The Kootenay Conservation Program (KCP) announced the recipients of its annual Conservation Leadership Awards on Friday, October 2 as part of the 2020 KCP Virtual Fall Gathering that took place as an online conference over Zoom.

For the East Kootenay, the 2020 honours went to Penny Ohanjanian, who received a framed Pat Morrow photograph of the Brisco Wetlands, where she worked tirelessly on the Northern Leopard Frog re-introduction program as part of the province’s NLF Recovery Team.

For the West Kootenays, the 2020 recipient was Marlene Machmer, with Pandion Ecological Research Ltd., who received a framed photograph of a Steller’s jay by Jakob Dulisse.

East Kootenay

PENNY OHANJANIAN has made significant contributions to our understanding of species at risk in the Kootenays throughout her career.  She initiated and completed much of the early work on Northern Leopard frogs, and with Doug Adama discovered the remaining population in the Creston Valley.  Since that time, she has worked for the last 20+ years on this species, at the Upper Kootenay and Brisco re-introduction sites.  She has also served on the Northern Leopard Frog Recovery Team.

Penny’s work on the distribution of Long-billed curlews led to the Skookumchuck Prairie IBA designation, one of two IBAs in the Kootenays. She also completed much of the early inventory work on Coeur d’Alene Salamanders. At the time, there were only four known locations and the species was red-listed in BC. Thanks to Penny’s work, it was downlisted and is now provincially designated as a species of special concern.

She has completed a number of research and inventory projects on a range of other species, including Western Screech-Owls, Flammulated owls, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Grebes, and invertebrates. Penny has also conducted inventory and assessments of important or threatened habitats in the East Kootenay, such as upland and dryland wetlands, and grasslands.

Throughout her career, Penny has generously shared her knowledge and passion for these habitats and species, mentoring many other biologists in the region, and providing training and work experience for local Indigenous citizens. Her devotion to her work, her high standards for data collection and reporting, her willingness to share her knowledge gained from decades of experience, and her kind and generous manner makes her a deserving recipient of the 2020 Conservation Leadership Award.

Read more about Penny’s work in Faces & Places.

West Kootenay

MARLENE MACHMER has been an outstanding leader in conservation in the Kootenays for decades. She is an exceptional field biologist who provides innovative ideas to conservation and management, develops collaborative approaches, and has inspired many young biologists in our region.

Marlene has passionately led many initiatives including a reptiles at risk project, a reptile sanctuary in Warfield, heron rookery and osprey reporting and conservation with private landowners, and Yellow-breasted chat conservation to name a few.

Her conservation fingerprints are present throughout the Kootenays, including many management plans for parks and conservation properties; land remediation and conservation plans for highly impacted industrial lands; wildlife interpretations for the new Kootenay-Boundary ecosystem field guide; local inventory and stewardship projects on several listed species (e.g., Great Blue Herons, Yellow-breasted chats, North American racers), and road kill mortality.

Marlene represents local conservation issues on broader scales including as a member of the BC Forest Practices Board, the Elk Valley Cumulative Effects Management Framework, the Provincial Yellow-breasted chat Recovery Team, the Pacific Northwest Great Blue Heron Working Group, the BC Herptofauna and Road Ecology Working Group, and the Salmo Watershed Streamkeepers Society. One of her greatest contributions has been as a mentor to biologists in the region including her nominators for this award. As a female in the field of wildlife biology, she is also an inspiration to young women in a male-dominated field.

Marlene has been an active member of the Kootenay Conservation Program including co-hosting the Lower Columbia Conservation Action Forum, providing webinars, and co-organizing Critter Day to name a few. She has developed collaborative partnerships with the Ktunaxa Nation, assisting them with technical expertise, as well as industry, stewardship groups, and other KCP partners. Her long-term Great Blue Heron monitoring and stewardship project has engaged private landowners, naturalist clubs, and others in identifying and protecting important heron rookeries.

Marlene volunteers countless hours of her time in order to improve the outcome of conservation projects all the while maintaining extremely high professional and ethical standards.

Read more about Marlene’s work in Faces & Places.