2021 Victor Emanuel Conservation Award Celebration Honoring Greg Lasley

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The Board of Directors of Travis Audubon is honored to announce that the 2021 Conservation Hero is Greg Lasley of Dripping Springs, Texas. The Board unanimously agreed that no one is more qualified for this award than Lasley, who accepted the honor before his death on January 30, 2021. Lasley will be honored posthumously at the virtual 12th annual Victor Emanuel Conservation Award Celebration on October 8.

Greg Lasley was a force in birding and conservation for more than forty years, but he was a student of nature all his life. He began with snakes—venomous snakes—and as a teenager, worked in the herpetology collection at the Atlanta Zoo milking the snakes for antivenom. Lasley kept snakes until his mid-twenties. He was even a falconer for a time, but it wasn’t until he moved to Texas and saw Painted Buntings at his backyard feeder that Lasley became a birder.

Everyone who knew Greg Lasley felt he was one of the most caring and generous people they had ever met. Those characteristics were evident in his work as a policeman and as a naturalist. Even before retiring as a Lieutenant with the Austin Police Department in 1997, Lasley had dedicated himself to wildlife photography. Lasley first pointed a camera at a bird in 1971 (a Horned Lark at Great Salt Lake, Utah) while he was in the U.S. Air Force. Since then, several thousand of his images have been published in hundreds of books, magazines, and websites. In 2000, he and photography partner Larry Ditto won the prestigious Valley Land Fund South Texas Shootout contest. His legendary photographic skills served as a model of technical craftsmanship and opened a window to the complexity of bird behavior and the natural world. A self-described “birder gone bad,” Lasley’s expertise as a naturalist, photographer, and mentor extended far beyond ornithology and into the world of dragonflies, damselflies, moths, and many other creatures.

Over the last decade, Lasley was a prodigious contributor to iNaturalist, the online citizen-science database, and he recognized the immense value of such efforts to understand the natural world. Lasley verified more than 450,000 observations from around the world, gaining a reputation as not only a knowledgeable naturalist but also as a skilled and patient teacher. Over the last forty years, few people have promoted birding and conservation in Texas—and the world—more than Greg Lasley.

Lasley gathered and shared data on birds in many other ways as well. If he came across a dead bird, he took it to Texas A&M to be part of their collection. He participated in various Audubon Christmas bird counts, a birding tradition that, over the last hundred years, has gathered more data on birds than any other effort in the world. His long editorship of the Texas column for American Birds magazine (and its various incarnations, 1970s-1990s) added keen insight into the data collected by Texas birders. In the late 1970s, he almost singlehandedly re-invigorated the Texas Bird Records Committee of the Texas Ornithological Society, elevating that committee and its work. Throughout his life, Lasley kept a list of every bird he saw and the numbers of each species and submitted this huge amount of data to Cornell’s eBird project. This data helps raise awareness of conservation needs, and Lasley devoted his life to sharing such data about the natural world.

Perhaps Lasley’s greatest conservation legacy is the countless people he inspired and encouraged to learn about the natural world. Lasley was a role model and inspiration to many—especially those just getting started in birding, wildlife identification, and photography. A true ambassador for birding in Texas, he was a kind and welcoming teacher, always willing to share his knowledge and skills. As a long-time birding-tour leader with Victor Emanuel Nature Tours, he had a direct role in introducing birders to the beauty and diversity of birds both in Texas and around the world. Greg Lasley is a model for us all when considering the impact that just one life can have on so many.

Lasley’s accomplishments will be celebrated virtually at the 2021 Victor Emanuel Conservation Award Celebration on October 8. We hope you will join us for this wonderful celebration of Lasley’s passion and dedication. Sponsorships will be available soon.