Bill Hilts Jr.: Niagara County Federation honors 2021 conservationists | Outdoors

Second Amendment

It is important to honor the people who work behind the scenes to get the job done year after year as it relates to our natural resources. Conservation – the wise use of our natural resources – tops the list, but important aspects that involve hunter safety education, hunting, fishing and the shooting sports all come into play as well.

The Niagara County Federation of Conservation Clubs held its annual awards banquet earlier this month to honor its 2021 award winners, presented in Newfane at The Brookside. The banquet was sold out.

Oliver Jones Memorial Award (Sportsperson of the Year) – Max Hillman of Youngstown, Three-F Club. His dedication to conservation and community service did not go unnoticed despite being a quiet behind-the-scenes person. “He doesn’t get the recognition he deserves,” said Rich Falcone, a previous recipient of the award. For several years, he has used his skeet shooting skills to raise money for the Western New York Cancer Society’s “Shoot for A Cure” program. Having been a member of the 3-F Conservation Club for 55-plus years, he has provided invaluable help. His raising of pheasants and ducks for stocking in the wild was a great contribution. Using his mechanical skills, he partnered with Falcone to maintain the skeet and trap machines used for the National Skeet Shooting Association’s registered shoots, which Hillman spends many hours on, making sure things run smoothly. Each year, Hillman provides gun safety and shooting instruction for the Youth Day Pheasant Hunt. He also assists with the Honored American Veterans Afield Program, which helps disabled veterans return to the outdoor community.

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Leroy Winn Memorial Award (Club of the Year) – Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Association. The club continues to educate the fishing public through monthly seminars at meetings from April to September. The organization coordinates the pen-rearing project in Olcott, stocking more than 112,000 Chinook salmon and 17,000 steelhead in 2021 with the help of volunteers and the Town of Newfane marina. Members assist with the Wilson and Youngstown projects that help to ensure a strong future for the Lake Ontario salmon and trout fishery. The club hosts several fishing events in July for members, including three events over the course of two days. The group is also heavily involved with the Greater Niagara Fishing Expo and coordinate the Salmon School every year.

Carl Lass Memorial Award (Youth of the Year) – Rayne Cooper of Ransomville, Three-F Club.

Rayne, 14, goes to Wilson Central School and is a member of the Junior Honor Society and the volleyball team. Outside of school, she enjoys shooting, hunting and fishing. She has been a member of the 3F Youth Program, is proficient with the .22 target rifle, and has been called “Annie Oakley” because of her skills on the skeet field. She participates in the club’s pheasant hunting program with her family and friends. At the annual Youth Day Pheasant Hunt, she was a group leader. When she found out that one of her youth mentors had cancer, she put together a fundraising effort to honor him by placing collection jars throughout the community and sold wristbands with the donations going to Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center’s pediatric ward and the WNY Veterans Hospice Willow Lodge. More than $9,000 was raised.

Milford “Pinky” Robinson Memorial Award (Great Lakes Fisheries): Matt Yablonsky, Youngstown. Yablonsky is a longtime member of the Niagara County Fisheries Development Board. For the last couple of years, he has handled the salmon and trout pen-rearing project in the Niagara River at Youngstown on his own (with some help from wife Kristen and a few other volunteers). He also donates trips for charity fishing events. As a full-time charter captain, he is an ambassador for our Great Lakes fisheries.

Ken Berner Memorial Award (Person, Family or Organization dedicated to Conservation) – Ashley Butcher of Lockport. Butcher’s name is synonymous with the shooting sports in Western New York, the state and around the country. As one of the top women’s FITASC shooters in the U.S., she has a long list of accomplishments. However, she was also honored for her work behind the scenes to help other women’s shooters, veterans through Honored American Veterans Afield, and the next generation of shooters. In 2021, she celebrated her 10th anniversary of running “Clays for Heroes,” a fundraiser that has collected more than $100,000 for HAVA.

John Daly Memorial Award (Elected or Appointed official) – Rebecca Wydysh of Lewiston, County Legislator. Rebecca J. “Becky” Wydysh is the chairperson of the Niagara County Legislature and has been a passionate supporter of the Second Amendment and conservation causes. Just in the last year, she has overseen the passage of legislation including the forming of a Niagara County Gun Owners’ Rights Advisory Panel; opting Niagara County into allowing 12- and 13-year-olds to hunt deer with shotguns and crossbows; hiring a special deputy to conduct pistol permit background checks to help clear out the backlog of applications; and opposing liability on firearms manufacturers for guns that were legally sold.

Victor Fitchlee Lifetime Achievement Award – Dale Shank of Ransomville, 3F Club. Shank has dedicated his life to promoting conservation in Niagara County. He has been a NCFCC delegate since 1984, representing the 3-F Conservation Society (since 1992), NRA (since 1984), and the Iroquois Arms Collectors (since 1985). An avid sportsman, he has been a longtime member of the 3-F Club pheasant program. Beginning 1995, he would release pheasants multiple times a week to the benefit of the other members. He has been the chairman of numerous fishing contests/events. An advocate of safe shooting, he is an NRA-trained youth rifle coach, a certified range officer, and has been a certified pistol instructor for more than 26 years. He also has served 28 years as a NYS Hunter Safety instructor. He put all these certifications to good use in support of the 3-F Club youth program and becoming the youth director in 2008, a position he still holds. A proud Navy veteran, he helped start the Honored American Veterans Afield (HAVA) program at 3-F.

John Long Sr. Memorial Award (Top Business) – Summit Print LLC, Lockport. This year’s winner has won this award before. It shows its dedication in supporting the needs of the NCFCC. The Butcher family – John, Cookie and Ashley – all work together in supporting the Federation and the community needs. This business is also a strong supporter of hunting, shooting, conservation, and a promoter of women’s and youth outdoor activities.

President’s Award – Bob Spencer of Gasport, Hartland Conservationists Club. Federation president Chris Schotz threw accolades at Spencer for being his go-to guy whenever he needed help with anything.

Don Bronson Memorial Conservation Wall: Dale Shank, Ransomville and Dale Dunkelberger, Lockport. We’ve told you about Dale Shank of Ransomville. The other Dale this year was Dale Dunkelberger of Lockport. He is also a staunch supporter of everything hunting, fishing and the shooting sports. He serves on the Conservation Fund Advisory Board in Albany, representing Region 9; has been a delegate to the NY State Conservation Council for more than 25 years; has been a hunter education instructor for more than 30 years; and was named to the NYS Outdoorsman Hall of Fame in 2021.

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