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WA Man Wins National Conservation Award

May 24, 2010

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Fifty years of activism, and Billy Frank Jr. is still going strong; the Washington man has received the highest award from a national conservation group. Frank is the Nisqually tribal elder who has chaired the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission for more than 20 years. He's being honored by The Wilderness Society for long-time service to conservation causes.

Starting in the 1960s, Frank became a well-known, and often jailed, activist for demanding that the U.S. government honor the fishing rights included in Native American treaties, rights eventually reaffirmed in a federal court decision. He has also spent 40 years coordinating cleanup and management of the Nisqually River watershed, and says big improvements don't happen overnight.

"You've got to be very patient in making it happen, and we just opened the dikes at the mouth of the Nisqually River. The estuary's wide open now; it's all been diked up in the past with farmers. It's not an overnight thing; it's a long-term thing."

In Frank's view, Washington's biggest challenge today is restoring wild habitat, and learning to share it with its original 'residents.'

"The salmon and the animals have to have a home. Y'know, we pretty well left them out. And the habitat, it needs so much help, but we can't give up. We've got to stay the course and bring management back to the natural resource world that we live in."

Frank says activism has changed a lot in the past five decades, and he thinks the Internet is a good thing, allowing better communication. But he adds that with an online audience it's also become easier to criticize than to cooperate.

Billy Frank Jr. is the 25th person to receive the Robert Marshall Award, so named for one of the founders of The Wilderness Society.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA