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Ornithologist J. Drew Lanham wins 2020 E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Award

Drew Lanham
Dr. J. Drew Lanham. Photo by Scott Steedley.

J. Drew Lanham, a Clemson University ornithologist who has worked to make conservation science more compelling, relevant and inclusive, is the 2020 recipient of the Center for Biological Diversity’s annual E.O. Wilson Award for Outstanding Science in Biodiversity Conservation.

“We’re delighted to present this award to Dr. Lanham for his passion and creativity in the fight to protect the wild creatures we share the Earth with,” said Kierán Suckling, the Center’s executive director. “By exposing how racism and the abuse of nature stem from a common core, Dr. Lanham is lighting the path toward a safer and more just world for people and wildlife alike.”

Lanham is a distinguished professor and master teacher of wildlife ecology at Clemson, where he’s taught courses in woodland ecology, conservation biology, forest biodiversity, wildlife policy, and conservation ornithology and nature writing for 25 years. He is the poet laureate of Edgefield County, South Carolina.

Lanham is also an ornithologist, author and activist. His work focuses on making conservation science relevant in an evocative, understandable way and exploring how culture and ethnic prisms affect perceptions of nature and its care.

“I congratulate Dr. Lanham and thank him for his work to blend science, art, and racial justice to advance biodiversity protection,” said E.O. Wilson, the award’s namesake. “His work to make conservation more understandable and inclusive is critical to ending the extinction crisis.”

A renowned birder, Lanham uses speaking and writing about birding as an inspirational vehicle for connecting people to the outdoors. He has spent decades writing and speaking about the experience of Black birders and has authored numerous essays on the connections between racism and extinction, continually working to make conservation more inclusive.

“E.O. Wilson has long been a hero and mentor of mine. I am honored to accept this award and humbly so. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to speak on behalf of nature and the necessary convergence of culture as a means to broaden and deepen the conservation conversation,” Lanham said.

Award is a handcrafted metal ant sculpture

The E. O. Wilson Award For Biodiversity Conservation Presented to Dr. J. Drew Lanham By the Center for Biological Diversity, 2020

The Center for Biological Diversity presents the E.O. Wilson Award annually to a scientist who has made an outstanding contribution to conservation. It is named after renowned scientist Edward O. Wilson of Harvard University, known as “the father of biodiversity.” Wilson’s career has focused on inspiring people to understand and protect plant and animal diversity worldwide, and he is the world’s leading authority on ants.

The E.O Wilson Award consists of a handcrafted metal ant sculpture by Anne Bujold, visiting assistant professor in sculpture for the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, along with a $1,000 cash prize.

The five previous recipients of the award were Rebecca Hernandez for advancing sustainable renewable energy; the late Lincoln Brower for monarch butterfly conservation; Aradhna Tripati for groundbreaking research on climate change; Tyrone Hayes for safeguarding people and wildlife from pesticides; and the late James Deacon for protecting freshwater species.

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