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U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva wins Ansel Adams Award for decades of conservation work

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva wins Ansel Adams Award for decades of conservation work

  • Paul Ingram/

U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva gained national recognition for his conservation efforts as the Natural Resources Committee chairman as the Wilderness Society presented him with the 2022 Ansel Adams Award.

The top honor given out by the national environmental group goes to current or former federal officials “who (have) shown exceptional commitment to the cause of conservation and the fostering of an American land ethic,” according to the nonprofit organization.

Grijalva has served on the Natural Resources Committee since he was elected to Congress two decades ago. He became the committee chairman in 2019.

The Wilderness Society recognized Grijalva’s involvement in the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which protects ​​parks and open spaces, and his leadership in establishing the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, which maintains open space in Pima County while providing areas that can be developed.

“He has championed legislation to protect our public lands, waters, and special places, elevate tribal consultation and community input in land use decision-making, and comprehensively address the impacts of climate change,” Wilderness Society representatives said in announcing the award last week.

Grijalva helped pass the Great American Outdoors Act, which made funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund permanent. He led the passage of the Alexander Lofgren Veterans in the Parks Act, which makes national parks free to veterans and their families. He has also supported converting Chiricahua National Monument into a national park, which would provide it with more protections.

The former Tucson Unified School District board member and Pima County supervisor was also involved in a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit over the border wall, and he’s pushed against Rosemont Copper and Oak Flat, both large mining projects that would have taken place on sacred tribal lands in Arizona.

He also supported the Environmental Justice for All Act because it would treat pollution in communities of color, including in Tucson’s South Side Latino community that’s been affected by PFAS contamination.

In a public statement responding to the award, Grijalva wrote that he will “pledge my commitment to keep fighting for our country’s natural, cultural, and spiritual heritage” and that “we must honor and respect the voices of Indigenous Peoples and communities of color, which have been ignored in conservation decisions for far too long.”

“When we protect our public lands and waters, we aren’t just safekeeping the nation’s natural resources, we are protecting our stories, our memories, and a legacy for our children and grandchildren,” Grijalva said. “As climate change brings new threats to that legacy, we are called to double-down on our efforts to preserve it.”

Grijalva “has demonstrated a profound dedication to advocating for protecting open spaces, environmental justice and taking bold climate action,” Wilderness Society President Jamie Williams said in the press release.

The congressman’s “extraordinary leadership” in the Committee on Natural Resources “has delivered tangible and historic conservation achievements, while always championing underrepresented voices in our nation,” Williams wrote. “He brings vision, passion, and a deep commitment to protecting our public lands for their cultural and spiritual values.”

The Ansel Adams Award hasn’t been presented to anyone since 2016, when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) won. In the past, the prize has gone to figures such as John Lewis, Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, John Kerry and Harry Reid.

Legendary photographer Ansel Adams, known for his dramatic landscapes, after whom the award is named, was the first winner in 1980, four years before he died, though he never served in political office. He was known for his black-and-white photography of wilderness in California and other parts of the West, especially in Yosemite National Park. He was an advocate for environmental protection, and a co-founder of the Center for Creative Photography at the UA in 1975.

Arizona congressmen and brothers Mo and Stewart Udall won the Ansel Adams award in 1984 and 1986. Both started practicing law in Tucson and graduated from the University of Arizona. Mo Udall served as Pima County attorney from 1953 to 1954.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the status of Chiricahua National Monument.

Bennito L. Kelty is’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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