Allison Keating: (603) 271-1743
Nicola Whitley: (603) 271-3211
April 23, 2019

CONCORD, NH — The New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission recently honored several individuals with the 2018 Commission Awards of Excellence for outstanding efforts in the conservation field in support of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department’s mission.

The 2018 Commission Awards of Excellence (presented on April 18, 2019) were as follows.

Ronald Sowa, Manchester, NH

Nominated by his daughter posthumously, Ron Sowa was a volunteer who was passionate about organizations that furthered his love of the outdoors and wildlife. A fishing guide and avid angler, Sowa served as president of the Merrimack River Valley chapter of Trout Unlimited and on their Board of Directors, and as Vice President of Fly Fishers International North Eastern Council. He was the coordinator of the Fly Fish NH Show and was also an instructor at Trout Unlimited’s Kids Camp.

A longtime friend of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, Sowa volunteered in the Department’s Watershed Education Program, was a board member of Operation Game Thief, and assisted on fish stocking days and at Discover WILD NH Day events.

Being a volunteer is admirable enough, but Sowa also had the ability to excite others in the area of volunteerism and he served as Executive Director of the NH Wildlife Federation until he fell ill. His close colleague, Janice Boynton, was quoted in the nomination as saying, “New Hampshire’s sportspeople lost one of their greatest advocates,” when describing Ron.

An inspiring quote from his nomination was that, “[Ron] was absolutely dedicated to making the world a better place—something he has roundly accomplished many times over…we were fortunate enough to know him.”

Town of Londonderry Conservation Commission, Londonderry, NH

Since 2011, the Londonderry Conservation Commission has been promoting sustainable forestry and ecologically based habitat management for state-endangered species, nongame species as well as game species, including ruffed grouse, moose, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and the American woodcock.

Most recently, the Londonderry Conservation Commission partnered with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department to manage approximately 75 acres of shrubland and young forest to benefit the New England cottontail and other shrubland species. They have also supported the Department’s efforts in regional conservation programs focused on the monitoring of turtle populations and the design of habitat improvement campaigns.

Through cooperation with the Department, private landowners, and others, the Londonderry Conservation Commission has also preserved an additional 150 acres of natural open space adjacent to their 1,500 acre Musquash Conservation Area. The Musquash Conservation Area is widely recognized as providing protection for critical wildlife, as well as wetland and forest resources for mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles.
The Londonderry Conservation Commission has promoted recreational opportunities on these parcels, such as hunting, hiking, wildlife watching, snowmobiling, horseback riding, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. They also support educational opportunities at the annual Musquash Field Day for anglers, hunters, and wildlife watchers.

Marge Badois, who accepted the award on behalf of the Conservation Commission said, “Of course we are honored, and I feel like I should turn around and give the award for all the help Fish and Game has given us including with education and identifying special species within our town. It was definitely a collaborative effort and a great partnership.”

Southeast Land Trust of New Hampshire, Exeter, NH

The Southeast Land Trust of New Hampshire’s mission is to protect and sustain the significant lands in our communities for clean water, outdoor recreation, fresh food, wildlife, and healthy forests. As a testament to their commitment and attention to detail, Southeast Land Trust is certified as a land trust at the national level by the Land Trust Alliance, which is no easy task. Dedicated efforts have enabled the Trust to conserve, with easements, 13,770 acres while parcels that they own outright total 5,610 acres. Accepting the award on behalf of Southeast Land Trust are Debbie Goard and Phil Auger.

One of their most recent acquisitions was accomplished in partnership with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, and includes over 1,500 acres in the town of Barrington named Stonehouse Forest. This property provides tremendous wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities including fantastic fly fishing. There is also substantial future forest management planned to improve the health of the forest and create successional habitat.

In 2018, The Southeast Land Trust partnered with both the Merrymeeting Lake Association and Moose Mountain Regional Greenways to help in an ongoing effort to conserve over 2,000 acres in New Durham called Birch Ridge Community Forest. The Trust has also executed improvements on such properties as Piscassic Greenway in Newfields and Newmarket, and the Burley Farms property in Epping which included logging and brontosaurus work to make wildlife openings for birds, reptiles, and other small and large animals.

The Southeast Land Trust has actively promoted making its conserved lands available to the public for outdoor recreation such as wildlife viewing, hunting, fishing, hiking, and more.

The Kilham Bear Center, Lyme, NH

The Commission’s highest honor, the Ellis R. Hatch Junior Award of Excellence, was awarded to Ben Kilham, the founder of the Kilham Bear Center. Kilham founded the Center for orphaned bear cubs in 1993 and is now known as a worldwide expert on bear rehabilitation. The Kilham Bear Center serves as a model for wildlife rehabilitation centers throughout the United States and beyond. Kilham was recently asked to help the Chinese government with their National Panda Recovery Program.

Kilham became interested in bears when he encountered an injured and orphaned cub in 1992. Over 25 years of studying black bears has contributed greatly to Kilham’s knowledge of their behavior, and he has worked cooperatively with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department on research projects related to the ecology, reproductive success, survival, social behavior, and rehabilitative success of black bears. He also works to educate the public on how to co-exist with bears while promoting bear conservation worldwide.

The Kilham Bear Center initially worked with only one or two cubs annually, but by 2012 the Center received 30 cubs, including some from Vermont and Massachusetts. Ben is the only licensed bear rehabilitator in New Hampshire. Currently, the Kilham Center is caring for 63 cubs, most of which arrived this past fall.

Ben Kilham accepted the award with his wife, Debbie, and said, “We appreciate the award. I got started when Don Normandeau [former Director at NH Fish and Game] gave me my first permit. Jim Paine [former NH Fish and Game Commissioner and a veterinarian] gave me the opportunity to study bear behavior that wouldn’t have taken place otherwise. Fish and Game at the time was interested in home ranges and populations of bears, but my approach was to find out how they behave.”

Kilham is helped in his mission by his sister Phoebe and his wife Debbie.

There are seven award categories for New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission Awards of Excellence. If you are aware of a worthy individual or organization, please consider nominating them for the 2019 awards. Nominations must be submitted by December 31 of this year. For a description of the award categories and a nomination form, visit