Guidelines for the William T. Hornaday Award Conservation Adviser

William T. Hornaday Awards
For Distinguished Service to Natural Resource Conservation

A Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, or Venturer working toward a William T. Hornaday Award has taken on a great task, and a noble one: to provide distinguished service to natural resource conservation. As the candidate's adviser, you have been recognized as a conservation or environmental professional or qualified layperson in conservation, usually with a degree or advanced degree in one of the natural sciences, and you will guide the candidate through the selection, planning, and accomplishment of a significant conservation project. While you may not be familiar with Dr. Hornaday's work, these awards, or the programs of the Boy Scouts of America, these guidelines will provide you with necessary background information and expectations for effective guidance.


The Hornaday Awards program was created to recognize significant contributions to conservation. The program began in 1917 when Dr. William T. Hornaday, an active and outspoken champion of natural resource conservation, awarded the first Wildlife Protection Medal. Its purpose was to challenge Americans to work constructively for wildlife conservation and habitat protection. After Dr. Hornaday's death in 1937, the Boy Scouts of America began presenting the award, which was renamed in Dr. Hornaday's honor.

One of this country's first advocates for wildlife, Dr. Hornaday was instrumental in establishing the National Zoo and the New York Zoological Society. His research and outspokenness were largely responsible for saving the American bison from extinction, and for influencing Congress to enact legislation for the protection of migratory birds and fur seals. He helped to begin the Campfire Club of America (now Campfire Boys and Girls) and was a strong supporter of the Boy Scouts of America. He was inducted into the National Wildlife Federation's Conservation Hall of Fame in 1971.

Dr. Hornaday believed strongly in the power of youth and that a single individual can make a difference. He also held fast to his motto: "Open wide to youth all gateways to nature." When Dr. Hornaday died in 1937, one writer described his legacy: "Behind the hundreds of admirers ... stand the mute inhabitants of our forests and uplands, who found him a stout-hearted and able defender."

Your Role as Adviser

Serving as an adviser for a young person working toward this award is both an honor and a responsibility. Your advice and support are important elements in a candidate's success. This is not a short-term commitment; it takes about two years to complete the requirements for the bronze or silver medal.

You are part of a team that includes the youth's unit leader (Scoutmaster or crew Advisor) and individual project advisers (often land managers for the project location). Depending on the situation, the candidate may call upon the help of the unit or the BSA local council to complete a project. The adviser and the unit leader must approve the candidate's application before it is forwarded to the local council.

Your perspective as a conservation professional is vital to the Scout working on these awards. Your role is to be the guide and catalyst, guiding the Scout through the transformation of a mere idea to an effective action that will actually make a difference to the environment! Among other things, you can demonstrate to the candidate the importance of using the scientific method, from investigations and data collection to forming conclusions about the environment.

An important part of your role will be to help the candidate realize that solutions to conservation problems are not always black and white, but shades of gray. Your knowledge and professionalism will be needed to teach how the forces of nature and the interaction among species, along with the political and social influence of man, often cloud what may be perceived as a clear solution to an environmental challenge. The candidate should realize that many species of animals and many practices of man must be taken into account. Dr. Hornaday himself considered an important part of this award to be educating and working to change the attitudes of those around us.

Lastly, you can introduce the Scout to the larger picture of conservation and its varied fields of expertise. Working with area agencies and organizations to complete a significant conservation project will provide practical experience that cannot be obtained in any schoolbook. The knowledge and guidance of advisers and other leaders are necessary to the Scout throughout the project, but the Scout should be coached to take ownership of the project.

The Projects

Most of the Hornaday awards require the Scout to conduct several significant conservation projects, each covering a different area of conservation. The projects must be based on sound scientific principles, address a conservation problem, and contribute to conservation and environment improvement on a long-term scale. The Scout is required to plan, lead, and carry out these projects and, as Dr. Hornaday stated, actual results count heavily.

There are no guidelines as to what makes a project "significant," but choosing and planning a project could make all the difference. Consider this example of a single project executed two ways. A Boy Scout organizes his unit to plant a few hundred seedlings in a burned-over area. A Venturer researches why the area has not naturally regenerated and what species are common to the area, conducts an inventory, finds a good source for native plants, organizes a tree-planting event, and obtains community assistance in planting by diligently publicizing the efforts. The following year, the Venturer returns to the area to document survival and assess if replanting is necessary. The actual results—planting the seedlings—for these two projects are the same, and some reviewers may consider both significant. However, the results of second project—thorough education of the Scout, the unit, and the community—will stand a better chance of withstanding the rigors of a review.

Guidelines for the Hornaday Award call for the candidate to complete projects in several areas of conservation. Some projects might fit into several categories depending on local circumstances. For instance, a single trail-reconstruction project might be categorized as soil and water conservation if it addresses erosion, or categorized as fish and wildlife management if it attempts to erase the impact of human intervention into critical habitat. Trail reconstruction might not meet Hornaday qualifications at all if it is attempted only for recreational access.

While one site may support projects in several areas, each project must stand on its own. In these cases, specific work items at a site must not be counted for completion of more than one project, and the interrelationship of projects must be carefully explained in the documentation.


The job is not done until the paperwork is complete. This adage applies to the Hornaday Awards in a significant way. For many applicants, documentation will be the most difficult part of the process. A good guide for how the Boy Scouts of America approaches documenting a project is the Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project Workbook, No. 18-927C. This workbook helps the applicant break project documentation into pieces, making each one easier to address.

Another good source is the official Hornaday Award Web site maintained by the BSA,, which describes the required project elements and award criteria. It should be noted that the project descriptions are the only items that the national Hornaday Awards committee has to review during its deliberations. It is a good idea to include an extra project in case one of them does not meet the high standards for the Hornaday award.

The candidate should carefully document each step in the project's development, beginning with the factors used to identify the conservation problem, the reasoning behind the choice of projects, and the avenues of accomplishment. Supporting materials like letters, newspaper articles, and photos are essential. A letter of thanks from the benefiting site is an excellent idea.

Also, the candidate must document all phases and aspects of accomplishing the project. Records should reflect not only the activities and hours spent performing the field work to complete the project, but also the planning, preparation, research, negotiation, design, approvals, etc., that were necessary to arrive there. The adviser can help broaden the candidate's view of what constitutes accomplishment, which in turn helps define the extent of the project's impact.

Most young people will have a tough time completing the significant amount of documentation required and working with feedback from adult reviewers. You can help ease the frustration with careful coaching that this process is common in the professional world. Advisers and candidates alike should bear in mind that that such reviews will help produce a better product with a higher chance of receiving a favorable review from the council and national review committees.

Special Circumstances

It is the policy of the Boy Scouts of America that every individual be given the opportunity to succeed regardless of circumstances such as physical or mental disabilities, or serving as a Lone Scout without benefit of the usual support of a troop. Contact the candidate's unit leader or council service center for advice on how to better work with these circumstances and for suggestions on creative ways to amend the requirements.