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Saturday, September 19, 2009

‘Ecodaredevils' Award honors those who stand up for environment

By Nick Gevock of The Montana Standard - 09/19/2009

Kathleen Kennedy was admonished by her own school board for showing "The Story of Stuff," a film about the environmental costs of rampant consumerism, but the biology teacher persisted.

The teacher from Big Sky High School in Missoula held firm and showed the film, saying it delivered an important message and cited its examples with good sources.

"As a teacher of high school students, I have to do something to get their attention," Kennedy said Friday at Montana Tech. "This (film) does a great job of putting things we buy in the context of a greater system." Such resolve is exactly what J. Nichols, a sea turtle researcher and conservationist, had in mind last year when he helped found the "ecodaredevil" awards. Nichols on Friday presented this year's awards to Kennedy and Katie Makarowski, an aquatic biologist working to conserve and restore rivers and streams.

Nichols was among the first researchers to prove that sea turtles migrate from the coast off of Japan to the west coasts of North and South America. He has authored dozens of scientific papers and book chapters and for years has worked on sea turtle and ocean conservation and restoration. His work has taken him to Mexico, Indonesia and along the West Coast, among other places.

Nichols said his inspiration for the award was his childhood heroes — Jacque Cousteau and Evel Knievel. While the two seem an odd mix, Cousteau spurred Nichols' interest in the oceans and inspired him to earn a doctorate degree in wildlife ecology and evolutionary biology.

Yet Knievel, it's little known, was a conservationist as well. He once hitchhiked with a bull elk rack from Montana to Washington, D.C., to draw attention to the culling of elk in Yellowstone National Park, an act that got him a meeting with officials.

"Would anybody classify Evel as an environmentalist and a conservationist — absolutely not," said Matt Vincent, director of the Butte-based Clark Fork Watershed Education Program and an Ecodaredevil award sponsor.

Nichols said growing up he emulated Knievel. He and his friends were always taking jumps on their bicycles and mimicking other stunts from the famous daredevil.

But he took a lot of lessons from Knievel beyond trying dangerous feats. Most of all, Nichols took away that everybody fails at times.

That's not a reason to quit, he said. In fact, he said every successful person has failed and yet learned from it to achieve great things. Nichols said that's a lesson people working to protect the environment need to take from conservationists such as Kennedy, Makarowski, one that Knievel always illustrated throughout his career.

"You undoubtedly will experience that burning, biting feeling that Evel Knievel did when he didn't land the jump, seeing places where you loved to spend time destroyed," he said. "But if you don't get back up, then we all lose, the planet loses." Reporter Nick Gevock may be reached at nick.gevock@mtstandard.com.

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