Montana Audubon works at the local, state and national policy levels to protect our natural heritage.
Each year at our annual Wings Across the Big Sky Bird Festival, Montana Audubon recognizes individuals whose work exemplifies meaningful conservation achievement. Check back on this page for 2020 nomination forms.
Mike Schwitters, “Schwitt” or “Mr. Freezeout” was recognized in 2019 for his life-time of contributions to the knowledge and conservation of wildlife, especially Snow and Ross’s geese in Montana and throughout the country. Ask anyone visiting Freezeout Lake, who the “go to” person is for information about this magnificent wildlife resource and the answer will always be “Mike” or “Schwitt”. He has read and recorded more neck collars on white geese at Freezeout and throughout North America than probably anyone else in the world. Based on neck collars alone, Mike has identified over 15,000 individual Snow Geese and over 1,000 individual Ross’s Geese, providing valuable information to researchers throughout the western hemisphere. His competent and diligent at data recording, analysis, and writing are exemplary and likely represent one of the finest long term, consistent records of bird migration for a localized geographic area. Beyond birding, Mike’s way of interacting and communicating with the public, including, hunters, birders, and other interested parties, are always informative and professional. He makes it easy for birders to consult his “Birding at Freezout Lake” brochure, and he regularly posts updates of bird migration on “MOB” (Montana Outdoor Birders). Mike has further lent his expertise to Montana by serving on Montana’s Bird Records Committee and guiding the Berkeley Pit Advisory Council with his knowledge of white geese. Beyond Montana, Mike spent many months on Bering Sea Islands west of Alaska, collecting significant migrant and Asian vagrant bird observations, and he is one of very few individuals to have reached the notable goal of observing more than 800 bird species north of Mexico. Beyond birds, Freezeout, and Montana, Mike’s reputation for being a positive force in avian conservation is unmistakable, and all who have worked with him would surely agree. (PHOTO: Bob Martinka accepts Outstanding Achievement Award for Mike Schwitters)
This year we recognized Harriet Marble, one of Montana Audubon’s most long-term supporters, mentors, and foundational contributors, for her lifetime of contributing to conservation across the state. Her efforts, including leadership on the Montana Audubon Council (the predecessor to what is now Montana Audubon), leadership with National Audubon, and leadership with the Upper Missouri Breaks Audubon, made headway in Montana not only for bird conservation, but for women in conservation across the state. As a founding member of the Audubon Council, present when the first meetings were held in 1979, the name Harriett Marble has become synonymous with the words bird conservation and the name of Montana Audubon. And she even served as one of the first female Interpretive Park Rangers in Glacier National Park, while being active with the league of Women Voters, raising a family in Chester Montana and contributing thousands of bird observations to conservation efforts. Some of her work has included supporting chapter efforts to implement Montana Audubon Council Journalism Awards, providing literature on grizzly bear biology and conservation in public libraries and schools, working on Bald and Golden Eagle recovery efforts, advocating for wilderness protection on National Forest lands, conducting Breeding Bird Surveys, promoting strong conservation features in National Forest Planning, and working to limit oil and gas development on public lands. Her talent for bird identification by sight and sound is expert, and she continues to lend her expertise as a regional eBird reviewer. Harriet is beloved by Audubon at all levels – most recently serving on the Montana Audubon board until 2018 – and continuing to act as a guiding light to current board members, staff, and future birders throughout Montana.
A year can go by quickly without getting much done, but for Sherry Ritter, each day is an opportunity to contribute to conservation or to building up the next generation of conservation leaders. Whether she is leading field trips of young 4th or 7th graders in the Bitterroot, or trips of more mature birders to special places like the Big Hole River, her patience and teaching style make one and all feel welcomed and excited to learn about birds and the natural world. Sherry has a teaching style like no other, and the one sentiment continuously expressed regarding this individual, is that their enthusiasm and love for birds and all wildlife is palpable, contagious, and unending. And she has been successful in passing this ethic down. Her son’s attribute their current conservation ethic and underlying knowledge of the birds and wildlife around them to her non-stop appreciation of nature, and her forethought in teaching them kindness toward the creatures we share the land with. But her contributions to conservation go beyond teaching. Sherry’s professional biology career spans three decades and three great Western states, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, and during her service she has contributed to citizen science projects like the Christmas Bird Count, Breeding Bird Surveys – completing 29 routes in those three states up until the late 90’s, curlew surveys and much more. She served on the Bitterroot Audubon board and as the Chair of the Important Bird Areas Committee helping shine light on the value of the Bitterroot River and Teller Wildlife Refuge during that time. We are lucky to have her reside as part of the Audubon community along the Bitterroot River.
These awards were presented at Montana Audubon’s annual Wings Across the Big Sky bird festival in Kalispell, 2018:
These awards were presented at our annual Bird Festival in Great Falls in 2017:
These awards were presented at our annual Bird Festival in Missoula in 2016. We recognize these individuals and groups for their excellent work:
These awards were presented at our annual Bird Festival in Helena in 2015. We recognize these individuals and groups for their excellent work: