John Banks (left), the longtime Director of Natural Resources for the Penobscot Nation, is presented with a lifetime achievement award by Natural Resources Council of Maine CEO Lisa Pohlmann. Credit: Courtesy of Natural Resources Council of Maine

John Banks of Orono, the outgoing Director of the Department of Natural Resources for the Penobscot Indian Nation, was among four people honored Tuesday by the Natural Resources Council of Maine with their 2021 Conservation Leadership Awards.

Banks received a Lifetime Achievement award for his numerous contributions in protecting natural resources representing the Penobscot Nation. His areas of focus have been restoring water quality, fisheries and connections between people and nature.

The council also honored University of Maine professor Ivan Fernandez of Orono, small business owner Laura Marston of South Portland and Sam Saltonstall of Brunswick.

“The environmental leaders being honored this year give me great hope for the future of Maine’s environment,” said Natural Resources Council of Maine CEO Lisa Pohlmann.

“We will need to depend on the energy, enthusiasm and strong moral conviction of leaders like this if we are to take the bold actions necessary to avert a climate crisis and protect the woods, waters and wildlife that make Maine so special,” she said.

“These Mainers identified environmental challenges in their communities and beyond and have gone to great lengths to tackle those challenges head on using the power of science and leading by example to rally others to join their cause.”

Nick Bennett, Staff Scientist and Healthy Waters Project Director at NRCM, lauded Banks for his many contributions to conservation efforts.

They included his work against mines, using Maine as a dumping ground for out-of-state waste and paper industry pollution. He also fought to upgrade water quality standards in the Penobscot River, restore Atlantic salmon and other sea-run fish, to remove dams and improve fish passage on the Penobscot River, and against the Central Maine Power corridor.

“You were the key to making the Penobscot project work. Your patience and knowledge guided the rest of us through a decade and a half of some very high highs and also some real lows,” Bennett said.

In his acceptance speech, Banks explained how the experience of working toward improvements in key natural resources areas touched him deeply.

“I remember in the long 15 or 20 years on working on the Penobscot River restoration project, how great it was to work with so many people that share a vision of the future of what can happen, what can be done as people collaborate and work together and work on their common interest,” Banks said.

“Just having the pleasure of meeting so many people, and working with so many dedicated people, really gave me a sense of hope and confidence for the future, that we’re going to be OK,” he said.

Fernandez was presented with a Conservation Leadership Award for his leadership as one of Maine’s top climate scientists and for providing cutting-edge information about our climate issues.

Marston received a Conservation Leadership Award for advocating for and pioneering new ways to reduce waste and encourage reuse through her business, in her community and across Maine.

Saltonstall was the recipient of the 2021 People’s Choice Award for nearly 20 years advocating for energy efficiency, renewable energy and ways to mitigate climate change.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine’s Conservation Leadership Awards have for more than 30 years honored Maine residents who work to protect natural resources. Past recipients include Sen. George Mitchell, natural history author Phyllis Austin, former Baxter State Park Director Buzz Caverly and Olympic champion and clean air activist Joan Benoit Samuelson.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...