Order of the Bighorn Award Winners 2021

(L-R) Gerry Hurley, Jim Smith, Rex Coupland, Heinz Plontke, Minister Nixon and Premier Kenney

The Order of the Bighorn recognizes Albertans for their exceptional volunteer efforts toward fish, wildlife and habitat conservation. Since its inception, 114 individuals and organizations have received the prestigious award.

“The Order of the Big Horn Awards celebrates the critical role in strengthening conservation in Alberta and protecting Alberta’s environment for current and future generations. Bringing back these awards builds on conservation initiatives such as the grizzly bear recovery, Moose Lake management plan and investments in our parks while also improving outdoor recreation experiences for all Albertans."

Jason Nixon, Minister of Environment and Parks

From conducting interdisciplinary research on sustainability, corporate social responsibility and land use to advancing habitat and wildlife conservation to increasing sustainable public lands access and recreational activities, this year’s winners have demonstrated outstanding volunteer environmental conservation efforts.

In celebration of Alberta Environment and Parks’ 50th anniversary, Alberta’s government resumed the Order of the Bighorn Awards to provide an opportunity to recognize individuals whose voluntary efforts contribute to achieving shared conservation goals in the province.

Past award winners include Kerry Wood and Ann and Sandy Cross.

The 2021 winners are:

  • Jim Smith – A retired agrologist with more than four decades of experience in environmental management, land valuation and land stewardship, Smith has conducted research and widely shared his expertise on sustainability, land stewardship tools and other related areas. In 2019, he and his wife donated a conservation easement on 140 acres to the Legacy Land Trust Society.
  • Heinz Plontke – A past president, director and life member of the Lethbridge Fish & Game Association and the Alberta Fish & Game Association (AFGA), Plontke was previously awarded the Fulton Award for his dedication to conservation and continued volunteering efforts. His volunteer work includes transplanting bighorn sheep, planting trees and raising and releasing pheasants and wild turkeys. He has worked closely on projects in southern Alberta with the Alberta Conservation Association, Fish & Wildlife, and Ducks Unlimited.
  • Dr. Rex Coupland – A retired veterinarian with experience working with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Coupland graduated with a doctorate of veterinary medicine and worked as a wildlife veterinarian for several years with Canadian Wildlife Service. For many years, he has played an important role in assisting with the management and treatment of injured birds of prey in northwestern Alberta.
  • Calvin Rakach – With more than 30 years experience in representing trail users and assisting in provincial land use exercises, Rakach has provided volunteer work for the Integrated Land Management Program, Land Use Framework and Alberta’s Plan for Parks working groups. He is the founding president of the Alberta Outdoors Coalition, a group of provincial outdoors organizations promoting responsible and sustainable access to Alberta’s public lands. At a national level, he helped establish the Motorcyclist Confederation of Canada, the ATV/Quad Council of Canada and the National Trails Coalition.
  • Gerry Hurley – An active volunteer in numerous community groups including Alberta Parks, Fish and Wildlife, and the WildSmart program, Hurley has been recognized with the Canmore Mayor’s Award for his volunteer contributions. Among his many volunteer accomplishments, Hurley has spent more than 15 years assisting with the Kananaskis Country grizzly bear monitoring and aversive conditioning program.

Detailed biographies of each winner are provided at Order of the Bighorn.

Quick facts

  • The Order of the Bighorn Awards was first established in 1982. The original name was inspired by the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.
  • The Order of the Bighorn Awards are made possible thanks to the support of sponsors and will be held every two years. Sponsors include:
    • Bass Pro/Cabela’s
    • Alberta Hunter Education Instructors’ Association
    • Alberta Conservation Association
    • Wild Sheep Foundation Alberta
  • Nominations for this year’s awards were evaluated by a judging panel based on a demonstration of overall merit to environmental conservation and stewardship.
  • The adjudication panel consisted of seven former Alberta Environment and Parks employees.
  • Winners received the highly coveted Bighorn sheep bronzed bust, as well as a medallion, at an event held on Dec. 2.