Georgenne Ferdun, two of the organization's dedicated founders who retired from the board earlier this year, was created to illuminate local citizens who have given significantly of their time and vision to the work of land conservation in the Nehalem region.
Along with many in the room that evening who have been touched by Neal's passion for land conservation, award presenter Lane deMoll (also a founder of LNCT) shared many stories of the way Neal has impacted people's lives.
Of those quoted by Lane, there was unanimous agreement that Neal Maine was their mentor—some by design, others by chance. As a high school biology teacher in Seaside, Oregon for 31 years Neal interacted with hundreds of students and affected the lives of several who have gone on to either careers in environmental fields or to have a relationship with the natural world that shapes their life experience.
"Neal saved my life," said restoration ecologist Doug Ray. Ray, one of Neal's students at Seaside High School in the 70s describes himself as a "non-traditional" student who struggled with a structured learning environment. "Neal saw this in me and he also saw the spark that nature flamed and took me out of the classroom and into the natural world. To this day, I use the lessons perfectly designed for my way of understanding and delivered so patiently by Neal. All of this has lead to the work I do everyday on behalf of the environment."
And Doug Ray underscored it all by sharing "beware, time spent with Neal Maine will change your life."
Katie Voelke, executive director of North Coast Land Conservancy, the organization that Neal founded in 1986, could not agree more.
"I remember the day I had an appointment with Neal so he could answer my questions about anadromous fish. Instead of talking about fish, we talked about everything. As it turned out, everything I talked about he was interested in and everything he talked about I was interested in. At the end of that day he offered me a job and I felt like the luckiest person in the world."
After seven years at the helm of NCLC, Katie still feels like the luckiest person in the world. "Neal will always be my mentor. I continue to learn from him and use his lessons every day in the way I do my job, the way I deal with people and the way I see nature."
Eugene-based writer Bonnie Henderson, met Neal through her brother Randall and joined them on a river trip on the John Day. "Neal is so humble and so broadly inclusive. So one day on the river, off the top of his head Neal pointed to a bird and said, we think of birds like that as all being the same, but they are individuals just as much as we are – that statement stopped me in my tracks and forever changed my perspective. Hanging out with Neal unhinged me and steered me."
"As a writer, Neal speaks my language. He is both a poet as well as a biologist. As a result of my friendship with Neal I now have a relationship to nature that has allowed me to write passionately about the topic inspired by Neal's broad vision for conservation. Neal is unlike any other conservationist I have ever known."
Gareth and Georgenne Ferdun, for whom the award is named and who presented the award to Neal, shared about his skills as a land negotiator and talented photographer.
"Not only was Neal a strong supporter of our efforts to launch LNCT, but he was able to negotiate some transfers of local property that I see as a major accomplishment for our watershed," said Gareth.
Georgenne added, "Neal has a way of inspiring people with the beauty and the knowledge of the natural world in our area – it makes so much different in conservation work. He loves the land and the creatures that live on it and shares that in his interactions, presentations and photography."
Presenting this award "not only allows us to publically honor Neal as a recipient, but also becomes a way to inspire others to keep this work going," Georgenne added.
The "award" presented to Neal was a collaborative and locally-inspired fine-craft piece. The hand-thrown pottery bowl was created by LNCT's chair Allan Olson and features calligraphy carved by Denise Clausen, a professional artist/calligrapher and resident of Sandlake in South Tillamook County.
"It was an honor to collaborate with Denise, to create the symbol that carries the spirit of this award," said Allan. "We congratulate Neal and hope that he will take the honor to heart as he continues to inspire us all in this work."
Humble by trade, when asked to speak about receiving his award, Neal did offer some of the secrets to his success.
"As a teacher, when I finally understood that people weren't going to school to get ready for something, they were going to school to have meaningful life experiences, well, that was the moment that I pushed my desk in the waste basket and started over," said Maine. "If nature is going to be part of your life, then it has to become part of your life and that means more than having taken a course in science."
If Neal has an agenda, it is quality of life for all coastal citizens and having resources that function well – significantly increasing the quality of all residents of the coast.
"The best way to interact with people and to have quality dialogue with them about this topic is to offer full respect for their ideas, find common ground and start from there," said Maine.
"Along with people, I have unending respect for nature – something that has taken a few million years to stack up. Understanding how it functions and works gives one the best possible opportunity to be a part of it. In my new adventure, the art photography business, I am able to communicate visually and portray these nuances to a broad audience."
"I'm bad at this award business because I worry about concentrating the focus on single individuals, given that we are all riding on the same train here. If the award helps advance the cause, then I go along with it and keep it focused, in this case, on the Ferduns and their values – I honor them for what they have helped to establish."
Neal went on to share about his new adventure – the creation of a "road show" he calls "The Art of Seeing." This visual presentation of Neal's photography is designed to be shown to groups of any size, in any locale, as a pathway to find new connections to help support environmental sustainability on the North Coast.
"In general, I am focusing on trying to have the photography communicate more than a picture of an animal and begin to expose folks to some of the natural resource thoughts and to see things in a new way."
"I don't have the answers, I'm just telling the truth as I experience it and want to get people ready for what's next so we can move conservation even further in our communities."
As a reciprocal gesture that evening, Neal gifted the Ferduns with a specially-chosen photo from thousands of his nature-based images. The photo of two eagles on the beach was selected as a symbol of his respect for what the Ferduns have helped to create and their inspiration to others.
"In coming years the LNCT board will solicit nominations for The Ferdun Conservation Award," said LNCT's executive director Dale Cramer Burr. "We hope the creation of this award will inspire more citizens to engage in the natural world and to those already working for the environment to know that they are part of the spirit of it all."
About Lower Nehalem Community Trust
Lower Nehalem Community Trust, a 501(c)(3), nonprofit, membership organization has been preserving and stewarding land in the Lower Nehalem region since 2002. Its programs include land conservation and stewardship, nature education, community garden and orchard and advocacy. For more information about LNCT, call (503) 368-3203, visit our website or stop by the office at 532 Laneda Avenue, Suite C in downtown Manzanita.