|Steve Sams poses with a Toyota Tundra truck at the Field & Stream gala in Washington, D.C., this past week. Back home in Arizona, Sams will choose his own color for the 2014 truck he won as the magazine’s Conservation Hero of the Year.|
Six months after Field & Stream featured Prescott Valley's Steve Sams as one of its three Heroes of Conservation for the month of March, magazine officials named him 2013 Conservation Hero of the Year on Sept. 19. The program, now in its eighth year, honors volunteers involved in grassroots projects that protect and maintain fish and wildlife habitat.
With his background of volunteerism, it's no wonder. "Steve's volunteerism has the potential to positively impact conservation for generations to come," Field & Stream Editorial Director Anthony Licata said. "Sportsmen can achieve far more by working together, and Steve's work in Arizona really exemplifies that ideal."
Sams graduated from being a Minnesota Boy Scout, FFA member and State Star Forester to a 37-year stint with the U.S. Forest Service, during which time he started an Adopt a Trail program in Payson that has grown to 1,100 volunteers.
A 25-year volunteer with the National Wild Turkey Federation, Sams is president of the State Chapter in addition to being vice president of the local chapter. He's raised pheasants, mentored more than 2,000 youth through pheasant hunts and turkey camps, and trained many hunter education instructors so he could retire from that end of the spectrum.
He is a charter member of the Hunting and Angling Heritage Work Group, which now brings together more than 30 sportsmen's groups to maximize the impact of all of the wildlife organizations.
"If it wasn't for volunteerism, so many neat things would never happen," he said, likening it to barn raisings of yore, where neighbors helped one other. "The (Conservation Hero) program is meant to highlight people doing that kind of work in hopes that more people will volunteer."
In August, Sams learned he was one of six finalists for the annual award, which comes with a 2014 Toyota Tundra courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., the program's sole sponsor. He will choose the color and order his truck in Arizona. That new pickup could come in handy for another annual project near to his heart - Prescott Valley Chamber of Commerce's Flying High Turkey Drive that supplies holiday meal boxes to those in need through the Yavapai Food Bank.
Sams traveled to Washington, D.C., this past week with no expectations of winning, he said.
"I went with the intention of having a good time, enjoying the company of the other finalists," Sams said. "It was great to see D.C. through my wife, Andrea's, eyes. And I got to visit with people doing great things all over the country. The other finalists had incredible projects. I expected a couple of other people to be announced as the winner, so I wasn't really even paying attention."
He said officials told him he won because of the breadth of his volunteerism and the number of years he's been involved.
"We do good things in Arizona," he said. "Nobody does these things by themselves; it's always with the cooperation of other people."
The recent Sportsmen's Banquet at Tim's Toyota Center to benefit families of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who died June 30 in the Yarnell Hill Fire is another example. It raised nearly $280,000 through raffles, auctions and dinner.
"That blew me away. I still get goose bumps when I think about it, that it was all pulled together in six weeks when no one organization could have done it by ourselves," he said.
He returned from D.C. Friday night and went right back to volunteering. Saturday he was teaching people to cook in Dutch ovens. Monday he taught a man about elk hunting. After a quick fishing trip with family in Minnesota this week, he will be working on "turkey stuff" - the Flying High drive, winter wildlife water improvement projects, and youth camps for next spring.
What is his advice to people who want to get involved in volunteer activities?
"Narrow down the area you would like to volunteer in, whether it's at a senior center, a school, habitat projects, or anything. Then Google up (on the internet) that subject and I guarantee there will be an opportunity to volunteer," Sams said.
For more information on conservation efforts of Sams and all of the Field & Stream finalists, visit: www.fieldandstream.com/heroes.