Awarding a Wildlands Warrior

Ann Vileisis accepting the Tim Lillebo Wildlands Warrior Award at the Oregon Wild 50th Anniversary Gala

At Oregon Wild’s 50th Anniversary gala events in May, we announced the recipient of the 2024 Tim Lillebo Wildlands Warrior Award: Ann Vileisis. 

Ann Vileisis was originally nominated by Wendell Wood the first year we gave this award, in 2015. It was quite a lengthy nomination. He noted that, “as President of the Kalmiopsis Audubon Society, Ann has engaged in dozens of issues affecting her southern Oregon homeland.”  

He went on to list many of the campaigns and examples of Ann’s leadership, courage, and tenacity that I don’t have time to read through, but if it involves fighting for the wild places of the south coast, Ann has been there securing key support, organizing communities, and building alliances for places like the Copper Salmon Wilderness, the Wild and Scenic Chetco River, the salmon of Elk River, migrating birds, and botanical areas, and pushing back against damaging mining and development projects. 

Nearly a decade later, Ann is still the president of Kalmiopsis Audubon. She continues to be actively involved in protecting wild rivers on the south coast, advocating for mineral withdrawals from headwater streams, and organizing south coast communities to protect natural areas – including in her role as Port Orford City Councilor. She does nearly all of this as a volunteer.

Through all of this work, Ann brings a unique ability to communicate with all kinds of people – whether in the KAS newsletter, her three well-received books, at public hearings, or bringing individuals and institutions that have traditionally been hostile to conservation around to her cause. 

Wendell concluded his nomination with the following: “Being an effective conservation leader in a politically conservative, rural community is not an easy thing to do.  It is thus no exaggeration to say that conservation on the south coast of Oregon would scarcely exist without the fine work that Ann has done…  the inspiration she has provided for others will undoubtedly assure that the path she has blazed will continue to be followed by others.” 

In Ann’s acceptance remarks, she said: 
“Southwest Oregon, where I live, is a land of extraordinary wild rivers. The Wild and Scenic Rogue is the most renowned, but we’ve also got the crystal clear Elk, the Illinois, the Chetco, North Fork Smith and others —that flow from several rugged wilderness areas —the Kalmiopsis, Wild Rogue, Grassy Knob and Copper Salmon. 

These are inspiring places and I’ve been grateful for and also fortunate to know some some other special wild land warrior friends from the generation ahead of me who helped to protect them—the late great Wendell Wood, who I am sure many of you knew, and especially my dear friend Jim Rogers who we lost last year, he was well known as a timber industry guy turned conservationist—who really taught me the ropes of how to do conservation work in a rural community. I had the privilege to work closely with him on the effort to designate the Copper Salmon Wilderness to protect the old growth forests and salmon of the magnificent wild and scenic Elk River. 

They set a high bar and passed the baton —that I could not let drop!”

Ann noted that “to receive an award in the name of Tim Lillebo is truly humbling and inspiring.” 

For more than 40 years, Lillebo devoted his life to protecting and restoring the old-growth forests, rugged canyons, whitewater, and wildlife of Oregon. Upon his sudden passing 10 years ago, the Tim Lillebo Wildlands Warrior Award was born to honor his legacy. 

Read the recent article about Tim in the Sisters Nugget newspaper: “Ode to an old growth warrior” by Maret Pajute

Many remember Tim as gregarious and easy-going – the kind of person who made friends even with those who were staunchly opposed to his efforts to protect the wild. That memory of Tim is real. But at Oregon Wild, we also knew Tim to be a fierce and effective advocate for the Oregon he loved. We wanted the Tim Lillebo Wildlands Warrior Award to embody the spirit that Tim brought to his work for so many years. 

Past winners of the award truly did just that: Dave Willis, Francis Eatherington, and the late Mary Gautreaux. We’re pleased to add Ann Vileisis to this esteemed list. 

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