Due to an illness, John McMillan was unfortunately unable to receive this year’s Wild Steelhead Coalition “Conservation Award” in person. However, here are his prepared remarks:
I have spent much of the past twenty years studying steelhead as a scientist, and the past forty years fishing for steelhead. For me, and my home rivers, steelhead represents everything that is cool about fish and evolution. They are my passion, and that is one reason I shifted my professional focus from research to conservation.
I have now largely committed my life to – loving my wife – and doing my part to ensure that the next generation can have some of the opportunities I had as a young man. Everyone deserves that chance. Nothing comes easy though, and conservation work is a grind. It is not much different from the football mantra “three yards and a cloud of dust.” Every inch gained is well earned, except in steelhead conservation, there are no cheerleaders.
No one becomes a conservationist to earn accolades. The goal is to help ensure the future of a species, and in this case, the fisheries that wild steelhead provide. It is this interest that drove me to hike and snorkel thousands of miles to study steelhead, and fish for them. It is a primal connection between man and animal, a vestigial seed of our hunter-gatherer roots.
However, part of being human is also appreciating recognition for hard work and persistence to a cause greater than the individual. It feels good to know that someone notices the effort. For that, I feel honored and humbled to accept the Conservationist of the Year award from the Wild Steelhead Coalition.
The award does not mean I have achieved anything. Conservation is a life-long endeavor. I see the award as something to help maintain motivation to continue traveling long distances to meetings, pushing that extra half-mile in a snorkel survey, or spending the necessary long hours preparing data and manuscripts for publication. It is a reminder that my efforts matter, and that my work with Trout Unlimited is making a difference. Of course, my work at TU is not possible with the team of the Wild Steelhead Initiative. I owe them. All I can say is, thank you WSC, you just made twenty years of hard work feel a little bit sweeter – three yards at a time.