Senator Lamar Alexander (right) and Tennessee Wildlife Federation CEO Mike Butler inspect a waterway.  

Few, if any, Tennesseans have done more to support conservation efforts and outdoors causes than retired U.S. Senator and Governor Lamar Alexander.

That’s why his recent recognition by the Tennessee Wildlife Federation couldn’t have been more deserving. Alexander was presented the TWF’s top Conservation Achievement Award, which for 56 years has gone to the state’s leading conservationist.

Alexander, 80, grew up in Maryville in the shadow of the Smokies, hiking, exploring and developing a devotion for the state’s natural beauties and bounties.

Preserving them became a big part of his life’s work.

From chairing President Reagan’s Commission on America’s Outdoors to leading the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act last year and funding the Land & Water Conservation Fund, Alexander has long been at the forefront of conservation causes.

He didn’t fight battles just on a national scope in Washington. He also fought for the Average Joe back home with a fishing pole and a squirrel rifle, for hikers and boaters and bird-watchers.

A few years ago, when the U.S. Corps of Engineers tried to block Tennessee tailwaters access to fishermen, Alexander attended rallies of anglers to lend his support. His presence attracted media attention that allowed fishermen’s voices to be heard – and forced the Corps to back down.

More recently, Alexander opposed constructing windmills on some of Tennessee’s most scenic mountaintops in the guise of “clean energy.”

He believes the relatively small amount of energy produced by the giant wind turbines is not worth destroying pristine mountain vistas that have stood for ages, plus the toll they take on birds and other wildlife.

Full disclosure: I’ve been a friend and fan of Alexander’s for many years.

When Alexander, a Vanderbilt graduate, served as UT’s president, I interviewed him about his “mixed loyalties” leading up to a big Vols-Vandy football game. He was a good sport, giving me some humorous quotes.

As Governor, we shared a table at the Waldorf in New York during a NASCAR awards banquet honoring champion Darrell Waltrip, the first Tennessee driver to win the title. Alexander was as witty and at ease with NASCAR’s blue-collar crowd as he was with the blue-bloods of Belle Meade.

Alexander and I are kindred spirits, born and reared in the Tennessee mountains, drawn to the outdoors, and sharing the same philosophy:

The outdoors – its wildlife and wild areas -- is a renewable resource to be used and enjoyed, not shielded from the public like a fragile museum piece. We can use it wisely, while managing and protecting it for the future.

Today’s outdoorsmen understand and appreciate the work Lamar Alexander has done over the decades. Someday their children and grandchildren will thank him, too.