Environmentalists from around Tampa Bay gathered Wednesday night at the Pinellas County Extension in Largo.
The event, dubbed the Holiday Conservation Celebration, is an annual get-together between the St. Petersburg Audubon Society and the Pinellas Chapter of the Native Plant Society.
A co-host of the event, Bill Bilodeau, president of the Pinellas Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society, described the Extension Center as "the center of horticulture activity in Pinellas County." He also noted goings-on in the larger community in 2008.
"Times are tough; however, across the nation, environmentalists are optimistic with the outcome of the presidential election,'' he said to the applause of the 200-member audience in the auditorium.
James Valentine, celebrated wildlife photographer and president of Quest Foundation Inc. in Tallahassee, was a co-host and keynote speaker.
Also on hand were Karina Veudry, executive director of the Florida Native Plant Society; Dr. Craig Huegel, wildlife biologist at Biological Research Associates in Riverview; and Cathy Harrelson of the Suncoast Sierra Club and Patricia Kiesylis, Defenders of Wildlife, both of St. Petersburg.
The event also featured naming the winners of the annual conservation awards:
• The Pinellas Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society presented the Chapter Award to Loren Westenberger of Clearwater for his longtime tree advocacy in the county. The President's Award was presented to Debbie Chayet of Clearwater. Chayet, a county grant specialist, received the award for her work with the county park system promoting the use of native plants.
• The St. Petersburg Audubon Society presented the Conservationist of the Year to Channel 10 reporter Kathryn Bursch for her coverage of the bay area's environmental issues.
Piper Castillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org