John Neary was surprised to be handed a wooden walrus, but not for the reasons most people would be.
Neary, the former director of the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, was awarded the Alaska Chapter of the Wildlife Society’s 2020 Wildlife Conservation Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his professional contributions to Alaska’s wilderness and natural resources.
Presented Friday evening at the visitor center, the award includes a depiction of a walrus. The news that Neary had earned the chapter’s most prestigious award was not shared with him ahead of time.
“I’m very surprised by this,” Neary said. “You pulled a good one on me.”
In addition to his work at the visitor center, Neary served as wilderness program manager for the Admiralty Island National Monument and has been an active member of the International Association for Bear Research and Management.
Anthony Crupi, a brown bear research biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, presented Neary with the award.
“For decades, he’s worked to promote exemplary stewardship of the Tongass National Forest through science-based resource management,” Crupi said. He said some years there are multiple recipients of the award and sometimes there are no recipients at all.
“It’s their most prestigious award,” Crupi said.
The award was given to Neary shortly before a Fireside Lecture presentation about a well-known bear that is often seen in the area around the center.
Retired ranger Laurie Craig, who worked with Neary and gave the presentation, also praised his contributions to conservation.
“John is — and I will brag about him — he’s basically the person who developed the protocols for Pack Creek bear viewing,” Craig said. “He taught us an awful lot about how we could manage bears graciously for people and calmly for bears.”
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907) 523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt