Our opinion: A giant in the forest

Nathan Welker is a giant of a man, in more ways than one.

Nate – hardly anyone knows him as Nathan -is an environmental activist. But, unlike some environmental activists, he doesn’t brow beat politicians or walk picket lines in protest of some real or imagined crime against Mother Nature. Nate walks the walk, whether it is fashioning stream structure to improve trout habitat or organizing disparate groups with a single mission in mind: preserving and improving the natural environment.

Welker’s official job description with the U.S. Forest Service is “aquatic ecologist and fisheries biologist.” That’s his job, but it’s also his passion.

Recently, Welker received the Karl Mason Award from the Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Professionals. It is dedicated to the mission of a strong, well-managed environmental program. To give you some idea of the prestige of the annual award, other recipients have included two Pennsylvania governors, a state senator, an executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and a state Department of Environmental Resources secretary.

Nate’s a bit different than the folks in that list, however. We doubt any of them have spent a day in hip boots cleaning ancient oilfield equipment from a stream that other members of a work detail couldn’t manage to move. Did we mention he is a big guy?

It takes more than just Saturdays slogging through stream improvement projects. Welker is an organizer and an activist in the best sense of the words.

He started and continues to coordinate the Allegheny Watershed Improvement Needs Coalition (WINS) regional task force, which over the last seven years has completed 50 watershed restoration projects, and taken the message of environmental responsibility to more than 10,000 students. He has also been instrumental in bringing more than $5 million in outside funding to projects on the Allegheny National Forest.

We can’t think of anyone more deserving of the Karl Mason Award.