By Steven Bradley, Clemson University Relations
A Clemson University professor will be honored by the National Audubon Society with one of its top conservation awards at its annual gala in New York City on Feb. 7, 2019.
Alumni Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology J. Drew Lanham will receive this year’s Dan W. Lufkin Prize for Environmental Leadership for his tireless advocacy to protect birds and build a new generation of conservation leaders, the National Audubon Society announced.
While Lanham called being honored with the award “inexplicably sweet,” he also noted that being recognized for work he loves doing makes it all the better.
“It also carries with it a great deal of responsibility to make sure that you’re carrying the legacy of conservation forward,” said Lanham, a master teacher and certified wildlife biologist in Clemson’s forestry and environmental conservation department. “I want to make sure that it’s not an award or recognition for what’s been done, but a recognition of what can be done going forward, to push what’s been done in the past forward into something better.”
The Lufkin Prize is awarded to those who have dedicated their lives to the environment and on-the-ground conservation. In his two decades at Clemson, Lanham has worked to understand the impact of forest management on birds and wildlife, as well as how humans think about nature. As a widely published author and award-nominated poet, he has also inspired a new and diverse generation of conservationists and environmental stewards through his powerful writing and leadership in diversifying birding and conservation.
“I want it to be a momentum to get more done, not just for birds, but for bridging this whole conservation conversation that I’m always talking about, I think it validates that work,” he said. “I want that validation to be motivation and inspiration, not just for me, but for others to understand that. I mean, I’m pretty different in this field, in part because of what I studied in the way the culture blends with conservation, but I also happen to be a black man doing it, a Southerner doing it. I think it’s important for people to understand that sort of difference makes a difference. That being different in the field means that you can make a difference in different ways.”
Lanham was also recently appointed as Provost Distinguished Professor, a special designation awarded by the provost to recognize outstanding scholars who are highly productive and build a national reputation for Clemson University.
“Dr. Lanham is a renowned conservationist and poet and is a great representative of the significant scholarly work at Clemson University,” said Robert H. Jones, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost. “We are very proud of him and believe that this honor is well deserved.”
Also an acclaimed speaker in addition, Lanham’s work focuses on a passion for wildlife, wild places and the personal and societal conflicts that sometimes put conservation and culture at odds. His award-winning book, “The Home Place-Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature,” exemplifies his mission to define environmental sustainability and conservation in new ways by bridging the gaps between advocacy, education, inspiration and conservation.
Lanham, chair of the advisory board for Audubon South Carolina, said the provost professorship would allow him to continue to explore the ideas of blending culture, conservation and communication together and expand his program.
“It also fits perfectly with the land-grant mission here at Clemson,” he said. “Again, this is validation of conservation and culture being an important part of the land-grant mission. It’s more fuel to fire that’s burned inside me for a long time to have birds inform how we think about nature at large — writing stories about birds, writing stories about how birds impact people’s lives, how people impact birds’ lives, how we’re all sort of interwoven together. This provost professorship gives me a chance to be even more of a bird brain than I already am.”