Conservation awards go to some outstanding people

Some outstanding conservationists won awards recently from the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Awards went to a couple of school girls, a scientist, a pair of car repair shop owners/operators, and a videographer.

With congratulations to all award winners, here they are.

David Courtemanch of Mt. Vernon

2017 Conservation Leadership Award for Lifetime Achievement 

For his deep knowledge of and dedication to protecting Maine’s waters

If you’ve fallen in love with one of Maine’s 6,000 lakes or ponds, if you’ve watched an osprey catch a river herring during its spring migration, or if you’ve reflected on how much progress we’ve made since our rivers were open sewers. For decades, Dave was Maine’s leading water quality expert as the head of the Department of Environmental Protection’s Environmental Assessment Division. In that capacity, Dave and his colleagues were on the front lines of understanding threats to Maine’s waters and developing innovative approaches for reducing toxic pollution, nutrient runoff, and municipal and industrial discharges to Maine’s precious waters.

Dave was at the center of nearly every conversation about protecting Maine’s rivers, lakes, streams, and coastal waters. Whether the issue was dioxin from paper mills, nitrogen pollution, upgrading river classifications, or the health of bugs in river sediments, Dave was often the first person to call.  For lawmakers, environmental advocates, and water quality experts across New England, a common refrain in the face of a new water quality issue was:  “Have you talked with Dave?” He has been a hero in the crusade to protect Maine’s waters, playing a key role in restoring the Kennebec and Penobscot rivers, helping design a safety net of protective rules and laws, and crafting a scientific approach that has been the foundation for good policy decisions.

Dave left DEP several years ago and remains one of Maine’s most accomplished water quality experts, and people around the state still call on him, literally, when confronting a new challenge to Maine’s water quality. “Did you talk with Dave?”

“Maine is so fortunate to have a professional of Dave’s caliber working on water issues across the state,” says NRCM Executive Director Lisa Pohlmann. “Dave deserves huge appreciation from all of us who rely on clean water for his lifetime of vitally important work.”

Addie Farmer and Lainey Randall of Portland

2017 People’s Choice Award

For their work to keep plastics and other pollution out of Casco Bay

As residents of Portland, Addie Farmer and Lainey Randall live nearly surrounded by ocean water—which means they also see the litter that pollutes it. So when a national environmental awareness competition challenged middle and high school students to engage their communities in addressing the problem of ocean debris, Addie and Lainey stepped up in a big way. They introduced the people in their community to NOAA’s Marine Debris Tracker mobile app, which helps users track the litter they find at beaches and provides data that helps experts determine marine debris problems at the local level.

Addie and Lainey set an ambitious goal for Portland to collect and log 5,000 pieces of trash in about a month. They conducted outreach activities informing local residents about the tracker app and encouraged them to use it to help protect the oceans. Addie and Lainey engaged teachers, parents, and students through posters, newsletters, morning announcements, and events; they testified before the Portland City Council, and even presented at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. They concluded their campaign with a cleanup and tracking day at East End Beach in June, and were joined by 30 volunteers who picked up litter and used the debris tracking app to log in data.

Together, they collected nearly 6,000 pieces of trash, bringing the month-long total to almost 8,000 items—3,000 more than their goal. Best of all, according to data from NOAA, residents have continued to pick up and track the litter in their community.

“It is wonderful to see such passion for the environment in the upcoming generation of Mainers,” says Pohlmann. “But Addie Farmer and Lainey Randall are inspirations for all, regardless of age, and since they are winners of our People’s Choice Award, many others obviously agree.”

Tony Giambro and Travis Ritchie of Paris Autobarn, South Paris

2017 Conservation Leadership Award

For their outstanding citizen and business leadership on climate and energy issues

Tony Giambro and Travis Ritchie, of the Paris Autobarn in South Paris, have been exemplary citizen activists and business leaders on many climate and energy issues over the past several years. Their leadership starts with the sustainability of their own “eco-friendly” garage. Paris Autobarn has set an example for other businesses not only for its use of solar and heat pumps but also for its electric vehicle charging station that is free and available to the public. Tony and Travis’s commitment doesn’t stop there; it includes multiple tours at the State House talking with legislators (including on NRCM’s Citizen Action Days). They have testified on solar and electric vehicle bills before the Legislature, and have engaged constructively—and successfully—with their own local lawmakers. Tony and Travis have spoken at NRCM press conferences, especially on solar, in the last few years, and eagerly signed onto NRCM’s first formal business/organizational petition to the Maine Public Utilities Commission in support of net metering.

Tony and Travis are effective and authentic advocates, because they are extremely passionate about their beliefs and technically knowledgeable about the issues. In 2017, while in the midst of ongoing support for solar policy, they quickly mobilized to oppose a bill to put new fees on electric vehicles, testifying and reaching out on their own to other electric vehicle owners to urge them to call legislators. For the last few years, they’ve taken a lead role in organizing an annual “ride and drive” in South Paris to help the public test drive the latest electric vehicles. “Climate change is the most urgent issue facing our environment, and businesses have an important role to play in addressing it,” says Pohlmann. “Tony Giambro and Travis Ritchie have become go-to technical experts, not only on the issues, but also on ways to get involved. All of us at NRCM appreciate everything they are doing to protect our climate.”

Martha Spiess of Freeport

2017 Conservation Leadership Award

For her work as a citizen activist/videographer volunteering hundreds of hours of video production for environmental protection

When a person is passionate about what they do, it’s obvious. And Martha Spiess is passionate about environmental protection. Martha has volunteered countless hours to NRCM’s priority issues, videotaping dozens of public hearings and other events, and most recently producing a video about the Allagash River, featuring long-time NRCM member and natural history author Dean Bennett.

Martha’s skills as a videographer and video editor were crucial in our efforts to defeat the weak mining rules that came before the Maine Legislature. When she couldn’t make the trip herself to the proposed mining site in Aroostook County, she generously entrusted her video equipment to NRCM staff members so we could film people in the region who are concerned about mining there. Martha also spent dozens of hours working with our staff to create two short mining videos, one targeted specifically to legislators, and one that delivered our message to NRCM members. Martha attended every meeting on the mining issue held by the Board of Environmental Protection. She was there at every legislative hearing and work session—and captured every moment on film. Her success can be measured not only in the high-quality videos she created but ultimately by the fact the Maine now has the strongest mining laws of any state in the nation.

“The hours Martha has put in to producing videos to help stop mining pollution in Maine has been incredible,” says Pohlmann. “Anyone who has seen her work knows that she has made tremendous contributions to protecting Maine’s environment. We are grateful for her tireless efforts.”


George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.