Awards and Contests title

Forest Heroes Awards

There are countless individuals around the world who are dedicating their lives to nurturing forests in quiet and heroic ways. We are celebrating these unsung heroes with the first-ever Forest Heroes Awards. By honouring everyday people, we would like to show that it is possible for everyone to make a positive change for forests!

  • Africa’s Mr. Paul Nzegha Mzeka (Cameroon)
  • Asia’s Mr. Shigeatsu Hatakeyama (Japan)
  • Europe’s Mr. Anatoly Lebedev (Russia)
  • Latin America’s Mr. Paulo Adario (Brazil)
  • North America’s Ms. Rhiannon Tomtishen and Ms. Madison Vorva (USA)

In addition, the jury decided to add a special award in recognition of the deceased couple José Claudio Ribeiro and Maria do Espírito Santo, two activists in Brazil who were tragically murdered while trying to protect their natural forests. Each hero embodied innovative approaches and grassroots initiatives that make a direct impact on the forests they have dedicated themselves to.

While these heroes come from varied backgrounds, they share a common courage, passion and perseverance that serve as inspiration to anyone who wants to make a difference for forests. Meet our award winners for 2011!


Mr. Paul Nzegha Mzeka

Born and raised in a forest community, Paul N. Mzeka has a deep attachment to forest and trees. He strongly believes this attachment influenced his preference for nature related school subjects throughout his school life, ending in his specialization as a geography teacher.
After teaching for 30 years, Mr. Mzeka retired from the Cameroon Public Service in 1990 and founded an organization called the North West Beefarmers” Association (NOWEBA) which promoted sustainable bee farming as a means of raising awareness in biodiversity conservation in rural communities.
During this period, he was improving his own understanding of the issues at stake in biodiversity conservation by attending workshops and seminars on the environment. In 2000, he and his dedicated team decided to change the name of the organization from NOWEBA to ANCO, the Apiculture and Nature Conservation.
ANCO, in 2004 created a partnership with 3 other NGOs and embarked on conservation integrated with sustainable land management and rural poverty reduction. Their approach received support from the Cameroon Government through the RIGC Project, the Program for Sustainable Management of Natural Resources, South West Region and from several international organizations including UNDP (GEF/SGP), HELVETAS the Swiss Development Organization, IUCN Netherlands, the Royal Botanic Gardens UK, the American Global Releaf etc.
Mr. Mzeka and his dedicated team have helped 30 communities to protect their watersheds and conserve 4 community forests including reforesting degraded portions. In the process, a total of 685,000 trees have been planted, the target being to reach a million trees before 2013.


Mr. Shigeatsu Hatakeyama

Shigeatsu Hatakeyama is a fisherman turned environmentalist who has cultivated his oyster business by planting trees in the forest surrounding Kesennuma Bay in Miyagi, an area of Japan devastated by the March 2011 tsunami. He is known as “Grandpa Oyster,” after spending more than twenty years developing the forest environment that keeps the Okawa River clean and his oysters healthy.
Mr. Hatakeyama entered his family”s oyster raising business in the 1960s during an outbreak of red tide plankton. The event caused the water to become clouded, which dyed the oyster meat red and made it unsuitable for consumption.The tide would turn during a trip to France in 1984. As he travelled upriver from the tidelands of the Loire river estuary where healthy oysters were raised, Mr. Hatakeyama observed a gigantic deciduous broadleaf forest in the upper reaches.It was then that he realized the positive influence forests have on the ocean environment and biodiversity.
In 1989 he held the first “Mori wa Umi no Koibito” (Forests are Lovers of the Sea) Campaign. Gaining the cooperation of the mayors of the villages along the Okawa River, he and his colleagues planted broadleaf trees upstream to reduce pollutants flowing into the sea. The yearly afforestation activities he initiated have since gained momentum, leading to a region‐wide proactive movement to preserve the environment, including water drainage regulation and promotion of farming practices with less agricultural chemicals.
In 2009, he established the NPO “Mori wa Umi no Koibito” to provide hands‐on education for children, bringing them closer to the ocean and forests to experience nature”s work.


Mr. Anatoly Lebedev

Anatoly Lebedev began his career in environmental journalism in the 1970s. In 1989 he led a successful media campaign against a construction project that threatened the territory of indigenous people and Siberian tigers in the Ussuri Forest.
Mr. Lebedev”s work with environmental group, “Taiga,” resulted in a national logging ban on cedar forests from the Supreme Soviet Council of the USSR. Soon after, he was elected Deputy Chairman of the Primorskiy Krai regional parliament where he oversaw a commission on environmental protection and resource use. In that capacity, he passed regional legislation on forest management, wildlife management, indigenous rights and protected territories, and helped keep national parks from destruction by illegal logging.
In 2000, Mr. Lebedev was awarded Honorable Environmentalist of Russia for his efforts in promoting indigenous rights, biodiversity preservation and his support of local environmental journalists through the “Bureau of Regional Outreach Campaigns” (BROC). He also produced the first regional environmental TV show, “Preserved,” and the quarterly magazine “Ecology and Business,” which has been a key tool for environmental education and advocacy over RFE‐Siberia.
Mr. Lebedev remains highly active in local forest communities, analyzing models and impacts of illegal logging and timber trade, which rose in the RFE during the mid 1990s. He has written analytical reports on the Asian timber marketing collaboration with international organizations such as, IUCN, WWF and U.S. based NGOs.
To date he is consulted by journalists and international organizations on issues concerning the environment, forestry, illegal logging, conservation and sustainable communities in Asian Russia.

Latin America

Mr. Paolo Adario

Paulo Adario has acted as a guardian of the Amazon for the past 15 years.
Leading a field team focused on research and investigation, his work exposed the timber industry as the first in a number of drivers of destruction in the Amazon rainforest.
In 2001, he led a field team into the Amazon to assist the Deni tribe to demarcate and protect their own land, resulting in the official protection of 1,6 million hectares of pristine forest. Mr. Adario also introduced new concepts, such as the ”Green Wall” to describe the network of protected areas necessary to stop the northern encroachment of industrial development, and ”Zero Deforestation” – a set of political, social and economic initiatives aimed at eliminating deforestation while ensuring the improvement of living conditions for people living in and from the forests.
Following a campaign on illegal logging, which led to a moratorium in 2003 on the international trade in Mahogany, the impacts of his work attracted death threats from forest criminals across the Amazon. Mr. Adario persisted and went on to create bilateral agreements with international and industrial companies to halt the illegal destruction of the forests for soya crops and cattle ranching. The resulting Soya Moratorium and cattle industry agreements are still in place today.
Mr. Adario has pioneered a campaign to protect the Amazon from boardroom meetings with industry leaders to field expeditions deep into the Amazon, to the co‐ordination of international public campaigns to expose forest destroyers and demand sustainable solutions.
Mr. Adario opened Greenpeace”s office in the Amazon to fight deforestation and force sustainable solutions. He currently still leads the office as the Campaign Director.

North America

Ms. Rhiannon Tomtishen and Ms. Madison Vorva

In 2007, as 11 year olds, Madison and Rhiannon earned their Girl Scout Bronze Award by raising awareness about the endangered orangutan and their rapid diminishing rainforest habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia.
After learning that the Girl Scout Cookies they sold for so many years contained palm oil, an ingredient that results in rainforest destruction and human rights abuses, the two girls launched a variety of campaigns in order to convince the Girl Scout organization to remove this ingredient from their cookies. They worked to educate consumers about the impacts of palm oil and motivate them to take action by demanding deforestation‐free products.
In the fall of 2011, Girl Scouts USA announced their new palm oil policy, the first concrete action they”ve taken on this issue. Now juniors in high school, Madison and Rhiannon have finally gained the opportunity to enter a dialogue with the Girl Scout organization and are committed to ensuring that Girl Scout Cookies are produced in an environmentally‐friendly and socially‐responsible way. They are also expanding their campaign to persuade Kelloggs, a baker of Girl Scout cookies, and Cargill, a major player in the palm oil market, to adopt sustainable policies of their own.
After a recent trip to Colombia to learn about the human rights abuses occurring as a result of palm oil corporations, the girls have made it their mission to not only advocate for the rainforests that are destroyed for palm oil, but for the inhabitants of these tropic forests whose livelihoods rely on this invaluable resource. As youth, Madison and Rhiannon have fought to make their voices heard and show other youth the tremendous power they have to make a difference. It is their belief that with courage, passion, and perseverance, any person, regardless of their age, can create change within their local and international communities.

Special award winner

José Claudio Ribeiro da Silva

A tree nut harvester by trade, José Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife, Maria do Espírito Santo da Silva, are remembered as rainforest activists and environmentalists who campaigned against illegal logging and clear‐cutting of trees in the Amazon rainforest.
Ribeiro da Silva originally worked as a community leader at a forest reserve that produced sustainable forest products, such as oils and nuts. The couple was known to utilize their deep local knowledge to sustainably conserve, protect and mange the forests they called home.
The da Silvas became anti‐logging activist when illegal loggers began to encroach further into untouched areas of Pará, their largely forested home state in northern Brazil. Members of the media describe them as “tenacious Amazon defenders” who were known to block roads, stop logging trucks, file grievances for neighbors whose lands had been invaded and denounce illegal loggers to Brazil”s environmental agency.
Ribeiro da Silva”s speeches and campaigns, though based on local issues, held a more universal perspective. He is described as a powerful speaker, always willing to participate in local, national and international conferences.
In November 2010, Ribeiro da Silva spoke at a TEDx Amazon event in Manaus despite regularly receiving threats against his and his wife”s lives. He was quoted for saying, “I could be here today talking to you and in one month you will get the news that I disappeared. I will protect the forest at all costs.”
Sadly, on May 24, 2011, José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and Maria do Espírito Santo were killed in an ambush attack not far from their home in Nova Ipixuna, Pará ‐ in the settlement of Maçaranduba 2.